Why Playful Thinkers are Enjoying 2020

Lego Chicken
Photo by Hello I'm Nik from Unsplash

I think, as years go, we can all agree 2020 hasn’t been what any of us had in mind. As someone who travels internationally for work, enjoys planning events up to 6 months in advance and draws energy from being in a room of people it has really made me rethink about where to put my energy. What has also been interesting is the demand for playful thinking to solutions and people’s eagerness to engage.

Pre-lockdown, in a time that now resembles the Roman empire before it fell, I was looking at a busy year of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops. By March, I was looking at my bricks and planning to disinfect them and putting them away for the foreseeable future. And yet, funnily enough 2020 had a different plan.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a method for exploring issues, using the famous colourful bricks. Through careful facilitation, workshops ensure everyone’s voices are heard in the room by sharing their models. The result is a deeper commitment to the outcomes, as everyone has contributed to the vision. We can create metaphors to explain complex thoughts or place ourselves into the problem to explore it.

As the Spring evolved into Summer, it became clear to me that actually LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® could be a very useful tool for organisations to start exploring their options for moving forward. What better way to explore barriers to development, re-imagining the future and planning how to get there. Using a playful approach, could LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® allow everyone to share their ideas and concerns in order to move forward beyond this annus horribilis?

It didn’t take long to get the answer to my pondering as I was contacted by a creative organisation wanting to explore the future of their sector. Never one to shy away from a challenge we discussed how to approach it concluding that online was the way forward so I dusted off the bricks and posted the packets out to participants – with the strict instruction not to open them until the session! The element of fun and surprise was needed more than ever.

Since then, I’ve delivered LSP workshops to nearly 150 people online with many more in the pipeline. So what have I learned about playful thinkers in 2020?

  • LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can work well online, if anything it focuses people’s attention on explaining their models and in doing so the meaning is clear to everyone else.
  • LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can still ensure that all the voices in the Zoom are heard!
  • Allowing people to think about the future, using colourful bricks is great for their well-being. Every session has so much energy and they are back in control of things.
  • We love to build and plan. Lockdown made that difficult and yet playful thinkers used it as an opportunity to look at things differently.

Another takeaway for me has been that when we can’t physically be in a room together, working with the same LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® bricks means there is still a deep connection and level of understanding amongst a team. Whereas some teams might shy away from the idea of using LSP as a method to explore issues previously, now we have to re-imagine how we work at a distance, these brilliant bricks are bringing our thinking together more than ever.

Maybe 2020 is like a LEGO® model we have been working on for a long time, our pride and joy until someone steps on it, or you place a brick on a precarious narrow area and suddenly it collapses. All that work, all that effort and for a while we look at it and wonder what went wrong. Then finally, we pick up the bricks again to start building again, rebuilding stronger, with improvements, accepting the model will never be the way it was, but with some playful thinking it could be even better.

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With 15 years of experience as a strategic leader, project manager and innovative producer, Lindsay Dunbar is a ‘cultural crofter’ nurturing and tending creative projects in rural areas. Selected as the Creative Scotland Fellow 17/18 for the prestigious Clore Leadership programme, she used this opportunity to explore a values-led process, addressing issues of representation throughout her work, ensuring every voice can be heard and help every project reach its potential. She can often be found enthusing about her work with Creative Youth Activist groups in the North of Scotland as part of the Europe-wide Start the Change project.

A busy researcher and evaluator, she works on projects which focus on the creative industries, specialising in a rural context as well as international approach. An accredited LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, she is experienced in facilitating workshops and sessions with a variety of people, from industry professionals to community members.
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