10 September 2019

Building bricks for your future

Optimation Building Bricks for your future Lego Design Thinking v2

by  Hendrik van der Watt, Optimation's Business Analyst

Bricks are the building blocks of a building and you may have used it as a metaphor where you wanted to strengthen a fact or lay a ‘foundation’ for a discussion. This is not the type of bricks we are referring to here. Let us introduce you to the LEGO® building bricks which will improve your business.  

How do you use the word ‘serious’ and ‘play’ in the same sentence? 
If you don’t know yet, the word LEGO® is a combination from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’ meaning ‘play well’. It is natural to associate play with those bricks that inspired many a childhood, but how does the word ‘serious’ fit into play?  

LEGO management used their own bricks when their business was at a low point with declining profits (around the year 1992–2004) to figure out what to improve and get back on track to become the world’s number 1 toy.  They used the LEGO® Serious Play® concept in their own office to come up with new ideas, but not in a way you think they should. 

Some history lesson first, skip to the next heading if you heard this before - the LEGO® Serious Play® concept was created in 1996 by Professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor when they both were professors at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. The idea was sold to LEGO owner and CEO Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen and ultimately developed into a patent that will run out in 30 January 2021.  

In 2009 LEGO Group provided the final official training sessions on LEGO Serious Play and in 2010 they made it open source which means we can all share in the joy of LEGO Serious Play. 


Bricks on the boardroom table
Picture this - you walk into your organisation’s boardroom and on the table is a pile of LEGO bricks. Some of us will think “Who brought their kids to the office? And why did they play in the boardroom of all places?” That happens when you use LEGO Serious Play in the workplace. The adult in us resist a little but the kid in us remembers the days we played with our toys.  

This is how LEGO Serious Play begins and the concept is simple but effective. You build your thoughts and processes in LEGO, or let your hands do the talking. For kids only? Of cause not, executives and team members alike enjoy the activity, building a story, system or process while creating a common understanding and gamestorming for ideas. This helps give a person that doesn’t say much a chance to speak their mind and a space to tell their story. 

Think with your hands and listen with your eyes
Why would I use LEGO Serious Play? It enables people to think outside the LEGO box and share their view of the world they work in.  

  • You get a challenge,  
  • build your design or idea, and 
  • share with your peers.  

The challenges start small and build to bigger questions – no pun intended. Simple right, but it also adds to a positive, constructive dialogue with unlimited possibilities.  

‘Stealing ideas’ are allowed and the answers are already in the room, so everyone shares and plays with the bricks to have fun and explore while answering important questions. It may bring endless hours of play with your imagination and creativity, no matter your level of skills.  

We are born to learn through play. It is even part of the core foundations for Te Whāriki (New Zealand early childhood curriculum). It includes exploration, communication and contribution which we then use in order to get to explore a work-related outcome. It also highlights the iceberg where you might see surface issues, but deeper learning and understanding under the water may surface through the process from unlikely sources. It will also show you a future direction or more unanswered questions. 

It is best suited for: 

  • Team building, where people work together (but do not necessarily know each other very well) 
  • Working out the best solution to a shared problem 
  • Strategy development, where individuals get the opportunity to contribute their vision of the aims and challenges and consolidate these with the ideas of others 
  • Creating a shared mind set 
  • Understanding each other’s points of view on a deeper level 
  • Having effective and constructive discussions where everybody is heard 
  • Mapping out current business process from each person’s perspective 
  • Unleashing creative thinking 
Optimation Building Bricks for your future Lego Design Thinking Process Mapping

Using Design Thinking for Process Mapping

How do we play at Optimation? 
Our clients enjoyed playing with LEGO and taught us also internally the benefits of using physical elements for ice breakers in workshops, visual aids for current state mapping, problem solving while creating software solutions and defining future state. Why not have fun while finding your answers? 

We first used LEGO as an icebreaker exercise where you had to build a tower. Not just any tower, but one with some constraints and limitations set to the scale and design. Imagine the competition and lengths you would go to, to push the boundaries, testing the limits but producing amazing structures. Now imagine the mean facilitator pushing your structure to test the durability and strength of your tower, seeing the thousands of pieces break apart in front of your eyes. What a way to start your workshop, but I bet you’re already thinking of how your tower would have looked in those LEGO bricks. 

Using this approach, we had a team mapping out the current state business process flow.  In this case where a blind woman also contributed to the process using LEGO bricks. She commented that it was the first time she felt that she wasn’t impaired in any way.  She could work with the bricks in the same way as sighted people and felt she could fully participate. 

The next example with a client was to build the current state of a visitor’s process for guards at a prison. Those big strong guards all enjoying building the current state process with LEGO using symbols like a lion on a hill for the ever-watching guard over a prison or a LEGO minifig guard pointing a flashlight at another visitor minifig to represent searches. It helped them articulate the process in a way you would write down the process with colour pens. The imagination is endless while the current state was produced and photos documenting it all. 

Another case we’ve done internally asking our own developers to build a solution for a client using LEGO instead of programming the solution straight away. The crazy ideas that flowed from that translated to a software solution that the client could not believe was possible and loved to implement. 

The last was a client discovering their future state modelling data and mapping their data strategy. Through asking questions they built amazing pipelines for feedback using LEGO pipes and displaying data on boats like fish from catchment areas in the sea of data. A camera on a shark looking for the data, while a glass panel represents filtering the data while passing through it. What an amazing wonderland of data! In the end, they had their whole future state right before their eyes. 
Have a look at some of our work using this creative thinking process with amazing results. 


Ready to play your business better? 
Even if you missed the LEGO Master Australia on TV, don’t worry, just be yourself and come and have fun with LEGO bricks if nothing else.  

To find out more, click here

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