Human Development through LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP)
Play has been viewed in modern, cultural and economic heritage of Protestant capitalism as frivolous while work is serious and productive. This simple opposition implies an assumption that work is good and play is bad. However, organizational research argues that play could be good, if taken seriously (hence, Serious Play) in organizations to engage human learning and development with the intention to achieve work-related goals. For example, researchers found that playing in the workplace can attain significant individual benefits, such as learning, personal fulfillment, identities, and performance.
For the organizational benefits, researches have associated serious play with various applications on development, such as strategic innovation, strategic thinking, scenario planning, product development, building organizational knowledge, building organizational identities, and leadership development.
Supported by many cases practiced by OD practitioners, Serious Play today is used in organizations as an intervention technique to complement conventional approaches of facilitation, training, crafting strategy, creative explorations and sense making in organization development.
According to the organismic perspective of human development theories, human development is a synergistic and interactive process, because human systems are dynamic and self-organizing. Not only anthropologists are intrigued in investigating how play relates to human development, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and organizational researchers consistently view play as a complex form of human activity with a social dimension important for human cognitive, social and emotional development. Play helps social bonding, emotional expression, cognitive development, and constructive competition.
The key part of LSP is using LEGO® bricks to construct symbolic or metaphorical models and make stories to give meaning of what learners have in mind. In this perspective, constructing models as metaphors for story making and storytelling is an important means to generate radically new ways of understanding things. Taking a Piagetian view of constructivism, LSP is a process of constructing knowledge. In LSP, learners must play an active role in the process. Each learner actively participates and is totally absorbed in building LEGO® models. In this narrative process through dialogues they give meaning to the parts and new knowledge is collectively derived from the whole, not merely just a sum of the parts.
Building on the foundation of Piaget’s theory of constructivism, Seymour Papert’s Constructionism claims that learning happens most effectively when learners consciously construct material objects, and at the same time they construct knowledge in their minds. Thinking with and through objects can be complementary to abstract and formal thinking processes. Using LEGO® bricks to build models give a medium to learners to “think with objects” and “think through fingers’. It enables learners to unleash creativity, take different modes of thought and ways of seeing that most people have forgotten they even possessed in their unconscious minds.
In LSP, the material objects for use are a large number (over several thousands) of LEGO® pieces, such as bricks, plates, min-figures, animals, gears, wheels, connectors. Some of them appear relatively ambiguous in their three-dimensional geometrical abstraction, while other bricks carry more concrete meanings such as a ladder, a shark, a hammer, a wheel, or a mini-figure. This large variety and quantity of colorful LEGO® bricks can create ambiguous models of symbolic meaning with the similar positive impact like using fluid materials such as clay. Even better than clay, not only do different colors represent different emotions, but also transparent bricks can represent opposite meanings of attitudes: open minded or absent minded. If we combine six 8-stud bricks of the same color together, we will get over 100 million ways to do it. Also building tangible models allows participants to move, touch and integrate their models with others to expand more interpretations.
In summary, using a large amount of LEGO® bricks with different colors and shapes can be powerful with nearly unlimited ways to create meanings and represent our thoughts. It provides a great tool to open up many possible ways for human development.
Terence Chung, Principal Consultant, Integral Training & Consulting Ltd.