How Lego toys can improve your company's productivity.

Published: 26th February 2009
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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and the company he works for a whole lot less productive). Could Lego toys be the answer? It seems it very well could be. Gone are the days when Lego games were thought of as mere kid's toys. A recent development has brought this much loved leisure pursuit into the corporate arena, with some very interesting results.

Here's how it came about. Back in 1996, the chairman of the Lego toys company, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen was looking to improve his company's strategy process. He approached Johan Roos and Bart Victor, both professors at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland to help him. While looking for alternatives to the conventional strategic planning process, they realised that the answer may be in the actual Lego games themselves. And so Lego Serious Play was born. The professors were drawing from Constructionism theory - a school of thought, attributed to Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, which postulates that the learning process is greatly supported by physical construction. In other words, when individuals are engaged in constructing an object, something outside of themselves (e.g. a sandcastle, a machine, a book, a Lego toy etc.) they are more open to receiving stimulus, retaining information and participating actively in the learning process.

In essence, Lego Serious Play is a form of business consultancy that aims to foster creative thinking through tangible interaction. After the process was developed and tested on Lego's employees, it was marketed and the real time strategy became a managerial mainstay for other corporate bigwigs like Daimler Chrysler, Roche Pharmaceutical, SABMiller, Tupperware, Nokia and Orange. So how does it work? Instead of having a conventional brainstorming meeting or workshop, using traditional methods and techniques that yield inconsistent results, the objective of Serious Play is to allow team members to build physical metaphors for their personal understanding of their company's organisational entities using Lego toys. These three-dimensional 'metaphors' are then used to facilitate strategic planning, conflict resolution and team development.

So why is this approach more effective than traditional methods? The Lego games basically allow participants to cut straight to the core of the issues at hand by working as a catalyst to trigger subconscious thinking processes. In truth, one could probably use any number of alternative 'construction games' to facilitate these processes, but LEGO has succeeded in harnessing the uses thereof - providing companies with a functional, one-stop strategic solution, so to speak. According to the Lego Serious Play website, this approach is best used for:

• Strategy development and exploration by examining and evaluating relations to external partners and clients.

• Organisational development for management, teams and individual employees respectively.

• Innovation and product development by unleashing creative thinking and transforming ideas into workable concepts.

• Smoothing management change by facilitating and implementing structural changes and mergers.

Abraham Maslow once said "If the only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail". What we can learn from the Lego Serious Play approach is to re-evaluate our resources, to think outside of the box - most of the time the solution to a problem is right in front of your face. Who could have known that playing with a few interesting Lego toys could bring about this much corporate insight?

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