Serious Play Pro aStore open

Amazon aStoreFacilitation is an interesting profession because it requires endless lifelong learning. Every new facilitation situation is new. Good facilitators have to constantly update their skills. So far we have included on our site a modest list of books related to Lego Serious Play facilitation that you may purchase via Amazon bookstore.

To make your life easier we have also now created an option to buy a collection of books, ebooks and Lego Education bricks in our designated SeriousPlayPro Amazon AStore that we plan to grow over time.

It would be great if you would take a look to see whether what we have recommended is interesting for you. Your purchases provide us with advertising fee that allows us to review new books for you. Please let us know about interesting books to add to the list.

Build a Tangible Vision to Direct Your Innovation Initiative

Dr Michael Ohler has written an interesting blog post where he touches upon the way how Lego Serious Play could easily serve as a replacement of work on organizational vision statement.

A “vision” is meant to give an organization direction, to explain its purpose and to motivate employees. That sounds simple enough, but why then is it so hard to craft a good one? As innovation practitioners, I believe you should take a position when your organization formulates a vision. Where “keep going” or “improvement” are not enough, innovation thinking can shape that vision of the future and, chances are, an innovation initiative needs to build that same future.

Chief Innovator Online Lego Serious Play

What Does Your Vision Mean?

Over the past 15 months or so I have worked with some 30 plant managers and over 50 product managers to help them shape their “vision“ of the future and to set up transformational programs that get them there. These experiences are summarized in this recent webinar. The approaches discussed there are working. We have used them successfully over and over again.

That said, the reality is that all too often people formulate a vision like: “more X” (X being revenue, margin, market share and so forth) through more Y (customer satisfaction, reliability or diversification) while also increasing Z (sustainability, employee engagement or supplier relations). That sounds all great and it is great—no question. However, once such a vision is framed and hung up in the entrance hall, the real issues tend to surface: What does it mean specifically for our daily work? How are we going to achieve all that?

I don’t want to frighten my current clients: You have done everything right. The aforementioned methods have brought you and your teams on the right track. I only think we could have achieved your success in a more straightforward and somewhat more meaningful manner. Let me formulate that from a physicist’s point of view: All models are wrong, some are useful. In that sense, I believe there are more useful methods than building a “classical” company vision.

Γνῶθι σαυτόν Instead of a Vision

I have been pushed to explore other methods through my work with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. People there are very cautious about concepts, which is a precondition for sharp thinking. They don’t use Lego bricks to build a “vision.” Instead, they build an “aspirational identity”—who do you want to become? In order to build that model, first you build your “current identity”—who are you today? These two—literally tangible—models allow for very powerful team conversations. The tactile stimulus coming from touching and crafting the model brings up new thinking and also removes mental barriers teams might otherwise have when merely playing with words instead of with bricks. With these two models in hand, you can also derive your strategy: How do I get from here to there? Sure, that “identity thing” is old hat and has already been thought through in Ancient Greece: Γνῶθι σαυτόν, know thyself, as inscribed on the Apollo temple in Delphi.

The tensions between current and aspired identity can create profound questions: Who are you today? Who do you want to become and who can you become? These are fascinating questions. When you work on an organization’s vision, these questions must also be addressed: Is this vision something “your corporate genes are fit for”? When looking at current and aspired identity, that conversation comes up naturally.

How to proceed? First you build a model for who you are today. Then you describe who you can and want to become. Then you discuss how to get from here to there. And only then do you develop the specific goals you want to achieve, like the X, Y and Z we talked about before. Example: you want to double your revenue. That leads to the question: Who do you want to become so that customers love you so much they give you all that money? Who do you want to become so that competitors let you enjoy your nice margin? Future revenue and future margins flow from your aspirational identity and not vice-versa.

Current and Aspirational Identity as Guidelines for Your Innovation Initiative

“We are the low-cost workbench of a sophisticated global technology company,” said Rahul, one of my clients in India. That is the current identity. We are able to work out his aspirational identity by looking at which customers he wants to win: “We want to be able to provide our solutions under extreme environmental conditions.” The description of his “current” and “aspired identity” helps Rahul and his team create a shortlist of capabilities they need to acquire, networks and infrastructure they need to build, and so forth. A thorough analysis also helps them tell apart what is mere “insourcing” or “improvement” versus what is “innovation.”

People like Rahul might all too easily jump quickly into their first and then their next innovation project: “extreme environmental conditions”? – let’s create a solution for high pressure and then one for salt-water. Don’t some innovation initiatives fail because organizations move from one such skirmish to the next? Rahul’s war is far from being won. Yet, his team has clarity about their “current identity” and what is in their “genes.” They also have clarity about their “aspired identity” and the way to get from here to there. And that tells them how to select their “insourcing,” “improvement” and “innovation” projects such that they all build one on the other in order to lead to that aspired future.

Descriptive, Creative and Challenging Imagination

Roos Victor 1999 European Management Journal p.351
Roos Victor 1999 European Management Journal p.351

You may have heard about three kinds of imagination: descriptive, creative and challenging. Roos & Victor introduced those three types of imagination in their 1999 EMJ paper “Towards a New Model of Strategy-making as Serious Play“.

  1. The first type of imagination is descriptive imagination. It focuses on seeing the world out there as it is. Describing it with our words, drawings or building the concepts with bricks. Most synthetic tools that consultants use help us better capture the world through description.
  2. The second type of imagination is creative imagination. This is so called ‘out-of-box’ thinking, which is associated with ‘blue oceans’ or ‘value innovations’ that entail trying to come up with something that does not exist there out yet. Most fantasies, science fiction belong under creative imagination.
  3. The third is challenging imagination. With the help of antithesis, negation and contradicting our previous beliefs we try to completely redefine or revolutionize existing systems of operation. Challenging is often a prerequisite for a new round of creative imagination.

When you are dealing with Lego Serious Play facilitation then the typology of imagination was most probably introduced to you as one of the cornerstones of facilitation concepts on how to encourage different participants to become more active in discussions.

The reason is that conventional wisdom only leads us to understanding imagination as only a creative act. However, frequently the facilitation process does not lead us to major breakthroughs. In fact. frequently it is exactly the opposite – the discussions merely scratch the surface and are only able to describe what is out there. Therefore the facilitator needs to find the ways how to stir discussions in such a way to make sure that you are able to open up challenging existing predetermined wisdom.

Only after a reasonable number of participants are able to see the ways that the old ways can be subject to critique, are they able to really open up for the second subtype – creative imagination. For this reason – I would suggest the facilitators to use the three types of imagination in the following time order to bring out the best in your groups.

Descriptive Challenging Creative Imagination

For those of you who are more interested in this subject, there are lots of references out there that can be pointed out.

Richard Kearney Wake of Imagination
Richard Kearney Wake of Imagination

The roots of categorizing imagination are much deeper. The historic concepts were well mapped and elaborated by philosophy professor of Boston University Richard Kearney in his book The Wake of Imagination. Toward a Postmodern Culture.

In this book that was published in 1998, prof. Kearney digs into the history of contemporary imagination, starting from the way imagination was conceptualized by Hebraic legends, in Greek myths, in  medieval Christian icons and theology, throughout renaissance and romantic era. Finally he concludes with existentialist takes on imagination and concludes with post-modern contemporary classics.

If you are interested in deep analysis of history and typology of imagination then this book is worth a look.

Lego Bricks and Design Thinking

Future Balloons using Lego Bricks facilitating Design Thinking 6
Future Balloons using Lego Bricks facilitating Design Thinking

We use Lego in the prototyping sessions of social solutions, under design thinking methods.

We support social leaders, teachers and entrepreneurs for social change to generate innovation through design thinking consultancy and training, so we call it social design. There is already plenty of evidence that social design is an effective method to solve social problems, specially those wicked ones as most social problems fall under this category (poverty, unschooling, urban violence, …). Social design includes the phases of understanding the context and the public (inspiration), ideation (including prototyping) and finally implementation.

Now, most people working in the social sector in Portugal are qualified in sociology, education, social service or humanities, so they are very good working with concepts and in analytical or reasearch work. However it very difficult to ask them to think in terms of graphic or physical representation of their solutions, which involves synthesis, required in the prototyping stage. Here we have introduced Lego to assist us in this phase!

Lego is seen as playful, easy and cool activity. Compared with drawing, which was considered uncomfortable for a big number of our participants, Lego bricks are much more easy to rely on. There is a bigger engagement and motivation in the methods after the introduction of LEGO.

Still, we are fighting that participants look for “the little lego people” to represent social concepts, as these involve people. Therefore our groups are always in the search of more legomen :). See some pictures of our work in our Facebook here:

Experience – Bring Thoughts into Something Concrete and Be Able to Turn Experience into Action

LSP Blindfold Exercise 1Since the beginning of this year we started working with students from the Faculty of Engineering at a Chilean university, the purpose is to develop their entrepreneurial and innovative capacity by connecting them with creativity. An important part of this program is that they experience things from another perspective, to live new situations in changing scenarios; that they can identify opportunities and translate them into concrete actions, working as a team, to think with their hands, and learn of the own discoveries and another’s.

The first step is to accompany them to get out of the comfort zone and to achieve this we design a practical exercise.


LSP Blindfold Exercise 2Without giving any information, at the beginning of the class we ask them to be organized in groups of 10 students. Each had to wear blindfolds and accompanied by 5 teammates who cared not have accidents, they had to walk from the door of the University to the classroom without looking.

This is a walk they do every day, but this time we forced them to do without the sense of sight, which would generate a series of reactions and emotions in them. Once they got to the classroom, we invite them to sit at the tables where the Lego pieces were and we asked them to build an Individual Model of them Perceptual Experience, then tell the story of that journey.

LSP Blindfold Exercise 3The exercise was very significant since students sharpen their senses on both the walk and at the time of building. As never, Models were loaded with emotions. Construction was the heart of the experience. Some were scared or frustrated for not remembering the way, others were disoriented.

Empathy was generated from practical experience, allowing them to connect with the responsibility of being part of a community and also with satisfaction that delivers surpass themselves and achieve the goal.

Finally we reflect on the experience and decided to work, using Design Thinking to design positive experiences for students and disabled members of the University. The prototypes will be built with Lego bricks.

Translated by: Anais Gwynn. Photos:

Designing Investment Portfolios Under Uncertainty: A LEGO Serious Play Application

Julian Kea found this blog post of Keystone Compact Group

Over the last few weeks, I have been partaking in a series of LEGO Serious Play rapid prototyping design challenges at the Research Institute for the Finnish Economy. The focus was to conceptualize, visualize and manipulate a new approach to designing blended asset investment vehicles. The prototyping application is tied to a 2.5 year project on ‘Financial Innovation for Industrial Renewal‘, financed by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes). The project involves partners from industry centers of excellence, economic development groups and equity investors, with an advisory board that includes European Investment Fund (EIF) and P80 (pension fund) Foundation managers. Our rapid prototyping design team was comprised of equity research analysts, investors, economists, management scientists, industry practitioners, and academics in entrepreneurship. The 4-week process design, comprised of individual builds and challenges, and culminating in team builds, was laid out and facilitated by Sven Adriaens, a high school senior from Pinckney, Michigan (US), an intern seeking to advance his educational interests in design sciences.

Industrial renewal has become a widely used concept at the highest levels of economic policy in the US and Europe. It involves the repositioning of industries, by leveraging and realigning value systems, while integrating innovative companies to ‘turn the ship’. Given the requirement for considerable capital infusions, the European Commission is restructuring fiduciary requirements for pension funds to drive engagement in potentially riskier investment vehicles.

The overall core challenge of the project was how to organize, select and visually represent companies that become part of blended asset investment portfolios comprised of: an index (public), a bundled loan product (SMEs), and equity investment (startups and growth companies) placements. How would such a portfolio be structured and administered? When is a company or a portfolio investable? What are the risks? The new portfolio investment vehicles are targeted at institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies, as well as family offices, thus impacting the risk:return profiles of the product. The spirited discussions around this topic exposed the tension between economists, management scientists and investors, and centered on the (types of) data used for decision-making, and the fundamental (theoretical or case-based) underpinnings that guide the investor and company management team.

Lego Serious Play photo
Lego Serious Play photo
Visualizing an investment vehicle and business model with LEGO bricks opened up a query that continues to vex entrepreneurs and investors alike: What are key selection metrics for high value investable companies positioned to drive industrial innovation?

If we consider the research in the field, salient ingredients for entrepreneurial success are often distilled down to: indomitable optimism and enthusiasm of the founder, a game-changing product, leveraging mega-trends or policies, mixed in a cocktail of product and/or market pivots. These ‘potentially observable management inputs and management characteristics’ are, however, insufficient to explain why one venture succeeds and the other fails. Potential, because, for example, recent HBR research showed that companies built by serial entrepreneurs aren’t any more likely to succeed – even if investors consider the ability of past experience in their equity-taking decisions. The residual variables of success are not observable: skill, luck and timing.

There is a significant parallel between these uncertainties, and how economists ascribe differences in company productivity to allocation efficiencies of resources such as capital and labor. The difference is that in microeconomics there are elegant theories that explain how inputs (of mature firms) relate to outputs, presuming that allocation is optimal and aimed at profit maximization. Yet, after accounting for all measurable inputs, often more than 90% of company productivity variability between companies is captured in a ‘multi-factor productivity variable’, which cannot be measured. It is often explained as a measure of technological change in the industry that contributes to the allocation efficiency. Because it is not observable, it can’t be explicitly considered. Economic theory is data-driven, yet the magnitude of the unobservable residual is similar to that which explains entrepreneurial success. In entrepreneurship there is no theoretical underpinning for success – rather our knowledge is based on case studies. Since measures of success derived from cases are difficult to abstract and made generalizable, the development of theories is notoriously challenging.

Going back to the Serious LEGO design challenge then, how do we make portfolio resource allocation and investment decisions for individual companies in the face of unobservable factors for success and productivity?

This series of blogs covers the context of the LEGO Serious Play portfolio design aspects, both at the strategic level of industrial renewal and tactical or operational level describing the analytical engines driving the project. The angles on this problem will represent the expertise and background of the participants, and culminate in a description of the final team build product design. The educational aspects will be addressed from two perspectives. From the student-facilitator’s angle: How can LEGO bricks be used to help the uninitiated teach finance and business models? From the professional participants’ angle – How do LEGO bricks help in the design of new investment vehicles and their management structure?

For more details, including a video on the final team build, please contact:

Peter Adriaens, PhD
Finnish Distinguished Professor, Research Institute for the Finnish Economy (2014-2016), Helsinki, Finland.
Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, The University of Michigan (Ross School of Business – Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies), Ann Arbor, Michigan (US)

Antti Tahvanainen, PhD
Chief Research Scientist, Research Institute for the Finnish Economy, Helsinki, Finland

Lego Serious Play Facilitator Network