Category Archives: Serious Play Case Studies

Case studies of successful Lego Serious Play facilitation events

Stefan H Thomke Faculty Chair of Harvard Business School

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY at Harvard Business School

The following was published at HBS@Work Resource Library as “The Magic Behind Innovation”

What do magic and LEGO® have to do with innovation? At HBS Executive Education’s Leading Product Innovation program, the answer is: “everything.”

The rationale behind the continuous changes to Harvard Business School Executive Education’s Leading Product Innovation program is simple: “How can we effectively teach innovation if our program is not innovative?” Faculty Chair Stefan Thomke explains: “When people come here, their expectations are already quite high. These are senior executives, many with decades of experience and proven track records of success, and they’re at Harvard Business School. So, of course, they expect the program and the faculty to be great. But our objective is to exceed those expectations, create a ‘wow’ factor, and provide an element of surprise.”

Stefan H Thomke Faculty Chair of Harvard Business School

Since its inception in 1991, when it was known as Leading Product Development, this program has been focused on identifying the best practices in the field of innovation. While many of these originate in product-based industries, they’re equally applicable to service industries. Although executives from product companies still make up the largest proportion of the audience, the program always attracts participants from service companies—a trend that is expected to continue.

Expect the unexpected

Thomke explains how the program evolves every year. “New cases and materials are de rigueur—we always do that. But at LPI, we take it a step further by creating one-of-a-kind experiences. I can’t give away all of our surprises, but I can share with you a little background on two experiential exercises that have been incredibly successful at LPI.

“For starters, I’ve developed an exciting class on customer experience design that centers around LEGO® bricks. When I conducted research for a LEGO® case study, I learned about a methodology called LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP). In LSP, specially designed LEGO® kits are used to facilitate strategy building, vision setting, and problem-solving sessions for business executives. It’s based on the learning premise of the mind-hand connection, that is, when you use your hands to build things, the nature of learning changes.”

The teacher becomes the student

While he found the LEGO® concept very intriguing, Thomke quickly deduced that the LSP format would not work in HBS’s signature classroom environment. Realizing that the only way he could teach it was to experience it himself, he did what he’d advised so many others to do over the years: he went back to school. He ultimately obtained two LSP facilitator certifications and says he then spent a few months “busting his brain” and experimenting to adjust the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® experience for LPI. The result? A 90-minute session on how to design and build magical customer experiences using (what else?) LEGO® bricks. “What we’ve learned is that, after moving up the ladder, many executives are focused on left-brain activities—organizational structure and functions, for instance,” Thomke observes. “While they may have been more creative in school or when they were just starting out, most executives have few opportunities to engage in such right-brain activities.

“When I ask participants what are their big takeaways from the LEGO® session, they invariably tell me that it’s transformational. Aside from learning about tangible design principles, it forces them to look at a service or product experience through the eyes of a customer and get a much better sense of their emotional journey.”
Making innovation magic

Sometimes, learning new things requires that you go to other fields for inspiration. “Several years ago, I came upon the realization that magicians can be some of the best innovators,” says Thomke. “Night after night, they have to come up with new tricks in order to entertain and wow their audience. I had the great fortune to run into Jason Randal, one of the world’s foremost close-up magicians. Not only is he an amazing magician and charismatic person, he’s also a great innovator.”

“Over the years, he’s actually developed a set of innovation principles that work. So we got together and over the course of many months, we developed a common set of principles that work well for innovation and are inspired by what magicians like Jason do,” says Thomke.

This collaboration has resulted in a magical learning experience—refined over the course of several years—that causes executives to let go of their assumptions and embrace new ways of thinking. He says, “When you get down to it, this class is not about helping someone lead a team or manage a portfolio, it’s about helping the participant become a more effective innovator—period.”

Yielding valuable takeaways

But it’s not just fun and games at LPI. Participants leave the program with a set of very practical, yet powerful, innovation principles that they can put into practice right away. Says Thomke, “People tell me that they tape these principles to the wall as a reminder of how they should behave as individuals. My primary objective is to create an educational experience that changes the way participants think, feel, and act. And based on what we’re seeing and hearing, it’s happening—every day, in every session.”

Stefan H. Thomke is William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration. Member of the Technology and Operations Management Unit; and faculty chair of HBS Executive Education in India, “Driving Growth Through Innovation—India”, and “Leading Product Innovation.”. He is the co-author of HBS case studies: LEGO, and LEGO, the Crisis 

How to make a serious LEGO movie

Yesterday I facilitated an ‘ExportJam’ workshop commissioned by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI – a Government department) that aimed to generate ideas for how the UK can double exports by 2020.

At the workshop mid point we recorded stories that looked like this:

To film in this way I used a Logitech C930 webcam, a 20m USB Cable, Quicktime player (to record, with a few helpful hints) plus a few lego bricks, black gaffer tape and a range of mini-figures.

Serious Lego Movie gear

This approach seems better able to get into the story of the model, plus when the feed is simultaneously projected onto a large screen  a large group can see the story at the same time.

We made 10 short films in all (all on the ExportJam YouTube channel), here are three others perspectives.

Please share any tips for making your own serious lego movies!

This post first appeared on the ProMeet blog.

Sean Blair @ProMeetings

Using Lego Serious Play to explore timetabling

Nicky Riley (@Nicky_Riley) is Programme Manager at University of the Arts London. She manages university timetabling initiative and recently organised a LEGO SERIOUS PLAY assisted workshop, which was facilitated by Sean Blair from ProMeet. This LEGO SERIOUS PLAY case study describing their workshop was originally published in her blog.

Academic and Timetabling colleagues at LCC used Lego Serious Play to explore the complex system that is timetabling last week. Using Lego to build models and share understanding of timetabling from different perspectives, the group explored what is and isn’t working in relation to timetabling and what we could be doing better.

Image: Collaboration & innovative course delivery works!
Image: Collaboration & innovative course delivery works!

This session highlighted a number of key areas for improvement including:

  • joining everything together better (processes around course planning and delivery are not aligned and make lives difficult for everyone)
  • making better decisions (management decisions don’t seem to take into account the reality of delivering course timetables and timetabling teams aren’t involved in crucial learning space discussions and decisions)
  • working together better (timetabling works best when people work collaboratively)
  • improving student experiences (student experiences are inconsistent)
  • encouraging innovation and improvement (timetabling does not support risk-taking and innovation but this is needed to make better use of space)
Image: Timetabling in Lego
Image: Timetabling in Lego

The great thing about Lego Serious Play in this context was that it allowed the group to have an adult conversation about the timetabling system without judgement or blame on individuals or groups of staff. The group remained focused on exploring the issues and employing creative problem solving to identify areas for improvement. The group was also unanimous on one thing – the main success factor behind timetabling is the people! The effective and helpful timetabling team and their collaborative work with course teams and students was highlighted during the workshop as something that works well and should not be changed.

Read more about their work here.

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY and work with Charities by Strategic Play Group Ltd.

Harvest Project – Case Study

Read, see, and hear,  how Strategic Play Group Ltd. in North America, are using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology and materials to support the work of the charity  board at Harvest Project!

Harvest Project reaches out to individuals and families on Metro-Vancouver’s North Shore who are challenged by family break-down, illness, job loss and poverty. They work to provide client-care coaching and counsel, grocery and clothing support, and emergency drop-in help. They work hard to impact the community by breaking the poverty cycle and restoring people to participate in work school, and a healthier family life.




The Executive Director, Gary Ansell, approached the StrategicPlay® Group Ltd., to work with the Board of Directors. Gary identified that Harvest Project had a fuzzy situation.  The fuzzy problem facing the organization is as complex as the concept of poverty.  How does the face of poverty on the North Shore present today?  How might that emerge or change?  How can Harvest best serve and have the best possible impact? How can Harvest Project prepare for the future?



During 2015, members of the Strategic Play team have provided LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops, Executive Coaching, and Creative Problem Solving using the Basadur challenge mapping approach. We are using highly visual and interactive tools to gain 100% of stakeholder engagement. Specifically, the sessions conducted to date include working to answer the following questions:

  1. Current Situation Analysis:  What is the state of poverty on the North Shore right now?
  2. What is the impact of poverty on the North Shore, right now in real time?
  3. What is our vision for the future?
  4. Who are our clients?  Why do they come?
  5. What do our clients truly need from Harvest Project?
  6. Are we meeting those needs?
  7. What are our goals?
  8. How are we measuring what we are doing?

The board members of Harvest Project have kindly shared their story and video case.  Here is what Gary Ansell, Executive Director, had to say about one of the events.

Intended Impact Statement work done at a board level of a charity appears enormous and daunting within the constraints of a not for profit. It requires that very busy people volunteering their valuable time engage quickly and efficiently in a process where everyone lean in and contribute their story yet simultaneously build one consensual story for the organization. I do not know of a more effective process to give the best chance of achieving this than LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.”

Gary Ansell, Executive Director, Harvest Project

If you would like to watch the videos that accompany this post, please visit this link at Strategic Play website–2308.asp
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Michael Tarnowski Plays in Business Character Profiling

Acting – Character Creation With LEGO Serious Play and Moving Motivators

from Michael Tarnowski blog Plays in Business

In rehearsals, the actors try together with the director to enter as deep as possible into the character he/she will present on stage. There are a lot of different — even contradictory —philosophies and acting schools how to do stage character profiling. The most famous one is the Stanislavski Method — taught by Lee Strasberg as Method Acting.

The basic idea behind Method  Acting is, that actors should utilize, among other things, their emotional memory (i.e., they recall past experiences and emotions). Thus, the actor’s entrance onto the stage is considered to be not a beginning of the action or of his life as the character but a continuation of the set of preceding (actor’s) circumstances. A lot of famous movie actors and Oscar laureates originate from Strassberg’s Method Acting: Christian BaleMarlon BrandoNicolas CageMichael CaineRobert De NiroJames Dean,  Johnny Depp,  Jane FondaAnne HathawayHeath Ledger,  Philip Seymour HoffmanMarisa Tomei  — to name a few only.

The main objective of these exercises is to develop a sense for motivations and actions of the character: “Why does he/she behaves in certain situations or circumstances?” — “What defines his/her personality” — “What is driving him/her?”

As you image, all these training are very time-consuming since the actor has to train his/her concentration and his/her senses so that he/she may respond freely to the total stage environment.

Having a long time experience working in off-theater groups as actor and director I took a new approach to stage character profiling for the theater die gewissen, a theater group I work with since years and has this year 50-th anniversary.

I combined Lego Serious Play to model metaphorical the stage character role with Moving Motivators, a method from Management 3.0, to identify what motivates each individual character.

The benefit of the approach: within only 2,5 hours we elaborated with 11 actors their complete role profile and each character’s intrinsic motivations.

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LEGO® Case Study: Problem Solving

Using LEGO to solve real business problems? Surely not! This is another case study in a series focusing on companies that have used LEGO Serious Play to help solve real business challenges they were facing.

The Brief

Pivotal Play was contacted by a global professional services company to help address several workforce issues that had been highlighted in their recent employee engagement survey.

We were asked to run a LEGO Serious Play session for a working group to help them explore and understand the issues better, focus in on one of them and start to develop solutions.

What We Did

We ran a 3 hour LEGO Serious Play workshop for the 10 people in the working group. Because of the size of the group we split them into two groups of five, but cross pollinated ideas and discussion between the groups at numerous times throughout the session.

The high level plan was:

  • Choose one area to address
  • Build understanding of the problem
  • Brainstorm solutions
  • Decide on 1-2 solutions
  • First steps to implement

To choose one area, we took the 4 issues from the engagement survey, put each one on a card, gave each person two special voting bricks and ask them to vote for the area(s) they wanted to address in the workshop. They chose to work on the issue of career opportunities. Their survey showed a low score on “I have a clear understanding of the career paths available to me”.

To build understanding of the problem, we let them loose with the LEGO and asked them to build models representing the key factors that were driving this issue. After building and sharing, we got the groups to capture this information and started to build a picture of why this issue was occurring.

Michael Fearne Pivotal Play LEGO SERIOUS PLAY PhotoTo brainstorm solutions, we asked them to build a model representing a way to improve the current situation and move it closer to the ideal state (the “I have a clear understanding of the career paths available to me” statement from the survey). Once the individual models were built, we got the groups to combine their models into a “solution-scape”. Placing similar ideas / themes near each other.

To decide on 1-2 solutions to implement, the group surveyed all the solutions (conveniently laid out on the table in front of them in Lego models) and assessed them via particular criteria such as likelihood of success and impact.

To outline first steps to implement we finished off the session with commitments to very specific actions and very clear ownership of the proposed solutions. The group was to meet again in two weeks to assess progress against these actions.

The Result

In three short hours we took a group from knowing that there was a high level issue to address through to actionable solutions.

They choose two solutions: The first was to implement a shadowing program to allow people to understand what other roles and levels do on a day to day basis. This would give people a real / truer sense of the career paths and roles available.

The second solution was around the theme of empowerment. The group felt the reason why there was no clarity on career paths was that people didn’t feel comfortable going out and seeking that information, asking for feedback, questioning people. So the first step to changing that culture was for the working group to embody that change. Be the exemplar, seek information, ask for feedback, question people. From that experience develop up a set of characteristics and train up a network of people to drive that change.

So in the end Lego Serious Play helped this group understand the problem better, shape the available solutions, decide on some actions and implement. The best thing was the whole group was engaged in creating this outcome. You could see the increased commitment and ownership to go out and implement their solution.

About the Author

Michael Fearne is the founder of Pivotal Play. An unconventional consultancy helping companies to solve problems and create more meaningful conversations through the power of LEGO Serious Play. To find out more about Michael and Pivotal Play go to