Lego Moves from the Toybox to Serious Science

Andrew Masterson wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald how Lego moves from the toybox to serious science.

Recent studies have deployed Lego bricks in fields as diverse as biology, surgery, oceanography, computer science, climate change, business modelling, vehicle safety, and brainwave technology for the disabled.

Many a boozy post-prandial dinner party conversation has explored the vexing question of identifying the single most useful product ever invented. Conclusions usually come to rest on the ball-pen hammer, with which anything may be dismantled, or gaffer tape, with which all things may be repaired.

A much stronger contender, at least to judge by the academic literature, has to be the Lego brick. To children, Lego is a jolly toy. To parents it is a painful discovery lurking in the carpet. To boffins, however, it is a multi-faceted tool without equal.

All hands Legos combination of predictability and versatility appeals to kids and scientists alike. Photo by Glenn Hunt
All hands Legos combination of predictability and versatility appeals to kids and scientists alike. Photo by Glenn Hunt

In the past two years alone peer-review journals across a wide range of disciplines have been fair stuffed with papers citing Lego as a key component of experimental research.

The Lego brick, it seems, is more popular than even the ubiquitous Petri dish in laboratories. Recent studies have deployed the brightly coloured little bits of plastic in fields as diverse as biology, surgery, oceanography, computer science, climate change, business modelling, vehicle safety, and brain-wave technology for the disabled.

Most of these experiments, of course, use Lego with deliberate forethought. In the area of oceanography, however, its value is the result of pure chance. Or, to put it another way, catastrophic accident.

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Can We do All Our Learning & Teaching using Lego?

Simon Usherwood from the University of Surrey has written a humorous yet contemplative blog post about his attempts to use Lego Serious Play to creatively distract his students in the classroom. Any comments – add them below?

Off the back of the great response to my post last week on The Lego Movie, I have obviously returned to the subject, albeit in a slightly different way. While searching for the official movie website, I stumbled across Lego Serious Play. ‘Stumbled’ here should of course be understood as ‘spent ages browsing the online shop, buying a kit, then browsing some more.’ That box has now arrived, so the next step of my investigation continues.

Lego Serious Play Starter Kit - Of Course I have Some More Lego On My Desk
Lego Serious Play Starter Kit – Of Course I have Some More Lego On My Desk

Essentially, LSP is a system for promoting team interaction and creativity, using the bricks to allow people to visualise and manifest their ideas in a way that lets them explore new ideas. That’s the website’s take on it, anyway.

I’ll freely admit I’m not so sure about this, not least because I’ve still to see it in practice, but I’m willing to have a bash at it.

As readers with long memories might recall, I’ve been using Lego in the classroom for a long time. Some years ago, I made a video explaining different voting systems, using Lego squares, because it made it all much easier to visualise. Similarly, my negotiating class get to use Lego to explore the difficulties of communication, because it allows for very subtle usage.

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Lego Serious Play is the grown-up office toy you’ll always wish you had

Pocket-lint is the portal which analyses different cool gadgets. Yesterday Peter Jenkinson wrote a blog post about “Lego Serious Play is the grown-up office toy you’ll always wish you had” where he introduced the basic package of Lego Serious Play starter kit.

Lego Serious Play Starter Kit
Lego Serious Play Starter Kit

Some of the sparkly new offices on the start-up scene have their fun foibles installed, such as mini foosball and ping-pong tables (table tennis if you like). Some have slides and swings, fun is positively promoted, and yet these outfits continue to get the work done. No longer does a Newtons Cradle suffice in the workplace, more inspiration is needed and who better to support this process of play at work than the world’s biggest toy maker: Lego.

The Danish outfit trumped sales of Mattel last week to take number one slot, and its constant innovation of its brick system and finding new markets will likely keep them there for some time. The latest target is the boardroom and bricks for businesses could be a winner.

Under the Serious Play branding, there are several team-building and workplace sets available.

The Starter Set for one worker contains an eclectic mix of standard bricks, a few Duplo bits and elements including wheels, tires, windows, trees, mini figure parts, tubes, globes and small base plates. There are 214 pieces in total – enough to let creativity bloom.

Its aimed at training a boardroom brain to think a tad differently, although we’ll avoid using the phrase “out of the box” for fear of mass retribution.

And once the board is convinced that this Lego stuff is like the best accelerant for unleashing imagination across the workforce then its onto the Connections Kit with 2,455 pieces designed for workers to collaborate together with spiral tubes, ladders, fences, bridges and strings – all manner of connectors to create a single model with everyone’s individual efforts combining. Sorting trays are supplied too.

The Landscape and Identity set is the one the boss will need sign off on next. It features 2,631 pieces of randomness in a box; baseplates, Duplo animals, Technics-type cogs and all manner of studded beauty in the Smorgasbord of Lego sets.

No surprise there are no instructions with these but an Imaginopedia booklet, which is about the only thing not to like here. Imaginopedia? Please!
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The New School with LEGO bricks!

A charity creative game for SOS village inhabitants in Russian town of St-Petersburg.

There are a lot of inspiring examples all around the world on applying LEGO Serious Play to business tasks. But what about serious play with LEGO bricks for children?  Most of adults think of kids’ games as of something for pleasure and “not serious”. None of us ever thought of taking a kid on an important directors’ board meeting or invite them to participate at political decision making processes. We even don’t involve kids into a process of designing spaces or for their own educational processes, which aim to “teach” them. This time around we decided to get the children all the knowledge, ability and inspiration to make a school of their dream by LEGO education tools.

We built the serious game around the basic process of design thinking and empathy and rolled it out at one of the SOS Villages who aim to provide disadvantaged children with due out-of-home care. After icebreaking session we watched some LEGO education videos and showed some approaches, how to build “real-life” models.

SOS Village - A Child Presenting Why She Does Not Like School
SOS Village – A Child Presenting Why She Does Not Like School

The next step was mutual interviewing “Why don’t we like to learn?” We got really big maps with more than 50 varieties of different reasons, why children don’t like to learn or why they don’t enjoy going to school. All the answers and problems were very sincere and open. And it was really challenging for adults who were present at the game. The most astonishing for the guys was our statement, that teachers don’t have all the answers on “how to teach you” and need your active help to rebuild the process of education with your heads and hands on. By the way, at the mixed group were kids from different ages – from 5 up to 16, working closely with each other. This was a new experience for them too.

SOS Village - Why we Don't Like Our School
SOS Village – Why we Don’t Like Our School

After the problem identification phase we moved directly to building up a “Dream School” model, where all the problems might be solved. This was not an easy journey to get the attention and interest on the high level of all the kids in a hall, but together with our facilitators team we did our best to master the challenge. Through their models children presented clear and direct vision of how the school and learning process might look like.

One of the models was built up avoiding any of the mini-figures, which stand for the teachers (!). The next one was a school building model, which levels are located in a more sophisticated and interconnected format between each other. The others created a model with big halls “for everything to do” and no classrooms.

SOS Village - A Proud Kid with his Dream School Built of Lego Bricks
SOS Village – A Proud Kid with his Dream School Built of Lego Bricks

The LEGO session was not the answer to all questions and problems, which are essential for kids. However it was a real opportunity to undertake a concrete and immediate action towards creating a world to live, learn and work together!

Our greatest thanks to Zhanna Zhirnova and Andrey Troitskiy, SAP CIS social innovators, who made this visit possible!

Follow Lego Serious Play Days 2014 via Twitter #LSPdays2014

Lego Serious Play Days 2014 #LSPdays2014
Lego Serious Play Days 2014 #LSPdays2014

95 Lego Serious Play facilitators from 28 countries have gathered in Billund for two days of presentations and discussions. Follow the event on Twitter using the hashtag #LSPdays2014

Add your comments below for the community on any interesting ideas that you heard during presentations or during your free time with fellow facilitators.

The Serious Benefits of Productive Play

Meg Wildrick has written a post about The Serious Benefits of Productive Play for Business 2 Community website.

Play has become a powerful word in leadership circles. It’s been touted in the press as “the number one leadership competency of the future,” “the key to a company’s success” and “the greatest natural resource in a creative economy.”

Productive playfulness is one of the top traits I look for in new hires. But, I also look for the ability to transition between play and problem-solving. Playfulness motivates us to take risks, see new possibilities, experiment and iterate. It’s a critical first step in creative problem-solving. Playfulness breaks down the black-and-white, multiple-choice mindsets we’re taught in school. It helps us question, probe, create–and stay deeply connected to our work. But productive play is not just about experimentation for experimentation’s sake. It’s about coming together and solving problems.

As Tim Brown remarks in his TED Talk on Serious Play: “Play is not anarchy…There are rules about how and when to play.” Brown notes that high-performing creative groups have the ability to “transition in and out of play”–i.e., to move from “a generative mode of exploration to a problem-solving mode in which we come together seriously and solve problems.” As we age, professionals are socialized to favor problem-solving over exploration. Hence the urgent rallying-cry for play.

Over the past decade, a number of educational and leadership programs have sprung up to facilitate learning through play. Here are four simple steps to increase productive play:

  1. Seek out new experiences. Creativity is linked to our ability to recognize information. When we expand our experience base, we increase our ability to see connections.
  2. Be more open. Before saying “no,” ask “why not?” and “what’s possible?” Shutting down options too early eliminates possibilities.
  3. Experiment. Every idea can be hacked, morphed, stretched and made better. Productive play is grounded in tireless iteration.
  4. Move. Play is inherently active. Proto-types are a good way to prevent “analysis paralysis” and get the creative process moving.

Productive play makes work more enjoyable and leads to better creative solutions. When’s the last time you played productively at work?

Team-Building Games Using Legos

Andy Klaus wrote a post about Team-Building Games Using Legos on eHow.

Peter Macdiarmid - Getty Images News
Peter Macdiarmid – Getty Images News

Few factors in the workplace have more impact on productivity than the ability of co-workers to perform as a team. However, not every business has the resources or time to dedicate to professional grade training programs to enhance those skills. Ideally, a human resources department could find a low cost tool that could encourage team activities and cooperation. Creative games using Lego building blocks are inexpensive and engaging ways to help develop teams.

The Value of Team Building
Team building is an often overlooked aspect of business operation that has many advantages. Firstly, exercises which develop teamwork require members become familiar with each other. This knowledge creates a more relaxed work environment where members can communicate more easily. When each employee realizes how to fit into the workplace as part of a whole, they are more likely to appreciate the efforts of their co-workers. Teamwork also increases the efficiency of group or coordinated efforts. As a whole, when employees act as a team, they are more productive and harmonious in their endeavors.

Plan Execution Games
Games where members of a team follow instructions to execute a plan are ideally suited for team building exercises. The plans can be formal (like the ones found in a specific Lego kit) or informal, showing a sketch of an idea with some step-by-step instructions on how to achieve the goal. Lego ships and themed kits are ideal source material for such games. If a manager is present in the testing group, you can challenge them to coordinate the effort and delegate specific construction tasks. You can add incentive to the game by offering a small reward if the team is capable of beating a goal time for construction.

Problem-Solving Games
A team with moderate experience can develop their skills by participating in problem solving games. In these, the team is tasked with a problem, such as creating a bridge across a 2-foot-long span or manufacturing a 3-foot-tall structure. You should assign an additional challenge such as requiring that their structure is able to support 10 lbs. of weight or that their building require less than 100 pieces. In these games, you should offer a widely mixed set of Lego blocks to encourage creative solutions to the problems.

Communication-Testing Games
Lego blocks are surprisingly effective for games which test the ability of members to communicate. You can approach the games in many fashions. In one, you offer detailed instructions to managers, but none to the lower level employees, and challenge everyone to create a specific item or device. In another game, you pair up employees, assigning one as the instructor (who is given a picture of what to build) and designating the other employee as the builder. The instructor has to communicate how to build the design to the builder without using pictures or words that describe a specific piece by color or design.

Team Building Activities With Lego Bricks

David Weedmark has written a good and simple post about Team Building Activities With Lego Bricks on eHow where he has summarised well the core essence of using Lego Serious Play in team building activities. Nice photos by Laura Beth Drilling from Demand Media

Lego isn’t just about fun and games. For team building exercises, working with Lego helps enhance creative and critical thinking skills while giving employees an opportunity to — at least to some degree — act like kids again. In fact, development coaches have been using Lego for years in team-building exercises.

Team Building Activities With Lego Bricks - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Team Building Activities With Lego Bricks – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

Basic Tower Challenge

Divide your group into equal teams of three to five people and give each team the same number and sizes of Lego pieces. Whichever team can build the tallest free-standing structure in a set time period, like 10 or 20 minutes, wins the challenge. The towers must stand on their own for 60 seconds. To make the challenge more entertaining, have them accomplish the task without speaking, or specify that the tower must be built on an inverted object like a coffee cup or water glass.

Lego Bricks Tower - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Lego Bricks Tower – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

Tower Challenge With Profit

A variation of the tower challenge, described by development consultant Nick Heap, is to add a profit element into the construction. Each group gets time to plan and then to construct the tower. A dollar value is given to the height of each tower. Planning time costs $3 per minute. Construction time costs $5 per minute. Each block used costs 50 cents. Heap’s challenge has each tower worth $3 per centimeter, or roughly $9 per inch, so making a profit is challenging. You can use any dollar value you wish.

Lego Bricks Tower Business - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Lego Bricks Tower Business – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

Adaptive Projects

Have the teams do building projects that lead to another. For example, you could ask each group to make an animal, like a dog or a fish, from the Legos. When that is complete, have them incorporate the animal in a tower project. After the tower is done, have them transform the tower into a bridge. This presents a new dynamic to the challenge since the teams must adapt their previous project into a new one.

Lego Fish - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Lego Fish – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

Business-Related Play

In some cases, it may be more worthwhile to have teams work on projects directly related to work situations. For example, one company used a Lego team-building exercise to have employees work on interpretive models describing real-life problems between two departments. Groups of two to four people were given 10 minutes to create three-dimensional “screenshots” representing the problems they faced, which were then used for idea generation and problem-solving activities.

Lego Minifig - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Lego Minifig – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

Lego Serious Play Kits

There’s no need to limit yourself to the standard Legos available in toy stores. Lego also makes “Serious Play Kits” designed especially for team building. For example, the Lego Serious Play Starter Kit comes with an instruction booklet on basic skill-building with the pieces. Each kit comes with 214 pieces, including wheels, windows, trees, mini figures and globes.

Lego Task - Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media
Lego Task – Photo by Laura Beth Drilling Demand Media

References

Resources

Network of Professional Lego Serious Play Facilitators