Fun Networking using LEGO SERIOUS PLAY

April 18, 2019 in Serious Play Discussion

Meeting strangers can be awkward and even scary to lots of people. Even though many can agree on the importance of building valuable relationships for professional and personal life, the approach to networking today seems limited and outdated. I’m talking about the hustle to meet as many people as possible, collecting stacks of business cards and trying to impress everyone at networking events. Where is the value in that? This is obviously not the case for everyone, but there is no doubt that there is an opportunity to make networking less awkward and scary. What if networking can be more enjoyable and meaningful?

This story first appeared on my LinkedIn page.


SUPER PLAY MEETUP was our first community event in Doha gathering strangers from previous PLAY MEETUPs over the past 8 months. These were essentially weekly meetups that brought strangers to play, learn and share stories using the power of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. To learn more about PLAY MEETUPS, please see my previous article and video below on the subject.

Addressing Networking Challenges

I wanted to design a user experience that can address the challenges people face in networking and provide a more effective way to create genuine relationships. An experience that can redefine what networking should look like and communicate deep values that connects with the audience. From there, these values would trigger action that benefits the community and helps it to grow organically.

Challenge #1: Fear of strangers is in the room

What if we could eliminate fear and create a safe space the moment people enter the venue? That’s how the idea of the LEGO Profile Wall came to life! As people came to register, they were asked to draw on a template a LEGO figure of themselves showing who they are creatively. They were also encouraged to write down their email or social media account so others can reach them if they wanted. After which, they took their drawing and placed on the LEGO Profile Wall. As the wall was getting filled up, there was lots of great energy and fun of people looking at the wall and guessing who is who.

Challenge #2: Managing internal fears

What if we could free people from their internal fears and take control of their emotions using EQ?

To establish a clear purpose to why we need to network, I played a powerful video that showed how disconnected our society has become. I followed that up with the story of PLAY MEETUP as an initiative to address the issue.

The attendees then enjoyed a fun chocolate ice-breaker activity followed by an emotional intelligence session led by my friend Joseph Al Haddad. He is a certified EQ practitioner and showed the attendees how emotional intelligence can help set their mindsets for effective networking. We could see that the attendees were getting more comfortable with each other’s and now anxious to start the main activity which was LEGO Networking.

Challenge #3: Fear of talking to strangers

What if we could use the power of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY where people can build, play and share stories using LEGO as a medium to network?

This was the toughest part and was essentially an experiment to see what happens. The attendees built LEGO models that metaphorically represented them. It was anything they wanted to share like their occupation, hobbies, dreams, values …etc. Once completed, they carried their models and met others to share their story through the models and listen to others as well. Finally, they made physical connections using LEGO between their models representing any common area they have found between them.

The venue was high with energy and discussions unlike any other networking event I have ever seen. Judging by the faces of the attendees, they were having great conversations and navigated from one person to another with great ease.

Event Core Values

1.      Co-Creation

This event was co-created by myself and my amazing team of volunteers. It was everyone’s event where each contributed with lots of passion and energy. When everyone is valued and given the chance to contribute, you can expect to feel the magic in the air!

2.      Collaboration

This event had zero budget! It was purely volunteering services from me, my passionate volunteers and the kind collaborators who supported us with venue, catering, marketing services, decorations and gifts.

3.      Social Responsibility

This event reinforces the importance of giving versus taking. We all need to be reminded that we have a social responsibility to give back to our society. All of us can give something even if it’s small and it doesn’t have to be money. Offering some of your time and talent will make you feel great, strengthen your relationships and create a ripple effect of others giving leading to social goodness to the whole community. 

Audience Feedback

“Is amazing how every time I participate on these events, I end up with an addition of awesome souls to my list of friends.”

This event will leave a long lasting positive effect on all of us involved! Keep doing what you are doing one brick at a time and we will keep supporting you 😁

Wow that is something creative & out of box 👏 would really like to attempt it someday..

Lessons Learned

  • Networking using LEGO was effective in easing the networking process and removing fear. There are some still improvements to be made to the process, but for a first time I was very pleased with the results. Some reported they could articulate their thoughts easier using the LEGO models. One Brazilian attendee networked successfully even with her broken English and had a great time!
  • Typical networking is rushed and is about quantity and not necessarily quality. However, networking with LEGO allowed fewer interactions but more valuable conversations because they took more time.
  • The attendees reacted positively to the value of GIVING rather than taking in networking. They were volunteering their services and showing support to each other. This is how a healthy community looks like. It’s built on giving and collaboration instead of transactional relationships. This could be the seed for a mindset change!
  • There was lots of buzz on social media about our next SUPER PLAY MEETUP. It validated that there are many others who are interested in attending future events and joining our growing community. We have lots of work to do and we will build an amazing community stranger by stranger, brick by brick.

You can follow us on Instagram @playmeetup to keep up with our news

PLAY MEETUPS: What I Learned from Playing LEGO® with Strangers

April 18, 2019 in Serious Play Discussion

Over the past 2 months, I have been been organizing a weekly PLAY MEETUP in Doha where complete strangers meet there, play using LEGO®, share stories and learn something new around a theme topic. PLAY MEETUP evolved from a simple social experiment to become something bigger and richer than expected. In this article, I would like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned from this unique experience.

Editor’s note. In 2015 Sean Blair was the first LSP facilitator who discovered the power of Meetups to practice his LEGO Serious Play facilitation skills in London. Since then, hundreds of LEGO Serious Play meetups have emerged all around the world gathering nearly 20k participants, scaling the use of LEGO Serious Play to wide masses.

Emad Saif has been a very active promotor of meetups, running get-together events with strangers in Doha. Read also about how he has taken those Meetups to the next level. Note: this post appeared on his LinkedIn profile. –Marko Rillo


DISCONNECT TO CONNECT

We have become more disconnected in reality than any other time before. Despite the illusion of “connectedness” on various social media platforms we became lonelier! We all seek meaningful connections, engaging discussions and a sense of community. Sadly, today it’s easier to reach for a smartphone than start a conversation with a stranger. While this is probably a pain experienced globally, I felt it first hand in Qatar where I live. How can we connect again on a deeper level like we once did before social media invaded our lives? I think I may have found a clue to the solution using the power of PLAY!

POWER OF PLAY

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method is a facilitated meeting, communication and problem solving process in which participants are led through a series of questions, probing deeper and deeper into the subject. Each participant builds his or her own 3D LEGO® model in response to the facilitator’s questions using specially selected LEGO® elements. These 3D models serve as a basis for group discussion, knowledge sharing, problem solving and decision making.

In my experience facilitating LEGO Serious Play (LSP) workshops I’ve rediscovered the power of “PLAY”. I witnessed people fully engaged in a state of “FLOW” where they opened up to each other faster than anything I’ve ever seen. It was magical and beautiful to watch! PLAY was like a forgotten superpower that we all possessed as children, yet we hardly used as adults. As children we communicated, learned and made friends through PLAY. That’s how we are naturally wired as human beings to learn from a young age. As the anthropologist George Dorsey said, “Play is the beginning of knowledge.” Carl Jung also believed that “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct.”

The LSP methodology allows people to communicate and reflect better. It helps teams achieve better harmony, appreciate different perspectives and unlock new creative solutions. The applications and possibilities of LSP are limitless! I wanted to explore LSP outside the typical training workshops that I offered in Qatar and make it more mainstream. I wondered if I could tweak the methodology and use it to make networking easier and more natural. That’s how the idea of PLAY MEETUP was born! It was about bringing strangers to play LEGO® together in a carefully designed experiential learning journey. This could potentially be a way to “disconnect to connect”, the challenge mentioned earlier caused by social media. I wanted to test a simple hypothesis: can strangers become “friends” after only 1 hour of play? This was inspired by a famous quote attributed to Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”.

“You Can Discover More About a Person in an Hour of Play than in a Year of Conversation” – Plato (attributed)

PLAY MEETUP

There was an instant interest in PLAY MEETUP when I posted it on my linked-in and instagramaccounts! People loved the phrase “Play LEGO® with strangers”. It was something new, innovative, fun and also outrageous. After all, how can adults who don’t know each other meet and play LEGO® together?! Is that even safe?

I was very curious to see if 8 random strangers could truly connect in only 1 hour through play since LSP required a minimum of 3 hours at least. It was an experiment but I was eager to try it and learn by doing. I designed the meetup to be a short experiential journey to deliver key lessons derived from the LSP methodology. I’ve experimented with a wide range of complex theme topics such as emotional intelligence, beauty, travel, etiquette and even marriage. In each meetup there were new strangers. Some were engineers, entrepreneurs, students, educators, coaches, parents, kids … etc. While every PLAY MEETUP was unique, there were some common interesting lessons worth mentioning.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. EVERYONE SPEAKS LEGO LANGUAGE

LEGO® bricks are popular around the globe. They are intuitive to construct even with no prior experience or engineering skills as some may believe. It only took minutes for all participants to speak a common language, LEGO®! Building with your hands continuously through the LSP methodology enables accessing deep knowledge utilizing the fascinating hand-mind connection. The participants were surprised of how well they could communicate through the models they built using LEGO® compared to simply speaking without using their hands. When everyone speaks the same language, everyone feels at ease. This is irrespective of skill level, age, gender, ethnicity … etc. Everyone could speak LEGO®!

2. EVERYONE IS CREATIVE

At first, people gave disclaimers about their limited creativity. “I am not creative” or “I don’t know if this looks right” was common to hear. However, following the LSP process made everyone realize that everyone is creative, especially when they started using metaphors in explaining their models. Using only 6 bricks in some challenges forced them to think beyond the physical appearance of the models. That’s when they they get it … it’s about the story, not the bricks!

3. EVERYONE HAS A VALUABLE PERSPECTIVE

The participants appreciated the perspectives shared by their teammates as they expanded the understanding of the topic at hand. They felt liberated to express their thoughts and perspectives without being judged as right or wrong. This invited them to go deeper in their reflections, appreciate others’ perspectives and motivated them to build on the ideas and perspectives as a team.

4. EVERYONE WANTS TO SHARE

Just because people don’t share or say they don’t want to, it doesn’t make it true! Everyone wants to share their stories and experiences but only when they are in a “safe space”. People fear judgement of others or perhaps don’t know how to share. That’s why you don’t hear from them in meetings although they may have invaluable input and creative ideas. I witnessed people start very shy and then gradually open up to become a social butterfly by the end of the meetup. When your perspective is heard and respected, you become 100% engaged as a team player.

5. NEW WAY TO DISCUSS COMPLEX TOPICS

LEGO® Serious Play® methodology have given a new way to approach and discuss complex topics. The objective isn’t necessarily to solve a problem but rather to create a safe space to share perspectives and unlock deeper understanding of the subject. It’s rare to have an opportunity to reflect deeply and hear your self express thoughts and emotions. However, PLAY MEETUPS provided that opportunity for strangers to meet and enjoy a rich experience unlocking a topic in only an hour!

6. PLAY IS A STRESS OUTLET

People want to escape their work routines and all the stress that piled up during the week. Playing with LEGO® in it self seemed to be a form of therapy where you can speak and be listened to. According to Bo Stjerne the global head of research at the Lego Foundation, “Play is an essential foundation of well being. Play boosts critical understanding, relieves stress, boosts confidence, enhances critical thinking and fosters social and emotional skills.” I was told by many participants that they felt great after the session where they temporarily disconnect from their problems and some even called it color therapy.

7. CREATE MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS

Networking is great. However, it’s not easy to have meaningful conversations that lead to a meaningful connection. Many are tired of pretending to be interested, faking enthusiasm …etc. PLAY MEETUPS allows you and others to be your self. It’s genuine and it’s real. When you play with someone you get to know them on a deeper level, even if it’s an hour of PLAY. Perhaps that is the best form of meaningful networking.

8. STRANGERS + PLAY = FRIENDS

The biggest lesson of all was the validation of my theory of play! I witnessed total strangers bond so quickly over the different meetings in record time. They all enjoyed networking after and often stayed way pass the meetup time. In some cases they offered each other free services like coaching, training and even job connections. What amazed me the most was genuine support, compassion and empathy that looked like therapy sessions! In one meetup, one participant opened up to deep personal challenges that made her cry. The strangers whom she met just an hour ago were now friends comforting her, hugging her and empowering her. I will never forget that night! It’s true … Strangers + PLAY = Friends.

WHAT’S NEXT?

PLAY MEETUP will continue as a community driven social project to help people discover the power of PLAY. I hope that it will create a positive out look on life, create a safe space to share, reduce stress, empower self-reflection, enhance communication skills, increase emotional intelligence and create meaningful connections in the community. I’m actively listening and engaging our growing PLAY MEETUP community to co-create it into something bigger and better. I’m happy to connect and hear your thoughts and suggestions as well. If we are lucky maybe we can do it in a future PLAY MEETUP :)

Follow me on Instagram (@esaif) to see video clips of the PLAY MEETUPS.

Emad Saif – A Video Post about LEGO Serious Play Workshop Experience

August 9, 2018 in Serious Play Videos


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