Lego Serious Play
Lego Serious Play is a consultant service offered by a Lego Serious Play Certified Facilitator. Its goal is fostering creative thinking through team building metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, hence the name "serious play".
The method is described as "a passionate and practical process for building confidence, commitment and insight". The approach is based on research which suggests that hands-on, "minds-on" learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities. It is claimed that participants come away with skills to communicate more effectively, to engage their imaginations more readily, and to approach their work with increased confidence, commitment and insight.
Origins of Lego Serious Play
Johan Roos and Bart Victor created the “serious play” concept and process in the mid-1990s as way to enable managers to describe, create and challenge their views of their business. Dr. Roos is now President of Copenhagen Business School and Dr. Bart Victor is Cal Turner Professor of Moral Leadership at Vanderbilt University but when they created serious play they were both professors at IMD in Switzerland. The conceptual foundation of serious play combines ideas from constructivism (Piaget 1951), its subsequent version constructionism (Harel and Papert 1991), complex adaptive system theory (Holland 1995) and autopoietic corporate epistemology (von Krogh and Roos 1994; 1995) applied to the context of management and organizations.
The empirical foundation of the concept of serious play stems from Roos and Victor’s experiments with leadership teams in Tetra Pak, Hydro Aluminium and TFL and during an IMD program for the top 300 leaders in the Lego Company. They presented their early ideas in a short article published by IMD in 1998 entitled "In Search for Original Strategies: How About Some Serious Play?" and in the 1999 article "Towards Model of Strategy Making as Serious Play" published by European Management Journal. In 2004 the journal Long-Range Planning published their article “Playing Seriously with Strategy” (with Matt Statler), which serves as the foundation for the concept and practice of Lego Serious Play.
From experiment to product
Initially the owner of the Lego Company, Mr. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, was hesitant, but presented with the early findings he became convinced that Roos and Victor’s ideas had value and decided to encourage and sponsor a commercial application under the auspices of the Lego Company. As a first step he ensured Roos and Victor could use the talents of designer Paul H. Howells from the Lego Company in UK. This resulted in a company called Executive Discovery that is now a member of the Lego family of companies.
For the first few years Bart Victor led the product development and commercialization process of Serious Play through Executive Discovery, with which he invited Mr. Robert Rasmussen from the Lego Company and Professor Dave Owens from Vanderbilt University to help bring the first product to market. The first “Lego Serious Play” application was labeled Real-Time Strategy and is based on the concepts Identity, Landscape and Simple Guiding Principles developed in Johan Roos' 1999 book The Next Common Sense (with Michael Lissack). Later on, the Executive Discovery team developed and commercialized several other LSP applications. In the following years, Lego Serious Play was developed into a consulting method used by companies other than Lego, including Daimler Chrysler, Roche Pharmaceutical, SABMiller, Tupperware, Nokia and Orange. It has also been used in non-profit/NGO groups (e.g., SOS Children's Villages), as well as in government (e.g. Danish Patent and Trademark Office and the Danish Agency for Governmental Management under the Ministry of Finance). Recently, the Lego company decided to go from a partner based community to open source, releasing the methodology as under a Creative Commons licence. The two main communities of people using LSP are: Serious Play Pro, and Strategic Play Room.
The research effort
Johan Roos decided to develop further the very idea of playing seriously in organizations. Encouraged by an initial donation from Mr. Kristiansen and the Lego Company in 2000, Johan Roos resigned from his professorship at renowned IMD to establish the non-profit Imagination Lab Foundation . The foundation is neither affiliated to the Lego Company nor Executive Discovery in any way.
Over the next few years he led the theoretical and clinical research pursued by team of scholars with backgrounds in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, music and the management disciplines. During his leadership the foundation secured more than CHF 13 millions in donations from large corporations, including the Lego Company, Microsoft, EMC, Firmenich, Nokia and Orange and experimented with some 1.500 managers in a variety of organizations. Imagination Lab established a Working Paper  series and a series of short publications for practitioners  that report the findings from the research and bout and with serious play based ideas processes, broadly defined. In 2006 Roos established the annual Imagination Lab Award for Innovative Scholarship  in collaboration with European Academy of Management (EURAM ).
In 2006, Palgrave Macmillan published Roos’ book Thinking from Within that synthesizes a decade of conceptual and applied research on serious play-like processes with a range of materials in addition to Lego bricks. In this book Dr. Roos also introduces ideas and processes of socio-drama, collective virtuosity and practical wisdom that go beyond the initial ideas of serious play, hence the notion of thinking “from within”.
In 2009 the method was further developed for use in schools. Teachers are trained to use it with students from 6 years. The objectives are the same; to foster creative thinking and teamwork, with focus on facilitating a process that enables deeper reflection and constructive dialogue.
The method has also been adapted for use in Higher Education as a tool for teaching & learning, research, and ideation (Nolan 2009).
The webatelier.net Lab of the Università della Svizzera italiana (University of Lugano, Switzerland) has further developed the methodology, releasing in 2011 URL - User Requirements with Lego (under the Creative Commons licence).
The concept is based research in three areas of development.
- Play - Play is defined as a limited, structured and voluntary activity that involves the imaginary. That is, it is an activity limited in time and space, structured by rules, conventions or agreements among the players, uncoerced by authority figures, and drawing on elements of fantasy and creative imagination.
- Constructionism - Based on the ideas of Seymour Papert, which built in turn on the Constructivist theories of Papert's colleague Jean Piaget. Papert argued that learning happens especially well when people are engaged in constructing a product, something external to themselves such as a sand castle, a machine, a computer program or a book.
- Imagination - Throughout history, the term "imagination" has been given many different cultural and linguistic connotations. While all share the basic idea that humans have a unique ability to "form images" or to "imagine" something, the variety of uses of the term "imagination" implies not one, but at least three meanings: to describe something, to create something, to challenge something. From the point of view of Lego Serious Play, it is the interplay between these three kinds of imagination that make up strategic imagination – the source of original strategies in companies.
- Cantoni L., Marchiori E., Faré M., Botturi L., Bolchini D. (2009). 'A systematic methodology to use Lego bricks in web communication design.' In Proceedings of the 27th ACM international Conference on Design of Communication (Bloomington, Indiana, USA, October 5–07, 2009). SIGDOC ‘09. ACM, New York, NY: 187-192.
- Cantoni L., Botturi L., Faré M., Bolchini D. (2009). 'Playful Holistic Support to HCI Requirements using Lego Bricks'. In M. Kurosu (ed.), Human Centered Design, HCII 2009, LNCS 5619, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg: 844-853.
- Nolan, S., (2009). 'Physical Metaphorical Modelling with Lego as a Technology for Collaborative Personalised Learning'. In: O'Donoghue, J, (ed). Technology-supported Environments for Personalized Learning: Methods and Case Studies. (Premier Reference Source).
- Statler, M., Roos, J., and B. Victor, 2009, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’: Taking Play Seriously in Organizations,’ Journal of Change Management , 9(1): 87-107.
- Statler, J., Jacobs, J. and J. Roos, 2008, ‘Performing Strategy: Analogical Reasoning as Strategic Practice’, Scandinavian Journal of Management, 24: 133–144
- Roos, J., ‘Transformative Management Education,’ 2008, in Teaching and Learning at Business Schools: Transforming the Delivery of Business Education, Bild, M., Mårtensson, P. and K. Nilsson (eds.), Gower: 63-76.
- Oliver, D., and J. Roos, 2007, ‘Constructing Organizational Identity,’ British Journal of Management, 18(4): 342-358.
- Roos, J., 2006, Thinking From Within: A Hands-On Strategy Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke (ISBN 1-4039-8670-3).
- Roos, J., and R. Said, 2005, ‘Generating Managerial Commitment and Responsibility,’ European Management Review, 2: 48 - 58.
- Oliver, D. and J. Roos, 2005, ‘Decision Making in High Velocity Environments: The Importance of Guiding Principles,’ Organization Studies, 26(6): 889-913.
- Bürgi, P., and Jacobs, C., and J. Roos, 2005, ‘From Metaphor to Practice in the Crafting of Strategy,’ Journal of Management Inquiry, 14(1): 78-94.
- Roos, J, Victor, B., and M. Statler, 2004, ‘Playing Seriously with Strategy,’ Long-Range Planning, 37(6): 549-568.
- Roos, J., 2004, ‘Sparking Strategic Imagination,’ Sloan Management Review, 2004, 46(1): 96.
- Grey. F., and J. Roos, ‘Playing Seriously with Strategy,’ Physics World, 2005, 18(2): 18-19.
- Bürgi, P., and J. Roos, 2003, ‘Images of Strategy,’ European Management Journal, 2003, 21(1): 69-78.
- Oliver, D., and J. Roos, 2000, Striking a Balance: Complexity and Knowledge Landscapes, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (ISBN 0 07709 556-1).
- Roos, J., and B. Victor, 1999, Towards a Model of Strategy Making as Serious Play,’ European Management Journal, 17(4): 348-355.
- Roos, J., and D. Oliver, 1999, ‘From Fitness Landscapes to Knowledge Landscapes’, Systemic Practice and Action Research, 12(3): 279-293.
- Lissack, M., and J. Roos, 1999, The Next Common Sense: Mastering Corporate Complexity through Coherence, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London (ISBN 1 85788 240-7). Translated into Japanese (2001) and Estonian (2002).
- Roos, J., and B. Victor, ‘In Search Of Original Strategies: How About Some Serious Play?’ IMD Perspectives for Managers, 1998, (26) 15.
- von Krogh, G., and J. Roos, 1995, Organizational Epistemology, Macmillan, Oxford (ISBN 0-312-12498-8).
- Holland, J., 1995, Hidden order: How adaptation builds complexity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- von Krogh, G., Roos, J., and K. Slocum, 1994, ‘An Essay on Corporate Epistemology’, Strategic Management Journal, Special Issue on ‘Rethinking Strategy - The Search for New Strategy Paradigms’, 15: 53-71.
- Harel, I. and Papert, S. 1991, eds. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation, Piaget, Norwood, NJ.
- Piaget, J, 1951, The Child’s Conception of the World, Routledge, London.