Lego Serious Play

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Lego Serious Play in action

Lego Serious Play is a facilitation methodology created by The Lego Group and since 2010 is available under an open source community-based model.[1] 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".[2]

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.[3] Lego Serious Play is a well-known category of "Serious Play" facilitation methods.


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 on their business. Dr. Roos is now Chief Academic Officer at Hult International Business School[4] 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 Group. 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 a New 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[edit]

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 the 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). Since 2010, Lego company decided to go from a partner based community to open source, releasing the methodology under a Creative Commons licence.[5] The three main communities of people using LSP are: Serious Play Pro,[6] Global Federation of LSP Master Trainers.[7] and Association of Master Trainers,[8]

The research effort[edit]

Johan Roos decided to develop further the 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 a 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 million 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[9] 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[10] in collaboration with European Academy of Management (EURAM[11]).

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 six years old. 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 and learning, research, and ideation (Nolan 2009). Subsequently, IJMAR has published a special issue on Lego Serious Play applications.[12]

Research and experimentations lead to a derived method[13] for one-to-one Legoviews - LSP interviews[14] that has been developed in 2011 by P. Bertini and widely tested in several environments, i.e. Palestine, Israel, Occupy London, with filmmakers, artists, activists. Most interviews are published on the London Progressive Journal.[15]

The 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.[16]

Corner stones[edit]

The concept is based on research in three areas of development.[17]

  • 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.


Lego Serious Play facilitators have vested business interests in promoting the use of the method. Therefore, most available case studies focus on success stories.[18] No comparative studies using control groups have measured the effect and usefulness of Lego Serious Play methodology in comparison with conventional workshops.

Some authors have presented critical views on Lego Serious Play. Dan Lyons has suggested that it is just a toy therapy, which is useless, in par with New Age psychology.[19] He suggests: "Lego workshops are just one example of the nonsense that is creeping into the workplace. ... The problem isn’t just that these exercises are pointless and silly. For a lot of people, this stuff can be really stressful. For older workers — say, people over 50 — these workshops compound the fear they already have about being pushed out of their jobs. But younger workers hate them too. “It feels like you’ve joined a cult,” says a thirtysomething software programmer whose department spent a day doing a Lego workshop. “The purpose seems to be to indoctrinate people to follow orders.”"[20]

Academic publications[edit]

  • Beltrami G. LEGO SERIOUS PLAY: pensare con le mani, Franco Angeli (2017)
  • Blair, S., Rillo M (2016). 'Serious Work: How to Facilitate Lego Serious Play Meetings and Workshops.' ProMeet, London (ISBN 978-0995664708).
  • Bürgi, P., and J. Roos, 2003, 'Images of Strategy,' European Management Journal, 2003, 21(1): 69-78.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Frick, E., S. Tardini, and L. Cantoni (2014). 'LEGO SERIOUS PLAY applications to enhance creativity in participatory design'. In Fredricka K. Reisman (ed.), Creativity in Business. Research Papers on Knowledge, Innovation and Enterprise, Volume II, KIE Conference Book Series, pp. 200–210. Available at:
  • Frick, E., S. Tardini, and L. Cantoni (2013). 'White Paper on LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. A state of the art of its application in Europe.' Available at:
  • Grey. F., and J. Roos, 'Playing Seriously with Strategy,' Physics World, 2005, 18(2): 18-19.
  • Harel, I. and Papert, S. 1991, eds. Constructionism, Ablex Publishing Corporation, Piaget, Norwood, NJ.
  • Harn, P. L., Hsiao, C.C. (2018). A Preliminary Study on LEGO®-Based Workplace Stress Reduction with Six Bricks and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in Taiwan. World Journal of Research and Review, 6(1),64-67.
  • Harn, P. L.( 2017). A Preliminary Study of the Empowerment Effects of Strength-Based LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® on Two Taiwanese Adult Survivors by Earlier Domestic Violence. Psychological Studies, 62(2):142–151.
  • Heracleous, L. and Jacobs, C.D. (2012) Crafting Strategy: Embodied Metaphors in Practice. Cambridge University Press (ISBN 978-1107411692)
  • Holland, J., 1995, Hidden order: How adaptation builds complexity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Kristiansen, P., and R. Rasmussen (2014). Building a better business using the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY method. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Oliver, D., and J. Roos, 2007, 'Constructing Organizational Identity,' British Journal of Management, 18(4): 342-358.
  • Oliver, D. and J. Roos, 2005, 'Decision Making in High Velocity Environments: The Importance of Guiding Principles,' Organization Studies, 26(6): 889-913.
  • Oliver, D., and J. Roos, 2000, Striking a Balance: Complexity and Knowledge Landscapes, McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead (ISBN 0 07709 556-1).
  • Piaget, J, 1951, The Child's Conception of the World, Routledge, London.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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


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