Innovation, strategic planning, and team alignment have been challenging for enterprises of all sizes for decades. There are dozens of methodologies like Porter’s Five Forces, OKRs, and Lean Business Canvas that can help. One technique that has gained significant traction is LEGO Serious Play. When combined with the concepts of Market-Drive Business, enterprises and teams can achieve significant results. Market-Driven LEGO Serious Play is an approach that leverages the philosophy of Market-Driven Business with the workshop process of LEGO Serious Play to tackle key initiatives like team alignment, innovation, or strategic business planning.
How Does Playing with Lego Bricks Have Anything to Do with Innovation?
Lego Serious Play traces is a proven methodology based on insights from neuroscience, first developed in the early 2000s by LEGO’s Education division and IMD Business School (the method has since been open-sourced). A paper entitled Playing Seriously with Strategy by Johan Roos, Bart Victor and Matt Statler laid out the theoretical basis for the methodology. They based their findings on four projects they had completed using the LEGO Serious Play methodology, including one that involved 256 managers, executives, and the CEO of the LEGO Corporation.
Foundations of LEGO Serious Play
The foundation of Lego Serious Play “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.” There are four core concepts that are critical to the success of the LEGO method.
At the core of the LEGO method, a facilitator challenges participants to answer a key question by building a model of their answer using LEGO bricks. The LEGO models are a metaphor. Each participant tells a story about their model to the entire group. No one expects that a LEGO model will be a perfect representation of a concept. It is the story the model builder tells about the model that is important. Building 3D models leverages a concept known as hand knowledge. Research shows that the hands are connected to 70-80% of our brain cells. Our brains are limited as to how much information they can consciously handle at one time, the so-called working memory. But with the help of all the neural connections in our hands we “know” more than we think we know at any given moment.
Constructionist learning is when learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism was pioneered by Seymour Papert, a long time MIT researcher. Papert argued that learning happens exceptionally 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. His work was heavily utilized by the founders of the LEGO Serious Play methodology.
According to Els Meyvaert, a leading LEGO Play supporter, “Play is unique because it produces benefits that span multiple functional domains including physical, emotional, mental and social. Play is defined as a limited, structured and voluntary activity that involves the imaginary. It is an activity limited in time and space, often structured by rules, conventions, or agreements among the players, uncoerced by authority figures, and drawing on elements of fantasy and creative imagination.”
Another key tenet is inclusion. In every LEGO facilitated workshop all of the participants must actively participate. Each participant builds a 3D model to reflect their answer to the facilitator’s core question. Once the models are built, each participant takes a turn to tell a story about their model. No negative feedback or criticism is allowed, just the free flowing exchange of ideas. The inclusion philosophy is designed to mitigate the HIPPO effect (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). The acronym is used to describe the tendency for lower-paid employees to defer to higher-paid employees when a decision has to be made. The inclusion approach results in a significantly better process since multiple independent viewpoints are used to examine and answer the core question.
The Four Core Steps
A LEGO Serious Play workshop follows the Four Core Steps outlined in the LEGO Serious Play Methodology:
Step 1: Facilitator poses the question
Participants are asked to build and create stories in response to a question. The question should be clear, yet very open-ended. The question triggers the participant’s frame of mind and helps him or her tap into the unconscious in the following step.
Step 2: Individuals build a model
Each participant builds his or her own 3-D model in response to the question that has been posed. Participants work with LEGO® bricks to inspire the use of metaphors and story-making
Step 3: Individuals tell their story
Each participant shares his or her model’s meaning and story with the rest of the team. It is absolutely critical that every person shares their story. This enables 100% participation during the session, which builds commitment to shared action. When participants tell their story, their minds make even more connections – using the bricks acts as a catalyst for the mind. The result is that the stories contain more knowledge and ideas than anyone was consciously aware of. The use of metaphors, imagination, and story-making is integral to the process, and the story-making adds meaning and context. Everyone participates in steps 2 and 3 every time and all the time.
Step 4: Questions and Reflections
The facilitator and participants crystallize key insights, and ask clarification questions of the models. The facilitator sums up connections.
The Core Issue with LEGO Serious Play – Inside-Out Thinking
The core challenge with using LEGO Serious Play in a business setting for strategy development, innovation, branding, or team alignment is that the ideas created by the process are limited to the information the participants bring into the workshop. This usually results in taking an Inside-Out perspective. The Inside-Out approach is guided by the belief that the inner strengths and capabilities of the organization will produce a sustainable future. Typical questions that Inside-Out organizations ask include:
- How have we progressed or regressed over the last few years?
- What are we good at? What do we love to do? What are we passionate about? What do we represent? WHY, WHY, WHY and WHY (as you need to understand what beliefs lie underneath to really grasp the company’s essentials)
- How do we leverage our strengths and compensate or eliminate our weaknesses?
When it comes to sustainable innovation, however, market-leading companies adopt an Outside-In perspective. Outside-In can be defined as consistently successful companies that start with an external market orientation and vigilantly study customer trends in order to design their strategy. According to a study conducted by Ranjay Gulati from Harvard Business School, companies that adopt an Outside-In philosophy: 1) Delivered shareholder returns of 150 percent while the S&P 500 has delivered 14 percent and 2) Grew their sales 134 percent while the S&P 500 has grown just 53 percent.
According to Market-Driven Strategy: The Outside-In Principle there are five major principles of an Outside-In organization. These principles were enumerated by George S. Day who is considered the father of the Market Driven Business movement. He is the Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor and Director of the Huntsman Center on Global Competition and Innovation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He described the following capabilities of market driven organizations:
- Diagnosis of current capabilities, using mapping and benchmarking methodologies
- Anticipation of future needs for capabilities in light of the strategy for creating customer value
- Bottom-up redesign, based on the formation of teams responsible for continuous improvement or radical redesign of underlying processes
- Top-down direction from senior managers, who demonstrate a clear, continuing commitment to putting customers first
- Use of information technology to enable the organization to do things it couldn’t do before
To quote George Day:
“Rather than basing decisions solely on gut instincts or qualitative research, the market-driven organization has a superior ability to make decisions based on the facts. It can base its strategy on the actual behavior of customer and competitors, or information that provides insights into future opportunities and risks. This requires knowledge bases that capture what is known about a) market structure – how are the competitive boundaries shifting and market segments evolving? b) market responses – what are the drivers of customer value and how will consumers, competitors and channels respond to these drivers?, and c) market economies – where is the firm making money, and what moves will improve profitability?”
Market-Driven LEGO Play
Market-Driven Business has pioneered a new approach known as Market-Driven LEGO Serious Play. This approach combines Outside-In strategies with the LEGO Serious Play methodology.
At the start of an initiative the key focus areas and questions are defined. They could include topics and questions related to innovation, business strategy, market positioning, or team alignment. Next, market participants (customers, prospects, lost customers, business partners) are solicited to participate in 20 to 30 minute structured phone interviews. The focus of these interviews is to discover market facts as expressed by the customer’s own words. The interviews are recorded and transcribed. The results are analyzed to identify common trends, opportunities, or challenges.
The resulting summary and transcript are distributed to all workshop participants in advance. The document serves as a narrative memo – the type that Jeff Bezos has mandated for all important meetings. In 2004 Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint and mandated the use of narrative memos.
Next the LEGO Serious Play workshop process takes over. Now when participants enter a workshop they not only have their knowledge, experience, and insights to bring to the table, but market facts sourced directly from customers, prospects and partners. The combination of the two serve as perfect fuel that can then be consumed by the LEGO workshop engine.
There are many different ways Market-Driven LEGO Serious Play can benefit an organization. It can help with topics like strategic business planning, positioning, inter-team alignment, and even team building. To learn more check out Market-Driven Business’ LEGO Serious Play Workshops