Play Is Good Business

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As you probably know by now, I’m a geek when it comes to communication, connection, play, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. I’m not so fluent, or interested in, business, marketing, finance, and other MBA related subjects. So it was odd for me to pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review this month. They cleverly put LEGO® bricks all over the cover, so that it would catch my eye. Surprisingly enough, there were a number of articles in it that aligned with my areas of interest and expertise. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.

There is an article that talks about the diversity of work styles and perspectives based on brain chemistry. By talking about Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Deloitte can help people understand each other better. One of the things that intrigued me about this article is the notion of “cascades.” “Once ideas, discussion, and decision making start flowing in a particular direction, momentum keeps them moving that way. Even if diverse views exist on the team, they probably won’t change the flow once it’s established, as people often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early visible support.” (HBR March-April 2017 pg 54)

In order to prevent cascades, it’s helpful to start out getting ideas from the minority views. And it’s especially important to hear from your sensitive, risk-averse, introverted people. They will not stick their necks out to challenge what feels like a waterfall landing on their heads.

(One reason I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it helps introverts and extroverts play on a level playing field. Just saying.)

Later in the magazine there’s an article called “Strategy in the Age of Superabundant Capital.” There are two passages that intrigued me: “When capital was scarce, companies attempted to pick winners. Executives needed to be very sure that a new technology or new product was worthwhile before investing precious capital….With superabundant capital, leaders have the opportunity to take more chances, double down on the investments that perform well, and cut their losses on the rest. To put it another way, when the price of keys is low, it pays to unlock a lot of doors before deciding which one to walk through.” (pp 73-74) This jives with what I’ve been saying about needing an idea incubator. It’s easy for ideas to be rejected quickly, sometimes even before they are spoken. But having a lot of ideas may be the best way for a company to survive. Therefore it needs to be safe for odd ideas to be spoken, and for tender new sprouts of ideas to grow before being subjected to scrutiny.

Also in this article: “But great ideas don’t just materialize. They come from individuals and teams with the time to work productively, the skills to make a difference, and creativity and enthusiasm for their jobs. As long as companies continue to focus too much attention on managing financial capital, they will devote far too little to ensuring that the organization’s truly scarce resources – time, talent, and energy – are put to their best use.” (p 75) Yes! People matter, and their ideas matter, and fostering creativity helps the whole organization succeed.

And finally there is the article “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions.” The CEO of Charles Schwab says the CEO bubble takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.” (p 78) His solution is to get out of the office, and talk to people around the whole organization. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t even plan to learn it. Many leaders don’t want to be wrong or appear wrong ever, and will defend decisions that aren’t working. More successful leaders are willing to admit to mistakes, and to pivot as needed. “Innovation always involves at least an implicit acknowledgment that you were wrong about something before….The question for leaders is how to go about embracing the notion of being wrong.” (p80)

If innovation is so painful, if learning what you don’t know means hearing about problems and places you were wrong, it can be difficult for leaders to hear what their people know. One reason I like LSP is that it puts the problem into the form of a LEGO® model, instead of the form of the person across the table. Since people can only ask questions about the model, not the people, it makes it easier to bring up places that need to be looked at without making anyone wrong. A good facilitator will also keep the conversation positive – not where someone screwed up, but how we can move forward given what we know now. And play can help make being wrong, or not knowing, not be a crime.

I love finding support for my ideas in a very traditional business magazine! I hope this inspires you to pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, to see if there are any ties to things you are interested in. And I hope that this gives you some confidence that there really is a solid foundation in reality and business for my somewhat new-agey and woo-woo ideas!

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