Pipeline Lifeline

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I’ve been thinking about how information travels through organizations. There are formal ways – when you are done with this report send it to these people – and informal ways – “Hey Pat, what do you think of this?”.

Proximity is important for the informal communication. I think that open offices were designed to increase this type of casual, spur of the moment, spontaneous communication. Sometimes ideas can be fertilized and grow from chatting with your co-workers. Works in progress can be seen before they are finished and fixed with less effort and expense.

My husband has a bunch of his team on another continent, in a very different time zone. Almost all of their communication must be formal. Daily required status updates. Daily feedback. There are no chance encounters over lunch or getting office supplies.

It seems like people are liable to think the worst of others in these situations. With no face to face contact, no chance to explain what’s going on, when someone doesn’t implement the feedback given it’s easy to assume ‘they just don’t respect me as their director any more. That makes me angry. I’m going to be vindictive or snarky in response.’ Which makes them less likely to implement my instructions. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

These conflicts can show up even in people in the same building, if there’s no contact between them. I was talking to someone at a party recently who said his organization is full of silos. “We” don’t want to talk to “them” if we don’t have to.

Sometimes the divisions happen because each department has a different priority, and it can feel to people that those in other departments are out to get them. Sales just promised a feature that engineering can’t produce in the time allowed. Engineering just made a feature that sales can’t figure out how to sell. What were they thinking?!?

I know all of this is human nature, but it makes me sad. I see people becoming less flexible, less open to input, less likely to encounter new ideas, less likely to offer creative ideas. I know what amazing things can happen when people work together, but there has to be trust to do that, and these silos sap trust.

It would be interesting to map how information flows through an organization. There’s probably already a diagram of who reports to whom, so there is some understanding of the formal process. But where does feedback really come from? An artist might get the design from the concept artist, official feedback from the art director, informal feedback from other artists, and office gossip from a friend in HR. The art director might give feedback to artists, get feedback from the VP, and come up with new ideas from chatting with marketing over lunch. I’d love to bring in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to examine where the bottlenecks are, who is connected to whom, which departments are in silos, where there is cross-pollination.

Who do you talk to at work?

Two Great Tastes (that taste great together)

What happens when you take two cutting edge methodologies, and mix them together?

AskMatt&Lego

Honestly, I’m not sure yet, but I’m excited about the possibilities!

I met with Steve from the Ask Matt business game (click here to see more) yesterday to brainstorm how we could work together. He and his colleague Daniel and I all built models from LEGO® bricks, then joined them using the Ask Matt connectors.

In the example above, the lower right model represents facing fears and taking risks, the one in the upper middle represents the creative process, and the model on the left is a better future. We think taking risks can help with creativity – and being creative can help face fears. Hopes for a better future can influence creative thinking, and taking risks is necessary for creating a better future. I added in play as a way to help people practice taking risks. This model could be expanded out – what other things can help people take risks? What else is needed for creative thinking? How else can the hope of a better future influence us now? In technology? Social thinking? There’s plenty of room for more information to be added.

One of the things I love about the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it can be used to develop complex ideas and metaphors and emotions. It’s possible to use them for strategic planning, in all the complexity of people and their desires.

Ask Matt is much more logical in its approach, but it is also designed to show connections, see what influences what, and it is more clearly set up to help people figure out how to get more of what they want. It shows a road map of what pieces need to be in place to get more of the results you want.

Combining these approaches could be very powerful. Instead of just writing down an idea, you can think with your hands, figure out the parts that really matter, and build a complex concept. Then, instead of connecting those parts with more LEGO® bricks, you can use the arrows and feedback loops and mapping strategies of Ask Matt. This combines strategic planning methodologies in a powerful way.

One way to use the LSP strategic planning is to find out where you are now, figure out what forces are working on the organization, and then figure out what happens if things change in those forces. Another way is to imagine where you want to get to, and build pieces to help you get there. Ask Matt is a third way, which may prove to be more flexible and clear than the first two. We will have to try it out and see! Who do you know who wants to be on the cutting edge to try it out?

This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Friends at Work

What do you need to make friends at work?

You are put together with other people who at least share a passing interest in whatever work you do, even if it’s just enough interest to earn a paycheck. Hopefully you all share some amount of passion for the project you are on. But you may not come from the same background, or have the same hobbies, or share the same view of the world. What do you talk about?

I will be doing a team building workshop this weekend for a group that’s getting together just for the summer. Some of them know each other already, some don’t. So I’ve been thinking about what makes teams bond, and what helps people to make friends. Here are some ideas:

Shared experience. People who have a shared experience, especially an intense one, often form friendships based on that shared experience. People who went to drama camp together, or law school, or basic training, share a bond based on that experience.

One of the premises of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is that the process of building ideas and feelings and metaphors and stories can sometimes be uncomfortable. The emotional content of the discomfort is part of what makes the stories memorable and important. We hope that the participants mostly feel comfortable, but if they only feel comfortable then what they are doing together is less impactful. In fact, resolving the discomfort in some way as a group goes a long way to making the group a more desirable place to spend time.

Self-revelation. The Johari Window below diagrams the amount of ourselves that we reveal to ourselves and others.

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The larger the open area is, the easier it is for people to get to know and like us. The process of revealing more is part of the process of creating bonds. Self-disclosure is the easiest, and it helps us create connections around shared experience. (You like toast? I like toast!) Feedback is more difficult, since it gives us information about ourselves that we might or might not want to hear. But if someone sees us that clearly and shares what they know, it creates a connection too.

The greatest bond comes from shared discovery of areas that were previously unknown to everyone. And this is something that LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® does well. The hand-brain connection helps people with self-discovery, figuring out what they think as they build. Since everyone else is doing the same thing, the process creates chances to reveal things to each other that each person might not see at first. As everyone explores the unknown together, people get the emotional bond from doing something intense, as well as the bond from learning new things together.

Not everyone will bond to everyone else based on either of these. Sometimes people just don’t click, no matter what you do. Sometimes the best thing for a group is to change the people in it! But that’s a drastic answer, and often not necessary. Often all that is needed is shared experience and a chance to tell our own stories.

Rummage Sale of the Brain

One of my strategies as an artist is to look for new input all the time. I look for new ideas, look at other artists’ works, go to galleries, go to open studios, and visit garage sales and places like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse which have lots of random bits of things that can be crafted and art-ed with. I let these new ideas and materials and possibilities simmer on the back burner of my brain, and new ideas get cooked up.

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In other news, I was reading an article by Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” that was linked on LinkedIn. In it, he says:

The good news is that Adaptability, like each EI competency, is a skill leaders can develop. And, the EI competencies build on each other. Three keys to developing adaptability can be summed up as “Listen Inside,” “Look Outside,” and “Step Outside.”

  • Listen Inside means tapping into emotional self-awareness to recognize what you are feeling, how it impacts your behavior, and whether you are operating from habit.
  • Look Outside is shorthand for looking beyond your usual information sources, paying attention to data that contradicts your current thoughts. This means tapping into skills in organizational awareness, another EI competency.
  • Step Outside involves intentionally stepping beyond your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences, opinions, and environments.

– See more at: http://www.kornferry.com/institute/train-your-brain-for-change#sthash.Aw56QMBK.dpuf

This made me think about my artistic habits. It also made me think of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. After all, part of what makes LSP work is that people think with their hands. Which means they need to have a big old pile of LEGO® bricks on the table from which to choose. The amount of possibility lets them sort through and figure out what they want to build, and say. Maybe something they never thought about before. Maybe something they never had the courage to say before.
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Sometimes someone will feel the need to sort the bricks before they start building. When this person is the boss, it worries me. It makes me think that perhaps this leader feels more comfortable in the position of being in control, and that perhaps they don’t invite in opposing views. They may end up in what the Harvard Business Review called  a CEO Bubble, or Daniel Goleman refers to as “feedback deserts.” They don’t really want a lot of ambiguity, possibility, chaos, new ideas, or additional information cluttering up the clarity of their desk or vision or direction. But this also means they are less likely to be flexible and adaptable when the inevitable need to change arises.
It is difficult to tell a leader that you think they lack the necessary flexibility and adaptability to change with the changing world. You may well end up changing jobs if you do. Some people crave poking through rummage sales, some people think it’s garbage and don’t want anything to do with the chaos and clutter. I don’t think that LSP will single-handed-ly change a person’s innate nature. But perhaps, maybe, possibly, introducing such a leader to more new ideas can open him or her up to a little more change. Maybe, it’s possible, that giving such a leader an article like this one can help them think about bringing in information from more sources, including ones that don’t feel comfortable. Possibly, maybe, perhaps, they can be convinced to water their feedback desert and get more options (with the corresponding lessening of clarity) to bloom.

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!

What Do You Do?

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You ever have those team meetings where only the most powerful or extroverted people speak up? I help teams make meetings a safe place to speak up, so everyone feels heard and valued and engaged, turnover goes down, productivity goes up, and better decisions get made.

You’d never believe it’s taken me months to write that. It’s always so tempting to tell people my methodology (LEGOS®!), rather than my results. Or to sum it up in a cute package – I help teams have more fun and get more done.

I think a lot of people these days have trouble explaining to their parents what they do for a living. There are so many people doing things no one has ever heard of before. I used to say, when I worked at a computer software company many years ago, that I sold bits of information that moved other bits of information around.

It’s really interesting trying to find a way to describe what I do in a way that will make sense to people in different fields, doing different types of work. Luckily, we all work with other people. (Mostly. Unless you’re a hermit, or a programmer.) (Just kidding! Sheesh.) And working with other people means we run into similar problems. We get invited to a meeting because we have something to contribute, but never contribute it because it’s too hard to get a word in edgewise. Or we don’t feel safe bringing up something unformed, or painful, or edgy. So we waste more of our day, and our company’s money, never saying what needs to be said.

What results do you get? What do you do?

Serious Play and Playful Seriousness

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Sometimes I feel like I need to be serious to be taken seriously. I can do serious pretty well, but when I lose my playfulness, I also lose a certain amount of alignment. I lose perspective. I can’t keep my sense of humor intact.

I’ve always been afraid that if I led with my playfulness, my humor and fun, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I would be dismissed as not worth the time of anyone who is part of serious business. After all, serious business is serious. It’s important. It’s very, very formal and straight-laced.

One of the wonderful things about using LEGO® bricks in my methodology is that I can be playful, and help other people be playful, while accomplishing serious goals. Thinking with one’s hands, hearing from everyone at the table, arriving at shared goals and a direction forward, is all scientific and serious and important. And it’s also a lot of fun!

When I called myself a Play Professional, I decided to lead with the fun. But serious business isn’t interested in fun for fun’s sake. That’s not work, that’s play. They’re opposites. (At least in the general understanding of things. I think the opposite of play is depression, not work. And work can be full of play.) So I’m finding ways to talk about the benefits – increased efficiency, decreased turnover, everyone on the same page, etc. But I find my serious mind taking over when I think about that, and soon I’m dull as dishwater.

I don’t have a pat answer for this. It’s a dance I’m doing -oops, too far over to serious, gotta go be silly. Oops, too silly, need to be serious for a moment. I’m always in danger of losing my playfulness in order to get serious work done with serious people. I’m afraid to let out my silliness in public – that’s not what grownups do. But I know when I stop laughing I also stop being present and aligned and able to help with my whole being.

So, for what it’s worth, I think it’s time to take a dance break. Time to practice new silly walks and doodle on my to-do list. Let’s not take life too seriously, okay? Are you with me?

Where Does Innovation Come From?

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Is necessity the mother of invention? Not always! I just watched a couple of TED talks from someone named Steven Johnson. He said some things that I think are worth repeating.

One: Innovation comes from PLAY. The people who are having the most fun are the ones coming up with the new ideas. Play is by its nature exploratory, and the people who are just trying things out are coming up with new and interesting ideas. (The computer wouldn’t have been invented without the music box!)

Innovation From Play

Two: Ideas are created in groups, over time. Ideas are networks, cobbled together from disparate parts, and need to have people come together to discuss their ideas for the ideas to grow and develop. Plus, sometimes hunches take a long time to develop. They can’t always be rushed. Don’t be afraid to tell people your ideas – they’re more likely to be strengthened than stolen!

Idea As Network

I think these two concepts are worth reinforcing: Ideas often come from play. Ideas need to be bounced around among a lot of people and/or over time before all of the necessary parts are there.

This is why LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works so well. It sets up an exploratory system of play, with a group of people, to bounce ideas around. It lets people take ideas from their minds, their hands, and their neighbors, and build them into something new and innovative.

Want to know what the next big thing will be? Go find the people having the most fun! And go have some fun yourself. You never know where it will take you!

Grownups Need Play Too

When you search for information about play, you come up with a lot of information about the benefit of play for children. Children learn how to be adults through play, just like puppies learn how to be hunters through play. Play helps children learn, practice social interactions, and figure the world out.

One World Futbol

This video shows the power of playing with a ball. The confidence, strength, and joy that can come from physical and team play. But it’s still focused on youth.

What about adults? Do adults have all the confidence, strength, joy, community, and learning they will every need? (Ha!) Adults also need play to give them a myriad of results – friends, health, mental stimulation, practice with difficult situations, excitement, possibility, hope, and acceptance.

More and more, people are realizing the importance of play for the personal lives of adults:

A quick search on line for “importance of play for adults” includes: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/the-power-play, http://firstthings.org/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/, https://www.verywell.com/stress-management-the-importance-of-fun-3144588

However, play and work are still thought of as opposites. Play is good to help people be less stressed, but the work place must be serious.  There are a few exceptions:

Play at work

Playing at work

Many dot-com companies have long recognized the link between productivity and a fun work environment. Some encourage play and creativity by offering art or yoga classes, throwing regular parties, providing games such as Foosball or ping pong, or encouraging recess-like breaks during the workday for employees to play and let off steam. These companies know that more play at work results in more productivity, higher job satisfaction, greater workplace morale, and a decrease in employees skipping work and staff turnover.

If you’re fortunate enough to work for such a company, embrace the culture; if your company lacks the play ethic, you can still inject your own sense of play into breaks and lunch hours. Keep a camera or sketch pad on hand and take creative breaks where you can. Joke with coworkers during coffee breaks, relieve stress at lunch by shooting hoops, playing cards, or completing word puzzles together. It can strengthen the bond you have with your coworkers as well as improve your job performance. For people with mundane jobs, maintaining a sense of play can make a real difference to the work day by helping to relieve boredom.

Using play to boost productivity and innovation

Success at work doesn’t depend on the amount of time you work; it depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.

Taking the time to replenish yourself through play is one of the best things you can do for your career. When the project you’re working on hits a serious glitch, take some time out to play and have a few laughs. Taking a pause for play does a lot more than take your mind off the problem. When you play, you engage the creative side of your brain and silence your “inner editor,” that psychological barrier that censors your thoughts and ideas. This can often help you see the problem in a new light and think up fresh, creative solutions.

Playing at work:

  1. keeps you functional when under stress
  2. refreshes your mind and body
  3. encourages teamwork
  4. increases energy and prevents burnout
  5. triggers creativity and innovation
  6. helps you see problems in new ways

Tips for managers and employers

It’s tempting to think that the best way to cope with an ever-increasing workload is to have your employees work longer and harder. However, without some recreation time, it’s more likely the work will suffer and your workers become chronically overwhelmed and burned out. Encouraging play, on the other hand, creates a more lighthearted work atmosphere that in turn encourages employees to take more creative risks.

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees. Throw parties, put a basketball hoop in the parking lot, arrange a miniature golf tournament, stage an office treasure hunt.
  • Encourage creative thinking or just lighten the mood of meetings by keeping tactile puzzles on the conference room table.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks from their desks, and spend a few minutes engaged in a fun activity, such as a word or number game.

from:  http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm

 

Even here, however, play is something separate from work. What if play could be utilized as a part of work? Yes, I’m talking about LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. How did you guess? LSP lets people play their way to serious results. One case study is described here:

Case Study

As you can see, play was an integral part of finding a serious solution.

So often I find I need to talk about the benefits of the work I do without mentioning play because I don’t want to scare people off. I can help your team work better together, communicate better, be more efficient, solve problems that need everyone’s brain working together – but I save my methodology til later. LSP can provide serious work results, and I don’t want it to be dismissed because toys are involved.

I find it interesting that I also end up feeling very serious when I talk about play. I just re-read my post, and I’m very earnest! I am also learning how to incorporate playfulness into serious work. How do you do it? I’d love to hear!