Smart Hands

One of the reasons LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works is that it lets us think with our hands.

What does that even mean? Well, when challenged to build an idea, you  might not know what to make. How can you portray courage? Or fear? Or maybe the problem is that you don’t even know what you want to say? What is the idea you want to have? If we allow our hands to start picking bricks, we can figure it out as we go.

Let me tell you a secret: I almost always believe it won’t work – just before it does work. I was trying to demonstrate for someone how this happens, so I started clicking some bricks together – and I felt I had to tell her I had no idea what I was doing, since I had no idea what I was doing! I felt a terrible panic that it wouldn’t work, she would see I’m a fake, and she wouldn’t hire me. But then, the miracle happened: I started talking about what I was building, and suddenly the meaning was clear. I was building a base for something to stand on, but the base wasn’t completely solid. There were places it could tip. It didn’t always, but there was my insecurity made visible, I was afraid I would tip over. She could watch it happen, the way random bricks suddenly became a story with meaning.

Some artists know they can trust their hands. Probably hair dressers and makeup artists too. People who doodle sometimes find meaning in their drawings. But those of us who work with computers don’t have that experience of letting something take shape between our hands, and develop meaning as it does. LEGO® bricks are a great place to try it out, since no one will get hurt in the process, and it’s sort of fun to see what happens. There’s something satisfying about clicking the bricks together, even when the meaning is slow to materialize. I encourage you to give it a try! (And tell me about it – I’d love to hear your experience!)

The Blank Face of Listening

I spoke at a small local Rotary meeting last week, and I’ve never had a louder audience to talk over. Partly I loved it – so much energy, enthusiasm, connection with each other, fun to be had – and partly I chided them that I can’t share what I know with them if they’re busy talking amongst themselves. This experience made me think about what it’s like to talk in front of different audiences.

I took a class on speaking that warned me that I shouldn’t let myself be swayed by the looks on people’s faces. If it looked like people were into what I was saying, then great, but if it looked like they weren’t, I shouldn’t change what I was doing to try to coax them out. I have no idea what they are thinking inside.

This was backed up when a presenter at a three-day event said, “Do you want to know what you look like when you’re really processing what I’m saying?” She gave us a look that was so blank-faced that it looked like she wasn’t there at all.

I’m not talking about an obviously bored stance, just one where you can’t tell what’s going on inside. I see this look a lot when I talk. I always worry that people are bored, or thinking about what to cook for dinner that night. But a very experienced presenter and teacher says this is the look of someone who is thinking deeply about what you just said.

Some audience members are really good at showing their interest. They look at the presenter with curiosity and fascination. They offer energy to the presenter. Thank you, if you are one of these people! It is so helpful to have at least some people who appear to be hanging on one’s every word – it helps recharge the speaker and make him or her much more interesting. But if you find yourself speaking to a bunch of blank-faced people, remember that it probably means that they are so involved in what you are saying that they are forgetting to enliven their facial muscles. And at least you don’t have to find a way to get them to stop talking so they can listen to you.

Have you ever had the most blank-faced person in the audience tell you afterwards how much they got from what you said? Even knowing all of this, it surprises me when it happens. It always feels so unlikely, even when my brain understands. I’d love to hear your experience!




Bonus Guest Post from Chuck Rockroad

I recently was introduced to Chuck Rockroad of Catch Your Creativity. I liked what he had to say about creativity, so I have posted in its entirety one of his blog posts from his blog:

Here it is!

Recently I’ve been getting many basic questions about creativity. “Why is creativity so important?” “When is messiness a positive?” “What’s wrong – or right – with being a perfectionist?” Therefore over the next few blog posts, I will be taking a step back to discuss the basics of classic creative theory. Some of you will recognize material from my upcoming book, “Messy on Purpose: The Science Behind Creativity.” Discussing such basic questions now will give foundation and context to our later blog posts as we move forward.


So then to start, why IS creativity important?

Self-Expression: To better express (and discover) what we want. To gain pride in that which we have created.

Exploration: The mystery and fun of the unknown. To creatively go where no one has gone before.

Momentum: There is the concept of anicca which says we are always in a state of either growth or decay. To hold still then is to stagnate…and decay. Consistent creativity keeps us moving forwards and upwards.

Sharing: To create and contribute valued content to our friends and family, communities and businesses.

Better problem solving: The ability to create solutions to puzzles is like a muscle – it gets better with practice.

Overall health: When creative, we have less stress and anxiety, are happier and healthier, and live longer.

Greater confidence: Trial and error is part of pretty much any creative process. We learn to see mistakes as learning stepping stones. We also learn to be comfortable with the unknown – including not controlling everything, or having our project meticulously planned in advance.

Fun! Whether we write, finger paint, or even start our own business, creation should be not drudgery, but play.


Creativity is writing books and scripts, filming movies and TV, and adapting them all for each other. Creativity is telling and singing stories around the campfire. Creativity was etching the first stories on cave walls. Ultimately our creativity has been fundamental to our racial heritage.

In fact, what would the world be without creativity?  There would be no inventions – no internet or laptops, no cellphones or planes, no trains or cars, no penicillin or matches, no clothes or farms, and no knives or campfires.

Again, consistent creativity keeps us moving forward. Without your creativity, there can be no progress.

Of course, new creative solutions are urgently needed for endless, evolving problems in politics, economics, climate change, urban development, overcrowded jails, and underfunded schools, to name but a few. Further, creativity is needed to add new businesses – what is an entrepreneur if not a creative problem solver?

Also consider that once we create something, we must also create a way to deal with it. Some inventions, such as nanotech in our clothes, drones in our skies, and 3D printing in our homes, are especially tricky both legally and ethically. As technology accelerates exponentially, and so too must we accelerate our creativity to keep up.

Is that my monkey?

When I first heard this Polish saying I thought it was brilliant! It’s so easy to get pulled into other people’s drama. It’s nice to have a reminder of what is and isn’t mine to deal with.

But what about self-drama? What things are coming from my brain that just aren’t true? “I’m not creative.” “I have no self-discipline.” “I can’t do that because of my background.” There is a lot of poo being flung around a lot of monkey minds because we mistake these messages for truth just because we think them.

We have talked about the idea of being creative or not in previous posts, and I will continue to discuss it in future posts. For the next, I’d like to quote Blake Boles from The Art of Self-Directed Learning: “Self-discipline isn’t some universal attribute that you either have or don’t. It’s a product of matching your actions to the work that’s most important in your life.” So if you can’t get started on a project, think about if you would feel worse if you never did it because a part of you would die, or if you’re doing this because of someone else’s circus needs. If it’s not your monkey, go find your circus and dedicate yourself to that.

Even bigger – we’re talking chimpanzee size, not spider monkey – is having a fixed or growth mindset. To quote Boles quoting Carol Dweck:

“People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that….So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things – not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan – without years of passionate practice and learning.”

Can you imagine living all your life believing that you can’t get any better? Why would you even try? If your brain is telling you that no amount of effort will make a difference, you might as well watch tv instead. But what if that’s not true? What if your effort could make a huge difference? What if the monkey you have in front of you can be trained? What if, when you find the thing that lights you up, you treat all setbacks as learning opportunities and just keep working towards making it happen? You could do anything you wanted to do.

You can do anything you want to do. (Navigating the abyss of freedom to figure out what you want to do is another post for another day.) Here are some keys (again from Boles) to help keep you moving forward when your brain gives you messages that you’re stuck:

Instead of:                  Use:

  • I can’t                           I could if I…
  • I should                        I choose to
  • I don’t know               I’ll find out
  • I wish                            I’ll make a plan
  • I hate                             I prefer
  • I have to                       I get to

One nice thing about a list like this is that you can listen for the first column of phrases to show up in your thinking and talking. It’s like a little reminder. Oh yeah, I could say “I choose to” instead of “I should.” What is it I think I should do? Do I choose to? Why or why not? What do I think would be better?

It also gives us a chance to use divergent thinking. Maybe I can’t right now, but I could if… what? What do I need to go forward? Is it something I can do for myself? ‘I could if I read a book.’ Or do I need to get help? ‘I could if I could find a professional monkey trainer to help me.’ What if you could come up with dozens of options? Not just one way forward, but so many that you have the freedom to pick the ways that feel best and have multiple ways forward? Not just climbing the ladder of success, but as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, climbing the jungle gym of success, sometimes sideways to find another way up? Your options are only limited by your vision.

What is your monkey mind telling you? Whose circus is that message coming from? You have endless possibilities inside you. Don’t let those monkeys smear you!

Cost of No Play

Fifty years ago a man named Charles Whitman killed more than 30 people before being killed himself. The reason he snapped? No play. No play in his childhood, no chance to try  out different responses, or let his aggression out through play.

Rats that smell a cat run and hide. This is self-protective, and appropriate. But the rats that aren’t allowed to play when they are young never come back out again, and starve to death. They never learned to manage risk through play.

Children who get more recess do better in school. Body play helps stimulate the cerebellum and create more neural connections. Object play helps strengthen the frontal lobe, where executive function lives, and increases metaphorical thinking. Playing in one’s preferred way increases the intrinsic motivation to keep going, and develops a person’s engagement and persistence in the face of adversity.

I had the great good fortune to hear Dr. Stuart Brown speak yesterday at the First Annual Bay Area Play Symposium. He has been studying play extensively for many years, and has proven the scientific backing to support more play. He is now in his 80’s and looks a couple decades younger. He wrote the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, and is the founder of the National Institute for Play.

 Play helps people develop trust, belonging, safety, and rapport. When there is time to play, people are more effective and efficient at their jobs, and work together better because of the bonds they built during play.
What are you doing to bring play into your life today? Into your community? Your workplace? Your home? Scientific fact: we all need more play.

How to Justify Play as a Grownup


Study after study has shown us that children learn through play. Children learn what their bodies can do by running and jumping and climbing. Children learn how to relate with their peers by playing let’s pretend and tag and hide and seek. Children learn physics from building with blocks, and language arts from telling stories.

If play is so good for children, why don’t grownups do it? Do we think we know everything there is about how to get along with our peers? Do we feel our bodies need a fitness regimen rather than free play? Or is it that play has a reputation as something childish, so if we play as adults we have to call it something appropriately serious, like prototyping or scientific investigation?

Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the  Soul, and founder of the National Institute for Play, doesn’t see play and work as opposites. Instead, he sees depression as the opposite of play. He writes “The beneficial effects of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do.” Further, he claims “(play) is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder – in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life.”

The next time someone suggests a game to play at work, or comes up with a way to play together for team building, rather than rolling your eyes and wishing HR would stop it with the stupid forced socialization, see if you can find something fun in it. Someone is trying to inject a little bit of fun into the work world, and there might just be some benefit to you in that.


I’ve been thinking about energy lately. Also about connection. I want to share how I feel they’re related. But first, a story:

I’m a twin. When my brother and I were born we were 5 weeks preemie and super small. The first thing they did was put us into isolettes, little incubators to keep us warm and safe from disease. (Now they suggest putting all babies, even preemies, skin to skin with a parent, but when I was born this was considered best practice.) I went from being connected to being isolated, and I imagine I felt lonely, abandoned, scared, confused, and hurt, because I continued to feel those things for the rest of my growing up. I had a hard time making friends, and I hid who I was in order to be who (I thought) my parents wanted me to be, since there was obviously something terribly wrong with me, since I was so unlovable and alone.

When I finally started therapy in college, my therapist talked about emotional connection with other people, and I asked her what she was talking about? I didn’t understand what emotional connection felt like. I didn’t know how to get it, or how to keep it, nor did I believe I was worth getting it. Slowly, over many years and with a lot of help, I learned more about emotional connection.

So. Emotional connection is tangible with our feelings. It’s not tangible with touch, or by taking my temperature, or by hearing my emotions ring. It’s real, and I’m very glad to know it and experience it. But the way I feel it, in my heart, in my body, in my feelings, is itself not very tangible.

I have recently been thinking a lot about energy. When I last got a massage, my masseuse did some sort of energy work on my body. I have no idea what he did. I didn’t feel anything with my skin. Did I feel something energetically? I don’t really know how to tune in to that. Or even if it’s real. I went out walking, and felt like the earth was singing joy to me. Was that the energy of the world that I tapped into? Or a projection? I put my hand on a tree trunk, and tried to feel the sap running slowly up and down. I felt like I could touch the energy of the tree, slow and steady and grounded. Again, real, or a projection? There is a piece of me that can’t believe it’s real because it can’t be measured. I must be making this up. It’s all in my head. But. Emotional connection can’t be measured, and it’s real. Could I really be feeling the energetic pulse of the tree? Could I really feel the unbounded joy of life from the earth?

I feel very mixed about things like this. I want to honor the scientists who have learned about how things work, and base their work on observation and repetition. I think science is real and valuable. I also want to honor the mystical, spiritual, energetic parts of life. I have so little experience here, so little language, I don’t even know what’s true, what I myself feel when I feel it. I didn’t grow up valuing this feminine energy, I grew up honoring logic over emotion, and study over intuition. But then, I didn’t even know how to connect emotionally to my parents from my time as an infant in solitary. So how could I know the divine?

One reason I haven’t written about this very much is I’m afraid that people won’t want to work with me if I get too woo-woo. I have heard people start talking about how the aliens are affecting our DNA, and I can’t take them seriously. I want all of you to take me and my work seriously, so I try to stay in the world of serious science. I can talk about how our hands and brains evolved together, and that’s why using our hands helps us think. Science. Practical. Measurable. But I think that my early experience of isolation has changed me, made me more able to help people connect, and that I have an intuitive sense of how to work with groups. When you hire me, that’s what you’re really getting.

Yes, when I work, I have the benefit of the science of neurobiology and evolution and group dynamic theory.  There is science behind LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® and I have been trained in the methodologies. There is also the reason I was drawn to this methodology – it includes everyone. No one gets left out. As someone who felt left out all my growing up years, this is extremely important to me. I feel able to help bring people together and move a group through a shared process from deep inside me, from my heart, not just my brain. I am invested in the energy of the group, in making it inclusive, in showing the benefit of inclusion. Not because of science, but because of connection.

I’m going to continue to commune with trees (though I might not talk about it all the time) because it makes me happy. It feels like the energy of the tree is the emotion of the tree. I like feeling connected to the life force of the natural world. I believe everything is connected, through webs of energy, emotion, and physical influence in the world. We all affect each other. Pulling on one thread of the world pulls on countless beings in an unknown myriad of ways. It is my mission to help all the disparate parts of the world to work together in harmony, valuing the contributions of every single part.

No Group Think

It’s nice to find research that backs up what I do. Recently there was an article in the NY Times about the research Google has been doing to create the perfect team. Among their findings, ‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well. But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’

I’ve been saying this for a while now. The team makes better decisions when everyone gets involved. Sometimes teams need help getting everyone to participate. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can help with that. LSP isn’t the only way, but it is one way.

Another finding was that team members needed to feel safe. If they felt safe and accepted, then they could come up with more interesting ideas – they could say things that were maybe silly or off the wall without feeling judged. These ideas could end up sparking a really great solution –  or they could just be banter to help people feel connected and secure. Both results are important. Again, LSP is one way to help people expose parts of themselves in a safe and controlled way. There is no way to fail if you’re playing.

A lot of work these days is done in collaboration. Google knows this. If your team isn’t allowing everyone to participate – call me! Or Google. But I don’t think they answer the phone. 😉


In a way, all of my work is about love. In groups, I encourage people to love and value themselves, so they can show up more.  I encourage the group to love and value all the different parts of their teammates, so they can benefit from the diversity of thought and experience the group has. Love gives a team psychological safety, so people can show up, take risks, and grow.

Love was not something I always felt. I felt self-loathing for most of my growing-up years and many of my adult years. Our society isn’t kind to people who are overweight, awkward, and socially inept. I worked for many years to learn how to be social, and then how to like myself a little, and finally how to love myself just the way I am. Loving myself and accepting myself now is part of how I can love and accept everyone else, and that painful journey is part of why I love my work.

Something interesting occurred to me today. In my conversation with my spiritual teacher, we talked about how I freak out every time I start to lose weight. I realized that I’m afraid that if I want to be thinner, I’m being disloyal to the part of me that loves myself when I’m big. I’m afraid if I lose weight it will mean I never really loved myself before when I was heavy. Just having that conversation helped me realize that I can’t stop having loved myself, and that loving myself no matter what means at any size, large or small. Maybe, just maybe, I can start to change this self-identity that says I’m always big. I’m not as big as I was, and maybe I’ll get smaller, and maybe not, but no matter what – I love and accept me.

I read something recently about a conversation with Mr. Rogers, who told children every day that he loved them just because they were who they were. There were children who were struggling with abuse and lack of love who made it through because Mr. Rogers believed in them. I think that, in my secret heart of hearts, I hope that my hard-earned acceptance and love can help reach others who are struggling. You may feel self-loathing. It doesn’t mean you are unworthy. I felt it, and I have been able to change the story I told myself. You can too. I love you just because you are you.

Remember “Going Postal?”

Does anyone out there remember the phrase “going postal?” It started in 1986, when a disgruntled postal worker opened fire on his co-workers and killed 13 of them. Over the next 7 years there were 9 more incidents, killing 34. Do you remember how shocking that was? It was so upsetting that the phrase “going postal” was used for decades to describe someone so off his rocker with anger that he was prepared to kill.

For decades, mass shootings were shocking and awful. People didn’t routinely go postal, it was unusual and worthy of comment.

Now, schools offer lock-down drills, where the principal knocks on doors begging to be let in, and the kids have to sit in silence and not move in case it’s the shooter trying to get in and kill them. At least in the 80’s the chances of nuclear war and being killed by a bomb seemed somewhat remote. Now there are stories every day of schools, malls, movie theaters, ordinary every-day places being shot up, dozens of people being killed every day. There isn’t a catch phrase for it any more. There’s no more “going postal.” Now it’s everyday life.

I wish the horror of all these deaths was still as strong as it was in 1986. I have a hard time wrapping my head around not just the mass shootings, but the complacency we seem to feel about them. Oh, more people were shot, we will pray for them (and pray we won’t be next) but we won’t take any actions that might take guns out of people’s hands.

I’ve been struggling to understand how anyone could be on the side of wanting more people to have guns. Guns are made to kill people, and more and more people are being killed by them – how is this ok? Who would wish their children and grandchildren to sit in their classrooms practicing not getting shot, and all the fears and anxieties that these kids will have because of these drills?

And then I realized – it’s the fears they already have that make them think gun deaths are ok. Now, everywhere I look, I hear the same message.

*Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, said people can’t think creatively if they are afraid.

*Don Maruska, in his book How Great Decisions Get Made, says that a perception of scarcity leads to fear of not getting enough. Instead of being a positive, joyful environment, the world becomes a fear-filled place.

*Not only does the world seem scary, the perception of scarcity leads to battles over resources and then to actual scarcity.

When people are scared, they can’t think clearly. They are afraid, WE are afraid, that we will lose out. If we are not first, we will be dead. This isn’t logical or likely, but logic doesn’t thrive when fear is driving.We act impulsively, even go postal, trying to get what we think we deserve, enough to live on and feel safe.

There really is enough for everyone to be safe, but it requires trust and hope and a willingness to let go of certainty. It requires us to believe that if I let go of this resource, no one else will grab it and run away with it. The safety we will experience will not be static and eternal. The world flows, and we have to flow with it. There may be constant negotiation, there may be people who disagree with me, there may be discomfort and anxiety. But there won’t be children getting killed at school and lovers getting killed on a date at the movies and worshipers getting killed praying to their God. Because we can all have enough, and be enough, and love enough, and hope enough, and connect enough, that we can live together in peace.