I chatted with an audience member after my speaking gig yesterday who had some issues with diverse personalities within her sales team. This morning when I went out for my walk I let my┬á mind wander, and started thinking about how often conflict arises because of the way we think. So I thought I’d share some of these ideas with you.


There is one way of seeing the world where everyone is either one-up or one-down from everyone else. (Or maybe several-up or several-down.) This tends to be more common with men than women, but it’s not tied to the ability to grow a beard. I find it exhausting when I get into this frame of mind – always trying to figure out where I stand in relation to others, usually feeling like I don’t measure up. Some people find a sense of worth from being one-up from others, but this runs the risk of treating others as less-than.




Equality – One Path

Another way, which is more common in women than men but isn’t tied to femininity, is to see everyone as equal in rank because we are all people trying to do the best we can. Some people may be farther along the path, but we are all walking the path together. I prefer this view (and I’m a woman, go figure), since I can relax and not compete. It lets me see the best in others and wish the best for others, since we are all striving for happiness and fulfillment, rather than beating someone else.

Now, if you are a competitive sort, and like pitting yourself against others, the equality view might feel boring. It might feel unbalancing, like you don’t know where you stand if you’re not one-up or one-down. But if you’re treating others as one-down it could make them feel angry or less-than or sad. And if you treat others as one-up it may keep you from offering your gifts to the world because you think you’re not worth it.


All of these pitfalls are based in perspective, in how we see the world. There may not be any change necessary in the people on a team, other than a shift in perspective. It takes a deeper conversation to find out what perspective team members actually hold, and a lot of today’s post is based on my own brain meanderings. Often we don’t know there is another perspective available until we talk to someone who holds a different view.

One last point today – if you need to shift your perspective, you could do worse than go for a walk. Walking helps your mind process stuff while it exercises your body, and often helps shift stuck emotions and ideas.


I’m A Tree!

When you are running a meeting, is this what you see? Yawns, people propping their heads up, glazed eyes, side conversations? What can you do to get people refocused?

Guess what? I’m going to advocate for play. Aren’t you surprised? ­čśë

I’ve talked before about word games at meetings, but you need something more active when people are starting to nod off. Get people up and moving, as well as thinking about something different. Here are some options for games to play that get everyone up and out of their seats, and giving them a new perspective on things.

Now I See You, Now I Don’t

Get everyone on their feet, and divide the group randomly in half. Get everyone walking around the room randomly. Half the group should look others in the eye while they walk, the other half should avoid eye contact. After a while, have them switch.

When you stop, debrief their experience. How did it feel to look or not look at people? Did their posture and attitude and confidence change? Does one feel more natural than the other?  What were they thinking? I like to talk about how changing our body posture affects how we feel.


In this game, get everyone in the room to silently choose two other people in the room. Without talking, or indicating who they are connected with, ask them to stand equidistant from both people, so they make a triangle. There will be lots of movement, as people realize they have to shift position when their targets shift position, but eventually the group will settle. When they are still, ask one or two people to move to the far side of the room, and the whole group will have to shift and settle again.

When you debrief, in addition to asking for their take on the exercise, make sure you tell them that every group is a system, and whatever affects one part of the system affects everyone.

That’s The Way The Arrow Points

Cut out a paper arrow, or if this is spontaneous, just use your arm. Stand in front of the group, and have them face you. For the first round, ask them to both point the way you are pointing, and say the direction you are pointing. For the second round, ask them to point the way you are pointing but to say the opposite direction. For the third round, ask them to say the way you are pointing, but to point in the opposite direction.

I don’t have any specific points to make in the debrief, just that this makes people use their brains in an often uncomfortable way.


For this, get people in a circle facing each other. For this game, one person takes a step into the center and starts talking about something. Any topic they like. When someone else hears a word they want to talk about, they step in, repeat the word, and start talking about that. The first person steps back into the circle. Then when someone else hears something they can talk about, they step into the circle, interrupt, and start talking about the new word. You may need to start the group off.

For example: Person A says “I was walking my dog on the beach the other day and he ran into the water and got soaking wet. Then he ran back to me and shook himself off…” and Person B says “Shook. I shook hands with someone at a networking event last week and I had never felt a dead fish handshake before but this person really had no grip whatsoever…” and Person C says “Grip. I’ve always wondered what the grip does for a movie production. And does the Best Boy grow up to be a Best Man? I’ve always wondered…” Try to get everyone to interrupt at least once.

This is very hard for some people, but hopefully it will help encourage even shy people to step in. You may need to encourage the more aggressive members to hold back to give the quieter people a chance to step in. Be sure to ask people for their feedback after the game to see how they felt and what was hard or easy for them.

I’m A Tree

Start off with everyone roughly in a circle with space in the middle. One person goes in and stands with their arms overhead and says “I’m a tree.” Another person goes in and holds one arm and says “I’m an apple on the tree.” A third person sits down by the first person’s feet and says “I’m Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree.” You are now in a tableau. The third person to join the tableau chooses who stays. Maybe this time it’s the apple. The other two people leave, and the person who stays says again “I’m an apple.” Now a random person from the circle comes in and poses in relation to the apple. Maybe they’re eating the apple? A worm in the apple? A lunchbox around the apple? A third person joins the tableau and announces who they are, then picks who stays and the others leave. And so on. This can go on for quite a while, and it can be very funny. In the end, try to get them back to having someone say “I’m a tree.”

Debrief asking about what was hard and what was easy, why you did that exercise, how people had to pay attention to each other, that sort of thing.


What other energizers and games have you played? I’m always eager to learn more. Have fun with these, and let me know how they go!

You Thought Your Boss Was Bad…


This employer is sitting at a game table in Vegas gambling his payroll money to try to increase it enough to cover payroll.

And you thought your boss was bad.

I love learning people’s stories through LEGO┬« bricks!



This is the co-worker everyone wants to work with. She has a solid grounding in reality, and her shoes are high enough to keep her out of the shit. She has a good head on her shoulders, able to see where she’s going, where she came from, and what’s going on around her. Plus a great hat that keeps the shit off her head, should it fall from above. And her walking sticks keep her balanced and help her get shit done.

I love how vivid a story is when it’s based on a model! And the person who builds the model needs to tell the story, or we might interpret this person as a blockhead and a propeller-head who is nerdy and not good inter-personally. But the real story is better.



This is the client from hell, but I see similar themes when people build bosses they don’t like. In this case the client put herself on a pedestal and gave herself a crown. She thinks she’s so much better than the woman there to serve her, represented as a lowly pair of eyes. It’s not so much fun to serve those who come across as arrogant and entitled.



Sometimes a client can be both best and worst at the same time. This one he knew by the shoes. This client has very expensive shoes. Which means they have a lot of money. But it also means they will be very demanding with lots of ideas. So on the plus side, a big lucrative job, and on the minus side, lots of work and lots of accommodation.

If you had to build your best or worst boss or client, what would you build?

Worst Boss Ever!

I did a team building workshop with St. Mary’s College staff last week, and people were able to express a lot with the models they built. These models all show the worst boss these people had. Can you tell from the pictures what made them so bad?




Can you tell whose worst boss peered over the cubicle divider to watch her work? Can you tell who was too scatter-brained? Can you tell who wore too many hats? So much can be expressed with just a few LEGO® bricks!

I mentioned last week that a model can hold your story, so you don’t have to hold on to what you want to say in your head. This frees you up to listen to what other people are saying, and to make creative connections between ideas. Can you see from these pictures how well they hold ideas? I will never mistake that creeper boss on the top for anything other than someone peering over the wall at me. I don’t need to keep that boss’s name in my head, or remember anything else about him, that image will remind me of what I wanted to say.

Interestingly, sometimes models help people tell even richer stories. The scatterbrained boss could have just been scatterbrained, but this boss was credited with being colorful and exciting, as well as being tarred with being unpredictable and full of empty promises. Sometimes having a lot of detail in a model can give you more of a skeleton to hang your story on, so your story gets richer in the telling than you expected it to be when you built the model. This is helped by not rehearsing in our heads what we will say, but letting it come to us in the moment while we are explaining what we built.

So much creativity and fun comes out of these workshops, as well as a greater understanding of who you are working with and what they need. Everyone feels better understood and appreciated and heard. What team can you think of that could use some better communication? Who do you want to build as your worst boss? Come play!

Coming Together

IMG_5470Crazy Hair Day at school

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the divisions we all face in this world. There are ways that everyone is different from everyone else. Skin color, religion, sexual orientation, interest in catching Pokemon, ability to sit still, how straight our teeth are, there are infinite ways we can find differences between ourselves and others. And it is also true that we are more alike than not. According to Bill Nye the Science Guy:

“We are one species. Each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. We have to work together.”

So I want to talk about how play can bring people together. I put up a picture of Crazy Hair Day at school. When everyone does the same silly thing together, it creates a feeling of belonging, of being in on the joke together, of us all being on the same team. When people identify with sports teams, people across socioeconomic and cultural divides find themselves rooting for the same team to win. It brings us together. (It has the potential to divide us too, when we root for opposing teams. This can only be taken so far, after which we have to admit it’s just a game and not worth rioting over.)

There can be deep divisions at work. Management vs union. Developers vs marketing. Local team vs remote team. Us vs them. We don’t have to let those divisions shape us. We can find ways to reach across the aisle and find our common interests, our common humanity. Chances are, all of you want your organization to thrive. You may have different ideas of how to make that happen, but you all want it to happen.

Please, approach differences with curiosity, not animosity. ‘Why do you think that? What is your experience that makes that make sense? Can I tell you how my experience is different? How can we find a solution that works for both of us?’

Life is not a zero sum game. If one person wins, the other person doesn’t automatically have to lose. If one group is celebrated, it doesn’t mean the other groups don’t matter. Some forms of play, like in sports, mean that there is a winner and a loser. But other types of play are there for the sake of playing. There’s no winner in the crazy hair day – everyone plays equally, and enjoys each other joining in the play. And even in sports, everyone can agree that a hard fought contest is fun to watch, that the play was important just for the sake of the play, even if our favorites lost.

Work is not the opposite of play. Depression is the opposite of play. Don’t make the work place so serious that everyone sinks into depression. Let there be lightness, let there be reasons to connect across dividing lines, let there be play.

Out Of Gas


A while back, I was driving home with my young son in the back of the car, when I saw a car pulled over under the freeway overpass and a young black man standing by it, talking on the phone. Many thoughts ran quickly through my head – I’m white and he’s black, what does that mean in terms of safety if I stop? I’m middle-aged, he’s young, would that affect what happens if I stop? Should I ignore him as not my problem? Is that the kind of example I want to be to my son?

I decided to pull over and ask if he was ok. He said he ran out of gas on his way to his second job. He said he had a gas can and asked if I’d mind getting him some gas. He even gave me money to cover it. I took the can and drove to the closest gas station I knew of, then drove back and handed him the gas and the change. He wanted to pay me something, or at least do me a favor in return, but didn’t know what to do. I told him to pay it forward, to help someone else in need some time in the future. I’ve certainly been helped when I needed it. (Remind me to tell you about arriving in Italy with no Lira on a Sunday when the banks were closed and needing to pee desperately, and not having a way to use the paid toilets…)

The rest of the day I felt a glow inside. I did something good for someone! I helped out someone in trouble, got him moving again. And there was a piece of me that was ashamed of the moment of fear I felt about stopping to help someone darker than me. (Frankly, with how pale my skin is, most white people are darker than me, but that’s another story.) I don’t want to live in a world where I even think about someone’s skin color before I stop to help them. I’m glad that this interaction went so well, there was gratitude and kindness and no one pretending to be in trouble to lure in unsuspecting victims. (Man, an active imagination can be a bitch sometimes.) Most of all, I’m glad I showed my son that kindness doesn’t cost anything and can make the world better.

Creativity Games

Why should grownups play?

Non-competitive play is relaxing, brings people together, causes laughter and lowers blood pressure, and increases creativity. Increased creativity means new solutions to difficult problems, possibly the next break-through idea or way to fix society.

If your team, family, group, or club needs to come up with more creative ideas, games that┬á exercise the creativity muscle – especially ones that help with divergent thinking (coming up with more and different ideas) –┬á can help. Plus they’re fun. Here’s one:


One of these things is not like the others!

These four words were selected at random. Any four words would work. Unlike when Sesame Street showed us an apple, orange, banana, and bicycle, there is no right answer for which of these is different or why. It’s a game to stretch our brains.

Apt is the odd one out because it’s the only mono-syllabic word.

Spatula is the odd one out because it can’t be vigorous or a fruit bat. A fruit bat can be vigorous┬á or apt, apt can apply to fruit bat or vigorous, vigorous can apply to fruit bat or apt.

Fruit-bat is the odd one because it’s hyphenated.

Fruit-bat is the odd one because it’s the only one that doesn’t come up in day to day conversation where I live.

Any and all of these answers are right and good. There is no wrong or bad! I’d love to see some of your answers. What do you think?

This is a game you can do while waiting for people to show up at a meeting. The first four people can each supply a random word, and then you can play with it until everyone is there and you can start. Long car rides can be lightened with games like this. More on car games in another post! And more creativity games will come later, too. In the mean time, have fun and think divergently!



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.┬á 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.

Apollo and Dionysus – Creative Pairs

A while back I wrote about The Lego Movie and its assertion that creativity required both structure and imagination. I’ve written about how my best Halloween costumes were made when I had the structure of a theme to work with. And now comes an article in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic about creative pairs, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Apparently, John Lennon was rude, unorganized, impatient, and defiant. Paul McCartney was polite, neat, organized, and conventional. And it was exactly the fact that they were so opposite that made them such a brilliant pair of songwriters. They needed each other – Paul needed someone to break open his control, and John needed someone to reign in his lack of control. In fact, John could be rude because Paul was so polite – he knew there was someone to take the edge off and make the reporters comfortable.

“Paul and John seemed to be almost archetypal embodiments of order and disorder. The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional. Friedrich Nietzsche proposed that the interaction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian was the foundation of creative work, and modern creativity research has confirmed this insight, revealing the key relationship between breaking and making, challenging and refining, disrupting and organizing.” p79

I find this fascinating. There is a big value placed on individual creativity. In fact, a lot of artists do work in isolation, writing or painting or practicing alone for hours. And yet, finding one’s opposite can spark more creativity.

I think it’s not just the blending of structure and chaos that’s so important to creativity. I think that having other people to bounce ideas off is vitally important. I often find myself explaining something I didn’t realize I knew or thought or felt when I talk to someone else. This comes out in LEGO┬« Serious Play┬« too – people build information they didn’t realize they had in their heads. But it’s hard to do this in isolation. It takes being in a group to make the insights flow. It takes other people, and their ideas, and their listening to our ideas, and the new ideas that sprout from the intersection. The ideas become more robust when they’re torn apart and rebuilt, iterated until they fit, redrawn until they resonate with everyone. When models are put together with everyone’s viewpoints incorporated and not done until everyone feels it’s right.

For some things, fewer people are better. Songwriting by committee tends to be uninspired. Having just two people with such tension between them can make immensely better songs. Some things need more people, especially projects that will affect a large number of people. There is so much knowledge and ability locked away inside people’s heads, just waiting for the creative spark to let it out! And people who experience this creative connection find it immensely satisfying.

All About Me (And, You Know, Not)

I have had the odd experience recently of growing into myself. My friends have seen the strong, powerful woman in me, but I have only experienced myself as the scared girl. Somehow, a confluence of events has been pulling me from scared girl to powerful woman, and it’s strange and wonderful. And about time!

I’ve been a late bloomer all my life – I hit puberty late, I didn’t date til I was in college, I needed therapy to help me figure out how to have friends. I spent a lot of time comparing my insides (scared, depressed, in pain) to other peoples’ outsides (confident, capable, happy) and I was miserable most of the time. I woke up every day of high school not wanting to live inside my own skin, wishing I could just die and end all the pain.

In college I started therapy, which became psychoanalysis, and it lasted 16 years. It got me from suicidally depressed to having friends, and dating, and getting married, and starting a family. I learned how to be flexible and how to connect emotionally and who I was being when I was being me. (The advice to just be myself never made sense – I spent all my growing up years trying to be who I thought other people wanted me to be. I had no idea whatsoever who I was.)

My growing understanding of myself has continued now that psychoanalysis is over. I’m learning from my son, I’m taking my mama bear instincts and learning to use them for myself too. Not only is no one gonna talk to my son like that, no one better talk to me like that either. I’m learning I’m strong enough to walk away and still survive. I’m learning that my boundaries are important and that speaking up for myself can improve my relationships if I do it tactfully.

So – this is all about me, you’re thinking. When does it reach the not about me part?

One of the things I’ve been learning over these last few years is what I do automatically. What my teachers at the Career Wisdom Inst call my design. What I do without thinking, like breathing, and have never valued, since I figured everyone did it. It has to do with play, and creativity, and bringing people together, and helping people learn and grow and connect using play and creativity. It’s what brought me to LEGO┬« Serious Play┬«, and this blog, and my business. And when I started to explore it, I felt like I had to make it all happen, and I was afraid I would lose my creativity when I got nervous. And then this amazing thing happened – my creativity, my play, my design flowed through me, like it was coming from somewhere else. I didn’t have to be responsible for it. It was just there.

This is the amazing part. I am not responsible for my gift. I feel like a conduit, like a channel. But I am still required for my design to be expressed – no one else has my channel to tune in to the universe. My link to the wisdom of the universe is unique to me, and yet the wisdom that comes through is not me. Not my limited brain. Not my conscious effort. It just comes to me, comes through me, flowing from the universe that is filled with love and compassion and joy and creativity and hope and connection and peace. I am awed and humbled by this feeling. I have never been super religious, but this feeling of being used by the universe to be of service to others is enough to understand a version of God. I can’t get too excited and proud of what I do, since it’s only partly due to me. And I can’t wait to do it again, to feel that flow and joy and connection, to help other people grow and connect and learn with my unique channel to divine wisdom.

My spiritual teacher says I’m just beginning my journey, and yet I feel like I’ve arrived at a place I never believed I’d see. When I was depressed and in pain I never believed I could wake up happy and excited to begin the day. (And yes, antidepressants are part of my journey, and I’m ok with that.) I feel so blessed to have reached this place, so lucky to have the universe at my back, whispering in my ear, putting me where I need to be. I feel a little weird talking about it publicly, like you might think I’ve gone a little soft in the head. But I feel stronger and more at peace than ever in my life, and I will bring that with me no matter where I go.

This is not to say I don’t have to do anything. I’m continuing to learn and practice my craft. I’m looking for opportunities to help. I’m working to keep my channel to the universe open, including meditation and exercise. (And antidepressants.) I’m actively involved with being me, and bringing me to everything I do, and hopefully to helping other people be themselves too. I love each and every one of you (except you in the back. Not you. Oh ok, you too). Thank you for being part of this amazing universe!

Play well,