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?


Why creativity takes courage


We as a social species like to belong to the group. There is safety in belonging. There is security in knowing who is in my clique and who is out. We tend to dress like the people with whom we feel we belong. We tend to agree with what they say, since disagreeing means risking being thrown out of the group. Even the idea of being thrown out can give us a visceral fear, like a punch in the gut, real terror we might not survive.

There is a deep satisfaction and comfort in mirroring other people and being mirrored. Being too much out of phase with the people around us makes us deeply uncomfortable. We often don’t know why we’re uncomfortable, which gives our fertile imaginations a chance to make stuff up. What we make up is usually dire – we will lose our jobs, that person must be a terrorist, we will lose our homes, we will die.

So we hire people who are like us, and we are comfortable on a team with people who are like us, and we all prefer to think in a similar enough way that we can be familiar with each other. And then – we need a creative idea.

How much courage does it take to voluntarily stand up and give an idea that’s never been done before? How much more courage to offer a brand new sprout of an idea, one that hasn’t grown yet and is vulnerable to squishing? Even people who practice creativity in their daily lives might hesitate before risking humiliation, exile, and death.

This is why we need facilitators who bring in toys. We need our normal to be shaken up to allow for new to grow. We need a chance to see that our MSU (Making Stuff Up) is incorrect and no one wants us to die or even feel embarrassed. We need a chance to play around and see what happens without being judged or feeling like we are being judged. This is why we need play.

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!



You know that feeling when you lose track of time doing something that absorbs all of your attention? Mihalyi Csikszenmihalyi (pronounced, as best as I can tell, Me-high Chick-sent-me-high) calls that feeling Flow. It’s what athletes sometimes call being in the zone. It happens when your skills and abilities are matched by the challenge of what you are doing, and as your abilities increase, that challenge increases, so you are always in that optimal place. Being in the flow zone can be lots of fun, and can sometimes make you miss lunch.

Often in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops people tell me that they had no idea so much time had gone by. That always makes me happy, because they were in flow most of the workshop.

Sometimes, people can’t tell they are in the flow zone until they fall out of the flow zone. If you are feeling frustrated, insecure, or aggravated, you are probably at the orange dot on the chart above, where the challenge is greater than your skills have developed yet. In LSP workshops, I’m there to help with technical support, getting LEGO® bricks to fit together in the right way to create what you want to make. With my experience I can help get you back into the flow zone. If you are feeling bored, you are at the purple dot, where your abilities are greater than the challenge. I can’t help so much here. It’s up to the individual to re-engage with the subject, to build something more challenging, or to build another model, or to find some way to make it more relevant.

It’s actually a good thing to go in and out of the flow zone. Situations are more memorable when they have emotional content. If you go in and out of feeling frustrated or bored, and also in and out of feeling present and happy, the project you are working on will be easier to remember. (I will talk more about memory and using models to help with it in a later post.)

What gets you in the flow zone? I’d love to hear from you!

Movement In Learning Because Science

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A teacher friend of mine sent me an article by Eric Jensen titled Moving  With  Brain in Mind.

I’d like to quote him here:

“The explicit system works by gathering information about the world in what (semantic) and where (episodic) pathways. The implicit system, in contrast, works by organizing our responses to the world around us. This includes the wow or knee-jerk responses – such as immediate emotions, conditioned responses, trauma, and reflexive behaviors – and the more measured how responses, which are procedural, skills-based, operational, and tactile. … Both systems work together – they take in the information about our world, then organize our responses to it. … The point is simple: We are more likely to remember implicit learning. It is robust, easy to learn, cross-cultural, efficient, and effective – regardless of our age or level of intelligence.” (He references Reber, A. Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press. 1993)

This is important for children in school, workers at desks, and any group that needs to learn and think. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® gets some of its power from this principal. Giving the content a three-dimensional aspect can help peopel use the implicit system. It makes the ideas presented more memorable, easier to understand, and more relevant.

LSP also takes advantage of emotional fluctuations. We go in and out of flow when we are involved in a project, and often it’s our emotions that give us clues to being out of flow. (More on flow later!) Moments with a strong emotional charge are easier to remember than ones with no emotional content. (How much easier is it to remember moments of great embarrassment or anger or exaltation, rather than boring moments of mundane life? I remember how I felt in middle school when a teacher fed my humiliation over crying, way more than how I felt while brushing my teeth yesterday.)

LSP is not just a bunch of adults playing with toys. It’s a methodical system based on scientific research that taps into all the ways to increase inclusion, creativity, memory, learning, and new ideas.

Diversity of Thinking

Know what this is?


This is the diversity of thinking within your group, made concrete. Each of these models came from the same packet of bricks and the same instructions: Build a tower. All five towers look different. This is because everyone brings their own ideas, experiences, likes and dislikes, feelings, and thoughts to everything they do, and when they are encouraged to bring themselves into the group, they can come up with creative and interesting ideas.

However, many of the creative ideas never get voiced. When your boss expects your tower to look like his because you have the same materials and instructions, you eventually stop trying to make your own tower and just ask what he wants. When your teacher at school, or your parents at home, continually told you that your tower should look a certain way, you probably stopped making your own tower and did what they wanted.

Once the habit of bringing ourselves to what we do gets squashed, it can be hard to bring it back. When the manager who says “build it this way” comes to you and asks you to “think outside the box,” does that feel safe? Even though there is this amazing diversity of thinking in our groups, we often end up saying the same things because we want to keep our jobs, be liked, not be attacked, fit in with the group, not rock the boat, etc. It gets so that it can be hard to even find the creative thinking inside ourselves.

My solution to that: Play! Set up situations where there is no right or wrong answer, no possibility to fail, and practice working those creativity muscles. More on that in another post.

In the mean time – appreciate the diversity of thinking all around you!


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.

Communicating While Female

I’ve seen a couple posts on my Facebook feed recently about the difficulties of communicating while female. Like this article: which posits that women get interrupted more than men, and talk less, even though there is an impression among the men that the women talk more. This article mentions that women’s opinions are valued less than men’s and references this cartoon: where the caption reads “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I’ve certainly experienced mentioning something in a group and having no one listen to it, only to have it repeated by a man some short time later to much acclaim.

As Soraya Chemaly, the author of the above article, puts it, having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice in most of the world. In politics, in the board room, in schools, in neighborhoods, women are being ignored and belittled, not respected and listened to. Women, no matter their level of authority, competence, or experience, are seen as less able than men and treated as transparent, if not entirely invisible.

The solutions suggested by the article are that women learn to say “stop interrupting me” and “I just said that.” I think these are fine ideas, and I have another suggestion: LEGO® Serious Play®.

LEGO® Serious Play® is designed to level the playing field. Every person in the room builds with bricks, and talks about what they built. Everyone must agree to the shared model they build together. There is a facilitator to help keep space open for everyone to talk, and people question the models rather than each other, which makes it easier for people to talk about difficult subjects.

Let me give you an example of how LSP works. Say there are two agencies that wish to merge. Both boards agree that merging will be beneficial, but when it comes time to start combining, each group thinks their way is the better way and they don’t want to give in to the other side. Let’s say group A and group B sit down with me and my LEGO® bricks to work this out. I tell everyone in the room to build models of the things that are the most important to hold onto from their organizations. These could be methodologies, databases, personnel, areas of focus, customer bases, whatever is really essential to keep. Everyone in the room starts to build. Some people know exactly what they want to say. Some people aren’t sure – they start building and let their hands inform their subject matter. Our hands have a direct link to our brains, and using our hands can often help us mine ourselves for what we think.  Soon there are a couple dozen small models on the table.

Everyone goes around the room and tells something about their model – what it means, why it’s important, why they built it that way. Questions can be asked about the models, but not about the people. If someone asks “Does blue signify anything?” then “Yes, that’s the color of integrity” or “No, that was the color brick I grabbed first” are both valid answers. Then, if there are two models that are about the same thing, the people who made them can see if the models can be combined to display both of their thoughts.

At this point, the models become less about their makers and more about how they relate to other models. Let’s say person X in group A says that subject 1 is the most important thing, and must be put front and center in the shared model. Let’s say person Y in group B says that subject 2 is the most important thing, and must be put front and center in the shared model. And let’s say that people Z, ZZ, and ZZZ have other ideas but are no longer speaking up since they usually get stepped on when they do. At this point, the facilitator might say, “There is no front and center in a 3-d model. It can be approached from any direction. What matters is how the parts of the model relate to each other. Subjects 1 and 2 are both important – do they overlap on the model? Do they balance each other on opposite sides? Do they touch? And all these other parts are also important. How do they relate?” Then the group has to figure out how to incorporate all of these ideas.

No idea can be pushed away as unimportant because there is a physical model which must be incorporated into the shared model. No ideas can be dismissed because everyone must build and speak and listen when others speak. All the ideas of all the Z people will be included. And the ideas become slightly separate from the people who made them, so they can be discussed on their own merits and not on the merits of who built them. Plus, no one can be done until everyone agrees that the model is done.

There are lots of ways that playing fields can be uneven. There are power differences, gender differences, extroverts and introverts, people afraid to lose their jobs, afraid to face ridicule or hostility, dismissive of other ideas, sure of themselves, etc. LEGO® Serious Play® was designed to even things out as much as possible. Not every bump can be ironed out, but the president must listen to the secretary if they are both in this meeting together. No one’s idea is more important than anyone else’s, and every single one must be incorporated into the shared model before they can be done.

And even though some alpha males or mansplainers might not admit it, having a variety of perspectives can bring much stronger outcomes. A diversity of ideas can bring a vitality and resilience that one person’s thoughts can’t have. Plus, having everyone invested in making the shared model into reality is much more compelling and exciting than having everyone make one person’s ideas come to life.

Now, I understand that parties and meetings will still happen without LEGO® bricks and that not every conversation can be facilitated. However, if there is an important conversation that needs to be held, it can be held so that all present are equally heard.

Play well, everyone!   -Talia

Change and change again

As you know from my last post, I have been busy home-schooling my son. This spring, hallelujah and hooray, he’s in school again! It’s funny how things happen. The school founder wasn’t going to start it up until the fall, but everything happened so smoothly and easily, she opened in January instead. I expected she’d take my boy in September, but instead my little square peg guy has a square hole to fit in now, rather than trying to get him to fit in a round hole. And I can go back to being a Play Professional!

I was speaking to someone this morning about when LEGO® Serious Play® is useful, and we agreed that times of great change (mergers, new strategic directions, new staff, etc) are times that can use the playfulness and not-making-it-personal-ness of LSP. People will defend their own ideas to the death, but if they can make their ideas into a model, and discuss how this model and that model relate to each other, it makes it easier to accept new views and new directions.

In fact, change happens all the time. Nothing is set in stone. Not my son’s school, not your job, not Leonard Nemoy as Spock. Everything changes. And we have choices when things change. Do we go for play or for outrage? Do we laugh or cry? I was poking around the internet thinking about change and play and flow, and came across this great blog:

Annie Goglia is a laughter coach. She talks on her blog about how to choose laughter over pain, and how laughing can create endorphins, relax stressed and tight muscles, and help people connect. Sounds a lot like play! There are a lot of ways to find joy and connection in our lives. Laughter, play, LEGO® bricks, swing sets, laughter yoga, all just ways to connect to the joy and flow and emotional intelligence we all have inside.

So I urge you to change and change again, unencumbered by fears of inadequacy or uncertainty about what comes next. Laugh, play, be present, choose the best you can with the information you have, and be ready to choose again. We are on a grand adventure, you and I.

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.