Smart Hands

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

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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!)

Visual Stories

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What does a skeleton with a pink flag on its head in a treasure chest mean to you?

The person who built this was reflecting on the gifts that making friends with her own mortality could bring her. So many other stories are possible – uncovering the skeletons in one’s closet; or climbing out of the dungeon where others have gotten stuck; or facing the death of a loved one; or a transition of some sort, an ending and a beginning. In LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® we always let the builder do the interpreting, since everyone brings their own point of view to every story. Having a visual makes the person’s story easier to understand and easier to remember.

I’ve been challenged to think about my stories recently. My stories about myself have often had me in the role of victim, but there are so many other ways to tell the story.

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If this model were my story, I could be burdened with too much to carry. Or I could be a martyr holding up the world for other people to live in. Or maybe I am holding up my piece of the world just as everyone else does – a little crooked, but not more than I can handle.

In a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop, we only ask questions of the  models, not about the people telling the story. So we can ask what significance there is to the minifigure being split in half to hold up the tower. We can’t ask if the person has a split personality disorder, or if they feel powerless, or if their head is really that hard. We can listen as the person explores why s/he built it that way – sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s significant, sometimes it’s merely structural.

Our stories can make us miserable or happy. There is road work being done outside my house while I type this, and I have a choice between being irritated at the constant noise and difficulty getting in and out of the driveway, and being grateful that the gas lines are being upgraded to something safer so the whole neighborhood won’t go up in flames in the next earthquake. I can shake my fist at the men holding signs saying STOP and SLOW for keeping me from getting where I need to go, or I can be grateful they are keeping everyone safe while there are workers in the road.

Sometimes we don’t even realize there is another story available. I appreciate the visual aspect of story telling with LEGO® bricks because it helps us see more clearly what other stories are possible in the same situation. Sometimes just being asked about something we built can help us realize there is something we want to say about it, or that our opinion has changed about it. It can help us realize how much of our situation is our story about it.

 

Life Without Play

Does this sound familiar?

In a meeting, person 1 states position 1: “I think we should focus our weight-loss product on a way for people to track calorie intake.”

Person 2 states position 2: “I think we should focus on and track burning calories.”

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You are sitting there, disagreeing with both of them. You think: “Every time I try to track what I eat or how I exercise, I gain weight. The only way I’ve ever lost weight is when I focus on doing the things that most support me and make me happy, and then I naturally eat less and move more. But I don’t want to share this because I don’t know if I’m typical, and I really don’t want to make myself vulnerable in a work situation.”

Now everyone else at the table is either agreeing with and backing 1 or 2. A few people are quiet. Your boss asks if anyone else has anything else to add. This is your chance, if you want to take it. You could say that what people really need is a way to track what makes them happy, since people don’t always know. Or you could say that focusing on weight loss gives the impression that people aren’t okay the way they are, and adds to the epidemic of anxiety and depression in our society. But boy, that would put the spotlight on you. Do you speak up? Probably not.

Almost every meeting has people not speaking up. When people don’t share what they really think, the whole group suffers. But with all of society aligned in one way, how easy is it to offer a different opinion? Even if it’s actually only the people in the meeting, not all of society. Even if it’s really only the few people who are speaking up, not everyone at the meeting. It still feels like courting death.

Now, let’s picture something else.

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There is a bin of LEGO® bricks on the table. Everyone is asked to build an aspect of what they want their new product to be. You build that you want it to make people feel good about themselves. You build that it should support the emotional needs of the people who use it. Other people build that it helps people to live healthy lives, that it keeps track of things that are hard for them to keep track of on their own, that it increases connections between people. Everyone puts their own ideas together with other people’s ideas, and in the end there is a rich discussion about what will help people connect and feel good. You have the chance to offer ideas about letting people know they are okay the way they are, and people like it. You don’t have to speak up into the stark silence, people are asking you about the models you built (not about you) and you can elaborate in a meaningful way without making yourself super vulnerable.

This is why I love LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. It fosters these rich discussions without leaving individuals at risk, and it gains access to all the diverse thinking available in the group. What group are you part of that could use some play?

Exactly What We Need

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Do you know what you need to thrive?

Everyone is wired their own way. We get parenting advice and schooling and workplaces that are set up for people who are wired in a certain way, and we might not match that. We are not given a lot of encouragement to figure out what exactly we need to function well. Therapy is seen as a weakness, as is compassion, as is taking a nap.

I’m talking about something beyond knowing if you are an introvert or an extrovert, though that’s a good place to start. Do you get energy from being with people, or from being alone? That’s important to know. I need a balance of both – too much time alone and I feel lonely, but too much time with people and I get overstimulated. I gain energy from being with people, but only to a point and then I need quiet.

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How are you with touch? Do you love it or hate it? Do you want to hide under a weighted blanket, or do you not even want a sheet on you? Are you okay with touch that’s expected – a handshake, a hug you can see coming – but not with the unexpected contact of someone’s hand on your shoulder? My son is very reactive to unexpected touch, but also seeks out deep pressure on his body and rams himself against me. I love cuddles but don’t love being bashed into. Sometimes I get angry when he gets needy – not the best combination we could find.

What about structure? Do you thrive when you know what your plan is, or do you have great creative leaps when you have vast amounts of unstructured time? A mixture of both? How much of a plan do you need? Scheduled minute by minute, or hour by hour, or day by approximate day? I find myself floundering when I don’t know what I should do and I’m alone, but loving unstructured time with other people.

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How much love do you need? How much compassion? How much judgement can you withstand? From yourself or from others? Can you imagine other people having different parameters from yours? Where you might be able to thrive in a milieu of constantly testing ideas to make them stronger, others might need to let their ideas grow from a tender sprout to a more substantial tree before they can handle any critique.

What about joy? What about complaining? Are you happiest when you are discontented? How much joy can you take in? What is your default setting? Is this a setting that can change? Sometimes just becoming aware that I’m seeing the world with fearful or anxious eyes can help me switch to seeing the joy, support, love, and expansiveness that’s available in the world.

Can you imagine a world in which everyone has all the resources they need to thrive? Where everyone can get enough sleep, eat the right foods, have the most comfortable amount of human contact, get the most helpful amount of emotional support, for who they are and what they need?  This is what freedom is, to me. Why we include the pursuit of happiness in our constitution. Because we don’t want anyone to dictate what we should get or do or be. What they like and want won’t fit us. What we like and want won’t fit them. We are all free to figure out what we need and pursue it, and when our needs are met, to figure out our gifts and develop them. To find what brings us joy, and pursue that. To see what lights us up, and spend more of our time lit up from within. Our world needs that light.

Networking at The Box SF

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Networking at The Box SF

I brought my LEGO® bricks to The Art of Active Networking at The Box SF last night. This woman works there, and build a model of herself and her relation to her work. She built a box to represent The Box SF, put a trophy on it to represent the best event space, a bush to represent their efforts to be green, and a strong female character who is a zookeeper to represent herself, a strong woman who wanted to be a zookeeper when she was a child.