Insight

Johan Roos, one of the creators of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, summed up it’s essence as:

“Seeing the same in a different way and
creating entirely new insights,
in enjoyable ways”

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A lot of people are trying desperately to find ways to see the old in a new way. How are we going to come up with the Next Big Thing? We need to find a way to get new ideas that can make us successful.

But think about this – how fun are your meetings? Do you even get insights from them? How rewarding are brainstorming sessions? Are they something everyone dreads?

I believe that being too serious, too afraid, or too disengaged can make any meeting tank. New ideas flourish in a more lighthearted environment. Anything we can do to help our meetings be important but not dry is invaluable. The more serious we get, the more heavy lifting each idea needs to do, and the more likely we are to reject it. With levity, we can let ideas float around for a while to see what about them is valuable, and let multiple ideas bubble around until some of them coalesce into a plan.

This is one reason why bringing in something like LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can be beneficial – it involves play, which makes it more fun and lighthearted than more serious approaches, but it still gets serious work done. At the end of a workshop, you may understand more than you did before, have ideas of what to do next, compassion for where others are, and a group pride in the work done, without having to slog through some terrible situation to gain group cohesion.

It only takes one person being disengaged to make others stop paying attention; it only takes one person being afraid to keep others from speaking up too; it only takes one person being too serious to keep the atmosphere heavy and uninviting. I’ve seen one person stop brainstorming in its tracks more than once. It takes everyone to make a meeting work.

What are you doing to make your meetings work? How do you keep the atmosphere light, inviting, open, and full of possibility? How do you keep people from shutting everyone else down? And how do you find new insight?

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

People don’t trust what they don’t see. You can tell your people that they are safe with you til you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have blue in your hair, they will still think they have to stick to strict standards of conformity.

I’m not saying you have to literally dye your hair. I’m saying that if you want a creative team who feel safe speaking up, who trust you will have their backs if they mess up, who believe they can bring any wacky new idea to you and you will listen and help them find the part that will work – then you need to be a little wacky too. You need to show your vulnerability, and admit when you make mistakes. You need to wear mismatched socks sometimes. You need to show that you are your own person with your own peculiarities, and that you welcome the peculiar parts of other people too.

I spoke to an image consultant once who told me the blue in my hair had to go if I wanted to get corporate clients. I said no way! I’m advocating for people to show up as their whole, unique, creative, and messy selves at work. I want people to feel safe to be weird and silly as well as focused and capable. I want people to bring all their ideas, not just the conforming ones. This is how we will survive, with the creative ideas to solve complex problems coming from all the people bringing all the weirdness together and seeing which parts work. Cutting part of us off in order to fit in does no one any good.

This is part of my mission to change the world of work. I want people to feel safe being themselves. I want people to feel safe bringing up new ideas. We need the creativity that comes from disparate things coming together. If all we show up with is the same as what everyone else has, we will come up with the same solutions everyone has already come up with. So please – let your freak flag fly. At least a little. Let the other freaks know that you’re their kind of freak, so they can feel safe being weird around you. We will all benefit in the end.

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Trust

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How would you characterize trust?

I led a workshop today in which we discussed what was needed to allow us to collaborate. The biggest model made was about trust.

As you can see in the picture, the wheels at the bottom are small, and the elephants they hold up are big. The whole thing is precarious. The elephants are both going the same way as long as trust holds, but if it falls apart the whole thing will collapse and the elephants will no longer be working together.

This sounds a lot like how trust works. Sometimes something real gets in the way of trusting – someone says something hurtful, or doesn’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes it’s all based on the stories in our heads – the something that is said is experienced as hurtful even though it’s intended to be positive; there was some misunderstanding around who was going to do what. Collaboration takes constant communication, which sometimes means revealing the hidden scripts in our heads that shape how we see the world.

I love these LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops because you can get a wealth of meaning into a simple model. With a good story behind it, all the details mean something, and the model is a compelling and vivid explanation of something someone experienced or thought.

Has trust ever felt like two elephants balancing on tiny wheels to you? What happened? Did the elephants stay together, working in synch, or did they start pulling in opposite directions? How does your group keep trust together?

Friends at Work

What do you need to make friends at work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Potential

I have always been seduced by blank books. There’s so much potential in them! The reality never quite lives up to the hopes though – sometimes I write in them, sometimes I don’t, but once something goes in, the possibilities are narrowed and the perfection I seek doesn’t exist.

Recently I’ve started coveting planners. Again, so much potential! I could get organized this time. I could save all the important stuff in one place. Plus, it has the blank book feeling of possibility. Yum! I have a tendency to start a planner, be really devoted to it for a few weeks, then I stop carrying it, or I start writing on scraps of paper instead of in my planner, and pretty soon it’s just another “should” for me.

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Sometimes I think that one reason we like children so much is the potential we see in them. They could do anything! They could learn and grow and become the savior of our economy or ecology or a great musician or anything at all! Once they start working mundane jobs, all that possibility is gone. At least, it feels like it’s gone. It’s harder to get at in working adults, even if it’s still there.

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I also think this feeling of possibility shows up in strategic planning sessions. And, so does the falling back into old habits. It’s so exciting to plot a new course, to envision blue sky possibilities, to come up with ideas that could change everything! And then, we go back to work, and have to put out fires, or deal with drama, or just get buried under paperwork, and all that hope gets forgotten. The new ideas become “shoulds” that feel like burdens, not freedom.

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I have two ideas about how to change these patterns. The two ideas come at it from different directions. One, make friends with not being perfect. One reason a lot of my blank books only hold a few pages is that what I put in there isn’t perfect, so I abandon the effort. But when I can accept that what I put in doesn’t have to be perfect, I can keep going with it. I my not live up to the full potential of the book, but I’m still stretching and growing and that’s all that matters. No one can fulfill all potential at the same time.

The other idea is around habits. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. If we want to change that, we have to work at it. So, I’d say block time into the planner to review where you want to go every day or week. Figure out the best use of your time. Delegate or let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But if we don’t focus on the changes we want to make, they won’t happen at all. Starting the day by looking at our guideposts can help us head in the right direction.

My final idea is this: be gentle with yourself. Punishing ourselves when we don’t live up to unrealistic expectations is setting ourselves up to stay stuck and unhappy. Let’s live free and joyous and imperfect but expanding lives!

Rummage Sale of the Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play Is Good Business

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As you probably know by now, I’m a geek when it comes to communication, connection, play, creativity, collaboration, innovation, and teamwork. I’m not so fluent, or interested in, business, marketing, finance, and other MBA related subjects. So it was odd for me to pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review this month. They cleverly put LEGO® bricks all over the cover, so that it would catch my eye. Surprisingly enough, there were a number of articles in it that aligned with my areas of interest and expertise. So I thought I’d share some of them with you.

There is an article that talks about the diversity of work styles and perspectives based on brain chemistry. By talking about Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Deloitte can help people understand each other better. One of the things that intrigued me about this article is the notion of “cascades.” “Once ideas, discussion, and decision making start flowing in a particular direction, momentum keeps them moving that way. Even if diverse views exist on the team, they probably won’t change the flow once it’s established, as people often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early visible support.” (HBR March-April 2017 pg 54)

In order to prevent cascades, it’s helpful to start out getting ideas from the minority views. And it’s especially important to hear from your sensitive, risk-averse, introverted people. They will not stick their necks out to challenge what feels like a waterfall landing on their heads.

(One reason I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is that it helps introverts and extroverts play on a level playing field. Just saying.)

Later in the magazine there’s an article called “Strategy in the Age of Superabundant Capital.” There are two passages that intrigued me: “When capital was scarce, companies attempted to pick winners. Executives needed to be very sure that a new technology or new product was worthwhile before investing precious capital….With superabundant capital, leaders have the opportunity to take more chances, double down on the investments that perform well, and cut their losses on the rest. To put it another way, when the price of keys is low, it pays to unlock a lot of doors before deciding which one to walk through.” (pp 73-74) This jives with what I’ve been saying about needing an idea incubator. It’s easy for ideas to be rejected quickly, sometimes even before they are spoken. But having a lot of ideas may be the best way for a company to survive. Therefore it needs to be safe for odd ideas to be spoken, and for tender new sprouts of ideas to grow before being subjected to scrutiny.

Also in this article: “But great ideas don’t just materialize. They come from individuals and teams with the time to work productively, the skills to make a difference, and creativity and enthusiasm for their jobs. As long as companies continue to focus too much attention on managing financial capital, they will devote far too little to ensuring that the organization’s truly scarce resources – time, talent, and energy – are put to their best use.” (p 75) Yes! People matter, and their ideas matter, and fostering creativity helps the whole organization succeed.

And finally there is the article “Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less and Ask More Questions.” The CEO of Charles Schwab says the CEO bubble takes two forms: “people telling you what they think you want to hear, and people being fearful to tell you things they believe you don’t want to hear.” (p 78) His solution is to get out of the office, and talk to people around the whole organization. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t even plan to learn it. Many leaders don’t want to be wrong or appear wrong ever, and will defend decisions that aren’t working. More successful leaders are willing to admit to mistakes, and to pivot as needed. “Innovation always involves at least an implicit acknowledgment that you were wrong about something before….The question for leaders is how to go about embracing the notion of being wrong.” (p80)

If innovation is so painful, if learning what you don’t know means hearing about problems and places you were wrong, it can be difficult for leaders to hear what their people know. One reason I like LSP is that it puts the problem into the form of a LEGO® model, instead of the form of the person across the table. Since people can only ask questions about the model, not the people, it makes it easier to bring up places that need to be looked at without making anyone wrong. A good facilitator will also keep the conversation positive – not where someone screwed up, but how we can move forward given what we know now. And play can help make being wrong, or not knowing, not be a crime.

I love finding support for my ideas in a very traditional business magazine! I hope this inspires you to pick up something you wouldn’t normally read, to see if there are any ties to things you are interested in. And I hope that this gives you some confidence that there really is a solid foundation in reality and business for my somewhat new-agey and woo-woo ideas!

Flying Feelings

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I wrote up an idea I have for a group exercise. However, sitting as I am alone in my living room, I have no one to test this idea. Want to give it a try? I’d love your feedback!

Flying Feelings
Instructions: Think about how you feel when you are the least charitable and the most cranky. When you are in that head space, think about what you assume other people’s priorities are, especially when they seem to conflict with yours. Write them on a piece of paper. Then make the paper into a paper airplane, and when everyone is ready, on my mark fly it into the middle of the room.

Pick up a few and read aloud. Then recycle all of them. These aren’t the attitudes we want to keep.

Instructions: Think about how you feel when you are the most charitable and generous. When you are in that head space, write down what you think the others in the group priorities are. Fly your planes all together into the middle of the room. Before we look at them, write a new page with what your own priorities are. Fly those into the middle of the room.

Mix them up and read a few. Read enough to see if the group can tell the difference between what people do care about, and what others think they care about.

Ask how this exercise feels to them. Does it feel better to have a generous attitude to others? Does it feel bad to know others think badly of them?

Brainstorm and write down general guiding principles of how people can assume the best of each other, and what to do if there is suspicion people are assuming the worst.

What do you think? Will it work? Did it work? Please let me know!!!

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!)

Fear and LEGO®

I do what I do to bring people together. I work with teams of people who don’t trust each other and don’t understand each other, to help them understand and trust. I am passionate about bringing people together because of my own early experiences with isolation and feeling like no one had my back. And all of my experiences have shown me that having a diverse population with diverse thinking will give stronger, more creative, and more cohesive decisions – even if it takes longer to get to those decisions.

Today I am very sad about the divisions in our country. I write this the day after the election. It is clear that there is a huge divide in our country, and that the people on both sides don’t trust each other. That in fact each side thinks the other side is deluded at best, and outright terrorists at worst. There is so much fear, hate, mistrust, anxiety, and outrage that there is very little room for love, compassion, hope, gratitude, or trust.

When I was volunteering as a community mediator in the early naughties (I got trained in 2001) I always had a moment when I couldn’t see how the two sides would ever come together. They were too angry. Too hurt. Too fearful. Time and again, what brought them together was acknowledgment of common ground. A chance to be heard. A chance to hear. A chance to talk about mistakes made without using that as an opportunity to punish or lose a lawsuit. Having that safe space where admitting error was not the same as admitting guilt. Safe space held by trained facilitators who could help the two sides see they were not so far apart on the things they really valued.

I think in the end the people in this country are not so far apart on the things they value. We all want to feel safe. We all want to have a job we don’t hate that will support us and our families. We all want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have very different ideas about how to get there – do guns make us safer, or less safe? – but in the end we want the same things. I hope that when the dust settles, when those who lost have licked their wounds and those who won have stopped gloating, we can find a way to see the places we have common ground. I will happily bring my LEGO® bricks to anyone who wants some help in bridging the gap between us – this is sacred work and we can’t let anyone keep us from it.