Where Does Innovation Come From?

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Is necessity the mother of invention? Not always! I just watched a couple of TED talks from someone named Steven Johnson. He said some things that I think are worth repeating.

One: Innovation comes from PLAY. The people who are having the most fun are the ones coming up with the new ideas. Play is by its nature exploratory, and the people who are just trying things out are coming up with new and interesting ideas. (The computer wouldn’t have been invented without the music box!)

Innovation From Play

Two: Ideas are created in groups, over time. Ideas are networks, cobbled together from disparate parts, and need to have people come together to discuss their ideas for the ideas to grow and develop. Plus, sometimes hunches take a long time to develop. They can’t always be rushed. Don’t be afraid to tell people your ideas – they’re more likely to be strengthened than stolen!

Idea As Network

I think these two concepts are worth reinforcing: Ideas often come from play. Ideas need to be bounced around among a lot of people and/or over time before all of the necessary parts are there.

This is why LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® works so well. It sets up an exploratory system of play, with a group of people, to bounce ideas around. It lets people take ideas from their minds, their hands, and their neighbors, and build them into something new and innovative.

Want to know what the next big thing will be? Go find the people having the most fun! And go have some fun yourself. You never know where it will take you!

Grownups Need Play Too

When you search for information about play, you come up with a lot of information about the benefit of play for children. Children learn how to be adults through play, just like puppies learn how to be hunters through play. Play helps children learn, practice social interactions, and figure the world out.

One World Futbol

This video shows the power of playing with a ball. The confidence, strength, and joy that can come from physical and team play. But it’s still focused on youth.

What about adults? Do adults have all the confidence, strength, joy, community, and learning they will every need? (Ha!) Adults also need play to give them a myriad of results – friends, health, mental stimulation, practice with difficult situations, excitement, possibility, hope, and acceptance.

More and more, people are realizing the importance of play for the personal lives of adults:

A quick search on line for “importance of play for adults” includes: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/the-power-play, http://firstthings.org/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/, https://www.verywell.com/stress-management-the-importance-of-fun-3144588

However, play and work are still thought of as opposites. Play is good to help people be less stressed, but the work place must be serious.  There are a few exceptions:

Play at work

Playing at work

Many dot-com companies have long recognized the link between productivity and a fun work environment. Some encourage play and creativity by offering art or yoga classes, throwing regular parties, providing games such as Foosball or ping pong, or encouraging recess-like breaks during the workday for employees to play and let off steam. These companies know that more play at work results in more productivity, higher job satisfaction, greater workplace morale, and a decrease in employees skipping work and staff turnover.

If you’re fortunate enough to work for such a company, embrace the culture; if your company lacks the play ethic, you can still inject your own sense of play into breaks and lunch hours. Keep a camera or sketch pad on hand and take creative breaks where you can. Joke with coworkers during coffee breaks, relieve stress at lunch by shooting hoops, playing cards, or completing word puzzles together. It can strengthen the bond you have with your coworkers as well as improve your job performance. For people with mundane jobs, maintaining a sense of play can make a real difference to the work day by helping to relieve boredom.

Using play to boost productivity and innovation

Success at work doesn’t depend on the amount of time you work; it depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.

Taking the time to replenish yourself through play is one of the best things you can do for your career. When the project you’re working on hits a serious glitch, take some time out to play and have a few laughs. Taking a pause for play does a lot more than take your mind off the problem. When you play, you engage the creative side of your brain and silence your “inner editor,” that psychological barrier that censors your thoughts and ideas. This can often help you see the problem in a new light and think up fresh, creative solutions.

Playing at work:

  1. keeps you functional when under stress
  2. refreshes your mind and body
  3. encourages teamwork
  4. increases energy and prevents burnout
  5. triggers creativity and innovation
  6. helps you see problems in new ways

Tips for managers and employers

It’s tempting to think that the best way to cope with an ever-increasing workload is to have your employees work longer and harder. However, without some recreation time, it’s more likely the work will suffer and your workers become chronically overwhelmed and burned out. Encouraging play, on the other hand, creates a more lighthearted work atmosphere that in turn encourages employees to take more creative risks.

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees. Throw parties, put a basketball hoop in the parking lot, arrange a miniature golf tournament, stage an office treasure hunt.
  • Encourage creative thinking or just lighten the mood of meetings by keeping tactile puzzles on the conference room table.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks from their desks, and spend a few minutes engaged in a fun activity, such as a word or number game.

from:  http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm

 

Even here, however, play is something separate from work. What if play could be utilized as a part of work? Yes, I’m talking about LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. How did you guess? LSP lets people play their way to serious results. One case study is described here:

Case Study

As you can see, play was an integral part of finding a serious solution.

So often I find I need to talk about the benefits of the work I do without mentioning play because I don’t want to scare people off. I can help your team work better together, communicate better, be more efficient, solve problems that need everyone’s brain working together – but I save my methodology til later. LSP can provide serious work results, and I don’t want it to be dismissed because toys are involved.

I find it interesting that I also end up feeling very serious when I talk about play. I just re-read my post, and I’m very earnest! I am also learning how to incorporate playfulness into serious work. How do you do it? I’d love to hear!

Ode to Thanks

It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I wish to write about gratitude.

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I am grateful for so many things: hot running water; a rainbow during my morning walk; rain in parched California. I am grateful for finding my people, even if I wasn’t born into their family. I am grateful that other people like to cook. I’m grateful for understanding and acceptance of other people’s inner workings, even mine, even my son’s. I’m grateful for persimmon trees standing leafless and full of fruit. I’m grateful for heat on a cold morning, and for coolness on a hot afternoon. I’m grateful for indoor plumbing. I’m grateful for play as a way to connect people. I’m grateful for people I can just be with, so I don’t always have to do. I’m grateful for people who encourage me to do things I might not do on my own.

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Most of all – I’m grateful that the more I look for things I’m grateful for, the less I want to complain about my life. I have at times found connection and understanding through sharing complaints, and I’m so glad that the connection and understanding were there during those times. And – I’m glad that today I see more to be grateful for than I see to complain about. I see joy and love and hope where once it was all anxiety and loneliness and despair.

If your life is full of anxiety and loneliness and despair, if on this holiday of giving thanks and declaring gratitude you do not feel thankful or grateful, I’d like to offer hope. I have not always seen light. Many years were very dark. It is possible for things to get better. Please, when you reach the end of your rope, reach out for help. Let someone know. We are all in this life together, and there are plenty of people who will lend you a hand if they know you need it.

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Thank you. Gracias. Merci. Todah. Sheh sheh.

You fill my heart.

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.

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.

tower3

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?

The Gremlins Of Change

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I am trying to change, and wow is it tough.

There is a part of everyone that wants things to stay the same. I know I’m not unique in this – there is comfort in knowing what to expect. Part of the process of change is being willing to be uncomfortable. And oh, how I long for that comfort sometimes! Enter the gremlins.

I want to step fully into my power. I want to live and breathe the values I bring to my clients, finding the path forward through play and creativity and community. And the gremlins in my mind say if I’m this uncomfortable, it must be wrong. I must be false.

I want to support my family on what I make in this business. I want to let my husband off the hook of having to support us and take a job he might not love. The gremlins say if I haven’t been successful yet, I never will be. I can’t be. I’m not capable, I’m not worthy of success, I’m fooling myself to think I can be more than I am.

Choice itself is difficult. Everything I choose means something I did not choose. I have so much trouble choosing I usually have all the desserts rather than picking just one, and then I feel bloated and sick. I often stay stuck. The gremlins on all sides chatter at me, making a case for every thing, settling on none.

But look at that new growth. It couldn’t be there if the limb had stayed.

The life force is strong, it wants to find a way. And I keep finding myself doing the things to move my business and my life forward. I walk every morning. I network with new people. I find places to speak about my business. I blog. And the gremlins are also strong. I overeat. I hide in the house. I don’t make the phone calls I’m supposed to make.

What I’m coming to learn is that sometimes I can’t trust my own thoughts. I need outside input to figure out which branches to prune to make room for new growth. I need someone else to identify which thoughts are gremlins and which are healthy (if uncomfortable) progress. For any change to stick, I need a tribe of people who believe in me and can see the change before it happens. People who have been through their own transformations, or who are going through them now. When all I can feel is the stasis of a tree trunk and the grief of a missing limb, they can see the new growth sprouting and the huge potential there.

Thank you to all who are part of my tribe. I couldn’t grow without you!  May your gremlins subside and your new growth thrive.

I’m A Tree!

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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? 😉

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.

Triangulate

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.

Interruption

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.

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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…

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

edsbadgoodclient

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?