Is LEGO Serious Play a Fad?
So Dan Lyons, author of Lab Rats, says LEGO Serious Play is just toy therapy. However, he believes it's more than just insecurity and silliness:
...what does all this psychological poking and prodding do to us? The problem isn’t just that these exercises are pointless and silly. For a lot of people, this stuff can be really stressful. For older workers — say, people over 50 — these workshops compound the fear they already have about being pushed out of their jobs. But younger workers hate them too. “It feels like you’ve joined a cult,” says a thirtysomething software programmer whose department spent a day doing a Lego workshop. “The purpose seems to be to indoctrinate people to follow orders.”
He’s not wrong. There’s a kernel of truth to it if you’re just a participant.
In the field of design and innovation, a lot more can be said.
In the Skylance Dossier, I wrote about efficacy: the ability to produce a desired or intended result. ¹
I won't argue the benefits between play and creativity in the workplace. Sure, let's all enhance creativity and communication. There's overwhelming empirical evidence that bonding the two is helpful.
LEGO Serious Play is theoretically based on similar foundations: constructionism, imagination, play, hand-mind connection — All that good stuff. ² I would like to think LEGO Serious Play is the perfect catalyst and conduit.
But shift gears for a moment: It's easy to tie in general theories about creativity into any darling pet methodology.
Two things we should note: 1. Context and 2. Efficacy (we’ll get to this in a moment)
If the deeper reason for hiring a consultant is because you need help in increasing revenue, solving multiple business model conflicts, designing policy, designing a social program, reorganizing/retraining R+D — now you're defining specific needs and contexts.
You may want to ask: Will LEGO Serious Play have the efficacy to fulfill those needs? Or does it need to be part of a broader design process?
Or is it just the wrong tool? This needs to be found out before the workshop, not during.
When we allocate money for workshops, they had better:
Address your specific context
Transfer over to real world situations (if used for training)
Add value to higher-level objectives (evidenced by qual or quant measures)
Newly acquired skills need to last. And the skills need to stick.
Second, let’s rework back to efficacy.
I’m struggling to find anything convincing here. Long-term objective analyses, comparative studies, and peer-review research about LEGO Serious Play's efficacy are mostly absent.
We're flanked so far by practitioners who rely on case studies and after-action pictures. For the most part, they’re just isolated successes, like prototyping, one-off meetings, and ideation.
With a heavy price tag ($3k+ and time)³, vague benefits, and questionable cost effectiveness, the choice may already be obvious for pioneers with budget authority and discerning eyes.
If you’ve been burned by these workshops before — and your strategic challenges were not addressed appropriately — I would advise getting some kind of problem mapping or problem exploration that openly explores challenges on the “front end”. ⁴ 99% of the time, your real objective is tied to other “unanswered questions” about strategy and tactics, and there is a way to map it visually that makes sense for everyone.
If your objective was to demonstrate a fun workshop, then no need to press any further. It’s money well spent.⁵
There's plenty of ways to enkindle creativity. But if you just can't let go of LEGO, I would suggest tying it into a larger problem solving process.
If your context is to solve complex issues, it's worth noting what you're actually up against.
I'll leave it up to you to decide if LEGO bricks are destined to be a part of your organization's DNA.
1. The Dossier has a checklist on Fads.
3. Meeting logistics, pulling you away from actual work, etc.
4. Front End is ahem “slang.” It’s the part of the process where the problem/s, facts, research, opportunities, and assumptions are explored first with no preconceptions of what the outcome should be.
5. Stefan Wolpers of Snippet42 had an interesting critique of LEGO Serious Play which was surprisingly published on SeriousPlayPro.com. For one, he asserts the workshops are way too abstract for target challenges that engineers, UI/UX designers, et al face. Sounds like the context issue we discussed above. Read it here.