Playing seriously

Play is a way to welcome the imagination and cultivate spontaneity.

“Despite good intentions and decades of conceptual progress, strategy is often practised as if circumstances remain reasonably stable. The typical outcome of such practices is well-defined action plans suitable for dealing with the expected, rather than increasing the readiness of individuals, groups and the entire organization to seize fleeting opportunities and avoid emerging problems. When I confront senior executives with these observations and views, few disagree and most say they wish things were different in the way they practise strategy. They also seem to be at loss about how to remedy the situation.”

This is one of the first paragraphs in my 2006 book Thinking from Within. The book was the outcome of a decade of research, consulting and experimentation and my statement a summary of the problem I had experienced, and continue to experience in corporations.

I recently worked with a leadership to of a large multinational corporation and I was struck by how valid my argument from 2006 seems to remain. They were doing the same thing over, and over, and over again, and, for some reason, expecting a different outcome. By the way, this remains one of the best definitions of insanity I know of.

In the late 1990s I was a professor of strategy and general management at IMD in Switzerland and this is where a college of mine, Dr. Bart Victor, and I begun exploring with the notion of breaking the patterns of how strategy was made in organizations.   The idea started out as a way to use LEGO bricks in innovative ways, in fact, it was a way to innovate an executive program at LEGO Company (!) that I was responsible for. In turn, this resulted in a product that Bart and I invented and patented together with them and we labelled it LEGO Serious Play (LSP). Wikipedia has a fair description of that history and an open and growing global LSP community of management and organizational consultants is thriving.

Much research and many publications later I  came to frame strategy making as being prepared to deal effectively and responsibly with the unexpected more than the action plan and the budget we develop to be prepared to deal with the expected. However, this twist calls for more imagination and spontaneity than writing up an action plan. In short, Thinking from Within is a play-like practice that enables people to engage more and different senses to create the conditions for new and different ideas and actions. It is about working more astute for meeting new circumstances in new ways.

LSP is a great product and I am delighted it continues to add value in so many organizations throughout the world. But, the concept is not about LEGO or any other kind of materials. It is about the tremendous power of creative arts methods that engages more of our senses and more of our brain capacity, which is well known in psychology since the time of Carl Jung. This is what I discuss and exemplify in the Thinking from Within book.  This is why any kind of material remain an illustration and not a panacea of this approach to cultivate the imagination and welcome the spontaneity of serious people in serious situations.

As many prospective consultants have experienced the hard way when they passionately put a box with materials on the table, however, the key success factors to this approach are three: (1) great facilitation skills, (2) great facilitation skills and (3) great facilitation skills.

Here is Chapter 1 of Thinking from Within.

One of the first theory articles was published in Long Range Planing: Roos et al. (2004)

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