By Patricia B. Mirasol

Rulebooks are being tossed out the window as experts from different fields say there is no manual for the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the dictionary hasn’t been spared from upheavals. In these complex times, when the unpredictable is bound to happen, it pays to embrace non-linear thinking.

“If we want to improve, we want to move from A to B. In the old days, in a stable and linear world, A to B was foreseeable. It’s not anymore. We need to find something so we can have continuous forward movement,” said Per Kristiansen, a partner at the Danish consultancy Trivium and a master trainer of the LEGO Serious Play (LSP) method. His talk on creativity was one of the featured sessions of Knowledge of Design Week 2020.

Mr. Kristiansen developed LSP with fellow master trainer Robert Rasmussen. It was born from an idea in the late 1990s, when LEGO’s then-CEO sought to explore how he could make his employees manage complexities and make decisions when faced with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable. 

LSP is a method that helps individuals and organizations explore and cope with real-world challenges by building models using LEGO bricks. The metaphors in the models serve as the basis for group discussion, knowledge sharing, and problem-solving. 

At the heart of LSP is the belief that there is always room for improvement and everyone has untapped potential. Sessions can start off with prompts such as, “Name one challenge that is preventing growth in your company and build your answer with LEGOs. You have four minutes. Go.” Trained facilitators support the process by asking the right questions and helping participants draw out the meaning from their answers.

Key characteristics of LSP are:

• It moves from the 20/80 to the 100/100  — Instead of the usual office dynamic where a small fraction of the staff hogs most of the conversation, LSP encourages everyone to lean in and contribute. Success is dependent on hearing all voices in the room.

• It unlocks creativity — Individuals know more than they know they know. Play helps one unlock creativity and master complexity by uncovering things individuals didn’t know they knew.

• It helps break habitual thinking — Humans think in patterns and apply solutions that helped them the last time. “This worked well when we lived in the savannah and met the same kind of competitors,” said Mr. Kristiansen. “In complexity, we need to break out of habitual patterns and see that thing differently, because we might be competing with someone who is out of sight.”

With lockdown restrictions in place, LSP sessions can be conducted virtually. Hybrid sessions are also offered, with short remote sessions laying the groundwork for a subsequent in-person workshop.

Serious play is about exploring, experimenting, and intentionally gathering as a group to apply the imagination in solving problems; it is about giving one’s brain a hand since building externally builds one’s internal world, according to Mr. Kristiansen. “Play is not frivolous or done to entertain. Play is like a fertilizer for the brain, and as a species we are biologically one of the only ones who evolved to play our entire lives,” he said.