Insights from a Lego Practitioner on the Power of Play


Strategy for the Enterprise One of the more significant challenges facing organisations is the question of how to develop effective organisational learning in volatile trading markets.  In a world where questions can potentially be more powerful than answers, what does learning look like? If an agile workforce understands the importance of questions over answers, prototyping and iterating potential solutions and developing a healthy appreciation for problem finding when it comes to working on the right problem, what if anything needs to change in the way we do organisational design?

Path 2013-06-25 19_23What I have observed from running strategy sessions using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® as a methodology is that Building requires a different starting point. Much of my work in Leadership Development has focused on reflection as the critical stance. With LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® I have noticed something different happening. What I have found is that when one builds, one moves into a space of Play and that ego seems to fall away. What I mean by this is that due to the nature of the Lego blocks holding no inherent meaning, because one can eliminate things, break things down and rebuild, it seems to eradicate the place of judgement around oneself and ones ability to think through challenges.

It is my belief that the constructionist nature of Lego helps to develop a capacity for leaders to work in a state of emergence and harness Play as a powerful driver for organisational learning.

Path 2013-07-17 19_41The answer always lies in the system you are building. Thus it creates a place for multiple perspectives to emerge and to be assessed without judgement. Doing these sessions has profoundly changed the way I view learning - I understand now from the impact I have seen in the thinking of the people I have worked with that it is not only in reflection that we learn but in Play, that we create and grow.

I will be talking about the Power of Play at the Knowledge Resources Chief Learning Officers conference in Johannesburg and giving a free talk on 25th October at Creative Mornings in Cape Town.

When Work no longer works

by Kailash Gyawali (Flickr)I remember when Work was the place you went to, to get things done. Increasingly I find that when I really have to get things done - which in my industry is coming up with new ideas and designs for executive leadership development work (apart from managing a whole lot of people and bringing in revenue), work is probably the last place I would think of to do this well. Why is this? Well, frankly work is the place where I am interrupted a lot by others, where unexpected demands happen and where there is little time to think slowly, deeply and well. For a truly wonderous and succinct description for the world of work as interruption, Jason Fried's talk at TED on why work doesn't happen at work is a gem. I have become interested in this because I have to give a plenary session in two weeks time at The Future of Learning conference - a crosss continental initiative hosted by Ashridge, Melbourne Business School and UCT GSB.

The irony is that as I write this, it is not from work. I am doing this from home today - where I generally think very well. The topic of my paper is Learner Readiness -which within this context is rather paradoxical. If we no longer work well at work, where else are we learning and what kind of readiness for learning should we be building? I am in agreement with the move towards learning as a lifestyle and Dave Duarte's superb insightson this - where learning is a way of being, not just something which happens in very particular places - but rather as something which is part of what we do in multiple spaces to be enriched and fulfilled human beings.

Remember that old chestnut, the 70/20/10 Model which said 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% comes from observing and working with role models at work and 10% comes from formal training. What do we do now when increasingly, what we teach impacts people in their personal and professional lives? The model does not allow for home as a place of learning. Neither does it allow for the very real impact of coaching would would perhaps change the 20% rule significantly. I would say that today 10% of learning happens at work, upwards of 50% through coaching - either executive or peer and that upwards of 40% happens in those other places where home is a significant player - because with the addition of new technologies -we are no longer able to discretely box 'work' into the thing we do at the office.

I think this shift has a significant impact on what we design for organisations when it comes to their leadership development and critically when it comes to building learner readiness because it is no longer readiness just for the office but in actual fact readiness as a way of engaging in the world through the multiple places where we learn continuously.

The Art of Noticing

Noticing is a skill which is seen as central to creative literacy. Could it also be that it is a practice which is critical to business success? I think that it is. The problem though with the rate of change happening faster than our ability to respond to it is that many of us just seem to want knuckle down and get on with it, using the well worn filters and models which worked in the past and pray they serve us well in the future. The challenge is that we are living in a world where "time sickness" (the belief that there is not enought time and that it running out for us) is a real anxiety generator and thus any extra time required to practice a way of seeing things differently is viewed by many as just too overwhelming. In an informal poll done with delegates on our executive education courses at UCT GSB, many stated that they were working longer hours, taking shorter breaks and multi tasking just to try and keep up with the sheer volume of information they were confronted with daily. As many of you will know, I am working on the notion of Curiosity as an enabler of learning and as a filter for our attention. But what of the art of noticing? What has become clear for me is that conscious noticing is not easy. It requires energy and practise. In it's own right, noticing is an act of attention. Noticing, like Curiosity, is an appreciating asset. What I am particularly interested in is the way in which how we notice things differently will start informing our own leadership practices.

It is my belief that other discplines often provide extraordinary insight for crafting and understanding questions we might not have fully birthed. In the current world of augmented reality, designers craft avatars and characters that live not in the full focus of one’s vision but to the side – at a glance (Slavin, 2009; Cerveny, 2009). This can be much more efficient than fully parallel approaches to pattern recognition. The art of the glance is a useful exercise to practice when attempting to notice things outside of one’s normal area of perception. In fact, according to Schmidhuber (1991), humans and other biological systems use sequential gaze shifts to detect and also recognise patterns. This peripheral vision gives rise to residual objects which exist alongside of us but which are seldom noticed. Simply put, what are you noticing from the corner of your eye that you would usually filter out, but could possibly give opportunities for seeing differently? How can this way of seeing improve your capacity as a leader - when so much of the literature tells us to have a clear and uninterrupted focus.

I don't have the answers to these questions but I am priviliged to be working with Dave Bond, who is the Director of the Leadership Centre at Ashridge Business School in the UK on a new three day programme entitled The Art of Noticing - Fresh Eyes for New Opportunities which will be run in October at the GSB and explore some of these challenges. 

I am genuinely excited by the possibilities this can generate for more effective leadership and the opportunities it can help us as leaders  generate in our own businesses and practices.

Talking Heads - Speed Dating for the Brain

I have had the good fortune of attending Talking Heads for the last two years that it has been running in Cape Town and it is truly one of the highlights of my year. If you are around try and get to go. I always leave feeling TOTALLY inspired. I have pasted the details below. They only have one hundred places annually so if you want a ticket, best to get 'op it' now.   Talking Heads: “This information could change your life”

Speed dating for the brain: spend an evening in the living archive of Cape Town

When and Where: Thurs 18 At 19h30, The South African Natural History Museum

Duration: 120 Minutes

Tickets: R100 – Call Felicia on 021 422 0468 to Book

A vast wealth of knowledge, wisdom and trivia is stored in isolated pockets in the collective consciousness of Cape Town. For one night only, you are invited to interact with an encyclopaedia of fascinating people in a beautiful location. 60 experts from a wide range of fields and backgrounds gather in the depths of the South African Natural History Museum to share revelations with you. Their brief is to respond to the topic “This information could change your life”. A bell marks the time and you move from table to table engaging in four intimate 20 minute conversations with … a cosmologist, a trends analyst, a sex worker, a nuclear physicist, an ecologist … who knows who you will meet and how your life might be changed. Only 100 tickets are available for this opulent affair. Dress with flair. Spier wines will be served. This event is made possible through the generous funding of UCT’s Graduate School of Business. The venue has been donated by IZIKO.

Surprised by Geekretreat in Stanford

I had the good fortune to attend the Geekretreat (Stanford Valley) on the weekend. I must say that I was rather sceptical to begin with. It promised to be a convergence of likeminded people carefully selected to share their ideas, insights and solutions for education and techonology in South Africa. I must say that after having attended I am, to be frank, rather blown away. What has really piqued my curiosity is how the space was used to get the most out of the attendees. What I really liked was the idea that no one was there as a tourist. So often at events, the critic in one's head plays a running narrative on what's not working and what is failing to land. It is remarkable how getting every voice in the room changes that. Each person had to volunteer to contribute something. It was  set up in  manner which is called Unconference.

Instead of the usual predetermined slots with speakers and topics confirmed, delegates were encouraged to choose from a range of areas they could contribute to. Choices included being able to give a Lightening Talk ( a 5 minute impromptu speech on  a topic which you considered worthwhile to share), a skills share (20 minutes on a skill which you could teach those attending) or a talking heads session (where you spoke for 20 minutes on a topic that was close to your heart - participants were given a piece of paper with three numbers on it - one number per talking head so talks attended were based on a random selection). I am an ambassador for the Talking Heads event which is part of the Infecting the City Project in Cape Town so I must say that if there was any criticism of the use of the Talking Heads concept it was that it didn't come close to the calibre of what is presented at the real deal. But this is an aside and pretty irrelevant in the grander scheme of things. I have returned to work invigorated by the possibility of being able to use a mobile enabled learning platform for executive education courses at the GSB and all fired up to run an open course on Curiosity as a Leadership Practice at the P2P University this year.

I also got to meet some really insightful people and I feel hopeful, really hopeful about the future of technology-enabled education in this country. Thanks for the invitation - it has truly been worthwhile.