design thinking

Play as a Design Tool for Leadership Development

THINK INSIDE THE BOX

THINK INSIDE THE BOX It has been shown in Australian business that only 58% goes on work that adds “real value” to organisations, with the inefficiencies costing business $109 billion in wages every year. The figures are, I have no doubt, similar in South Africa. In fact, according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook (2012), South Africa is rated 50 amongst 59 countries. When more than half of our time is spent on solving the wrong problem, surely it is time to try a different methodology?

It is frequently the case that in instructional design, a ‘red thread’ or programme director is used as the touchstone of meaning making in an organisational or leadership development process. Although this a fair way to increase the sensemaking and to develop the emergent outcomes (outcomes that only begin to appear once processes and conversations have begun), it is not enough to ensure we are focusing on the right problems.

I am currently in the middle of a MOOC on Creative Learning being run by MIT and there is an insight which I want to share. Mitchel Resnick argues that the pattern of learning in Kindergarten children are ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century.

The process that he has observed in children when they learn involves six moments: 1) Imagine 2) Create 3) Play 4) Share 5) Reflect 6) Imagine (again)

With my interest in Curiosity as a critical leadership development tool and the knowledge that we often focus on the wrong problems, I decided to experiment with his insights and used this process as a basis for the design of a one day Leadership Masterclass on Agility. I have just run it in Melbourne, Australia. Here is an example of one of the sessions in the day using Play as a design tool, matching exercises I would otherwise have run in a different order now in the structure of Play:

Imagine: X BELIEVES THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE IF... Create: CHOOSING THE RIGHT PROBLEM TO WORK ON Play: SPEEDBOAT CHALLENGE Share: POWERFUL QUESTIONS Reflect: CHOOSE ONE TO WORK ON AND WHY Imagine: IF YOU COULD CHANGE YOUR LIMITING BELIEFS WHAT WOULD BE DIFFERENT - WALKING THINKING PARTNERSHIP

What felt different from this workshop to any other I had run was the investment by the participants and the amount of laughter it generated. Kindergarten kids laugh 250 times a day. Middle aged people laugh 15 times a day. We spend so much time trying to do everything and doing it faster and not enough time laughing, reflecting, enjoying, and focusing on the important. However, it was not only laughter it generated. Using Play as the basis for a structure really helped us get to the nub of some of the complex issues in a way which did not feel fearful. Instead it generated a depth and a focus for tackling serious problems that felt had ease and congruence.

From the experience of using Play as a design tool, it is my contention that PLAY has a profoundly important role to play when it comes to identifying, tackling and solving 21st Century problems in the world of Business, Government and Education.

Creativity can’t change the world

I have always held the belief that a more creative workforce can change the world. This view was challenged in the best possible way by one of the most extraordinary thinkers that I have yet to come across at the Design Indaba. Alejandro Aravena is creating the impossible in the low cost housing environment by challenging assumptions about what it means to build architectural structures for the poor. It is worthwhile to have a look at some of the work that he has been doing on this in Chile. It is inspiring and perhaps the solution we are looking for in addressing our own low cost housing challenges in South Africa.

The 'dotank' work he is doing is exceptional but the tenet which underlies his thinking is for me even more hard hitting. He has to my mind reconstituted the notion of creativity and the kind of work it can do for us in multiple disciplines.  Here is how some of that thinking goes:

It is not because ideas have not been developed that people are galvanised to action, but rather that what has been proposed does not seem to be sufficient. This is what inspires and drives people to creativity. Therefore it is not that creativity changes the world but that the world changes and we therefore need to be creative.  Creativity, according to Alejandro Aravena, is what emerges when there is not enough available knowledge to provide a solution. If there were sufficient knowledge there would be no need to be creative. Creativity can’t change the world. It’s because the world changes that we need to be creative. Creative is thus not a goal but a consequence.  And for it to be an elegantly crafted consequence, the key elements must be constructed around the three key elements of relevance, precision and irreducibility.

It is for this very same reason that creativity should not be propounded as a drive for solutions but rather as a place to craft incisive questions and provocative possibilities in a world where the rate of change is happening faster than our ability to respond to it. And it is this reality which demands an ongoing construction of the possible.  

After all, answers never change the world but questions certainly do. And it is creativity with its muse of curiosity which does this so very well.