Day 314 – Serious Play

Last Friday, I went dancing with some pretty fantastic people.  One silly moment stood out for me.  Randomly, a great friend of mine mentioned that she had seen my MFA thesis production and didn’t understand it at all.  As it was a Dadaist piece called Mouchoirs de Nuages written by Tristan Tzara, I wasn’t overly surprised by her comment.  The ridiculous pick-up line that came out of our conversation was : “Do you want me to put my thesis in your Dropbox from the bar baby?”

Fast forward a few days, and another friend of mine heard snippets of thesis conversation and wanted to know more.  This sparked a whole discussion about my process as a director, my opinions on collaboration and my method of creating “art” (which I put in quotes because I still don’t have the balls to fully admit the fact that I can create such a magical thing.)  Now it would take too long to explain everything discussed (and you’d probably fall asleep on your keyboard), however, one of the points that stood out for me is that trying to find the “right” answers in any creative process is extremely tricky.  Most times, the best way to go about creating something special is to know the right questions to ask.

Moving on…


Pretty much everyone has heard of Lego before.   My most recent definition of it would be “the hard plastic things I step on accidentally because my kids don’t put them away.”  I rarely think about it outside of a parenting context, but that changed when a certain Phil Culhane started commenting on my blog.  According to his blog, he is a “facilitator of complex collaborative efforts.”  Gee, that sure sounded familiar.  Isn’t that what I do… just… different?

Essentially Phil is trained Lego Serious Play (which I can’t actually say without grinning… come on!  Serious?  Play?  teehee) and he was generous enough to meet me at Bridgehead and show me how it’s done.  So, over coffees and noms (ham and cheese croissant for me… carrot cake for him… smart man!) he talked me through the process of building 3D metaphorical models.  I don’t want to outline the process too much here because I fear I couldn’t really do it justice.  Suffice it to say that what Phil does to help innovate and improve business performance is very similar to elements of how I work as a director for the theatre.   Some key things I got out of it:

– To create, ideal conditions are 1/3 structure + 2/3 chaos

– Yes it’s important to ask the right questions, but it’s even more important to know how to tailor the questions to get the best results out of each individual.

– When creating a model, not everything needs to have “meaning”.  When Phil asked me to explain the story of what I built, he didn’t press me to make concrete or even metaphorical sense of everything I had done.  Some things just were.  And some things gained meaning during discussion when they were just impulse before.

Something else also struck me.  It wasn’t until Phil mentioned it that I noticed that many people in the Bridgehead seemed really  intrigued by what I was doing.  It didn’t even dawn on me that it would be strange for a grown woman to be sitting in a café playing with Lego. And with such focus at that.

For one, I was kind of proud that I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t mind trying new things and possibly looking like an idiot doing it.  Secondly, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the people around me… they were clearly jealous… they wanted to play!

Awesome moment of joy… serious play… and seriously learning about myself in the process.

7 thoughts on “Day 314 – Serious Play

  1. Well – yay! Profoundly happy to have become a part of one of your days! I did find it absolutely fascinating that so many people noticed you – I’m sure there are tweets about ‘some strange lady playing with Lego bricks at the coffee shop today’ – but more so, the fact that you were totally engrossed in play.

    Play is a very serious act indeed – ask any five year old. It’s no joking matter, this play stuff. It is beautiful to watch in action though. And I’m sure I’ll be talking about the yellow brick road and that dark grey cloud that was the first thing to disappear – months from now. We missed that part of the story, but those bricks become a shared understanding among everyone who took part. Six months later, someone in a meeting with say “you remember the yellow bricks?” and everyone else will nod in understanding.

    Fascinating stuff, this Lego.

    Thank you for playing. And for blogging.

    • Did you notice that the grey cloud didn’t make it into the pictures I took? I didn’t realise I had cropped it out until I downloaded the shots. Also very telling!

      • Yes…yes…I realized – and lol’ed…when I realized that you had cropped out the little grey rain cloud. I thought that was a bit of adorableness that Freud himself would have njoyed.

  2. It’s fantastic that someone’s finally capitalizing on the power of Lego to be practical as well as cathartic. People always underestimate the importance of creation and satisfaction; things you make with Lego are almost invariably exactly what you want them to be.

    • The Lego folk just recently let LSP become open-source. So there’s tons to read up on at It’s fascinating to walk anyone thru the process. Natalie was far more curious and far less unbelieving than some – but it’s so much fun to take someone through a 45 minute session and watch the light go on – there’s this moment of “holy shit” awakening – and they start to smile. From there on in, it’s all golden.

      And it’s so much fun to do with 200+ people at the same time – towards a useful outcome. Brilliant stuff. Love playing with it.

  3. Pingback: Serious Play — CT Labs

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