For the past couple of years I’ve been playing with the concept of play. At the core of my thinking is the idea that as we progress into adulthood most of us systematically remove our abilities to tinker with things, play with them to no particular end so that we can explore them. This is particularly profound in the world of work, and is a big barrier to organisations being able to do anything other than incremental improvement and following the herd. “We want to do something really innovative. Can you show us someone who has done it before?” is a refrain I’ve heard from many potential clients over the years.

All this is summed up in a reasonably neat metaphor that comes from watching the way my two kids play with Lego. I spoke about this in a five minute Ignite talk at DisruptHR back in the autumn of 2016…

Last year I started to experiment with some games, also using Lego, to try to help illustrate some of these challenges. I’ve run these a fair few times, and they seem to work pretty well. I’ve also been really impressed with how great a leveller Lego can be – unlike other vaguely creative techniques like drawing, collage or modelling, I’ve yet to find a refusenik when given Lego. There’s no “I can’t draw, I’m not an artist” – it’s a creative medium that appears to appeal to both the artistic and scientific mind. People’s eyes light up when confronted with a box of Lego in exactly the way they don’t when you give them a pad a paper or a flipchart.

So I thought I’d share the two games I’ve created so far. The only thing you’ll need is a biggish box of Lego. My favourite starting point is the Lego Classic Large box. About ¬£35 and enough bricks to support 6 teams in the games. Here’s the first one…

Game – Let’s Innovate

Objective: adult life, and corporate life is primarily about following instructions and knowing what you are going to do before you do it. Experimentation and tinkering needs careful priming because otherwise we’ll just follow the instructions without thinking. This game helps people explore that distinction.

Set up: split a group into around 6 teams. Each team to a maximum of 6 people. I have run this with 12 teams (2 boxes of Lego) with a total of around 70. The group as a whole is given the over-riding instruction: “You are asked to spend the next 15 minutes innovating. You have some materials with which to innovate. You are also provided with some additional instructions.”

Each group should be given a bag or container with their share of Lego bricks. They also get an envelope containing one of the following:

1. The instructions that were supplied with the Lego kit

2. A set of build instructions for a piece of IKEA furniture

3. A piece of paper with the instruction “Build the transportation device of the year 2040” or something similar that is appropriate to the audience.

4. A selection of instructions derived from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. Between 5 and 10 written on cards is plenty. You can find details here:

5. A piece of paper with the instruction “Use only 13 pieces”

6. A piece of paper with the instruction “Copy another team”

Let the game run for as long as there’s still energy in the room.


As a general rule, the team with the Lego instructions will quickly realise that what they first may have thought was “the answer” is mostly useless because they don’t have the right pieces. The IKEA team will find similar – they have instructions but not the right pieces.

The group with the future task will generally come up with some interesting ideas. The oblique strategy group may or may not, depending on if they can get their heads around lateral thinking. The group provided with a constraint may well produce lots of ideas. The copy team will produce something but will struggle to explain what it is.

It’s very rare that people share their objectives with other teams.

So what?

Watch the five minute video and hopefully you’ll see some of the connections!

So there you go. Have a play! Or if you’d like me to help you to have a play, I can help shape a session that is more specific to your particular needs. And do let me know how you get on!

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