Lego Serious Play, day one

Lego Serious Play at Madlab: building ideas, brick by brick

In December 2015, Madlab chose an interesting way to begin their version of the Arts and Technology pilot programme.

Manchester’s Madlab is a grassroots innovation organisation where playing with new technology and having fun collaborating together is serious business.

As one of three partners in the Arts and Technology programme, MadLab was encouraged to run the programme their way — and so the Madlab Arts + Tech Accelerator was born.

The Madlab accelerator is structured to ensure their cohort leaves with tangible results: demo products, business plans and connections with backers. The accelerator’s intense, results-oriented, all-hands-on-deck period in the first half of the project set the tone for the year.

Consequentially, a cohort of people with focus, ambition and an eagerness to create tangible objects was sought.

After having sifted through initial applications, a long-list of 20 participants was invited to take part in a two-day Lego Serious Play workshop in December 2015. To narrow the list further, and reflect the diversity of their practice, Madlab decided to incorporate hands-on experimentation.

Run by Stuart Nolan, magician-in-residence at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, the workshop took an unusual starting point to reach a useful conclusion.

Lego was used to initiate discussion

The participants were encouraged to use Lego to build models which represented the concepts behind their current work and what they hoped to achieve if they took part in the programme. The intention was to help focus thoughts on their applications while uncovering previously unconsidered facets of their work.

Frank discussion, troubleshooting, and dissection of ideas took place.

You can hear interviews with session leader Stuart, participants Daniel, Anna and Sophie, and Madlab’s Asa Calow below (or those of you in a rush can listen to a bite-sized version here)

The act of building and re-building a Lego model, and then explaining it to the group, distanced the individuals from their ideas — and they were steered to talk about the object over the ideas behind them.

Because the models were designed to represent their ambitions and aims — albeit often metaphorically — it allowed room for ideas to grow.

(It initiated laughter too)

This approach also meant that naturally garrulous or overbearing voices were dimmed and otherwise quiet participants had space to talk.

Being a uniform, brick-based medium, the use of Lego was intended to equalise artistic skill, allowing focus on the the object (and its subject) instead of any perceived creative merit.

Asa Calow and Stuart Nolan

As the participants built, discussed and explained, Stuart helped gently guide conversation and posed questions that challenged perceptions.

It was an intense, surprisingly draining two days, but by the end of the second day, when the Arts and Technology programme interviews took place, participants and Madlab staff alike agreed that the Lego Serious Play had focused minds and sharpened ideas.

As well as making the selection process clearer, the workshop gave participants the confidence they needed — so that they could get on with beginning to take their ideas and turning them into real business propositions.