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Over the last years, we have noticed conflicting stories about the origins of the theory, development, and applications of LSP. To set the record straight, this article reviews the story of how LSP arose from the intersection of tedious strategy practices, engaging play, passionate scholars, open-minded executives, and the owner of LEGO Company.
International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 2018, Vol. 5, No. 4
ISSN 2056-757X
How It All Began: The Origins Of
Serious Play
Johan Roos
Hult International Business School, United Kingdom
Bart Victor
Vanderbilt University, United States
As the originators of the idea, concept, and initial product more than two decades ago,
we have seen the LEGO
Serious Play
(LSP) method evolve beyond our wildest
imagination. Empirical and anecdotal evidence attest to the widespread use and many
benefits it brings to individuals, groups and organizations around the world. The
ongoing research, conferences, communities of practice, teaching applications, and
growing list of publications suggest a veritable field of study.
Today, thousands of professionals label themselves LSP practitioners/ facilitators, and
hundreds of thousands in organizations have benefited from our idea. LSP training
and facilitation has become a multi-million dollar business, including for the LEGO
Company that sells dedicated material sets. For both of us, conceiving and developing
LSP is probably the most impactful contribution we have made as management
scholars. We are proud “fathers” of what many called an “insane” idea two decades
Over the last years, we have noticed conflicting stories about the origins of the theory,
development, and applications of LSP. To set the record straight, this article reviews
the story of how LSP arose from the intersection of tedious strategy practices,
engaging play, passionate scholars, open-minded executives, and the owner of LEGO
Keywords: LEGO Serious Play, Real-Time Strategy, Imagination, Identity,
Landscape, Guiding Principle
How It All Began: The Origins Of LEGO
Serious Play
International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 2018, Vol. 5, No. 4
1. Rethinking how to make strategy
In the mid-1990s, we were serving as professors of leadership and strategy at the
International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne,
Switzerland. In our teaching, research, and consulting, we constantly saw that
objective analysis backed up by hard numbers was typically put at the forefront of
strategy discussions. Managers’ own subjective views were typically placed in the
background, or even disregarded. The literature on strategy making is vast and we do
not review it here, but the main reason for this approach to strategy appeared to be
management worries about not being able to legitimize their own (different)
conclusions with facts, and/or not being able to articulate their own intuitions and
insights using conventional strategy concepts and models.
However, our own work had increasingly led us to doubt the effectiveness of how
leadership teams develop strategy (Lorange and Roos, 1992; Lorange et al., 1993;
Roos et al., 1996; Roos et al., 1997; Victor and Cullen, 1988).We shared a profound
interest in designing more imaginative, effective, and responsible ways to guide
leaders and organizations in their strategy making. We thus set out to find a
replacement for strategy retreats, workshops and the like with a higher energy method
that offered deeper insights and better outcomes.
2. Ideas that informed us
Strategy has a long and august intellectual history based on different ideas about
rational thinking, shared beliefs and collective vision, politicking, information
creation and serendipity. Instead of revisiting this well-known literature, to launch our
project we began tapping into concepts adjacent to our fields, especially theories
about autopoiesis, complex adaptive systems, collective mind, imagination, and
storytelling. Each of these seemed to be a gateway leading us to new ways for how
strategy could be conceived and developed.
2.1. Autopoiesis
Inspired by the biological theory autopoiesis (Greek for “self-production”) developed
by Maturana and Varela (1980), Johan had conceptualized a different way to define
and work with knowledge in organizations. With Georg von Krogh he had proposed a
“self-referential” (subjective) epistemology distinct from cognitivist (computer-like)
and connectionist (networked) ways of knowing. Their organisational epistemology
posited first that knowledge is personal, history-dependent, context sensitive, and
oriented towards problem-identification more than problem-solving (von Krogh et al.,
1994; von Krogh and Roos, 1995; Roos, 2006).
The consequence is that what we see, and what distinctions we make, depends on who
we are. This may be common sense to some, but most analytical works in
organisations assume observer-independency and value-free knowledge. From this
perspective, identity is always the foundation from which we (subjectively)
experience and interpret the world. It also explains why people naturally make
different sense of matters when presented with the same data. It reinforces why
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International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 2018, Vol. 5, No. 4
knowing who we are as individuals, groups, and leadership teams is vital to
understanding what distinctions we make about the world (Roos, 1996).
Some argue that we have one core identity— our essences— while others suggest that
our identity changes over time, and yet others believe we have multiple identities. In
terms of organizations, the question of how they develop a sense of self and how that
provides distinctive continuity and collective performance across space and/or time is
equally debated. From its original focus on the identification of a convergent set of
central, enduring, and distinctive attributes of an organization (Albert and Whetten,
1985), the concept of organizational identity has evolved into many concepts with
different meaning, some even controversial.
For our purposes, leadership teams who claim to represent an organization first need
to be able to express a coherent, core identity. They must individually and collectively
be able to answer the question: Who are we, really? Conversely, they also need to
understand how others view their organization.
2.2. Ethical Climate and Aspirational Identity
Because an organization’s identity encompasses values and norms, it always has an
ethical dimension about what is right vs. wrong and good vs. bad. Drawing on
philosophical and leadership traditions, Bart had been researching the sources and
varieties of such “ethical climates” in institutions (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Scott,
1987) and other more sociological understandings, such as what Chester Barnard
(1938) had called the fundamental executive responsibility as a source of competitive
Bart was also inspired by the 19
century Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard, who
deliberated about
how to become “who you are.”
worked at a time when
society rapidly transformed from a feudal into a capitalist system
, which suddenly
social identities very fluid. Instead of relying on religious authorities to tell
people who they want to and should become,
controversially placed that
responsibility on the individual.
We concluded that people in leadership teams, individually and collectively, must be
able to answer the question Who would we really like to become? We concluded that
aspirational identity too needed to be starting points for a new approach to strategy.
2.3. Complex adaptive systems theory
In his research and writing, Johan had also found inspiration in complex adaptive
systems (CAS) theory developed in the 1970s that could help elucidate a further
assumption we made – that people in organizations continuously try to understand and
make sense of what is happening around them. CAS theory, in essence, is about how
natural systems with many parts interact in a non-linear way (see Holland, 1995;
Kaufmann, 1993). The theory posits that underlying what seems like a complicated
mess are more orderly basic principles; however, they just are not the same principles
we normally look for. Important ideas from CAS had already been helpful (and
controversial) to better understand how social systems function, including dynamic
fitness landscapes, emergent behaviour, and simple rules.
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Inspired by these three offshoots of CAS, Johan worked with David Oliver to convert
the concept of fitness landscapes into “knowledge landscapes” (Oliver and Roos,
1999; 2000) as an effective way to help people make sense of business environments.
Landscapes are powerful images and even our corporate language is full of land and
sea metaphors—like horizons, roadmap, king of the hill, valley of death, navigating,
blue ocean and deep structure —that give us new meanings. Based on Johan’s
experiments asking company executives to express their business environments as
metaphorical landscapes, we decided to substitute tired terms used in strategy
conversations for the more dynamic landscape terms. Exhibit 1 illustrates how Johan
depicted the idea of subjective metaphorical landscapes in his teaching and consulting
Exhibit 1: Seeing the world in terms of subjective landscapes
Image Courtesy: Johan Roos
The CAS concept of emergent behaviour posits that new and often surprising
behaviour happens at many levels of scale so that, at each level of complexity,
entirely new properties appear. It can be thousands of birds in a field suddenly
forming a flock moving as one, traffic jams suddenly forming or disappearing, or
unexpected dynamics in financial markets. The takeaway for Johan was that
interactions among interconnected groups, entities, and organizations both cause and
experience sudden unexpected change (see Oliver and Roos, 2000).
The intriguing question was how might emergent behaviour impact strategy making
in a volatile world? Leaders in dynamic, high-velocity business environments face
significant challenges and must make quick decisions against a background of
ambiguous information and an inability to gather relevant objective data and verify all
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Based on ethnographic research of the team that developed the new, programmable
brick, LEGO Mindstorms (Oliver and Roos, 2003), and in-depth studies of a small,
artificial intelligence start-up company in New York (Oliver and Roos, 2000), Johan
suggested that dealing with such leadership decisions is best done using softer
heuristics, not strict simple rules as suggested by CAS theory.
To acknowledge that humans have intentions, not just pre-programme instincts, Johan
argued that rules should be replaced with “simple guiding principles” (SGPs):
principles, not rules; guiding, not dictating; and simple, not complicated (Lissack and
Roos, 1999). Furthermore, in his ethnographical research with David Oliver, he found
that such SGP-heuristics can function as headlines of deeper organizational
narratives, and that these narratives typically are grounded in emotional as well as
purely rational considerations as depicted in exhibit 2 (see Oliver and Roos, 2003;
Exhibit 2: Theoretical underpinnings of Guiding Principles
Source: Oliver and Roos (2005: 898)
With Andy Boynton, Bart had also been working on a process that began in the
imagination of crafts and then developed, codified, routinized, perfected, and finally
modularized along a consistent path (Boynton and Victor, 1988). This resonated well
with the idea of SGPs, and Bart quickly saw the value of using this concept to develop
strategy. We concluded that both landscapes and simple guiding principles needed to
be integral parts of our new approach to strategy.
2.4. Collective mind
A fourth source of inspiration to rethink how strategy might be made were the notions
of “heedful interrelating,” and “collective mind” proposed by philosophers in the
1940-1950s and expressed in organizational theory in the 1990s (Ryle 1949; Weick
and Roberts. 1993).
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The former notion suggested that strategists needed to focus on heedful interactions
among customers, suppliers, technology, regulations, important individuals, and other
known or unknown “agents” in the environment. Being heedful meant that
participants of conversations must (i) talk and act in a way that really contributes to
the whole, (ii) deeply understand what everyone contributes, and (iii) relate their ideas
and actions to the entire system developed together.
Johan had also used the concept of collective mind for a prior LEGO Company
consulting project about the growing “edutainment” (educational software for
children) business. In his final presentation to the company’s leadership team in late
1995, instead of a traditional industry analysis, he suggested they see an emerging and
complex “landscape of interconnected and dynamic villages” of large traditional and
small new companies from a range of industries, among which skilled experts moved
around freely (see exhibit 3). His analysis focused on how these “agents” were
interconnected and interacted, and how the entire system of new entrepreneurs,
venture capital and traditional toy, entertainment and software companies collectively
brought forth a new business that cut across traditional industries. The conclusion was
that before anyone entered this market they had better carefully heed these
Exhibit 3: Map of the emerging and interconnected edutainment landscape in November 1995
Image Courtesy: Johan Roos
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From these ideas about collective mind and heedful interrelating in dynamic
landscapes, we agreed that more effective strategy conversations should be designed
to enable participants to act attentively, purposefully, creatively, critically and
conscientiously, in other words, heedfully. In effect, strategy makers need to notice,
attend, and put their heart into something they see as important in their landscapes,
there and then. We concluded that conversations about connections among relevant
agents in the landscape needed to be an important aspect of the new approach to
2.5. Imagination
Bart was also familiar with the literature of imagination and had discovered that
throughout history the term “imagination” has been given many different cultural and
linguistic connotations. While all share the basic idea that humans have a unique
ability to “image” or “imagine” something, the variety of uses of the term imagination
implies not one but several meanings.
We were particularly intrigued with the insightful literature on the complementary
parts of imagination—to describe, create and destroy (Kearney, 1988). Imagination
can mean the mind’s evoking of a new understanding of a complex world (describe),
but it can also mean the mind’s vision of an idea that is entirely new to the world
(create) and the mind’s negation of what it sees or creates (destroy). This triple sense
of imagination is threaded throughout the fabric of Western thought, and it appeared
to us that these three distinct kinds of imaginations were equally the stuff of strategy
making. We thus opted to make these three kinds of imagination a cornerstone of our
new method to develop strategy, and why we focused on imagination in our first few
2.6. Story making and story telling
We both have a strong feeling that the problem of communication in strategy making
was a problem of narrative (see the personal story in Roos 2005). We were thus drawn
to Joseph Campbell’s (1949) classic work on the underlying patterns in myths, stories,
and spiritual traditions. His insights offered a method that made it possible to uncover
and utilize the compelling impact of narrative structures and archetypes that could
underlie a powerful strategy method.
Bart was equally inspired by the epic work by Howard Gardner (1995), describing the
common feature of transformative leadership as the crafting and sharing of stories that
allowed followers to see, understand, and ultimately adopt new visions of themselves
and others. According to Gardner, for a story to be successful, it has to connect with
the audience. When leaders address a sophisticated team of experts, the story can be
complex, but when addressing “the masses,” the stories must be simple.
At that time, a “narrative turn” had grown increasingly popular in organizational
studies. If storytelling is the preferred way for humans to make sense then surely
strategy must be a prominent story told in organizations. A compelling story of
strategy lies somewhere between the theatrical drama, historical novel, futurist
fantasy, and autobiography. As authors of fiction, leaders have the same challenge as
fictional writers, namely to develop an engaging, compelling account, one that
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followers will understand, agree with, and gladly implement (Boje, 1991;
Czarniawska-Joerges, 1996; Elmes and Barry, 1997).
We concluded that our new approach to making strategy should be designed to
encourage and integrate contextualized story making and storytelling.
3. The new concept: real-time strategy
Re-conceiving strategy making through these conceptual lenses, we came up with the
notion of “real-time strategy” (RTS) as opposed to traditional planning. Five
theoretically grounded principles made up the RTS practice we envisioned:
1. Subjective views matter
2. Metaphors and storytelling are powerful sense-making tools
3. Start by depicting the identity, then look at the outside landscape
4. Interactions among agents of all kinds matter enormously, so heed them
5. Let simple principles guide appropriate action in complex environments
Whatever we would do, it would be based on finding ways to combine these
principles into a single unified method to strategy making. In this regard, our notion
of real-time strategy stands on its own conceptual foundations regardless of how the
approach is implemented.
In the next phase of our work, ironically, it was serendipity that led us to develop our
ideas in an unconventional, playful way. We began to focus on the medium and mode
constraints of traditional conversations about important matters, like the future of a
company. To burst open the conventions of discussion, we sought to find techniques
that would encourage imagination, surprise, and even shock (read: emergent
behaviour)—and we were drawn to the toy industry.
We were aware this would be perceived as beyond odd. Framing strategy as real-time
was clearly unconventional; placing identity at the beginning of this process was
contrarian; using landscape images to depict the business environments was peculiar;
and replacing action plans with simple guiding principles was strange. If all these
were not enough, inviting serious managers to use toy construction materials to build
a real-time strategy was clearly nuts—or was it? We thought it was worth a try.
4. Playing seriously in LEGO Company
In early 1996, the President of IMD asked Johan to design and lead a strategy
program for the top 300 managers of the LEGO Company. Through his prior
consulting work with the company, Johan had got to know many of their managers
and the CEO. After a few client meetings, he asked Bart to join him to help design
and deliver a compelling program to help formulate their new direction.
The challenge raised by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the Owner and CEO, was particularly
daunting. Kjeld had recently returned to work after recovering from a health issue and
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noticed how the rapid and dramatic globalization of products, supply chains, and
economies were combining with the emergence of new technologies in homes to
create the market for edutainment. This threatened to seriously diminish the market
for the core LEGO business of physical construction materials. Kjeld recognized that
the company would have to both change almost everything yet simultaneously
preserve its core defining values, often described in short hand as residing “in the
brick,” referring to the iconic six-studded LEGO piece. The task presented to Johan
was to develop a process that supported Kjeld’s leadership in formulating and
implementing the required change. Ironically, the process we developed would
ultimately be rooted in that same deep foundation. LSP is, at its core, “in the brick.”
4.1. Challenging LEGO managers to be more imaginative
We began the workshop with LEGO managers with the intent to use LEGO products
to support a more creative, imaginative strategy process. At first, we thought that the
generous bowls of colourful bricks placed in every meeting room and copies of a
popular epistolary novel with LEGO figures on the cover (Copeland, 1995) in
managers’ offices implied a more playful company culture. Soon we realized that few
managers even played with bricks during meetings, and fewer had even opened the
book. Despite the playful aura around this family-owned company, in 1996 LEGO
managers were not much different from managers anywhere. In their view, methods
or materials that appeared playful, childish, or frivolous did not belong in serious
business discussions, like strategy making. The company liaison appointed to work
with us was particularly faithful to this view.
Nevertheless, we more or less forced LEGO managers to abandon their two-
dimensional visual presentations of texts, graphs, and numbers using flipcharts,
overheads, slides, spreadsheets, and the like (read: changing the medium constraint).
Moreover, instead of just sitting (still) in chairs in atriums and group rooms with
occasional trips to the flip chart or white screen, we encouraged them to use the bricks
in the same playful way they invited children to use them (read: changing the mode
constraint). Bart, whose background included Early Childhood Education and who
had both taught and administered Day Care Centres was certainly familiar with play
as “children’s work.” But even with a familiarity with materials such as LEGO brick,
it was not obvious to him how adults would fruitfully engage in such play.
During these programs, we tasked managers to give their own subjective meaning to
the great variety of colours, textures, shapes, and sizes of LEGO materials and use
their hands to construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct that meaning, then develop and
share stories about what they had built. Note that we did not literally ask them follow
the RTS process; our only direction to them was to “play”. Play with construction
toys rests on strong theoretical foundations and most LEGO managers took pride in
knowing the terms constructivism (Piaget and Inhelder, 1958) and constructionism
(Papert and Harel, 1991). Yet, the LEGO managers were less aware of classical
theories describing the many benefits of play, which partly explain what happened
during our experiments and prototyping.
Furthermore, instead of suppressing the emotional and social elements in favour of
cognitive elements of a serious business conversation, we encouraged participants to
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bring all of these to the table. Our experiment immediately and visibly boosted
participants’ engagement in the topics and the depth of their conversations. People
involved were genuinely taken aback by the pedagogical process, including the
emergence of new and surprising insights and how the playful constructions
facilitated serious dialogue.
The processes we used at that time were similar to what Barry (1994) did with
military commanders a few years earlier, but more intentionally playful. We too found
that such a process amplified the opportunities to make the invisible visible. Our
experiments also enabled managers to describe what they already knew in new way,
and to collaboratively develop new insights. Moreover, we observed that our playful
process supported the idea of identity as the starting point and dynamic landscapes as
helpful and natural metaphors. Many managers were able to easily but profoundly
depict themselves caught up in a messy political, technological and competitive
context. The results were similar to what many of the contributions in this special
issue describe in their own work decades later.
5. The insane idea: real-time strategy through serious play
In January 1997, we met to discuss our next steps. In the midst of an excited dialogue,
Johan pulled up an empty envelope and started to draft ideas for a new tool based
solidly on our RTS principles that could be used in teaching and consulting (see
exhibit 4). We first gave it the code name LEGO M-Tool (M for management), but
Johan later proposed the term Serious Play for the facilitated process, which is now a
trademark owned by LEGO Company.
Exhibit 4: Envelope with the early concept January 1997
Image Courtesy: Johan Roos
After some time (it took a while to bypass a less helpful company liaison), in early
1997, we eventually sat down with CEO Kjeld to share what we had done and our
newest ideas. This is precisely when we presented the insane” idea to not only use
LEGO materials of different shapes, textures, sizes and colours as a language, but to
do this with working adults. Not surprisingly, he was taken aback; in his view, adults
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playing with bricks were enthusiasts, collectors, building models, or still children at
heart. But his interest grew and he became encouraging.
Soon after, he assigned to us from their UK faculty a young designer and skilful
model builder, Paul Howells, and tasked him to help materialize our thinking. Over
the next 18 months, Paul helped us build a variety of bridges, walls, forests, and
vehicles and selected several branded retail sets like Pirates, Western and Ninja to
combine into our program. He also arranged the use of white bricks only as a
comparison. He came up with ideas for how to make boring-looking board rooms
more playful. Our goal was to mix pre-built meaning with “free” materials, initially
try it out on the IMD program for LEGO Company and elsewhere, and see what
would happen.
During the next eight months, we invited hundreds of participant-managers attending
the IMD program to play seriously with LEGO materials. We offered a range of
materials and observed how managers constructed a wide variety of shapes and
expressed opinions about their organizational challenges and opportunities. Over this
time, we noticed that some materials were used far more than others, such as materials
symbolizing “connections” and “people” being part of most constructions. We also
noted that that managers often defaulted to building and integrating models of
themselves or their teams. Another observation was that many constructions were
used to tell a story while moving, or even detaching or destroying parts of it.
To gather more data unbiased from LEGO values and norms, we asked a few other
company presidents to bring their teams together to try out our RTS process on a
particular tricky strategic issue that kept them awake…using LEGO materials. It was
a tough sell, but we had personal relationships, professorial goodwill, and the
enthusiasm to persist. The CEO of Tetra Pak (today chairman of industrial giant
ABB) was first person to try the process out (he stands in the centre of the photo in
exhibit 5, taken by Johan).In parallel, Johan used other IMD programs he managed or
taught into expose managers from Roche, KLM, Aegon, British Steel, IBM, Lafarge
and other multinational companies.
Exhibit 5: Early serious play with company executives 1998
Image Courtesy: Johan Roos
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In August 1998, we again met with Kjeld and a few of his senior executives to review
our experience and what we had learned. Based on the data we collected, our top five
conclusions were that:
1. The concept is exciting, but people can be anxious to engage: we saw consistently
high levels of interest, but also concerns about how participants’ colleagues react
to the idea of “play.”
2. Warming up is vital: gradual warm-up and skill building needs to set the tone and
validate the play, since simply offering LEGO materials was intimidating.
3. Material choices matter: materials should be unified and sorted, and there should
be neither too much nor too little.
4. The atmosphere must be safe, playful and comfortable, though there is flexibility
in the setting.
5. The process is delicate: Facilitators are absolutely essential; they must be able to
play several roles during the process like convener, instigator, feedback provider,
and process manager.
We also found that serious play sessions progressed best in carefully crafted phases:
Action phase with parallel constructions ending with satisfaction that the build
is true to their imagination.
Interaction phase with story tellying and sharing ending with collective
understanding and appreciation.
Transformation phase, when people change their views and discover aha and
wow experiences.
The overall conclusion was clear: our method worked really well. But we also
recognized that careful and qualified facilitation was absolutely vital. Kjeld now
bought into it, but kept reiterating the need for professional facilitators to avoid
negative results and mis-usage of his product and brand.
6. Firming up the RTS process
Consistent with our early principles, we now reframed the serious play process to
develop strategy in real-time to include the following clear steps:
1. Build identity, using metaphors and storytelling
2. Create the landscape (agents and connections)
3. Heed the interactions among interacting agents in this landscape
4. Articulate simple guiding principles, not rules to deal with potential change
The more or less final product and process to develop real time strategy with 3D
materials had been born. In December 1998, we published our ideas in a short article
in an IMD series distributed to14.000 alumni of IMD programs (Roos and Victor
1998). With that article, we sent three messages to executives:
The problem with strategy making is that it is not imaginative enough!
Imagination is the missing outcome from analysis and experience. All three
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types of imagination (describe, create, destroy) are needed to make great
Serious Play is a neglected source of imagination to develop strategy! Play
stimulates imagination in three ways.
Play is valuable for serious business! Serious Play can strengthen business
values. To compete well, you have to play well. Serious Play starts at the top.
The response from our article was positive and we recruited even more volunteer
leadership teams and collected more data to further refine the prototype serious play
method and materials.
In early 1999, our experimentations had evolved into a stable RTS concept, plus new
ideas about additional applications in a serious play process that worked. That year
European Management Journal published a peer-reviewed academic article (Roos
and Victor, 1999) that further helped legitimize and spread our ideas, which were now
gradually seen as less and less insane.
We knew that our method worked, but it needed a friendly nudge to solidify the need
for good facilitation. We thus developed a prototype manual for facilitators, which
Johan called Imaginopedia (a term LEGO Company subsequently trademarked).
We also knew that our real-time strategy application could be a bit overwhelming for
many managers and teams, so we started thinking about how to break it down to
simpler applications and Identity was an obvious one. But, that development is part of
the commercial rather than the history of the RTS and LSP concepts.
7. The new millennium shift
In mid-1999 Bart returned to the US to take up a professorship in Moral Leadership at
Vanderbilt University, but remained connected with the work to develop a
commercial LSP product and our continued research. In Spring 2000, Johan
announced his resignation from IMD so he could build from scratch a think-tank
inspired research institute devoted to further the work on serious play and adjacent
concepts. With Kjeld, Johan founded Swiss-based Imagination Lab Foundation
( in 2000 and became its Director. The Lab’s formal purpose is to
develop, disseminate, teach and support business management concepts and models
that go beyond traditional management theories into the arts and sciences, especially
theories of play and imagination.
This entrepreneurial-academic initiative launched a decade of extensive empirical and
conceptual research with a core group of researchers from a range of academic
disciplines, including complex adaptive systems theory, psychology, sociology,
anthropology, and music in addition to management, as well as experiments with
some 1,500 managers. In the first six years, Lab researchers (including Bart) produced
more than 70 papers, presented at dozens of international conferences, and built a new
brand for serious but playful research in the scholarly management community. Many
articles about the Lab appeared in international media, increasing the request for
engagement. During these years, Johan raised CHF 13 million in funding from a
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range of companies in the telecom, manufacturing, service, and banking sectors,
including donations from LEGO Company.
With one of the first Imagination Lab scholars, Matthew Statler, we carefully crafted
and eventually in 2004 published an article in a renowned peer-reviewed journal
(paradoxically called Long-Range Planning) in which we formally defined serious
play as activity that “draws on the imagination, integrates cognitive, social and
emotional dimensions of experience and intentionally brings the emergent benefits of
play to bear on organizational challenges” (Roos et al., 2004: 15).
The research performed by Imagination Lab scholars was certainly flavoured and
inspired by both LSP and RTS, but never limited to either or to the use of LEGO
materials. In fact, Lab scholars and practitioners were free to think, debate,
experiment, present and write about a range of adjacent ideas, concepts, theories and
practices, and they did. This included experiments mixing hard and soft and natural
and artificial materials, as well as theoretical deliberations and data gathering from
other contexts, such as musical performances (e.g. Marotto et al., 2007). Johan’s 2006
book, Thinking from Within integrates much of the varied research that was done up
to that time.
After serving as its leader for almost seven years, Johan took on new challenges in
2007 but remains on the Lab’s Board of Directors. He has used LSP in several
organizations he has led, and on occasion, he facilitates engagements for senior
leadership teams. His colleagues at Hult International Business School (including
Ashridge) recently found out about his role in developing LSP, and its use there is
rapidly spreading.
8. Putting LEGO Serious Play in perspective
The story of LSP is one of the sweat, tears and frustration but also the passion,
engagement and courage to be different that go into entrepreneurship. It is also a story
of persistence. The time from entrepreneurial idea to benefits usually ranges between
3 and 10 years, but for us, it was more like 12 years, coinciding with the rapid
increase of interest and use following LEGO Company releasing LSP under a
Creative Common Licence in June 2010, which we applaud.
Success has many fathers, it is said, and LSP recognizes that. Many people
contributed to scale our prototype LSP product and facilitation process now used by
thousands of people all over the world. While we contributed the intellectual
foundation and theoretical models of both RTS and LSP, other researchers too have
elaborated, tested and extended the underlying serious play concepts, especially
people who were affiliated with Imagination Lab Foundation. From an academic
perspective, the research, conferences, communities of practice, teaching applications,
and growing list of publications, including in this special issue, to our delight even
suggest an emerging field of study.
We both have done much research and published many articles and books, some
widely cited. But conceiving and developing RTS and LSP is probably the most
How It All Began: The Origins Of LEGO
Serious Play
International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 2018, Vol. 5, No. 4
impactful contribution we have made in our careers. Unlike other purely academic
articles, this intellectual venture has progressed through all four steps of scholarly
impact outlines by Ozanne et al. (2016). We created the ideas and published our
research findings for both practicing managers and academic audiences. Thousands of
managers, consultants and scholars have become aware of it by reading and citing our
works, media articles, or listening to our talks. The active and widespread use of the
LSP method is evidenced by the sheer numbers of people who have been trained to
use it, and use it. We have heard many testimonials of resulting changes in
perspectives, attitudes, and behaviours, the profound differences made, and the
benefits to individuals and a range of private, public and volunteer organisations -
when our method has been skilfully facilitated.
We are proud “fathers” of what quite a few people labelled a crazy idea two decades
ago, and we hope the world has become better from playing seriously the way we
developed it!
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... In 1999-2000, LEGO introduced the Bionicle series, as the third generation of LEGO toys, it became an important turning point in LEGO's history, mak ing it into the top five toys in the United States for the first time [4]. Behind the success of the Bionicle series is precisely the storytelling marketing strategy of LEGO, which uses stories as an emotional link to connect with consumers and resonate wit h them through stories, thus enabling them to build an identity through the product [4] [11]. "Story making and telling" is used to market all LEGO products, whether they are basic square blocks or thematic sets. ...
... Roos and Victor found two possible reasons for this dismissal of subjective and experiential knowledge: managers feared trying to legitimise and justify their subjective experiences against objective data, and/or managers encountered difficulty fitting their embodied experiences into strategic frameworks or models in use within the organization. Uncovering the ineffectiveness of strategic development leadership teams gave Roos and Victor an opportunity to envision a new framework that would result in the methodology we now know as Lego Serious Play (Roos & Victor, 2018). ...
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Git, an open source version control software, is difficult to both teach and learn because it conceals its work in a hidden directory and is often deployed using a command line interface. Yet, version control is an essential tool of reproducible research. Two librarians formed a playful partnership to experiment with teaching Git using LEGO, an approach inspired by our Carpentries Instructor certifications and one’s LEGO Serious Play certification. Our method combines novice-centric Carpentries pedagogy with theories of play, constructionism, constructivism, conceptual metaphor, and the hand-mind connection that are foundational to LEGO Serious Play. We share details of developing, testing, and assessing this Git-LEGO combination. Our preliminary study indicates that our LEGO activity may increase learners' short-term retention of Git commands. We discuss future directions for our research and our experiences as academic librarians in a playful partnership.
... Given the promising findings regarding the mental health benefits of gamified interventions as revealed in this meta-analysis, closer collaborations are encouraged between health professionals and game designers to co-create more innovative and engaging games as intervention tools. For example, such practitioner-industry collaboration has been successful in the case of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® developed by the LEGO Corporation, a world-famous toy production company (e.g., Kristiansen & Rasmussen, 2014;Roos & Victor, 2018). The major advantage of this gamified approach is that the learning process is conducted through action rather than instruction (e.g., Dann, 2018;Grienitz & Schmidt, 2012), and thus gameplay can be effective in fostering knowledge creation and mutual understanding in a heterogenous sample of users, regardless of age, ethnicity, linguistic background, and professional experience (McCusker, 2020). ...
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This meta-analytic review aimed to investigate the effectiveness of gamified interventions in bolstering mental health. The gamification and the control groups were compared in terms of the between-group differences in posttest scores of both mental wellness (subjective well-being and quality of life) and psychological symptoms (anxiety and depressive symptoms). The review analyzed 42 studies involving 5792 participants (aged 8–74) across eight world regions. The random-effects meta-analysis revealed an overall small to medium effect size (Hedges’ g = 0.38; 95% CI: 0.22, 0.55; k = 141). The benefits of gamification in enhancing mental wellness were independent of both game and demographic characteristics, but there were intricate findings for studies examining the benefits of gamification in reducing psychological symptoms. For anxiety symptom reduction, the effects were larger (vs. smaller) in studies adopting specific (vs. general) measures of anxiety and in samples comprising a higher (vs. lower) proportion of males (ps < .04). For depressive symptom reduction, the effects were larger (vs. smaller) in non-clinical (vs. clinical) samples (p = .01). These new findings are promising in showing the viability of gamification in promoting mental wellness, encouraging greater collaborations among scholars, practitioners, and game developers to contribute to the growing field of gamification science by co-designing more effective gamified interventions.
... In addition to applying some of these games throughout the visioning phase, LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) was used in a workshop setting to increase creativity and facilitate prototyping in a co-creative way (Dann, 2018;Feng, 2020). Students were able to build different visions (Grienitz & Schmidt, 2012), and thus LSP facilitated learning development through kinesthetic means (James, 2013;Kristiansen & Rasmussen, 2014;McCusker, 2014;Peabody & Noyes, 2017;Roos & Victor, 2018). ...
... In addition to applying some of these games throughout the visioning phase, LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) was used in a workshop setting to increase creativity and facilitate prototyping in a co-creative way (Dann, 2018;Feng, 2020). Students were able to build different visions (Grienitz & Schmidt, 2012), and thus LSP facilitated learning development through kinesthetic means (James, 2013;Kristiansen & Rasmussen, 2014;McCusker, 2014;Peabody & Noyes, 2017;Roos & Victor, 2018). ...
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This book gives insights into important factors that are shaping effective learning for sustainability and describes innovative teaching formats that will enable students to contribute to a more sustainable world in their future role as decision makers. Basic concepts in the context of sustainability-related teaching and learning are defined and the relation between learning objectives, methods, skills and outcomes is conceptualised. The book’s detailed description of 23 teaching formats, including their learning objectives, course contents and structure, as well as applied methods aims at supporting lecturers and trainers in the design of their own teaching formats. With conbtributions by Pilar Acosta, Bimal Arora, Hasret Balcioglu, Diana Bank Weinberg, Maria Angeles Bustamante Gallego, Silke Bustamante, Julen Castillo-Apraiz, Helen Chiappini, Arrate Lasa Elguezua, Iñaki Etaio Alonso, Diego Rada Fernandez de Jauregui, Irene Garnelo-Gomez, Jonatan Miranda Gomez, Zsuzsanna Győri, Tony Henshaw, Igor Hernandez Ochoa, Mark Hoyle, Maria V. Ilieva, Divya Jyoti, Achilleas Karayiannis, Prashan S. M. Karunaratne, Philipp Kenel, William Kitch, Tetiana Kravchenko, Idoia Larretxi Lamelas, Edurne Simón Magro, Olaia Martinez Gonzalez, Martina Martinovic, Virginia Navarro Santamaria, Maria, Nemilentseva, Rana Parweeen, Andrea Pelzeter, Daria Podmetina, Manuel Quirós, Ellen Saltevo, Marina Schmitz, Elena Senatorova, Kai Shaman, Aušrinė Šilenskytė, Julia Solovjova, Unai Tamayo Orbegozo, Marko, Torkkeli, Itziar Txurruka Ortega, Gustavo Vargas-Silva, Anna Young-Ferris and Chuan Yu.
... Bir çeşit toplantı yapma tekniği olan Açık Alan Teknolojisi (Open Space), çok sayıda kişinin bir tema odağında karmaşık sorunlara çözüm getirmelerine olanak sağlayan ve gündemin tamamen katılımcılar tarafından belirlendiği (Herman, 2022) atölyelerdir. Daha özel konseptler geliştirmek için ise açık bilgi alışverişi etkinliği (Dennerlein vd., 2015) olarak adlandırılabilecek olan ve herkese açık katılımlı olan BarCamp kullanılabilmektedir. Prototip geliştirmek isteyen çalışanlar için ise bir Çözüm Bulma Etkinliği (Hackathon), çalışanların çalıştıkları organizasyona yenilik sunduğu ve tamamen özerk oldukları 24 saatlik bir etkinlik (Lanen, 2012) olan FedEx Day veya gerçek zamanlı stratejiye dayanan (Roos & Victor, 2018) Lego Oyun Atölyesi kullanılabilmektedir. Akıcı Geribildirim (Liquid Feedback) yaklaşımı da dijital liderlerin liderliği paylaşmak ve kolektif zekânın kullanımına dayalı olarak karar almak için kullanıldıkları bir diğer araçtır. Dijital liderler ayrıca Scrum, Tasarım Odaklı Düşünme (Design Thinking) ve Yalın Girişim (Lean Start-up) gibi çevik yönetim yaklaşımlarından da faydalanmaktadırlar (Petry, 2018). ...
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This case study illustrates how building with Lego® bricks was used to help an athlete identify instances of growth mindset in his play such that this could help him overcome fix mindset thinking. The player, a member of a trophy winning hurling squad, was self-motivated and had developed a strategy of saying, “No” to avoid becoming injured due to ‘over playing’. He participated in a Lego® Serious Play® in Positive Psychology group workshop, the theme of which was the growth mindset. As a result, he was able to determine how he could work from fixed mindset triggers to more growth mindset beliefs. He was then able to transform his thinking from a stance where he felt he had to protect himself from the demands of others to realizing they can contribute to him as he developed as a player. He reported that building with Lego® bricks helped him “form new ideas in ways that you wouldn’t be able to do just through your mind”. This report demonstrates how a growth mindset workshop which incorporated Lego® Bricks can support player development after the experience adverse circumstances.
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This paper presents a field study of decision-making processes at two organizations operating in high-velocity environments. It reviews existing literature on managerial knowledge structures and decision-making, and identifies methodological and conceptual limitations with these approaches with respect to organizations in high-velocity environments. The authors develop two interpretive cases that focus on the articulated and social methods management teams used to make decisions. They found that both organizations used rules of thumb or heuristic reasoning in their decision-making, that these rules of thumb functioned as headlines of deeper organizational narratives, and that these narratives were grounded in emotional as well as purely rational considerations. They suggest that the term 'guiding principle' usefully integrates their three findings into a second-order concept that may be further explored in future research of both a descriptive and prescriptive nature.
Stuart Kauffman here presents a brilliant new paradigm for evolutionary biology, one that extends the basic concepts of Darwinian evolution to accommodate recent findings and perspectives from the fields of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. The book drives to the heart of the exciting debate on the origins of life and maintenance of order in complex biological systems. It focuses on the concept of self-organization: the spontaneous emergence of order widely observed throughout nature. Kauffman here argues that self-organization plays an important role in the emergence of life itself and may play as fundamental a role in shaping life's subsequent evolution as does the Darwinian process of natural selection. Yet until now no systematic effort has been made to incorporate the concept of self-organization into evolutionary theory. The construction requirements which permit complex systems to adapt remain poorly understood, as is the extent to which selection itself can yield systems able to adapt more successfully. This book explores these themes. It shows how complex systems, contrary to expectations, can spontaneously exhibit stunning degrees of order, and how this order, in turn, is essential for understanding the emergence and development of life on Earth. Topics include the new biotechnology of applied molecular evolution, with its important implications for developing new drugs and vaccines; the balance between order and chaos observed in many naturally occurring systems; new insights concerning the predictive power of statistical mechanics in biology; and other major issues. Indeed, the approaches investigated here may prove to be the new center around which biological science itself will evolve. The work is written for all those interested in the cutting edge of research in the life sciences.
To compare and contrast institutional theories used in organizational analysis, the theoretical frameworks and arguments of leading contributors to institutional theory are reviewed and recent empirical studies using institutional arguments are examined. Both approaches reveal considerable variation in the types of concepts and arguments employed, and it is argued that further improvement and growth in institutional theory is dependent upon analysts dealing more explicitly with these differences. In addition, the relation between institutions and interests is explored to show that institutional features of organizational environments shape both the goals and means of actors. Attention is called to the two primary types of actors shaping institutional environments in modern societies- the state and professional bodies-and to the way in which their interests and mode of action shape institutional patterns and mechanisms.