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USING COLORFUL PLASTIC BRICKS TO DEVELOP INNOVATIONS

Steinbeis consultants pave the way for creative ideas using Lego® Serious Play® materials and methods

Who is not familiar with them, or who has never held one in their hands – those colorful little bricks that allow children to explore their imaginations? And now adults can start playing with them again – for business reasons, of course. Only this time, it’s not about seeing what you can make. Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) offers materials and methods that allow companies and organizations to come up with innovations and develop creative concepts as part of a carefully coordinated process. Patrick Brauckmann, director of the Berlin-based Steinbeis Consulting Center Corporate.Business.Gaming. explains how.

Innovation is now a key driver of business development. Offering products or services that are different to those offered by the competition allows a company to grow. Innovations are rarely thought up by “someone at the company” – they’re usually developed and worked up as part of carefully planned processes. On the surface, creativity and structured approaches would appear to get in the way of one another. But actually, there are ways to use creative processes to allow the two ends to meet, for example by using Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) materials and methods. These are suitable for all situations where creativity and entrepreneurial thinking are called for, or voices and ideas need to be listened to – on an equal footing and from all angles. This is because the best possible solution to a complex problem can only be identified if lots of people can be involved in a process and listened to. This is exactly how LSP works, by using specially developed materials and methods. Despite this, coming up with innovative ideas is only one possible use of LSP. It can also be used for lots of other topics, such as team development or even planning strategies for entire companies.

“THINKING WITH YOUR HANDS”

LSP workshops and sessions always start with a specific formulation of a problem within the context of the task at hand. Workshop participants are given small construction tasks that allow them to start talking about a certain situation facing the company and exchange views. There is a facilitator, whose task is to guide conversation and allow people to capture what they have discovered. Facilitators are more like mediators, who focus on ensuring people can discuss issues with one another on an equal footing and encourage people to come up with ideas. By thinking with their hands, all participants get into a creative flow and translate their ideas into models that people can see and relate to. This process allows people to discuss and share different ideas, which can be used later and pulled together in a common model. This model becomes a quintessential ingredient of idea generation, the basis for discussion between participants. Using the shared model also makes it possible to highlight mutual interdependencies with systems and discuss interactions with those around the company (such as clients). LSP is a strikingly vivid way to allow participants taking part in a workshop to use materials and methods to come up with extremely “hands-on” results. The output can be photographed and filmed, offering a number of highly efficient options for sharing key findings with other people at the company and decision-makers. The models basically do the talking and explain the results of the workshop participants.

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In Patrick Brauckmann’s experience, this playful process allows ideas and potential innovations to be developed that would otherwise go undiscovered. “Time and again, it’s amazing how specific the thinking is and how expedient it is working with your hands. Allowing the process to work intuitively – yet still guiding it – leads to results that would never otherwise happen,” explains the Steinbeis consultant. Combining this approach with other methods makes it possible to develop and implement action plans, business plans, and other prototypical test scenarios.

Using iterative testing loops and rapid prototyping also makes it possible to quickly identify erroneous ideas and make corrections. Ultimately, this shortens innovation cycles and makes it easier to come up with ideas, and results can be quickly implemented and prepared for possible introduction. Another important aspect that should not be ignored is that the playful approach moves away from traditional ways of thinking and stimulates new areas of thinking. This broadens the bandwidth of concept development, and ideas become more imaginative: When people play, they can also try out things that might otherwise sound a bit wacky.

ONCE A TELETRANSPORTER, NOW A SOLUTION TO CARE SHORTAGES

This was the case when a teletransporter was invented at an innovation workshop – something seemingly far removed from reality. The underlying problem faced by the company – difficulties in logistics were hindering its logistics and international expansion – was summed up in a nutshell: The ideal solution really would have been a teletransporter to dispatch any product to any location in the world within seconds, at little cost. As the innovation workshop progressed, other, potentially implementable ideas were thought up and discussed to replace the teletransporter. By the end, two options were selected and tested as prototypes. Of course without the “crazy idea” at the beginning, no-one would have thought of a way to solve the problem.

At another workshop, Brauckmann asked the participants to name any kind of social problem. The participants soon zoomed in on the care industry. Developing ideas by coming at issues from a variety of angles allowed participants to come up with a number of different ways to solve problems and deal with care shortages. These could address a variety of difficulties related to the aging population. The workshop participants then chose a specific solution from the potential solutions and dug deeper. The emphasis shifted toward technological developments combined with more intensive personal care. By the end of the workshop, the participants arrived at an entirely realistic scenario. Using Lego® Serious Play® allowed abstract topics to become extremely tangible, discussions revolved around a specific model, and this made findings more descriptive.

These brief examples of workshop applications show that Lego® Serious Play® materials and methods can be used as efficient instruments in developing new ideas at companies. They even work in social contexts. A Steinbeis Consulting Center, Corporate.Business.Gaming. is specialized in workshops and seminars that use playful and agile methods in different ways to add value. Combining business simulations with LSP materials and methods allows the Steinbeis experts to deliver a completely new experience. Content becomes palpable and accessible – and with that, more memorable. In addition, results are generated that would not be possible using conventional methods.