I start this post with an assumption that everyone has seen the LEGO movie. Why wouldn’t I, it has all the drama and excitement needed to rival any serious contender; the only difference being that the characters came from a plastic mould. But, that’s precisely the point; how small and seemingly rigid bits and pieces fit against each other, end up looking alive and full of life and engage so many people around the world?
For those who haven’t seen the movie, yet, there is a happy song called: “Everything is Awesome” with the lyrics:
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream
Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever
Well, this whole thing may sound like child’s play but the interesting point is that serious business leaders, or people serious about business regardless of position, are now slowly and less reluctantly paying attention to unconventional sources of inspiration, knowledge and even strategy. LEGO is not new to business, and goes way beyond being a toymaker. A globally recognised executive program, LEGO Serious Play, is designed to improve performance and enhance innovation, as well build collaboration. The research behind it has proven that the value of creative play and collaborative work is, without a shadow of a doubt, very dependent on a capacity to think and act outside the square.
The company behind this program, which was initiated by two professors who in the early 1990s were prepared to go beyond conventional thinking, quotes ever so quotable Plato: “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation“. This is an element of collaboration that is familiar to most who have tried it – knowing the people you work with and building trust. Play should not be seen as a shortcut to what otherwise would be a longer process, but it also should not be ignored or thought of as ‘just play’.
In the world of demanding competition and severe disruptions, enterprises that can integrate knowledge and tools from variety of sources are fast realising that value is either created or destroyed. Understanding the process behind both can mean the difference between prospering and merely surviving. This is where a creative approach to building value by focusing on the delivery of what Morten T Hansen defines as the ‘collaborative premium’, comes into play. Excuse the pun. Along with LEGO, another regular creative outfit which owes a lot to the late Steve Jobs, Pixar, is a constant source of inspiration and knowledge ideas that businesses are starting to take notice of. Only recently there has been a lot of attention paid to the way Pixar fosters creative collaboration to produce a product that is way ahead of the pack. Next time you see a fish, remember that Nemo came from a very complex collaborative process that clearly produced the type of financial success most business leaders would envy.
These are only a couple of examples which are by no means limited. And, there is a very clear reason why they are becoming relevant in today’s business. Value creation has shifted to ‘the dream society‘ where things such as story, identity, narrative, values etc are in fact the key markets overtaking traditional goods and services. In order to create new value, business offerings have to be smarter in creating the story of a product and service beyond its marketing campaign. This value can then be propagated to beyond the limits normally associated with tangible goods. In turn, the ability to create value collaboration that is clever, strategic, creative and inspired by different sources is the principal business driver.
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In the workplace, play can take a number of forms too. One team I’m a part of has an abiding fascination with zombies – we share discussion of the Walking Dead tv series, have taken personality tests based on the characters from the show and even managed to include apocalypse scenarios into our planning days. Another team I’m in enjoys lunching and sharing music. These things contribute to people getting to know each other, building trust, both in and out of the context of work, and ultimately mean we work together better. Plus it’s just fun, right? Btw, that song is on high rotation in my house and is slowly driving me crazy!
it’s been a long time since Monty Phyton sang their ‘always look on the bright side of life’ so the ‘everything’s awesome’ is filling the gap…It’s worth repeating that the original organisational consultant Plato had it spot on with the quip “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”