Will this catch on?

I was asked this question last week about using LEGO to explore research. It came from someone new to LEGO SERIOUS PLAY so it should not have surprised me, but it did. And in welcome ways. I realise that we are making such progress with the acceptance of play as part of complex learning that I assume most people have caught up now. The question reminded me that many people are still unsure of its presence and impact in university contexts of all kinds.

The combo of LEGO and research has been very much on my mind recently…as it appears in an open source guide to using LEGO SERIOUS PLAY in HE that Chrissi Nerantzi and I are producing; in a special issue of the International Journal of Management and Applied Research that we are co-editing with Alex Avramenko on the method, and in our book The Power of Play which we are proof-reading for the final, nerve-wracking time…

In addition, thanks to the White Rose Partnership and Methods@Manchester I have also been using LEGO SERIOUS PLAY with PhD students and colleagues, exploring their research questions and experiences.  These workshops have underlined how much scope there is for exploring research questions through three dimensional and metaphorical approaches. Disciplines, topics and questions offer no boundaries. Using the bricks we were able to embody conceptions of research, research questions, challenges, opportunities and actions.


Before one of the workshops I was advised that participants might want to focus on specific research challenges, such as interviewing and methodology. I invited them to start by building their definitions of research and then their own research topic. As we started to unpack these there were plenty of opportunities for those specific challenges to come through. Ethics certainly dominated one conversation – not least the cumbersome nature of engaging with paperwork and committees. However, what was fascinating was that participants were much more absorbed by things like the impact of relationships (supervisory and otherwise), surrounding factors in the environment and internal struggles (with identity, confidence, self-belief, focus) on their ability to research and progress successfully.


(Image source:https://www.wearecognitive.com/bbc-work/a-history-of-ideas-medium-message)

We find time and again with LEGO SERIOUS PLAY that people express themselves differently because of the medium they are using. Even though the topic or the question are the same, focus, language and tone will all shift according to whether the mode of expression is visual, written, hands on, spoken, sung, drawn and so forth.  So it was in these workshops; with them adding a complementary arena for debate and expression.

Tim Else picture.jpg

Richness and flexibility of interpretation and sheer range of research interests were equally visible at the inaugural #Mindbuilder competition at De Montfort University. Not only was it an honour to be invited to speak and judge by organiser and fellow LEGO enthusiast/facilitator Julia Reeve, it was a pleasure to see superb two minute presentations of doctoral research in LEGO by the contestants. (Here’s Julia’s account of the event here) Participants built models of political events unfolding (NOT Brexit, for once), solutions to medical research problems, innovations in software for car design, issues of civic governance and leadership, representations of art, and culture, issues of ageing, global health threats and many more.DMU collageFour of us made up the judging panel and we were united in our experience with LEGO, commitment to learning in all its forms and to inclusivity; Kaye Towlson, Jackie Hillman, Micael Buckle and I. Jackie spoke with heart about her work supporting neurodiverse students and Micael set out the history of the method and his longstanding involvement with LEGO SERIOUS PLAY training worldwide. I stepped back from a focus on LEGO to offer wider considerations of the place and theory of play in a higher education setting. As a creative experiment it was inspiring and a clear success and between us I think we answered the ‘Will it catch on?” with an unequivocal ‘It already has’.