Building strategy through play

What might happen if…?

This is a question that can scare most managers into inaction. But it is a powerful question that, when treated the right way, can lead to deep insights and an ability to prepare multiple strategies, uniquely formed for a specific scenario.

Praemonitus, praemunitus.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Let’s play games

What if we could find deep insights by playing some games. We can all do this, we are Homo Ludens, we are born to play and it helps us to learn our first language by learning to use our mouths, throats and diaphragm to make sounds and words. There is no barrier to entry and we can concentrate on offering our unique insights.

Playing games allows us to level the playing field of our organisational structures in order to gain the maximum amount of insight. We can use game structures to:

  • Hear from everyone in the room;
  • Uncover deep insights that might not be obvious to everyone;
  • Explore concepts, ideas and scenarios;
  • Develop plans for varying eventualities;
  • Stand outside our roles, organisations and environments to gain other perspectives;
  • Break out of our habitual thinking and find truly new ideas and new structures to best support them.

Would you like to play a game?

– Joshua – War Games – 1983

License to wander

Games give us the license to allow our minds to wander into spaces we might not ordinarily go. As mentioned above we can break out of our habitual thinking and encourage scenarios to be explored that might not occur to us in our day to day work mindset. Further to this, we can test our assumptions in an environment where failure does not cost us too much.

There is a reason the military play out war games. Testing assumptions and scenarios allow strategies to be created to rectify poor assumptions and mitigate against scenarios that could cost us dearly if we are blind to them before they occur.

This article in the Boston Globe details how a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics got together to play out various scenarios for the upcoming US election. According to the journalist who wrote the article, the games did not go well. According to Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organised the group of 80 contributors to the games:

All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse

Admittedly this does suggest looming disaster, but the games can only be considered a success as by understanding the possible scenarios ahead of any one of them occurring we can begin to shape strategies to mitigate against them. We can develop a playbook or better understand the future of our products or services this way and use this knowledge and insight and the strategies to improve them.

Imagine being seen as the most prescient organisation within your industry or sector. Using games we can be seen as the Steve Jobs and Apple of whatever we do by gaining all of the advantages listed above.

Human minds are plug-and-play devices. They’re not meant to be used alone. They’re meant to be used in networks.

– Professor James Gee – American researcher

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation be ready for whatever the world throws at it. Let’s play!

Building mental health with fun and play

It is a joke as old as time.

Four people meet on a Zoom call. One from Brighton, one from Athlone, one from the Netherlands and one from Liverpool. Much laughter ensues.

They all leave in a better state of mind ready to tackle their day.

On Tuesday the 24th of March 2020, I was joined by three people from remote parts of Europe including one person from the Netherlands, one from Brighton UK and one from Athlone in the Republic of Ireland for a Zoom call. The call was aimed at uniting the team in having some fun and laughter using games (mainly from the Improv world). This was an experiment in whether we could find a moment to play even in our isolation.

There is a lot of research into the effects of fun and laughter on the brain. It has been found in the work of Dr Lee S Berk that laughter can help suppress the stress hormones Cortisol, Epinephrine and Dopac. These hormones are responsible for those feelings of anxiety we may feel, especially in times like this. There is also a positive effect in the creation of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which helps to boost the immune system. []

The power of laughter to decrease stress and anxiety

We had some fun and laughter with particular high points being the discovery of Annette as the Warrior Queen of a Diamond Mountain and the shared wisdom on changing a bike tyre that brought us the phrase “Never, ever do not attempt to play with yourself”. I’m still puzzling over the logic in that.

The moment I loved the most was when the phrase “Playing is all I want to do everyday” emerged from a shared moment.

Thanks Martin and the team. It was the best fun I had in a long time

– Annette Josephine Mulvihill

Get in touch with us and we can help your teams build social capital and release stress whilst also exercising new ways of collaborating, listening with intent and relating to one another in a distributed workplace.

21 methods for finding game-changing ideas

Where do ideas come from? How does someone have an idea that seems so original that it seems like a gift from the gods?

To be frank there is no one sure-fire recipe for having a great and game-changing idea; but there are things we can do to increase the ease of our idea creation and also to increase the quality and quantity of the ideas we have. These techniques are really about habit forming and can help to enrich your output.

Download our guide to methods for finding game-changing ideas here.

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Plans are worthless, but principles are everything

Eisenhower is often quoted as saying “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. I do not disagree, but as a motto, it is a little confusing and could do with some clarification. Is planning enough? A plan is really just steps to take in order to put an idea into action. Many organisations have planned and put ideas into action to find that the plan failed because it didn’t follow a set of principles.

“But we planned everything”

I mentioned in a previous post about creating a principled organisation that M&S was taking some criticism for the well-intentioned LGBT sandwich, with many members of the public pointing out that they also opened stores over the last 4 years in Saudi Arabia. It seems that they attempted to show they held certain values whilst also pursuing a strategy that was not coherent with that set of values. They are not the only organisation to fall foul of this. Burger King also did a similar thing when attempting to use Mental Health Awareness week to show they cared for their customer’s mental health which caused many criticisms. Least of all the criticisms was surrounding the way they pay their staff and whether that would be coherent with a caring for people’s mental health.

So how do we create plans that are in line with the values we want ourselves or our organisations to portray?

Forgoing the planning stage

A friend of mine was telling a brief story of his work life over the previous 15 years. It involved him working and living across various countries and creating various communities. At the end of the story he said:

The older I get, the more I learn, the more I realise I know nothing about anything, that plans are great, but rarely come true, and keeping space for the unexpected usually yields far better outcomes.

Now I’m not seriously suggesting we don’t go through the planning stage as planning encompasses all the stages of achieving goals, turning ideas into action and making events happen. What I do think is missing is that most of us don’t test our plans as we have nothing to test them against. If M&S had a set of values in place they could use those to create some guiding principles to create strategies from. The principles will keep those strategies in-line with the organisation values and offer something to test ideas against before they become plans.

What is the difference between a strategy and a plan

Put simply a strategy is the why and plans are the how. So if we are clear about why we are doing something and we can test that against some guiding principles to keep the strategy in line with our values. When we come to ideas of how to achieve our strategy we can again test each idea against the strategy and the guiding principles and reject the ideas that do not fit.

This all illustrates how important it is for every organisation to have a set of values and some simple guiding principles set out clearly and in as simple terms as possible. The reason for them to be clear and set out in simple terms is two-fold.

  1. It is much easier to live up to your values and follow your guiding principles when there is as little ambiguity as possible;
  2. Communicating your values and principles to your customers will help you to build a lasting customer relationship.

So perhaps that Eisenhower quote can be amended to:

Plans are worthless, but values and principles are everything

Talk to us today to discuss how we can help you discover your values and the guiding principles for your business.

Creating a principled organisation

By many estimates over half of the S&P 500 companies will no longer exist in a decades time at least according to the research carried out by Innosight. There are a number of reasons why this is happening as seen in the Inc. article linked to above. But one thing stands out to me in the article. The lack of simple guiding principles.

Getting caught up in present-day obligations

In a survey of executives from 91 companies with revenue greater than $1 billion across more than 20 industries, Innosight asked: “What is your organization’s biggest obstacle to transform in response to market change and disruption?” Forty percent of survey respondents blamed “day-to-day decisions” that essentially pay the bill, but  undermine our stated strategy to change.” It was by far the most prevalent response. The next most popular answer, at 24 percent, was “lack of a coherent vision for the future.”

The biggest obstacle to transformation for organisations was aligning the day-to-day decisions to the change strategy they have put in place. This is a very common problem across organisations of all sizes in that strategies are undermined by habitual thinking and taking the easy path. It is often the case that we do not notice that this is happening because we have not set out the new strategy in a way that is clear enough for all parts of the business to work into their operation.

What is needed is a set of guiding principles to aid everyone within the organisation with making decisions that fit the values that are set out by the new strategy.

How do we create such a set of guiding principles?

I would put forward the use of Lego Serious Play or a programme of facilitated meetings based on liberating structures to explore the values of the organisation so that the guiding principles emerge from within the organisation. This way everything the organisation does and every decision they make can be aligned with the values by following the guiding principles.

Many organisations get this wrong including large organisations and some of them suffer because of it. As an example, we can look at how organisations use moments in the cultural zeitgeist to appear to have the same values and stand for the same things as the public. Look at M&S’s recent support of LGBTQ+ rights through the launch of the LGBT sandwich (A BLT with added Guacamole). This, on the face of it, seems like a good thing, and there is an argument that it is helpful to normalise the celebration of non-binary lifestyles. But, how does this fit with M&S opening stores in Saudi Arabia since 2014? Those values look to be lip service when the organisation is also making a decision to open stores in a country with a terrible record on LGBT rights.

With a solid set of simple guiding principles, decisions can be taken that align with the organisation’s values and purpose. This can help them avoid conflicts between their values and their functional operations. Allowing the organisation to adapt to change while still knowing what they stand for and being able to communicate that to their customers.

Talk to us today to discuss how we can help you discover the guiding principles for your business.

Unlocking your knowledge

Unlocking your knowledge means being able to access knowledge that you may not have previously been aware of. Some people may refer to this as connecting the dots or discovering patterns. How can we purposefully unlock our knowledge? Can we rely on a methodology for this?

Knowledge emerges from play

One of the most common things to hear from participants in a Lego Serious Play workshop is “I had no idea I knew this”. This phrase often occurs when the participant has already felt anxious about not knowing what to build or where to start. The interesting part to this is that once the participant begins to build they let the idea or knowledge emerge. The method of LSP is designed to help this deeply held knowledge to surface and to some it can feel like alchemy.

Many moments of great insight and inspiration can feel like the idea or the knowledge popped in to your head from somewhere else. Paul McCartney is said to have dreamed the song Yesterday and the Oasis songwriter, Noel Gallagher has said that the “good ones just fall out of the sky” ( The truth of this is that it is always within us that we create ideas and can uncover deep knowledge.

Plato wrote about the idea that knowledge comes from within in the dialogue that Socrates has with Meno. In the dialogue there is a passage where Socrates uncovers deep understanding from a slave or servant boy of Meno. The boy was not previously aware of what emerges but discovers it through the questions Socrates asks.

Soc. What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers given out of his own head?

Men. Yes, they were all his own.

Soc. And yet, as we were just now saying, he did not know?

Men. True.

Soc. But still he had in him those notions of his-had he not?

Men. Yes.

Soc. Then he who does not know may still have true notions of that which he does not know?

Men. He has.

Soc. And at present these notions have just been stirred up in him, as in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same questions, in different forms, he would know as well as any one at last?

Men. I dare say.

Soc. Without any one teaching him he will recover his knowledge for himself, if he is only asked questions?

Men. Yes.

Soc. And this spontaneous recovery of knowledge in him is recollection?

Men. True.

Soc. And this knowledge which he now has must he not either have acquired or always possessed?

Men. Yes.

Soc. But if he always possessed this knowledge he would always have known; or if he has acquired the knowledge he could not have acquired it in this life, unless he has been taught geometry; for he may be made to do the same with all geometry and every other branch of knowledge. Now, has any one ever taught him all this? You must know about him, if, as you say, he was born and bred in your house.

Men. And I am certain that no one ever did teach him.

Soc. And yet he has the knowledge?

Men. The fact, Socrates, is undeniable.

Through the Socratic Method the boy was able to uncover the knowledge that he was not aware that he knew. Within LSP we do the same by using the bricks but we add the teaching found in Seymour Papert’s Constructionism. Papert is quoted as saying:

What we learn in the process of building things that we care about sinks much deeper into the subsoil of our mind than what anyone can tell us.

This alludes to the power of concrete thinking, thinking by using the hands to create a representation of the knowledge and ideas over purely abstract thought. Thus concrete thinking allows us to find paths to knowledge and ideas that we may not easily find through other means.

This is how LSP can help you unlock your knowledge.

Talk to us today to discuss your needs and we can design some bespoke workshops for you.

The problem with conformity.

Conformity contributes to how we feel part of a movement, a tribe, a family or any grouping of human beings. But, there is a price for this mechanism that allows us to feel part of something. That price was illustrated by Solomon Asch in his famous psychology experiment.

The Asch Experiment

The aim of the experiment was to investigate how social pressure from wanting to be part of a group leads us as humans to conform. In this case by ignoring the obvious answer so as to conform with the view of the majority.

The basic experiment used a group of people that was asked a simple question. In this case the question was “is the line drawn on this board equal to the length of line A, B or C on this other board?”. There was always an obvious answer but there was a twist. Out of the group only one member was being experimented on, the rest were all actors. The actors gave the wrong answer, for example saying the answer was line C when it was clearly A. Over the full set of trials of the test the subject conformed about 75% of the time. You can see an example of the test here in this video:

The interesting thing that was done though was to change the experiment’s parameters. A second round was undertaken where the actors all gave the answer C which was wrong except for one of them. This actor gave the answer B, which was also wrong. The result of this round showed that the person being experimented on conformed only 1% of the time, although we have to allow that they may have just got it wrong.

This shows that conformity is a powerful behavioural problem. Whether we do this out of fear of being ridiculed for being in the minority or if it is a deeper psychological influence is not important. The important thing is that it only took one divergent voice from the norm to allow others to speak more freely in support of what they personally believed to be correct. Even if it  wasn’t the same answer as the other person straying from the most common answer.

The importance of hearing from every voice in the room, group, organisation or team is obvious from this. Our workshops using Lego Serious Play, Liberating Structures and Game Storming offer methods for stifling the conformity in the group and gaining maximum insights and ideas.

Talk to us today to discuss your needs and we can design some bespoke workshops for you.

Putting Play to Work

One of the many things I love about the LEGO® SERIOUSPLAY® method is that name. Serious play seems like an oxymoron right? Play is supposed to be fun and easy and time away from work. “Child’s Play” has long been a phrase that refers to the easiness of a task. But if you watch children at play you can see that it is serious. Everything they do in play is steeped in meaning. We can learn from this.

Why we should use play at work

Play can take many forms but at the most basic level it is an activity that creates enjoyment and engagement. Pamela Meyer says in her book From Workplace to Playspace:

Play in the organizational system allows for dynamic engagement

This attribute of play, that it is engaging, makes play powerful as a tool to us. Play can be used to engage us in our tasks, to help us confront the daunting problems that we may often ignore or sweep aside. If we approach these with a playful mindset we are able to open up avenues of discovery and knowledge that can help us to build strategies and solutions. We already use this in our work life. How many times have you heard the phrase “let’s play it out”? This is a useful phrase because we can literally play it out using play methods like Lego SeriousPlay, Game Storming and Applied Improv.

On top of play being a useful tool in the workplace for discovery, idea creation, knowledge building and strategising, play can have many beneficial effects. Bright HR have researched this with the wellbeing expert Cary Cooper and have found that fun and play are important to the workforce and can have benefits to the organisation. These benefits include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Lower stress levels
  • Reduced workforce absences

This research is based on play being an activity of fun with no work place value other than the wellbeing of the workforce. As the research was carried out in partnership with a wellbeing expert perhaps this is to be expected.

What if we could make the activity of play productive?

If we can make the activity of play productive in terms of the work that needs to be carried out then we can achieve the benefits to the wellbeing of the workforce, which benefits the organisation but also further benefits to the organisation such as greater collaboration, more abundant ideas, greater knowledge sharing, less habitual thinking and so much more.

By way of example. Improv is a tool that can be used in the workplace that can be used to uncover and share knowledge, play out scenarios and promote collaboration through active listening (How Improv techniques can help your business).

Lego SeriousPlay has a method that can be used for any number of issues in the workplace. For instance, team building, solving problems and even defining the values of the organisation. Perhaps designing the business or the value proposition by coupling Lego SeriousPlay with Strategyzer’s value proposition canvas.

Game Storming provides activities that likewise can share knowledge and help with problem solving, design and so much more.

Looking back to how seriously children take play, there is good reason for that. Through play most children are able to learn to stand, walk and use their voices as well as the basics of language by the age of three. Play allows us to push boundaries and see what we can do and our methods at MundoNovus are able to bring these benefits into your organisation.

So not only is it Serious it is Purposeful Play.

Talk to us today to discuss your purposeful play needs and we can design some bespoke workshops for you.

A conversation about bringing play into work

Before the Easter break I had the good fortune to sit down with Carlos Saba from Happy Startups to discuss my journey in starting MundoNovus and how bringing play into work can help organisations and individuals to unlock potential in their knowledge and add that creative spark.

Take a listen. I will be revisiting many of the topics discussed in this podcast in insightful articles in the future. We touch on elements of Lego SeriousPlay, Game Storming, Applied Improv and Design Thinking.

For more on the Happy Startups approach to creating your business please visit:

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