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.

Be sure to join our newsletter for a weekly dose of idea filled inspiration.

Distributed Play

My daughter’s school has now closed for an indeterminate period from the afternoon of Friday 20th of March. Her circle of friends have been busy eversince reaffirming their connection via text groups and Whatsapp. They have even found ways of playing by each singing one line of I want it that way by the Backstreet Boys. I found that very amusing but also brilliant as they were busy building their network for the times ahead.

I have been looking into ways we can help distributed teams build that social capital, resilience and care for their mental and physical health by using play and laughter. The idea is to use a facilitated Zoom call to play some of the games we use in Comedy Improv. The advantages of this are numerous and we have talked about many of them before: How improv can improve your business.

Below the following video we will look at the benefits to your team and individuals from play and laughter that will help build resilience and mental strength over the immediate future.

Get in touch to book in a distributed gameplay session online for your team.

We often use our Applied Improv workshops to introduce:

  • Diversity in thinking
  • Creative collaboration
  • Entering Flow states

But the advantages don’t just stop at the team level, they are also felt on the individual level. By using play and provoking laughter there are a number of benefits that are huge advantages to us during this pandemic.

Dr Lee S Berk has studied laughter and the effects it has on our physical and mental health for a long time and finds that laughter can help reduce the three detrimental stress hormones Cortisol, Epinephrine and Dopac that can be detrimental to the immune system. This helps relieve some of the anxiety that is likely to build when we are forced into change like being a distributed team.

Other effects are also present and include a boost to the immune system by the boosting of beta-endorphins which help elevate our moods and human growth hormone (HGH) which optimises the immune system.

Now you have the background on the benefits get in touch to book some time with us to help your team or teams during this period when we are all banished to our bedrooms, kitchen table or garden shed.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

How Improv processes can improve your business

I often come back to Mike Bonnifer’s book Game Changers for a quick flick through and to remind myself of some of the huge amounts of wisdom found within it’s pages. This passage shows a good illustration of how Improv processes can benefit your business. There are many others.

Cultural growth of the organisation is a huge benefit of the gifts its people give. One employee playing a guitar at lunch is a diversion. Maybe even a distraction. Two employees playing instruments at lunch could be the start of the office band. It is the second person who gives the gift.

– Mike Bonnifer – GameChangers.

When we view activities and interruptions as gifts we have a mindset that is open to spotting opportunity. Contact us today for a free 30 minute consultation on how Improv can have a positive impact on your business.

#playeveryday #seriousplay #businessplay #workplay

Photo by William Bayreuther on Unsplash

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.

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