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Boosting innovative Entrepreneurial Ecosystems with LEGO® Serious Play®

Introduction

iEER is an Interreg Europe funded flagship project that has been revived for 2022, bringing together 8 regions. Originally initiated in 2016 by a group of regions awarded with the European Entrepreneurial Region label, iEER defined smart paths and solutions to boost regional entrepreneurship ecosystems supporting young entrepreneurs in 2016-2020. This time supporting a sustainable and socially inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

iEER partners and stakeholders gathered in sunny and summery Brandenburg at TH Brandenburg for an eventful workshop on green and digital entrepreneurship on May 24-25. The iEER interregional events focus on learning from each other and encouraging and inspiring future actions.

LEGO® Serious Play® Workshop at TH Brandenburg with the TOM SPIKE TEam

On the second conference day, participants were grouped for a workshop to shape the discussions into further action. By using LEGO® Serious Play®, ideas were collected that could be transformed into action plans. At the end, the outcome of the workshop was surprisingly convergent in view of future cooperation for driving a green and digital transition: there is a huge need for collaboration with multiple actors, where information and results are openly and easily accessible; a community of knowledge that covers all of society.

Why LEGO® Serious Play® is helpful?

LEGO® has been encouraging children to use their power of imagination to turn their dreams into reality. We adults see LEGO® as toys for children and not as tools for solving serious problems. This is the first barrier for applying LEGO® Serious Play®.

 LEGO® Serious Play® was designed for use in facilitated workshops with ADULTS to prompt dialogue and encourage reflection, as well as develop problem-solving skills and use of imagination.

To facilitate a successful LEGO® Serious Play® workshop we need to make the following points clear, why this method can help:

  • Hand-brain-combination: By using not only our brains but also our hands, more nerve cells could be activated. This helps to trigger new and sometimes unusual ideas, which would be impossible in a normal brainstorming session without facilitation.
  • Listen with eyes: It is not enough to just listen with ears, which is a passive way of information reception. In a facilitated LEGO® Serious Play® workshop every participant is “required” to listen carefully with their own eyes, understand the interpretation of each LEGO® modules and their meanings behind each color and combination. We turn passive listening into active observing in this way.
  • No H.I.P.P.O., which mean no monologue by the highest paid’s person’s opinion. This could often be seen in large corporates when department meetings are held. In a facilitated LEGO® Serious Play® workshop people are encouraged to participate and play an active role in the whole process.

How LEGO® Serious Play® helped the Interreg conference

More than 20 participants representing 8 partners from 7 different regions, most of whom can communicate fluently in English. Nevertheless, for most people, this is a second language. This was how LEGO® Serious Play® helped.

  • Finding the common language: No, it is not about the language skill in the first place. We managed to turn language skill into building skills. This was the first step in a facilitated workshop. Everyone has to get used to the general principle of LEGO® Serious Play®: 1) It is not about building something which reassembles the original object in the real world, but about simplifying something complicated from the real world with limited amount of LEGO® pieces. 2) It is about the interpretation. Every builder owns the meaning behind his/her own module and thus has the freedom and rights to interpret the meaning of the modules. 3) We don’t definitely have to plan the most details at the very beginning, apply the available LEGO® pieces and build whatever is possible, i.e., let the LEGO® pieces inspire our thinking.
  • Consolidating the understanding: We love ideas. But more important, if we want to be successful in a project, we need to love the problems first. Participants of the interreg conference got inputs – gap analysis and good practice – from the first conference day. The huge amount of information does not guarantee a general understanding in every participants’ brains. In this facilitated LEGO® Serious Play® workshop, participants were asked to building modules representing the challenges that different regions are facing. Each participant had to build their individual LEGO® modules, after sharing the meanings behind each module, they were asked to build a team module, which turned out to be the consolidated understanding of among the participants. This team module was the agreement among the participants, even though they were from different regions and had different focus.
  • Ideation for new projects: The same language were spoken, the understanding concerning the challenges were consolidated, foundation for new project ideas was laid. Participants were asked to repeat the process 1) building individual modules 2) sharing the meanings of each module behind and 3) building a team module to tell the consented story.

What we always observe in a LEGO® Serious Play® workshop

  • Fun: LEGO® can remind us about the power of imagination, our (hidden) creativity inside and the funny aspect of storytelling.
  • Serious: Although we sometimes apply LEGO® Serious Play® for fun, e.g., in teambuilding events, but we do apply this method more often in finding consents in serious and important topics.
  • Effective communication: By visualizing our thoughts in three dimensional modules, we are more participative in discussion about problems and more effective in how we communicate with each other. The results are not documented in beautifully designed PowerPoint slides, which might be forgotten after a while, but in tangible modules which are created by everyone participated.

Last but not least, we want to thank the organization of TH Brandenburg, all the participants of the iEER network and the co-author of this post Maria Filipschack.

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