Optimise your design thinking process with LEGO SERIOUS PLAY

design thinking model

By Robert Rasmussen, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY EXPERT and former Head of R&D at LEGO

Co-author Carlo Spellucci.

Lego Serious Play (LSP) made its appearance almost 20 years ago, around the same time when Google was founded and the term “digital transformation” did not yet exist. In the whirlwind of the tsunami capable to disrupt everything we knew, Lego Serious Play is stronger than ever and it is here to stay. Let’s take a closer look at one of the hottest topics in digital transformation, Design Thinking, and how LSP can help there.

The Past - Product Centric Approach

Economy in the last 20 years have gone through a paradigm shift, a fundamental change from a product-centric to a customer-centric approach. This shift is also known as the “digital transformation” and executive teams in traditional organizations are having a challenging time keeping up.

In the product-centric approach, management focus on productivity, continuous improvement and supply chain management. The ERP systems were created to measure operational efficiency, and inventory is the ultimate enemy. Organizations were designed in silos, aligned to each product line. Management disciplines in this context are Lean Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, World Class Manufacturing.

Today - Customer Centric Approach

Forrester Research thinks we’re at the beginning of a new twenty-year business cycle it calls “The Age of the Customer”. In the era of customer-centricity, organizations are trying to stay in direct contact with each of their individual subscribers, not just generalized customer segments. Customers do not want ownership, but consumption of a service anytime, anywhere. The CRM system evolved into a Marketing Automation platform that follow each individual customer journey on- and off-line. Management disciplines like Agile, Lean Startup, techniques like UX and UI and not the least the DESIGN THINKING PROCESS became critical for success.

Design Thinking Sprint

Design Thinking (DT) is a discipline for creative problem solving, encouraging organizations to create human-centered products, services, and internal processes, therefore a key process for digital transformation. The 3 Essential Aspects of DT according to IDEO are Empathy (human-centered), Ideation (generating a lot of ideas) and Experimentation. Click here for more about the full Design Thinking Process.

Adopting a full Design Thinking approach requires quite some time and numerous iterations. The single iteration unit - the condensed version of the DT process - is the Design Thinking Sprint, a group session whose promise is to produce a tangible result in just few days. With the growing popularity of DT, educational programs and certifications also grew in number. But, like any business fad, we’re starting to see the inevitable backlash. DT has been criticized as a dangerously oversimplified version of a complex process, as a collection of buzzwords, of being obsessed with a single tool (Post-It Notes), of lacking the rigor of expert critique and proof.

My experience on DT was built over few years, participating and facilitating 30+ DT sprints in the Corporate, Start-up and Education worlds, plus one formal training at the European Branch of the Stanford d.School, the HPI Institute in Germany. Along this journey, I started to notice some recurring challenges that could hinder the quality of a the sprint outcome. Let me summarize four of them.

Challenge #1 - Speed versus Depth

During a condensed sprint there is a strong bias for action, and there is little time to dwell on discussion. Time pressure is instrumental to keep the ball rolling, but it is also a good excuse to jump ahead without too much of a depth.

Challenge #2 - Cognitive Fatigue

DT is both a divergent and convergent thinking process. Sprint participants are called to switch in between these opposite modes of thinking multiple times during the same sprint, and this can lead to a status of cognitive fatigue, a feeling that there is too much post-its, words, noise.

Challenge #3 - Abstraction

Empathy is, at its core, the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. Empathizing with your user means capturing human experiences other than yours. It takes a refined observation and listening capacity to be able to comb many stories, emotions and touchpoints to distill the single most important point of view to focus on. But conducting a real interview is one of the hardest task for general practitioners, people have a tendency to ask leading questions and key details might be missed.

Challenge #4 - Energy

All the above challenges are a toll to people energy. Many of the techniques used in DT sprints heavily rely on making people move, use hands to prototype ideas into tangible objects, with an underlying goal to keep energy high. Yet, if the facilitator is not skilled enough, energy will be spent without being converted into a real outcome.

How LSP helps DT become more effective

LSP blends speed and depth, it allows quality conversation of multiple elements of the same complex scenario without compromising between the details and the bigger picture. Using LSP while doing an Empathy map or a Customer Journey give higher amount of information in less time.

LSP is a noise canceling device, as it helps participants to listen to each other. It is effective during customer interviews, in storytelling and elevator pitches.

LSP is designed to make abstract concepts tangible. That is why it is the ultimate remedy for exploring human needs. It is like a magnifying glass to help zoom more clearly on what you mean while using words like “being comfortable” or “feeling important” or “being afraid of”, all topics that surface in human centered approach.

LSP is also an energy optimizer, because it preserves energy during moments of individual relaxing building concentration - to invest it when it really matters, on the listening and converging phase. Brick exhaustion in long sessions can be managed by a well planned session.

The tsunami of digital transformation is changing radically economy, society and life. We are abandoning many previous ways of doing things, yet humans are fundamentally the same since our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Like other animal species, we function according to few behavioural protocols, one of them being trust. LSP is a trust-booster, that is why it is even more relevant today than it was 20 years ago. Pairing DT with LSP along the entire process of DT offers exceptional added value. LSP provides depth and speed, cognitive-comfort as opposed to post-it wall splashing, honest dialogue to eliminate bias, concentrating energy where it has to be, without dispersion.


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