Image by aiwells on Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Image by aiwells on Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As they get older (and they are still only 5 and 6) I find I’m learning more and more from my kids, both in what they tell me and also in what I can observe. Not least, I’m learning much about the ways in which we adults, and our strange institutions, might get better at doing things differently.

I’m learning much about the ways in which we adults, and our strange institutions, might get better at doing things differently.

Take, for example, how they boys play with Lego (or “Legos” if you are American – although why if you’re American you can’t understand it’s “Maths” I’ll never know… I digress).

It appears that they have three primary modes for how they play with the insanely successful plastic brick toy:

1. Battle Combat Mode Lego

It’s because they are boys, right? They’ll grow out of it, right? Whatever, it seems that some of the time the way in which they play with Lego is to use it as a multicoloured assault weapon. The bricks assume ballistic properties. It’s not that uncommon to find their bedrooms littered with the stuff, hidden landmines for the barefooted.

In organizations, Battle Combat Mode is a common way in which innovation and technology is deployed. Throw some innovation at your competitors to show how innovative you are to them and your customers. Meanwhile, nothing really changes.

2. Ikea Mode Lego

For many years I’ve argued that Lego is, in fact, a Nordic-wide conspiracy to prime us for flat-pack furniture in later life. Ikea Mode – the selection of an instruction manual, the finding of the pieces, the construction of the model – is a 3D jigsaw puzzle form of structured play, a game almost, which will entrance the kids for hours (although usually with regular cries of “Dad! Can you just find this bit?!”)

They want to innovate, but they want to do it with extremely well-defined outcomes

Ikea Mode is the predominant way in which organisations go about experimenting with new technology and ideas. They want to innovate, but they want to do it with extremely well-defined outcomes, a known plan, and to have the assurance that whilst they are being innovative, someone else has done it before. Ikea mode innovation is fine for as long as you are dealing with known problems.

3. Tinkering Mode Lego

Free play mode is where the deep, creative play comes to the fore for the boys. Magical things are constructed on their own terms. Blocks become spaceships, castles, mini adventures fuelled by their imaginations. This is, at its heart, what Lego used to be about (until it understood the value of creating successful (and often very violent) kids media franchises).

Doing things to tinker, to play around, without any clear outcome is frowned upon

This, I contend, is far less prevalent in the world of business. Doing things to tinker, to play around, without any clear outcome is frowned upon. It’s not work-like. It shows no clear ROI. IT IS NOT WORKING.

And there is not only the pity, but possibly the problem, for many organizations. When new technologies or concepts first emerge they are, quite rightly, regarded by the masses as mere “toys”. Today, look at things like Virtual Reality. Proper businesses don’t play with toys – they invest in solutions. There is only one credible thing, though, that you can do with a toy…

Keeping a spirit of play can help us to adapt to the changing world around usClick To Tweet

At an individual level, keeping a spirit of play can help us to adapt to the changing world around us. It’s not just about playing with actual toys (although that can help). It’s as likely to be fueled by exchanging ideas with people from outside of our immediate experience, networking in a diverse and generous way. Or just by spending a bit of time being curious enough to explore something that you wouldn’t normally give the time to observe.

At an organisational level, it’s much harder. Especially as organisations get bigger and more specialised and more focused on return and costs. Over the coming months I’m going to be speaking with organisations that take different approaches, give the time and space for people to play in more than one style, and I hope to use these pages to share what I find along the way.

https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/lego.png?fit=1024%2C576https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/lego.png?resize=150%2C150Matt BallantineCorporate Creativityinnovation,lego,organisations,play,technology,toys
As they get older (and they are still only 5 and 6) I find I’m learning more and more from my kids, both in what they tell me and also in what I can observe. Not least, I’m learning much about the ways in which we adults, and our...
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Matt Ballantine
Matt spends his time skirting between polymath and jack of all trades. He has worked with or for the BBC, Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, the Government Digital Service, Imagination, Telefonica, Centrica and an ever-increasing list of others. He's worked in technology, marketing, HR, Learning and Development and business strategy. Matt also regrets the demise of the photocopier, because he was pretty good at that in his early days.