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REINFORCING ANCIENT THINKING MODELS THE LEGO SERIOUS PLAY METHODOLOGY

I spent 4 days at Billund in Denmark to get certified as a facilitator in LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. This is a methodology that helps individuals in a Group to build models using LEGO bricks, to represent all that they have in their minds, about whatever the subject that the Group may be seeking to understand better. The subjects that the models could address include Strategic Planning, New Product Development, Problem Solving, Innovation, Business Planning, Visioning, Managing Change, Team Building and Values Clarification. The most interesting part of this methodology, for me, was the possibilities to include an individuals opinions, perspectives and even emotions into the model. These subjective parameters again come into play when the individual models are put together to form a shared identity and to build a landscape that includes the environment in which this model will have to flourish, when it becomes a reality. The LEGO SERIOUS PLAY Methodology has three essential steps that start with Constructing, then Giving Meaning and culminating in Telling a Story. In the Eastern pattern of thinking, storytelling has always been the central narrative, and most of this narrative has survived over countless generations through the oral tradition, with little or no written word. As it always happens with oral re-telling, the stories go through many interpretations, each of which is an indicator of the times and lives of the narrators. It was, therefore, no surprise that I was straightaway struck by this congruence between the Eastern traditions and the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methodology. Our literature is full of episodes that revert back to our Epics to clarify why humans behave the way they do, in a given situation. We are, in the face of most problems in life, forced to compare the reality facing us to the most similar dilemma faced by a character in one of our mythical tales. These ancient tales are akin to the models we build using the LEGO bricks. Here, let me discuss three characteristics of the sophism that we in India have been brought up on, and their uncanny similarity with certain aspects of the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methodology and process.

Every Story Seeks to Change The Present

Let us begin with the Trinity of Gods we have in the Hindu mythology. They are Brahma (the God of Creation), Vishnu (the God of Protection, with the primary portfolio of Maintenance) and Siva (the God of Destruction). It will be intriguing to have a God for Destruction until we realize that he is the Master Enabler of Change. The poet Lord Alfred Tennyson eloquently puts it: The Old Order Changeth, Yielding place to the new, And God fulfils Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

All good customs have an expiry date. Our emotional attachment to a successful status quo prevents us from embracing change. When all our fears and doubts are expressed as a model, and juxtaposed with the positive aspects of the reality, we can make a balanced decision on whether or not the time has arrived for that change to happen. In the three step process of Constructing, Giving a Meaning and Telling a Story, I saw LEGO SERIOUS PLAY paying obeisance to each of the three Gods respectively. It is the judicious use of all the three activities Creation, Retention and Destruction that ensures that we keep the balance. In Playing the past, Playing the Present and Playing the Future, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY has done well to imbibe this idea in its methodology.

Present Connects the Past to The Future

A lot has been said in the academic literature and sociological texts on the Western concept of time being linear, as opposed to the Oriental perception that time is cyclical. In the East, societies operate on the belief that what goes around, comes around. There will always be another opportunity that will come by, for you to do it again, and maybe do it better. The strong notion of transmigration of souls emanates from this circularity. It is believed that the sins of this birth will re-visit in your next, and it is this circle of life and death that we are fighting to escape. This, in short, is the principle of Karma.

An introspection into all your deeds (the registry of Karma, if you like) can set you on the Right Path (the texts call this Dharma), and you can cut your losses. Get back to the Straight Path. The sooner, the better. The bottom line is that true high quality thought occurs only at the confluence of Past, Present and Future. It is the compartmentalization of the three perspectives that leads to all the disconnects we feel with the real world, and makes us complain about the unpleasant surprises that get thrown up regularly. In effect, a panoramic view of Time that combines Introspection (Past), Meaning (Present) and Envisioning (Future) is mandatory for clarity on choosing the right way. Find, and get on to the Right Path, and the right actions will follow. This thought resonates with the Simple Guiding Principles, the Layer 7 of the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY process, and the simple questions that validate each of the chosen principles. Take an honest look at all that has happened, make amends, realize the Right Path. In helping groups to draw up the Simple Guiding Principles, through answers to the questions that qualify them, one could see more of the What? rather than the How? that seems to characterize all other action plan-oriented exercises in corporates. That, we are told, is the path of a Karmayogi a person committed to being on the Right Path through constant reinforcement of rules that helps one stay on track.

Metaphors Contextualize Stories

There is a popular story in Hindu Mythology about Lord Siva and his wife Parvati deciding to conduct a contest between their two sons, Ganesh and Karthikeya, to decide which of the two sons should be given a special prize, the Fruit of Knowledge. The contest itself was simple enough whoever completes a circumambulation the Universe and returns first, will be the winner. While the younger son Karthikeya takes off on his peacock right away to go around all the worlds in the Universe swiftly, the elder and wiser Ganesh gives the problem some thought before embarking on his action. He makes a brisk circle around his seated parents, and waits in anticipation for the prize. In response to the quizzical look on the faces of his parents, Ganesh explains that to Him, His parents are His Universe, and as far He was concerned, He has done the needful to be the rightful winner of the prize.

Lord Ganesh (the God with an elephant head) is revered by the Hindus as the God of Knowledge, known for His wise ways, and leading people in their quest for wisdom. When asked to go around the Universe, the logical approach will not permit a consideration beyond the physical realms. The metaphorical approach of Lord Ganesh is a Aha! moment in the story. This capability calls for being able to give meaning to our worlds, and then give the metaphor a story to live in, our own story. People who practice this, and get adept at the Art of Metaphors and Storytelling, are indeed wise, and Lord Ganesh will approve. Every time we use metaphors in LEGO SERIOUS PLAY to make sense of the model built, it is a sure step towards a higher form of wisdom appropriately contextualized by the story that follows. The physical world, even when described in details as graphic as possible, can never equal the higher levels of thinking that metaphors can transport us to.

Story Simplifies Philosophy

Even as I soaked in the LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methodology, I could feel the resonance with the basics of the philosophy that governs our beliefs in our part of the world, largely Asian, in all that I heard and practiced during those four days. Our ancient texts in India were written in a language (Sanskrit) meant only for the learned few, and for many centuries, this acted as an impediment in carrying the Good Word to the larger populace. It is widely believed that in order to have every human being master the right ways to live on Earth, and be all that God wants him to be, the tenets in the texts were narrated as the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the twin epics that define the Hindu edifice. Through these stories, the essence of the Duties of Man, as defined by some of the oldest Books in the world, was accurately captured and communicated in a form that could become Simple Guiding Principles for each one of us. This is also reflected in the central role that tales and fables play in the telling and re-telling of the Bible.