How Serious Play helps Understand Complexity

Blog post
By Parag Gogate | 8 September 2017

We seem to live in an increasingly uncertain and complex world.

We can’t complain any more about ‘moving goalposts’ because we recognise now that it’s just how it is. This is the new reality – stuff happens, and we need to embrace it. It’s fast moving, it can be scary, and achieving business results is increasingly important.

‘Play’ isn’t a word we’d necessarily associate with this results-driven and serious business world, and yet it has a very real and serious contribution to make.

Difference between games and play

There’s a difference between games and play that’s worth explaining. Games have a competitive element, a structure, and probably some rules. You can ‘win’ a game, and consequently you can also lose. Play is much more freeform, offering plenty of scope to explore new concepts in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

'Serious game and play' is about applying the above in a business context to achieve an outcome or solve problems.

Motivating behaviour change

Serious Play is extremely powerful for facilitating behavioural change. Neuroscience has shown that our brains categorise things either as ‘threat’ or ‘reward’, such that we tend to move away from threats and towards things that promise reward. Our threat response gets in the way of change and learning, as it reduces the brainpower available for processing new things (historically leaving more energy to run away or deal with the threat).

This is one of the reasons why play is so valuable. It removes threat and opens our minds to new ideas, giving us a chance to experiment with new behaviour patterns. We tend to forget that human beings are first and foremost social animals, and play brings us together with others in a way that allows us to engage at a practical and emotional level.

Dealing with complexity

At the Agile Business Conference, Rod Willis and I will be running two games throughout the conference. One of these demonstrates how LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® uses Lego bricks to unravel complexity. It’s a powerful tool to break down the barriers that typically get in the way when teams try to solve complex organisational challenges. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® taps into kinaesthetic, visual, and auditory learning styles by tackling complexity at a practical 3D building level as well as a language level,. It surfaces what could remain hidden as unconscious thinking, providing a more comprehensive analysis of issues over what could be achieved through more traditional channels.

An invitation to join us

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® experience is very different to using Lego bricks as a simulation exercise for training, or as an ice breaker, or even how children play!

To really appreciate how this works, I invite you to join us at the Agile Business Conference where you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a two-hour session.

To find out about the games at this year's conference visit


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