Innovation studio

The Power of Play

2 September 2021

Our next Cornwall Innovation Club, titled ‘The Power of Play’, looks at how play and gamification techniques can lead to business innovation and new ideas. For this reason, we turned to Jonathan Bannister, Founder of Make Happy and Lego Serious Play Facilitator, to share his expertise on the Power of Play.

For the last decade, Bannister has run Make Happy, a creative facilitation and innovation agency. His focus is to help clients to foster creativity, innovation and adaptability within their teams and organisations. Make Happy do this by using a range of creative problem solving and facilitation techniques, including Lego Serious Play, Design Thinking and team building.

To register your place for The Power of Play, September 30, click here.

The Power of Play

Written in collaboration with Jonathan Bannister

The power of ‘child’s play’ as a learning tool has long been advocated by human development experts. The Montessori school of thought has advocated the technique of letting children learn through play for decades, and it’s a philosophy that’s seeping into the professional sphere for problem solving in adults.

Serious Play is the adult term for using toys, notably Lego, to solve problems and team build. In particular, Make Happy use “Lego Serious Play” as a means to provoke alternative ways of visualising, understanding and tackling complex strategic problems. Trained facilitators such as myself give teams Lego components and encourage them to create models through a number of tasks and activities, and here are a few reasons why:

Democratic Approach

The beauty of Serious Play workshops is that the process puts everybody within a team on a level playing field. Throw away the office politics and hierarchy, those can be left at the door! Everybody from managers to interns builds with the same bricks and instructions. By removing the work milieu and tools of daily tasks, participants benefit from a less intimidating and stressful environment, enabling them to fully access their creativity and not fear reprisal. We find the dominance of louder individuals is muted in this environment and those of a quieter nature have an equal chance to be heard, allowing entire teams to solve problems, overcome hurdles and feel inspired on an individual and communal level.

Unlock Ideas

The concept of adults playing with children’s toys may seem strange, but the power of play is nothing to be scoffed at. Play unleashes the inner child within and reignites the ability to ideate as freely as when we were children – it’s a unique, raw kind of creativity that is somehow lost as we become adults and are taught the conventional ways of doing things. Rules, boundaries, what we are told is possible and not possible, all inhibit our ability to innovate as adults. This isn’t the case as juveniles, whose untamed imaginations aren’t deterred by what they don’t know. If anything, they are spurred on by an innate curiosity. We want to encourage more of that.

Better Team Building

Through our experience in Lego Serious Play facilitation, the ability of building, without having to think allows everybody to participate. It’s an inclusive process which is completely accessible for all ages and abilities. A conventional team-building activity is not, in my opinion, as powerful. Instead of articulating a problem, you can build it, visualise it and discuss how to solve it as a community.

360º Vision

The physical process of building a 3D model helps participants view problems from a variety of vantage points and perspectives. By looking through a different lens, internal problem-solving capabilities can be unleashed and utilised in new ways. This can be an invaluable resource for teams collaborating on new challenges and helping them to identify and meet project deadlines.

As with any workshop, you get as much out of it as you put in. Contrary to what the name suggests, Lego Serious Play isn’t for those of a ‘serious’ inclination, it’s for those with an open mind and willingness to try a new approach that aims to uncover different results to what they’ve perhaps experienced previously.


Additional resources recommended by Bannister:

To hear Bannister speak live at the Cornwall Innovation Club, register your place for The Power of Play, September 30.


For more information on Lego Serious Play, and how it could help your team be more successful, visit the Make Happy website: Lego Serious Play


There’s also a wonderful TED talk on the science of play. Watch it here.


I also recommend reading this fantastic opinion piece, as featured in the Financial Times: How+making+Lego+models+helps+build+better+leaders+_+Financial+Times

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