Ranger4 DevOps Blog

How is That a Chicken?

Posted by Mark Beard on Tue, Aug 27, 2019 @ 16:08 PM

Below is a chicken.

LEGO Chicken

What! you can't you see it ? I'm not surprised, but soon you will - do read on. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a Ranger4 experiment entitled 'LEGO Serious Play' this week and it turned out to be quite a thought provoking little jaunt. The premise of Serious Play is not (just) about building rockets and racing cars out of plastic bricks; its key point is how we can tell stories with our hands - and more importantly how those stories can stick far better than with just spoken or written words.

Serious Play allows you to take both realistic and abstract models initially crafted individually, then explained, then combined with others and finally refined into a collectively agreed 'thing'. This 'thing' can be anything from a chicken (as above, I know you cant see it yet) to a tangible and real representation of an ideology or system (be it technical or organisational). That's an actual output - but what is truly exciting is the way it allows a group of people to work together, share their ideas in an inclusive way and produce something that draws on many opinions and views which hopefully is rounded, agreed and complete... and its just Lego.

So let's have another look at that chicken, shall we, and give you an idea, dear reader, of how this works:

  1. We were asked to select (with our eyes shut) five pieces of Lego
  2. Then we were requested to assemble the five pieces in any random way to create an abstract model
  3. I was given a card: the card had the word 'Chicken' on it
  4. The facilitator then told us to describe the thing on the card by using the model created, pointing to each piece and explaining its relevance/purpose

I know what you're thinking: "How is that a chicken?!" Well:

  • The centre of the chicken is represented by its start in life, coming from the yolk - the yolk is represented by (yep i know you are already ahead of me) the yellow curvy block in the middle
  • The blue item is the protective shell that the chicken emerged from
  • The black piece relates to the fancy head-gear, or the 'comb' as Google reliably informs me
  • The pink pieces are its spindly chicken legs that it uses to strut around the farmyard

I sat back smugly and waited for the applause/adoration/gasps - sadly the other people on the course were not as awe-struck as you would expect, but when questioned by the tutor every one in the room was able to describe what the model was and why it was a chicken. Not only that, but once seen and described the knowledge and memory will hang around for yonks (maybe forever, who knows - senility nothwithstanding). This was repeated by the rest of the delegates and everyone could recall these constituent parts and what they represented, only after being told once and the models not actually looking like anything much at all.

It was kinda like the memory technique where you make up a story to remember items in a list - but this had physically visual and audible parts to it, helping the brain to cement the details.

While this was an interesting exercise it also was very inclusive; everyone had their say in feedback about the models and everyone built a model with five random pieces - all were equal and all conveyed their points successfully with the aid of their self-built prop.

Using skills developed here and in subsequent exercises we built models to represent certain aspects of a system - we collectively chose a system for 'empowered teams'. Once built they were reviewed by the group, refined with suggestions and feedback and then aspects of each person's model were combined to build a group designed system. That system is shown below = there are annotations added after to clarify, but in the room we went over the same process as per the chicken of naming each part and its purpose.

Ladies and Gentlemen I present you with our collective view of 'Empowered Teams' with Lego:

LEGO pictures (Mark Beard)


I think its fair to say this was a fun way to learn new skills, abstracting ideas, collaborating with others and generating something which allows you to both articulate and improve through discussion and review - in short it was a great day.

Topics: Neuroscience, Experiential learning, Ways of Working, Ways of Thinking