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NC State Jenkins MBA Students Learn to Unleash Creativity through Play

Pose a problem. Build. Share. Reflect. Repeat. That was the framework of an NC State Jenkins MBA marketing class session held at the Poole College of Management earlier this semester.

Karen Mishra, Ph.D., a lecturer in Poole College’s Department of Business Management, introduced the MBA students to the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) methodology, as a means of learning how to be creative and broaden team communication. She invited Megan Oteri, a certified Lego Serious Play facilitator, to teach this constructionist learning concept that is used in teaching, from executive education to elementary school.

“It’s the building of knowledge through the making of social objects with your hands,” Oteri explained while distributing identical packets of LEGO® blocks to each of the MBA candidates.

In groups of six, the students first worked independently on a building task assigned to the entire class, then shared within their group the how and why of their creation, and shared again, this time with the entire class. The students then received instructions to modify their creations, sharing and reflecting on the changes made. The process was repeated several times.

This kind of learning experience “promotes expansive thinking through storytelling and metaphors in a group environment,” via a process that involves both physiology and neurology, Oteri said. “The LSP methodology captures 100 percent of the organization’s collective intelligence,” she said, adding, “Your hands know more than you think they do.”

The exercise also reflects the power of storytelling, Mishra said, similar to what occurs in a marketing campaign. “We talk theory (when teaching) marketing but have gotten away from giving students a chance to be creative themselves,” she said. The metaphors in the participants’ models, according to the LSP website, serve as the basis for group discussion, knowledge sharing and problem solving, and help foster creative thinking and finding unique solutions.

In a final set of directions, the students were challenged to adapt their structures to represent their personal brand and strengths. In sharing those results, one said the structure reflected a beacon of help, a guiding light for others; another, speed and efficiency; a third, always moving forward in an uncertain world.

As sharing progressed through the course of the class session, the students’ modified creations became more complex and discussion of the metaphors more animated. In the final brand-related sharing session, one student elaborated on his creation, saying that, “with a jet pack on his back, he’ll do anything.” Another described his structure as a crazy dare devil. Yet another, as a protector, someone who likes to be in charge.

Going through a SERIOUS PLAY® experience can be “like a roller coaster ride, with varying comfort levels – from anxiety to boredom,” Oteri said, but its goals include developing competence, vitality and complexity.

“We arrive at this condition – flow – when competence and the challenge forces are in balance with each other. That is when we are ‘going with the flow’,” she said, citing the emotional state someone can be in while undertaking a task or activity. The flow model evolved from work done by American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of the so-called “positive psychology.”

“We have the most fun, learn the most, and are most creative when what we are doing is sufficiently difficult, because our entire being understands how to achieve its goals when we are in this state,” write authors Per Kristiansen and Robert Rasmyssen in their book, “Build a Better Business using the Lego Serious Play Method.”

“We are grateful to Megan for sharing her Lego Serious Play expertise with our students,” Mishra said. “This gave them an opportunity to get out of their textbooks and approach the material from a new perspective. They all came away thinking differently not only about themselves and their own personal brand, but about how to broaden conversations in their future jobs (and current team projects) to include everyone in the room.”





This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.

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