Exploring the deep design of business through play

A case study of using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method to explore the deep design of business.

Implementing the concept of Doughnut Economics may require businesses to adopt a new way of thinking about their operations and their impact on society and the environment. Therefore, it may take some time for businesses to fully understand the concept and integrate it into their practices. 

Through the Future Focus project, supported through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) the University of Exeter decided to trial the use of the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method as part of a one-day workshop for businesses. The aim was to engage in rich dialogue and discussion and to work out meaningful solutions to real problems. 

The workshop took place in Cornwall, a peripheral region in the Southwest of the United Kingdom, characterised by a rural economy made up of primarily micro-sized businesses. The group included 20 people from across the region, representing a range of businesses across a variety of industrial sectors. The facilitators took businesses through the Doughnut Economics Action Lab business toolkit and attendees were encouraged to explore the deep design of their own business and the way that this was enabling or blocking positive change.

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method began as an experiential process for use in guided workshops with adults. It aims to prompt dialogue and encourage reflection, developing problem-solving skills and the use of imagination. These skills are key to engaging with the Doughnut Economics principles and their application to the business environment and are essential for us to envisage and put into practice new ways of doing business.  

The first step is for the facilitator to plan the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® process. They must provide build challenges appropriate for the specific workshop in advance. The way the building challenges are framed has a significant influence on the process, therefore it's critical that they be created in a way that will both ensure the workshop's goals are reached and the method's integrity. The session was designed around six open-ended questions to encourage thoughts, imagined future scenarios, and things that have yet to happen.

Participants worked quickly to build their models in just a couple of minutes. They then shared their model in small groups, describing what they had built and why. Facilitators and other members of the group asked questions, encouraging them to think more deeply about the decisions they had made. Due to the wide range of businesses represented, participants worked on their own individual models. However, a single business might find value in working collaboratively on the challenges.

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method was found to be a useful tool for exploring how the Doughnut Economics principles could be effectively applied to businesses at an individual level but also highlighted some of the social, environmental and economic issues that are most relevant to running a business in the region.  

Participants in a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® session are more likely to have a sense of ownership over the analysis and choices made because they have experienced the intensive, imaginative, and exciting process. They are more likely to assume responsibility for the acts that follow when they were involved the production of something meaningful. 




    Nadia Nath-Varma


    Desire to learn more about regenerative circular global economies . Looking for like minded people to work with.

    Katie Tamblin

    Welwyn, Hertfordshire, UK

    I want to help transform how economists and people measure the world around us and our progress within it.

    Susanne Rodemann-Kalkan

    Hannover, Niedersachsen, Deutschland

    I would love to support the creation of more regenerative systems in businesses & connect with engaged people/ initiatives!

    Aline Marcelino

    Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands

    I want to meet like-minded people for collaboration, specially in the fields of education and Food Systems.

    Rob Shorter

    Oxford, England, United Kingdom

    Excited to explore & share inclusive, participatory & imaginative ways of bringing the Doughnut to life

    Rob Shorter 12 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this innovative method Peter! What were the six open-ended questions that were asked? And how might people go about finding a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator?

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    Peter Lefort 12 months ago

    Great questions! There's more on the facilitation on the LEGO website here: https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/serious-play/faq - and more about the open source nature of the approach here: https://seriousplaypro.com/about/open-source/
    These were the invitations we gave during the process:

    • Build a model of your dream holiday (warm-up)
    • Select any 5 bricks and connect them in a random and meaningless way
    • Build a model to show why your business exists
    • Build a model of a new connection that you would like to make to build a collaborative partnership
    • Build a model to show who owns your business, how decisions get made and what are the metrics of success
    • Build a model to explain how your business is financed
    • Build a model to show how your business could ideally operate and ideas of how you could enable change
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