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Episode 013: A Conversation on Purposeful Play with Benjamin Warsinske

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Join Sarah Noll Wilson and Benjamin Warsinske as they discuss how Benjamin is helping to bring creativity to the workplace through his work as a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitator.

About our guest

Benjamin Warsinske is a brand culture expert and certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitator. His focus is on how purposeful play contributes to effective people strategies, particularly in the areas of employee engagement, wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, high-performance leadership, and organizational culture change.

Learn more about the Bricks+Brands Network by visiting community.brandedworld.co

Episode Transcript

Sarah Noll Wilson
Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations, the show where each week we explore a topic with an expert that can help us all have deeper, more meaningful conversations with ourselves and with other people. Now, before I get to our awesome guest that is joining us today, I want to take a moment and invite you to be part of a future show. We will be doing a mailbag episode where we will be reading your comments, exploring the questions you have, sharing what has resonated, maybe what- how your thinking has changed as a result of our time together. So, send your thoughts, send your questions to podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com, and we will be sure to include them on a future show. Alright, without further ado, it is my distinct honor to introduce you to Ben Warsinske. He is a brand culture expert and certified Lego Serious Play Facilitator. That’s right, a Lego Serious Play Facilitator, and for those of you who are listening, and aren’t able to see the screen, he has a whole wall of these Lego boxes behind him, which I just love. His focus is on how purposeful play contributes to effective people strategies, particularly in areas of employee engagement, wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, high performance leadership, and organizational culture change. Ben, welcome to the show.

Benjamin Warsinske
Thanks so much for having me.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I’m so excited to have you, and I’m so excited to explore a really unique topic. I mean, it’s not unique to you and I because we’re very passionate about it, but this idea of play, but before we get into play, what else would you love our audience to know about you?

Benjamin Warsinske
Oh, gosh, I guess like, some, some fun facts. I am six foot seven, or as one of my bosses used to call me, two meter, as a joke. I did a lot of work in Asia, and so we would use the metric system, and whenever someone would ask me how tall I was in Japan or Korea, I would say two meters and they’re face would just light up, and it was, it was the perfect way to connect with people. Especially baristas at coffee shops.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love that. I don’t think I realized that you were six foot seven. I mean, because we’ve only ever interacted so I only know that you have shoulders and a head, you know. I appreciate knowing that. Anything else that you want us to know?

Benjamin Warsinske
Oh, gosh. I mean, aside the fact that I’m like a huge LEGO maniac, which we’ll, we’ll dive into more, I’m sure.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, no, I think what’s really, what’s really fas- well, I love, I love the phrase, and obviously it’s very intentional, “the serious play.” But for somebody- so let’s just start from that perspective, because for someone who’s unfamiliar with the practice and the philosophy and the application of Lego serious play, what, what is it, and how can people use it?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, so, Lego Serious Play, I didn’t even know it existed until like, you know, 2018. I think it was like the fall of 2018 when I, when I learned about it, and got certified like, like, the next week. But it was, it was created back in like 2007 by the LEGO Group and a number of really smart, like, PhD level researchers and, and consultants. And it basically is this kind of radical, innovative approach to problem solving within the business space, and so what it is, is that it allows teams and people to come together, and you can also do it kind of individually as well, but allows people to come together and share their ideas and be in this kind of psychologically safe and friendly environment. And kind of everyone gets to have a voice. It’s like an even playing field. Everyone has a voice, everyone gets to build, everyone gets to share, and from that you just gain all these different perspectives and insights and ideas and confidence. All these different things just kind of come out of these, these facilitated sessions. But really the- at the heart of it, it’s all about- I kind of think it’s all about you know, collaboration and communication, and finding that path forward that everyone can agree on together, which is often really, really difficult in a traditional meeting setting.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, yeah. What, from your experience, what, what comes of these- what comes of these sessions that’s different than maybe like, when you think of a traditional brainstorming session, hey, we’re all gonna be around the table and one person’s at the flip chart, you know, I mean, we can we can all imagine what this looks like. We’ve all experienced it. But as somebody who’s facilitated this type of, you know, playful and innovative and creative space, how does it look different, and how does it feel different?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, well, the feel- it looks and feels different in that there are kind of this, there’s a set of, kind of etiquette, like Lego Serious Play etiquette that everyone follows, and so it’s, it’s very structured. And so there’s, there’s times, there’s time to build, there’s time to share, there’s time to reflect, there’s time to discuss. And by keeping it structured, it keeps everything moving forward, and then also gives everyone that equal talk time. So first, when you think of, like, a traditional brainstorming session, what, what kind of happens, you know, maybe two or three people start to dominate the conversation, and if someone is kind of introverted or quiet or reserved, or they’re just trying to soak in everything that’s been said, they may be very quiet and not say, say anything. And so that can come off as, oh, they’re not interested, or they’re not active, or they don’t want to share when they could have amazing ideas, and they just don’t feel comfortable to actually share or voice their opinion or their, their frustration or whatever it might be. And so Lego Serious Play is like the complete opposite of that. It’s, it’s a way for everyone to participate, and to feel safe, and to express themselves. And what happens internally is like, everyone kind of taps into their own creativity, and they realize like, like, number one, like I am creative, and number two, I have these, like amazing stories that I can tell from these models that I built, and number three, like people are actually listening to what I have to say like, and so their confidence just like, just increases. And I- it’s just, it’s amazing to see that switch turned on and people who, who don’t feel creative or who, who tell me like, hey, I’m not, I’m not creative at all. Like, they’re just like, you know, it’s not my job. And then it’s amazing to watch them kind of just blossom. And it’s just, it’s just incredible.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I was going to ask, how often do you hear, I mean, I gotta imagine it’s every session, somebody goes, oh, I’m just not that creative, right? Because we, we limit how we think about creativity, right? So often, I think that, you know, when I’m in conversations, or even think back to classes, I’ve taught that people associate creativity with just artistry, right, but there’s creativity all around us from problem solving, right, looking at things differently, being able to make connections. So how often do you hear, “but then I’m just not that creative.” And then I want to know, how do you respond in that moment?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, no, I do hear that quite often. And my first reaction is, well, of course, you are, like, it’s just, it’s showing up in different ways. And the minute you experience, you know, Lego Serious Play, you’re going to understand your creativity. And, and that’s what I love about it is because it, it really like kind of allows people to drill down individually and kind of become much more self aware of their, their skill sets and their abilities. And from a leadership perspective, it’s also incredible because they, the leader gets to see their team operate and, and be creative and innovative and storytelling in, in ways that they, they never knew, like, were even possible. So from a leadership perspective, to understand your team in a completely new way, and then be able to utilize them in those new skill sets that they’re, that they’re just kind of showing you they’re so excited about, now you have a really, real big opportunity to put them into, into work that they can like just thrive in.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love that. You know, as you were talking, I was thinking we, we should have, we should have set up a Serious Play-like activity for this conversation. So next time I have you on we’ll have to, you know, maybe we can have some of our past guests, and we can talk about a topic through the lens of, of using this. One of the things, one of the things, so I’m just putting- I’m manifesting that out into the universe that we’ll do that someday. As you know, one of the things that I wonder about, and I know that in my previous career, or early in my career I should say, I would bring in a lot of improv based activities. And, and one of the things that I found is that, initially, the hesitation was really strong, the fear was really strong, right? The doubt, like you talked about, the doubt was really strong, but if you were able to shift and truly allow yourself and give space and create the space for other people to tap into, play, it- and I wondered, you know, from your perspective, what I would experience is, it disarmed a lot of people, right, because we’re able to sort of let down our masks a bit. You know, this is something we’ve talked about in a previous episode of just the masks we wear at work, and the ways that we have to show up, and according to rules, but there’s something so biologically I don’t know, like an origin in all of us of our ability to just play. What does that- you know, how has that been true in your sessions? Or what would you add to that?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, I would, I 100% agree with you. And I think it’s just this innate, like, thing or feeling that we all have within us, the ability to play, and, and I think you touched on something really interesting, is that kind of like, the mask goes away, or like your walls come down, and that’s exactly what what happens in these sessions. And it’s so funny, because before the session you may have, like, you know, like your executives, or like, the people that are very kind of conservative or reserved, or very, very, you know, by the book business, like, they usually are the ones who end up just like, you know, really getting into it, and like, kind of like going back to their inner child and like, finding, remember- remembering the LEGO sets that they had, or like, how these things different connect, or like, you know, oftentimes it gets, it gets people to go and buy more Lego, which is pretty funny, but also at the same time-

Sarah Noll Wilson
Sure. Do you get- do you get a return? Like, do you get a referral? You know, like, is there a referral link?

Benjamin Warsinske
Oh, I wish. I should look into that for sure.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Okay, so you said, you said you found this in 2018, and as long as I’ve known you, right, I can tell how deeply passionate you are about this practice, and also that space for us to be able to step into and really unleash our creativity. Talk us through how, where did you start? You know, give us the high level journey of, of how did you come to this place, right? What, what has shaped you to get you to the place of, this is the work that I want to do.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, so it’s, it’s been a really, really kind of fascinating journey. Some people are like, what, like, they don’t, they don’t really believe it. But my like, you know, my childhood was, was basically LEGO, like, all day, every day. And I was, like, just determined to take over my parents basement and build the biggest LEGO city environment for the many figures that I possibly could. And without really knowing what I was doing, I was basically an urban planner, an engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect all kind of rolled into this, this imagineer, like, building with LEGO. And that led to studying landscape architecture, urban planning in college. And when I got to college, I was, I remember, I was in studio and they were like, you know, one of the projects was to develop a, a new housing community. And so we had to, it was kind of a big, big project that we had to kind of lay everything out. And I was like, I was thinking myself, like, this is so easy, I do this with LEGO all the time. And so basically, like, I could see, like, I could see the entire, like, kind of development in my mind with LEGO, and I just translated it back to, like, the human scale and, and designed from there, and so that was a really interesting transition to go from, from LEGO into studying like landscape architecture and urban planning, because it really was about designing these experiences for people and how they’re going to navigate this physical environment that we’re, that we’re creating, and, and kind of what the requirements are. And that, that then led me to kind of getting into, like, designing resort- resident- residential communities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and Egypt. So if you look up like the Island of Happiness, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, I was on the team that developed the initial conceptual master plan for that entire development, which was insane, the Island of Happiness, Google it.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Is it, is it the highlight of happiness? I need to Google this. I think this came up in our conversation when we first met but I had forgotten about it.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah. Yeah, I wonder if happiness- it’s one, it was one of my favorite projects. And, and so while I was doing that, I then kind of, I was on LinkedIn, and I was answering questions, and someone reached out to me and was like, hey, can you send me your portfolio and resume? And I was like, sure. And so I put everything together, sent it off, didn’t really think about it, and then they came back and they’re like, they’re like, hey, like, we want to talk. Like, we got this opportunity. And I was like, okay, sure. Like, I still was like, loving I was in, like, Southern California, like Newport Beach, designing the Island of Happiness in Abu Dhabi among like, other, like, super resort, like, high end like residential communities. So I was, I was just loving what I was doing, and then it turns out that I got an opportunity to be fully paid to relocate to Hawaii and become a strategic planner, and be embedded with the US Air Force Pacific headquarters. So like a complete 180 from, from resort residential communities with like, indoor outdoor swimming pools as like a, a baseline for a palace, to like working with the US military and helping them with their strategic forward mission planning and things, so I left, moved to Hawaii, and I basically just started traveling the Pacific Theater for about seven years. And I was working with the Air Force at the highest levels in Hawaii at Hickam Air Force Base, and what I learned from that, was the leadership from the Air Force was like the best masterclass you could ask for in leadership and culture. Because just working with installation base commanders and four star generals and colonels and airmen and pilots, you just had this, this, like, broader perspective of what they were doing, and what their mission was, and how, like, what we were doing would help them. And the other thing that, that I focus on, really took away from, was working with all the different stakeholders of like an installation, for example, and understanding every single department, and what their needs were, and how we could all come together and agree on, on what the future would look like, which is a very, very challenging thing to do, especially, no doubt, they’re, you know, they’re stationed away from home, they’ve got, you know, all these things like, and, and they’re trying to, to envision the future, they’re like, you know, we don’t have time to envision the future, we’re trying to complete our mission. And so, like, but those were just, it really just built my skill set around bringing people together and kind of community building, in a sense. And so when I, when I switched, when we moved from Hawaii to Chicago, I began building out my, my agency, which kind of focuses on, on brand and culture and strategy, and how really helping leaders and teams communicate and connect better for, for lack of better words, and, and really all those skill sets that I picked up from from consulting with the Air Force. And the military really came into the play in everything that I’ve been doing since, and when I added LEGO Serious Play it just like turned it on fire, because it was like taking the planning process and understanding everybody’s positions and how, how, what they’re looking for and what their requirements are. That’s exactly what we do with LEGO Serious Play. And so it was like this really natural, like, now that I look back on it, it’s this really natural progression, but, but again, like, you know, just a ton of ups and downs and a pretty, pretty wild journey.

Sarah Noll Wilson
That, I, you know, I remember the first time, you were telling me that you were like, there’s things I can’t tell you, which I’m like, yeah, I respect that. But, but it was, I mean, what an interesting and unique journey. And, and one thing, you know, one of the things, just a phrase that I’d written down, as you were talking was just, you realize that you became really good at community building. And there’s something really poignant, I think, about the language that you use there. And I think about, right, you know, we, we support companies in maybe similar, albeit different ways, or we have similar values and things we’re trying to accomplish, and, you know, so often it’s like, oh, we’re doing a team- or like a team-building, or we’re doing a, you know, like a trust-building exercise. And there is something powerful about this idea of no, we’re a community, right? Like, how do we- you know, there’s something more transformative, for me anyway, as I hear that, when, you know, I have a couple of different questions. So I want to, I want to veer off sort of the the initial path is, you know, when you, what are some of the most consistent challenges that you see? Or maybe what are patterns you see that are fairly consistent across teams? You know, when it comes? Like what, what are some of the consistent things that get in their way of effectively coming together and building that community, and being able to be creative in a way that will really serve them going forward? Because I know you’ve worked with so many different, you know, you’ve you know, you’ve, you’ve worked on a global scale, you’ve worked from a military perspective, all the clients that you support now, that I imagine you have this really broad perspective, and what are some of those, what are some of those patterns that you see that get in the way, right, of that effective community building?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, well, I think the one of the big ones that I see is the idea around saying like you want your employees to be creative, but not providing the environment to actually allow them to be creative. And I experienced that myself in my career, as well. And so I think there’s this, there’s this misconception around creativity versus productivity, and if you, if you do it right, like creativity, like allowing to express your creativity and find these innovative solutions, can actually be more productive than than just posting up at a desk for eight hours. And so, I think there’s, you know, that’s one of the biggest challenges I see is that when companies say, you know, oh, yeah, yeah, we want everyone to be creative, and we tell them to be creative, and we’re expecting creative ideas, but the environment and the culture doesn’t allow for for that, or they don’t feel safe to even want to share an idea because they don’t want that idea to be stolen, or to be taken out of context, or whatever the thing is, they just don’t want to do this, don’t want to share. And when it comes to community building, the biggest thing that that we want to do as community builders is to get people to interact. And we want that feedback, we want, we want people to share their their opinions and their voices and their ideas and their experiences and their knowledge. Because the more people share, then the more we can learn from from one another, and the more that we can we can build those connections. And so there’s a, I really liked that you, you, you mentioned the community piece, because it really is aligned with building strong teams and strong cultures and organizations. Because it is, it is a community. It’s a, it’s a living, breathing thing, any, any brand or any organization is a living, breathing, kind of community of people.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. Yeah. And that, you know, and that idea that it’s built through interactions, I mean, I think that that’s one of the challenges that, that we’re seeing with the clients that we’re supporting, is that as work has moved virtual, or maybe in a hybrid, is that there’s this almost over rotation of what we would like we would describe as transactional, right? It’s very telling, selling yelling, you know, it’s, it’s just very transactional. And so we have to be much more intentional about that transformational, that sharing, that discovering, and, and you know, and you know, that idea of confusing productivity with creativity is a great competing commitment. That’s how we would describe it, right? Like they’re in conflict with each other sometimes. But we tend to often over rote- you know, over rotate to like, well, what’s the quick win? What’s most efficient now, instead of what’s most efficient, long term? Right?

Benjamin Warsinske
Right, right.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I assume, you know, when you talk about, like, not creative environments, you know, I remember my last company before we moved, we moved into an amazing building, but I was like, the various shades of oatmeal, they don’t do it for me, they just, you know, so I had to bring in color, right, just things that I could do. What, you know, as people are thinking about, you know, because, you know, our focus with this show is just how do we have conversations about it, so, you know, as we think about people who are listening, what are the kinds of things people could think about, of either physically how they could bring into their space, or maybe mindsets they can bring into their space, or ways they could talk about creativity to overcome that sort of paralysis by productivity?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, so that’s a great question. And so the, one of the fun facts about LEGO Serious Play is that you think with your hands, because it’s a tangible type of thing. And so when we think with our hands, our hands are connected to our brain, and so subconsciously, we can, we can think a lot faster by, by even just clicking two bricks together, or that’s why like, if you, if you doodle, or draw, or, or maybe you write a couple of words down, you’re immediately kind of firing those those synapses in your brain and kind of thinking without realizing it. And so, so I would encourage people if they’re wanting to be more creative, or they want to kind of try to get into that, more of that creative mindset would be to have something on your desk that, that you like to do, maybe it’s, maybe it’s a little bit of LEGO, maybe it’s like you like to draw or something. And so you have, you have those, those tools handy. And I think it’s better, especially if it’s, if it’s actually like a tangible thing that you do with your hands. Because often when we work with our hands, we get different, different insights from, from just a digital, purely, like digital perspective. So I would, I would say, have some of those things. And then if you’re working with someone else, you may challenge someone to, to, you know, say, hey, like, you know, can you build a model of what that concept is that you’re telling me, and it’s a really challenging thing, but if you give them you know, like, just three minutes to just put something together, and the great thing is the bricks are metaphors, so they can mean anything you want them to mean. And so if you just have them do that, and then have them tell the story of what that model is, and what their concept is, chances are, they’re, they’re, the way that they, they share that with you would be in greater detail, and in- in a lot more depth, because they’re, they’re kind of more focused on the model that they built, and why they built it, and why they put the pieces where they did, and what the colors represent, and they just start, you start layering in, then you go into all this detail that just wouldn’t be there without the, the model. So it’s kind of a fun communication aid, as well. And it’s this- but that, that’d be a fun way to, to kind of engage and talk about creativity by actually kind of experiencing it for, for people first-hand.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, no, I love that. And we know that, right? The more- I mean, especially from a learning perspective, anyway, the more senses we can tap into, the more likely it’s going to stick, right, and then- that’s what was coming up for me as you were talking. And that was also reflecting on, I probably am not kinesthetic enough as I’m like thinking or what- you know, like, you just, you just, you just, oh, I’m gonna think about it, or maybe I’ll go for a walk, which is valuable and good to do, but, but I can imagine, you know, when we, when we’re working with teams, sometimes we’ll have them, you know, just like, draw, draw the future you want for this team, or whatever the case is, doesn’t have to make sense, you don’t have to be good artists. But you’re right, like the nuances, the colors, if you will, come, come from the description and the stories. And then again, going back to that point you made, we build community through our interactions, not just a transaction of, of oh, you’re talking, and now I’m talking, and now you’re talking. So I love that, and so that’s a challenge for you all who are listening is, you know, if you’re finding yourself, like me going oh, i just, stay real internal a lot, or maybe I just unverbalize it, let’s challenge ourselves to to create something from a manipulative perspective, right, drawing it or building it. I so desperately want to do- I like, I want to be a fly on the wall in one of your sessions, or just have you come and like do something with my team. Actually, well, we’ll talk later. Okay, so, so quick question, because I’m guessing there’s some people who are thinking of it, I’m thinking it too, what does this, what does your work look like virtually, now? Right, ’cause I can imagine some people going, oh, well, can you do it, but I have no doubt that you’ve translated it effectively virtually.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, it actually has opened up so many, like, new possibilities, it’s been an incredibly challenging thing to try to turn everything virtual, but at the same time it, you know, I’m now working with teams in the UK that, that would have been really hard to try to probably get to, like, before. And it all happened just because it’s online, and through, through Twitter. So, the way that that works is, there’s a couple of different ways. One, I have some membership programs on- through my community. And so if you were to join one of those, you would get a personalized curated kit that would come to your door, and you would then jump on to different, like live experiences within the community, and we would go through different things like, like a pause and play experience, where we take a moment and take about 60 minutes to step away from our nine to five and just kind of sit with ourselves and reflecting and just have fun, and just just pause and play. And then I have a signature course, that kind of goes all into about awakening your inner leader, and that is a self paced course. And there’s also coaching and things like that, and so it’s, it’s all interactive and immersive through my, my community platform and my mobile app, along with the the physical LEGO kits as well that I, I put together.

We will be sure to put in the show notes how they can connect and follow you and connect with your community. So, just real quickly, I mean, normally we do it at the end, but since we’re talking about it, the Bricks and Brand, I mean, like, talk a little bit about the community that you’ve built, and what that looks like.

Yeah, so the the, the Bricks and Brands Network is a community of amazing leaders from around the world that I’ve just kind of cultivated over the last two years so far. And the whole idea is just for, to bring people together, bring these leaders together to discuss how we can transform and disrupt the workplace culture of the future, and how we can make it better for people. And so the, it’s just this collective of amazing people doing all these different amazing things. And so I just I’m like so grateful that I get to play and talk to everyone and bring everybody together, and we have these discussions, we have meetups twice a month, there’s all sorts of ways for- to engage and interact and connect with people, and it’s just been, it’s been one of the best things I’ve done, you know, since the pandemic and just- actually it was right before the pandemic of when I really started kind of building it, and then I just went all in on it, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love that. What- I can, I can imagine that you come into situations where people go, is this, is this the best use of our time, to play? So why, what would you tell like, what are the myths or what are the limited beliefs that people have about the impact? Like, what do they get wrong about play?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, the first one of the big ones is, I think the the word play is kind of like, everyone has a different definition of what play is. When I, when I’m talking about play, it’s about kind of facilitated play, so it’s not that it’s an, you know, it’s an open, open, you know, session where everyone just does whatever they want, it’s, it’s a very guided experience, again, aiming to solve a very specific business problem. So before we even, before I even deliver the the facilitation, I’m understanding what the objective is, what the team is trying to, to achieve, how much time we have, if we’re doing multiple sessions, there’s a lot of pre-planning that goes into designing the sessions. And then it’s all about once we’re in the session, it’s about how do we, how do we uncover what, what it is that we’re trying to do? So as we’re doing that, you know, we’re kind of spiraling deeper and deeper in to, to get the actual root cause of the problem or the, or finding the solution. And so it, you know, the problems vary from dev- like, developing a new brand service or service brand, to solving challenging, like innovative engineering problems with like, production engineers. And so the, it’s kind of spans the gamut, but the concept is the same, or the framework is the same.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. I, I can’t help- you know, I mean, part of why I was really looking forward to this conversation is, the world feels hard, and it feels heavy, and, you know, and we’ve been in this time of prolonged exposure to stress, and trauma, and, right, like, extreme situations that I know, even for me, personally, as an individual, it’s been harder for me to tap into that creativity sometimes, right? Because it, you know, whether it’s I’m physically fatigued, mentally exhausted, and- but they’re, you know, for me anyway, I feel like when I’m able to tap into that space, there’s a lightness, there’s a sense of possibility, right? Sometimes even a joy, even if we’re exploring it from a hard way, you know, and at the top, top of our conversation, you talked, you know, sort of high level of what you see happen, right, and especially, like, you know, everyone gets heard, and people develop their confidence. And I would love to know, I mean, and if you don’t have, nothing comes to mind, but I’m curious to know, like, if there’s a specific story, you know, if you can share of just, you know, what, what was possible, when either an individual or group was willing to step into this, this Serious Play?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, and that’s a, that’s- I, I’ve, I’ve so many stories, I’m super excited to share, but the piece about it being Serious Play, it’s, it’s kind of, it is really challenging, it’s, it is very difficult, oftentimes, the, the challenges that, that people are asked to build seem impossible. But the fact that you only have, you know, that short time, and that constraint, and you only have a limited amount of bricks, that’s what adds to the kind of the fuel of your creativity and kind of forces you to tap into that resourcefulness and figure out, hey, no, I can get this done, and this is what what I’ve come up with. And so it is, it is very challenging, and that’s why I think they call it Serious Play because it, while it’s fun, and, and you, you do feel light, you know, more lighter and more joyful, more confident, it is- you still have to do the work. It’s still very, very challenging to, to get to that other side. One great example, I was facilitating, this was a virtual event. It was, I was facilitating for a Canadian video game company, and there were several, like software engineers who were very introverted, very shy, very reserved, they didn’t even want to turn their cameras on. And so when I was, I was talking with the HR team, they’re like, well, we’ve got, you know, three or four that, that just are not sure if they’re gonna, if they’re even going to participate fully. And so and my, kind of one of my goals was to try to get everyone on camera and building and having, having fun. And this was a, like, 100 person event. It was, it was pretty, pretty massive to manage virtually.

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s amazing. Sure.

Benjamin Warsinske
And so, so throughout the event, they, the people that were very quiet and shy, they started to open up, and they started to, like, they came on camera. And they were smiling because they had built this model. And they, they were sharing and they were going into breakout rooms. They were sharing what they, what they built, and what it means to them, and, and throughout the time, they got more and more confident. And you just saw them, like, wanting to share even more. And it was, by the end of it they were like wait, there’s not another activity? Like, I want to do more. And so it was just amazing to see that, that while like- like everyone can be included. It’s a very inclusive type of process, and that everyone needs to be included, and what the the team took took away from it was, wow, we never knew that these people were so creative, like, like, I mean, we had, like, posed some pretty big challenges to them, and the way that they answered, it just blew everyone’s mind. The creativity, they had music, they had, they had, like, they were dancing along with the, like, with their presentations at the end, like it was, it was just like, like, way more than, than we ever could have imagined. It was just so cool to see.

Sarah Noll Wilson
That, no that sounds incredible. And even just hearing the story, like, you can imagine it almost, and what, and what, what a beautiful testament to what’s possible when you give people a way to engage differently, right? I think so often, how we share information, how we write, brainstorm, or collaborate, is one way to serve, maybe one or two types of thinkers, and it’s not that, right, you know, the whole like, well, I’m a visual learner, I mean we’re all, we’re all all of them, it just depends on what we’re doing. But what we’re able to discover when, when we give ourselves the space and time to discover it differently, that’s what’s coming- that’s what I’m thinking about as I’m hearing you tell that story. And, and then, you know, and then, and then the other thing is we, you know, when we talk about, you know, people who are, maybe they’re, maybe they’re more reserved, or maybe they struggle with social anxiety, or they’re, they’re just thinkers, right, they just need to chew on it a bit. The question that I always think about, because we, we prioritize the person who speaks the loudest and the longest, right? There’s just like, what are we missing? Because we aren’t hearing from from all of those, like, everyone. What are we missing out on because we’re not hearing? So I’d love to hear that. You know, when you, when, you know, when you think about this, this work? And you know, and we’ve already given one tip from the standpoint of, you know, think about how you could approach the problem from like, what would be a model you could build or for a person on just their own individual journey, and how this might look for them? Because, you know, again, part of this, the show is we want to explore how do we have conversations with other people differently about things, and also how do we have conversations with ourselves? So what would you say, you know, what, what might be places people could start even just in their own personal life to potentially, you know, continue to explore differently? I mean, it, maybe it just goes back to that whole like exploring with your hands, but I just want to expand on that a bit, because I know you have so many beautiful tips and practices.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, no, I mean, I think it’s all about self awareness. Like when it, when it kind of comes down to it. And so I think if you, if you figure out what gives you energy, and what kind of lights you up, and what you really enjoy doing, you can use that as kind of like a 15 minute, like, recharge type of thing. So like, I’m a I’m a huge, like, brain dot fm fan, which is like a science driven music app that uses artificial intelligence and, and all this other like, amazing tech to create these-

Sarah Noll Wilson
Wait, wait, what was it? Say it again? Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but-

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, no, no, no worries. It’s called brain dot fm.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Okay. And keep explaining it. I’m fascinated.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, so, so it’s, it’s like a science driven approach to, to music that allows you to be more productive and more creative. So they have like this, creativity music and so like, you just hit like play and basically, you just go about your work. It’s like kind of, like background music, but it what it does is it allows you to focus and be more productive. So I use like that, and then I maybe like do like a, like, I’ll build or like I’ll write, and whatever, whatever it is, but I’m just kind of like, I use the music as another way to kind of stimulate my- myself to kind of get into that creative, like, kind of state or that, that flow state. And I know that, you know, throughout the pandemic, it’s been really hard for people to tap into that, and I think that the, the way that you can start to do that is to kind of build those habits. So, even if it’s only like 10 minutes a day, or maybe it’s 10 minutes, three times a week, or maybe it’s just on Saturday mornings, at when you get your coffee, whatever, whatever works for your schedule, the idea that you just start to do it and let yourself, give yourself permission to, to play or to tap into that creativity or or feel something different, like that’s gonna change, you know, so much about your, your mindset and like, your, your mental state, and kind of puts you in that, in a different place to then continue on with your day, and that’s what, that’s what you know, part of my, like, that this was what I love to do, it’s because that’s part of my, my freestyle membership. It’s all about putting play into practice, and challenging people to use that every day.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, yeah. Well, and so for those of you who are listening, you know, this is an opportunity to connect with us. So you know, as you hear him talk, what is something that gives you energy? What is something that gives you light? You know, maybe challenge yourself just once this week, do something for just 5-10 minutes that allows you to tap, and unapologetically because I think sometimes there’s so much shame and judgment around, you know, what, what is okay to be- what’s appropriate? Like, well, no, it’s okay to go play golf, but maybe it’s not okay to play video games, or it’s okay to read this kind of material, but not this, and, you know, anyone who follows me knows that my happy flow state is playing the accordion, you know, and sometimes it’s just like a stressful day, just 10 minutes, and I have one song, Golden Slippers, I love to play it. My husband hates it. No, he doesn’t hate it, it just gets in his head because I’ll play it so much. But, but share with us, so share with us, you know, what’s one thing that gives you energy, and you can tag us on social media at Convos on Convos, or send us an email at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com, and I’ll be sure to share those with Ben. Then as you, you know, as you think about this, I, you know, when you- Gosh, again, I’m speaking from personal experience in the people who I’m surrounded with and I spend time with, but you’re right, that I think it has been really hard to find those moments of flow, right? We’re physically fatigued, we’re mentally fatigued, we’re overwhelmed. What’s the cost when we don’t take time to play, to tap into our creativity, to tap in things that energize us, to, you know, all of those things that you’re talking about? What, what’s the cost to us if we don’t?

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, so I mean, the first one is like a really big cost on like, your mental well being. I think, like, you know, we can we can work really, really hard, but what is- what happens? We- it probably, you know, most likely it’ll lead to burnout, or worse. Maybe it leads to a heart attack, or maybe it’s, it’s, you know, you get overwhelmed with anxiety and stress, and because you’re kind of like in this, this, you know, workaholic way, like, you have no way to release anything, maybe even going to the gym can be therapeutic or can feel like play, because it’s so different, and you’re moving around, and you’re, you’re exercising, and you’re just, you’re up and- up and about. And I think, like, we forget that as humans, we like are actually, like, we do better when we’re, when we’re moving. Like, that’s why I think I love to travel for work, because I was constantly on the move, it was, it was city to city, country to country, always trying to catch the next train, or the next plane, or jumping a rental car, or wherever I was trying to go. But I was constantly moving. Because I was constantly moving, all these different things would just come to me, it was like, just like, ideas would just, like, flood, like, my mind, because I was experiencing all these different things. I remember there was one, one time where I think it was over like a three week period, I was in four different countries that, like, over that time. And like, by the time I got home, I think I was, I was living in Hawaii, and I was trying to go to sleep, and I, like, I woke up not knowing where I was, because I was like, I’d been all over the place. But it, like, at the same time I was like so, like, excited about that. Because I was like, that’s so cool to be able to experience all these different cultures and people and experiences and, and, like, have all these things come, come at you, and so I think with the pandemic, it, it, all that kind of stopped, and, and so I think we, we need to kind of allow ourselves to tap into that, even if we’re not traveling, we can still go exercise, you can still go for walks in nature, go hiking, maybe go hiking and play with LEGO. You know, whatever the combination is that works for you. But I think like you building that in to your, to your day and allow- and allowing yourself that time, like you said, unapologetically, it’s gonna, it’s going to help so much. And then the best thing is to do it in community as well with, with others and having that support network and having people cheer you on. Maybe when you build your, your, your LEGO model, or when you get to the next phase of building your LEGO model, whatever it is that you’re working on, I think it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to do that with others.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. Well and, and, and, and I’m again thinking, you know, I work from home largely. We, you know, I’m just starting to travel again, which was sort of, I mean, it was nice, it was like, oh, new restaurants, or new, you know, new food to order in and I, and I even found myself going almost on a novelty spree. I was, I was in Utah recently, and I discovered that in Utah, there’s this, the thing that’s, you know, like really popular there is these sort of like gourmet soda shops, right? Because it’s very, it’s very much a religious Mormon country and so they can’t have alcohol, and my friend who’s, who lives there, he’s like, we got to have some vice. So I was like, just trying all these different types of things, and I think that it’s so easy to get into our routines, especially when we’re working from home, and it’s so easy to be looking at the same thing. And even when we’re in community with each other, because one of the ways we make experience, or the one of the ways that we can create really meaningful memories is by having different sensorial experiences, and since we aren’t, right, traveling maybe as much, it’s starting to shift and open up for sure, but, but when we are going to be permanently remote, it’s finding those ways to do that, because it can be really easy to just stay at home instead of like, I’m going to go for a walk, or, you know what, this meeting, I don’t need to take notes, I’m going to put it in my headphones, and I’m just going to go for a walk, or you know, what my kids got some putty, you know, maybe I’ll play, you know, while we’re on the call, or take the call in a different place. So I think for all, you know, especially those of you who are listening to this conversation and, and work from home, like, like I do, and, you know, then when you’re not traveling, it, you know, it’s really important for us to change up our surroundings, just to have different experiences, and to connect with different people, and like you said, you make those- I can’t imagine being in four different- I’m exhausted hearing that. Four different countries in three weeks. But, but that’s also part of creativity, too, is taking in new information, and because when we take new information, right, we make new connections, and we start seeing possibilities we didn’t consider before, and, and I know that that’s, that’s a muscle I feel like has atrophied for me that I have to, to build, build back up, but I missed it, right? I didn’t even realize I missed it.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, well, I think, I think that’s exactly right. Like, creativity is a muscle. Like, I think that’s another misconception around creativity is the fact that, you know, some people think, oh, well, they’re just creative, when, when actually-

Sarah Noll Wilson
Like it’s a trait.

Benjamin Warsinske
Yeah, like it’s just a natural born trait. But creativity is actually like leadership, or like accounting, or, it’s a skill that you can learn and that you can refine and build that muscle over over time. It’s just a matter of how do you stimulate your mind in order to tap into that. And I think that the more that we can tap into those creative- the creative states, the better off we’re going to be, especially as you look at kind of the fourth Industrial Revolution, and automation, and artificial intelligence, and all of the, you know, current jobs and, and traditional jobs are being replaced. And whether they’re being replaced with, whether the simplifying everything down into machines, and they’re then replacing the the people, so what’s going to be left, it’s going to be creativity, like, yes, artificial intelligence can write articles, like blog articles, but they’re not going to be the best, hopefully, like, you still want a human to share. They’re real- they’re real human experiences, not an artificial intelligent person, you know, or not person to robot sharing, in my experience.

Sarah Noll Wilson
It might feel like a person at some point. But yeah.

Benjamin Warsinske
But the point is that we need to, we need to move towards creativity and embrace it more, because that’s going to be the, that’s, like, the variable that, that all humans have, that, that artificial intelligence, and robots and, and things like that do not have, at least at this time.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Well, and to echo that, we’re also- because I feel like every conversation we have with people is reminding them we’re in one of the biggest experimentations we’ve ever been part of, right? We’re also recovering from one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced, and so it is the, you know, the adaptive challenges that lay before us- I was just telling a client today, I said, what an amazing and also sometimes overwhelming opportunity we have to completely rethink where we work, how we work, how we connect, who we connect, you know, right? Like, you know, you’re saying that this opened up for you to be able to work with a team over in the UK that maybe, maybe that wouldn’t have been an option before, and now it’s like, you know, I always joke like, oh, yeah, next week I’m virtually in Oregon, and then, right, you know, and we’re in this place of just beautiful possibilities, you know, you know, because of the situation and circumstances and so it’s- now, now we need our, you know, just absolute, I don’t know, again, I go back to unleashed possibilities instead of just thinking about the rules and the structure. But it’s been such a treat to chat with you today. I have no doubt that we will continue this convert- I do think, I really do think that we need to bring you back, and I think that we should invite, you know, maybe another guest or two, and we could do, we could explore a topic through a LEGO Serious Play experience, I think would be really fun. Maybe not, I don’t know for the audio listeners, but we could describe things, that, we could make that work. Take pictures and we would obviously, you know, film it for the YouTube. Before we wrap up, though, Ben, there’s always a question I ask everyone, because this is a conversation, a podcast, that’s about Conversations on Conversations. What is a conversation that you’ve had with yourself, or with others, that transformed you, Ben?

Benjamin Warsinske
I think for me, it’s, it’s multiple conversations. It’s, it’s that reflection time where I journal, and I basically ask myself, you know, I think of it like an after action review from the Air Force, that AARs, and like, it’s basically what went right, what went wrong, and what can we do better? What lessons can we learn? And so, the more I reflect on things, the more aware of myself and how I do things and how my team does things becomes, and then we can start to shift and see patterns and start to, to shorten the time that we make those those mistakes, and start to improve, and improve ourselves. And I think that’s one of the things that I’m always trying to do, is trying to improve myself and figure out how we can do things in a better way.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love it. Ben, if people are listening, and they want to connect with you, or if they want to learn more about the community you talked about, or maybe they’re sitting there going, oh, this could be really interesting for my team, what’s the best way for people to connect with you?

Benjamin Warsinske
Oh, gosh, thank you. The best way would be my website, branded world dot co. You can find out information about the community and about my services there. I’m also really active on LinkedIn, and that’s under my name, Benjamin Warsinske. I think I’m the only, only one, only Warsinske that’s super active on LinkedIn.

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s good, that’s good.

Benjamin Warsinske
And then I’m also on Twitter at B Warsinske, and so I’m, I hang out there more often than lately.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I thought you were gonna say more often than you should, because that’s how I would have answered. We will, we’ll put all of those links in the show notes so people can access, access them and connect with you. Ben, thank you so much, so much for bringing some lightness, some energy to a time that again, just sometimes feels a little heavy. I, and I’m going yeah, I need to clearly get my own LEGO set to have at my desk to play with. So thank you so much for for saying yes to the show and coming on and sharing your gifts.

Benjamin Warsinske
Thank you so much. This has been amazing.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations, where I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to Ben Warsinske about LEGO Serious Play. You know, something I’m going to hold on to from this conversation is, is that idea of how can I move even more into my creativity? How can I use physical elements as I’m exploring ideas? Sometimes I can get really stuck in my head so I love that, that invitation that he gave us of, think of a way that you can use your hands as your thinking, and that’s something I’m going to apply. For more information on holding deeper, more meaningful conversations with others, or if you’d simply like to reach out, check me out at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can also connect with me on social media, where my DMs are always open. You can also pick up a copy of my latest book “Don’t Feed the Elephants” wherever books are sold. Now, if there’s something that resonated for you again, we do want to hear from you, so send us an email at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com, and if you like, if you’ve been with us a while, and you’re finding value in these conversations, there’s a few ways you can support the work, and we would be super, we, not would be, I am super grateful for you. The first is you can visit us on patreon dot com slash conversations on conversations, where your financial support will sustain this podcast. You’ll also get access to some pretty great swag, and content, and events. Please rate, review, subscribe to the show, this helps us get exposure and be able to bring on amazing guests like Ben. And a big thank you to the entire team that makes this show possible. To our producer, Nick Wilson, our audio design, Drew Noll, to Olivia Reinert, who helps with the transcriptions, and finally to Kaitlyn Summitt-Nelson for all of her marketing support. Thank you. And just a big final thank you to Ben. Ben is just a ball of energy, and I love, I love the opportunity to explore such a such a light topic like play. It’s not a light topic, it’s a serious topic, but it felt light to explore, which was a just a welcome moment of pause for me, personally. And then, just a final reminder that when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others, we can change the world. So thank you all, please be well, don’t forget to rest, and rehydrate. Take care, bye.

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