From Nay to Yay to Play

Hip! Hip! Hooray! We’re delighted to announce the first ever online play workshop, From Carpe Diem to Carpe Annum 2021, created by The School of Play is full up and ready to rock.

Thank you to those of you who’ve written to me since the launch of Four Seasons of Play, an online play programme designed to mark, explore and celebrate each season of your life’s play adventure in 2021 in these challenging and interesting times.

Never Say Never

Some of you said: “Thanks, not this time… No, thanks. t’s not really for me… No, thanks but I’ll pass it on for sure.” Never say never, so perhaps tomorrow will be the day to play. Or may be next time. Or the time after that. Play works like a muscle so we never really forget so long as we’ve played in our childhood. It’s like riding a bike, or bowling a ball or skating on ice. The most important step is the first one. In any case, it’s never too late to start. And it’s always a good time to learn.

Learn to Look Beyond Optical Illusions

Then out of the blue, one of you wrote to say, “There’s something about this whole play thing that most people seem to have missed – myself included I’m sorry to say. Yet it attracts me as the missing ingredient to just making all of life wonderful – besides I appreciate it’s less serious than other forms of spiritual enlightenment.” This is what makes my heart sing. And may be it will make yours sing, too – if you allow it.

 Calling All Playmakers and Playmaker-Wannabees

Class of Playful Leadership Foundation I: Summer 2019

If you’re wondering what play pioneers (aka playmakers) look like, here they are featured in a video I created just for you. I’m hoping it’ll give you a sense of the kind of unadulterated joy that comes from having fun with complete strangers who become seasonal friends. Just imagine what you could do with this kind of energy (and it doesn’t come with any nasty side effects as far I’m aware).

With the weekend just around the corner, how will you choose to play?

From Carpe Diem to Carpe Annum

Winter Online Workshop on Friday, 29 January 2021 – 13.00 – 17.00 GMT

The hustle and bustle of modern life means that for many of us, play has become a luxury we just don’t have the time, energy nor ideas to do anymore. Without enough true play in our daily lives, we become trapped in a vicious cycle of low energy, low creativity, low resilience, low hope and low growth.

Here’s your chance to re-invigorate your new year’s resolutions (or throw away the already old ones and replace them with even newer ones!) in an unexpectedly fun, friendly and productive way. You’ll have the option to work on your own, in small groups as well as the whole group on a range of playful and thought-provoking activities and learn a smattering of fundamental play theories such as the Play Cycle and the theory of Multiple Intelligences to enable you to translate your dreams and wishes into tangible goals. Then you’ll create a master plan you can start to action right away to make 2021 a year to remember. 

Workshop Takeaways:

  • Play Theory: The Play Cycle and Multiple Intelligences
  • A personalised basic play profile of how you like to play
  • Fresh thinking and insights on yourself and your dreams, wishes and goals
  • Your personalised plan for 2021
  • A personalised and robust strategy on how to achieve your chosen goals for 2021.

This workshop is limited to a maximum of 8 participants.

Who would benefit from taking part in this workshop?

The Four Seasons of Play workshops focus on enabling individuals to develop the systemic mindset and skills necessary for an individual to lead effectively – be it yourself, your team, your family or your life. At each workshop, you’ll experience a range of eclectic tools and techniques you are unlikely to have come across before which you could then apply at work and at home.

What past participants say about this workshop:

  • “Probably the most fun I’ve ever had in planning for a new year!”
  • “It didn’t feel like the usual drudgery that comes with planning… I had so much fun planning it felt like cheating!”
  • “It brought me so much joy just looking at the plan… And I really enjoyed working through the plan over the course of the year!”
  • “The planning approach is so useful, I’ll be using it to plan for the next new year!”

Find out more abou the workshop here. We look forward to learning and growing together through the power of play!

Play for Your Life

“We make reality with our minds. And if this is true, then we can also break it with our minds. We can change the way things are by changing our minds about them.”

Lyall Watson, Scientist & Zoologist

With the arrival of the new year comes the announcement of our second national lockdown in the UK for at least the next 6 weeks. The announcement reminds me of a lesson I learned some years ago and it is this: “There’s neither good news nor bad news, only how we receive the news determines it so”.

Four Seasons of Play 2021

And since the show must go on, I’m delighted to announce the Four Seasons of Play, a brand new online play programme to mark, explore and celebrate each season of your life’s play adventure in 2021. Like the Playful Leadership programme, this new programme of workshops are inspired by everything I’ve learned over the past twenty years about how to enable transformational change that is effective, efficient and, most vital of all, enjoyable. Especially in these challenging and interesting times.

Each workshop can be enjoyed independently or as a combination of modules in a year-long programme where you’ll learn about true play, how to cultivate your play intelligence and shift towards a play mindset as the seasons change. Play your cards right and you’ll grow as a person as well as a leader by becoming more resourceful, resilient and real in these unprecedented and transformative times.

Consider this your invitation to play, be it at one of the Four Seasons of Play workshops, or on your own or with your family or your pet. The most important thing now is to keep playing because play prevents our hearts from growing hard towards one another and reminds us of what it means to be truly alive. Play on!

The Tick Tock Tree

Over the past 20 years I have played with change in a range of financial institutions with variable success. Then a year ago, I was invited to join a bank-wide transformation like nothing I had ever experienced before. If I had only three words to describe my first impressions a month after my arrival about the bank’s culture, they would be: Friendly, capable and open.

A year on and those words still hold true. What’s more, for many of us these may also be the same three words we wished we could use to describe not just the institutions we entrust our life savings to, but also the places where we do our life’s work.

For the past year I have provided individual and group coaching to senior managers and their teams, as well as individual leadership coaching to organisational change agents such as Scrum Master and Agile Coaches. I have co-designed and co-delivered Agile and leadership training, facilitated numerous programme increment planning for groups in person and remotely as well as accompanied a number of programme teams on their Agile journey.

A Different Kind of Agile Adventure

“So what?” I hear you say. What has made my latest Agile Adventure different to those in the past, is this. By taking a more systemic stance, seeing, thinking and taking action with the whole system in mind, I have enabled more positive and enduring change… Sooner with less effort. Repeatably. Continuously. And have more fun. As many of my colleagues will agree.

So what’s my key learning? In order to do my life’s work, I need to continuously transform myself. Sounds simple and is anything but easy.

My Three Lifesavers

As a wise Agile coach once said to me, “A dead Agile coach is no good to anyone.” Here are my three latest lifesaving principles as I learn to sail my ship:

  • Keep my own drama out of my work
  • Do I what I do best
  • Remember what my work is in service of – not only the individual but the system as a whole.

Symbiosis of Change and Change Agent

Thank you to everyone with whom I’ve had a chance to work with and learn from in the past 12 months. It’s been jampacked with challenge and delight. A year on from an auspicious beginning, as this particular chapter now comes to an end, I am physically and mentally fitter and healthier than when I started. And if my body could still grow vertically, I’d be at least an inch taller now 12 months later.

Here’s one way I’ve found to enable transformational change and have lots of fun doing it. With love. Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen! Play on!

Play with Your Feathers

Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Today I invite you to explore a topic from one of the many systems to which I belong, the world of Agile. And the topic is Agile Leadership, a concept made of two halves.

On the one hand, there’s “Agile” the family of methods for delivering value that is iterative and incremental. I began practicing Agile shortly after its inception when I began my professional life as a Java developer 19 years ago. The key to learning about Agile for me is this: To be agile, you have to practice Agile. Sounds simple and is anything but easy. Otherwise, Agile wouldn’t continue to be as much of an industry as it is today.

On the other hand is “Leadership” which requires an understanding of how systems work, in particular, relationship systems. What do I mean by “relationship system”? I find this avian metaphor from Coaching Constellations creator John Whittington useful.

Peacock Present

Imagine each of us are a peacock. Behind each of us is a fan of feathers, with each feather representing a relationship system we have come from. From education systems, to previous professional systems as well as current professional systems, to social and cultural systems. And, of course, our family of origin. It’s no wonder that when we get together as groups and teams in an organisation, we end up ruffling each other’s feathers. Peafowl and politics indeed.

And just before you lose hope at the seemingly impossible mission of changing a system for greater good in your lifetime, it turns out you are key to that change. Why? Because as a systemic leader, the first system to look at is your own. In principle, we each stand a better chance of changing ourselves than those around us. As a systemic leader, you work on your own “system” in service of the wider system, your organisation.

Let’s Go Play in the Field

Where are you right now in relation to Agile Leadership? Notice what comes to mind. Or perhaps in your body. Simply acknowledge what is. That is enough.

The Route to Healthy Organisations

During my play research, I stumbled upon a curious discovery. The word “business” according to the ancient Chinese translates to mean literally “meaning of life”. If this is true, organisations can be a place where you can do your life’s work. Living your life’s purpose. At work. Imagine that. And in order to live your life’s purpose, many of the great philosophers agree that we each need to work in service of the wider system and not the individual. To work for greater good. That’s what distinguishes a job from a career, a career from a calling.

The Five Ancient Agile Values

As a young IT professional trying to make sense of how organisations worked, one of the key texts that has shaped my professional path these past 19 years from developer to development manager to consultant then Agile coach and most recently executive and personal coach is Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming (aka XP) Explained (1st and 2nd editions). What captured my twenty-something heart and gave me the courage to work and play in service of something greater than myself are the XP values: Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect. It seemed like fair play to me.

Agile Leadership Through a Systemic Lens

Communication: As leaders, it is essential that our “three brains” are aligned, the one in our head, our heart and our gut. Without this internal alignment, our leadership is as discombobulated as we are. This somatic coherence sounds simple and is anything but easy. Otherwise, leadership wouldn’t continue to be as much of an industry as it is today.

Being human is also about human-being and human-doing. It is a combination of thought and action. This is why it is important to know your values, to embody that knowing of what you stand for in all three brains so that you can live and breathe your values, day in, day out. This is what engenders trust. In yourself. And in others.

Simplicity: What do you do to add value? Is what you’re doing useful? Add value every day. Start small. As Chinese philosopher Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or in XP, one baby step at a time. The important thing is to begin. To live a value-driven and values-driven life.

Feedback: Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Notice any inner chatter. Acknowledge what is instead of wishing for what could be. A key systemic principle is the balance of exchange. A balance of giving and taking. Which of your three brains have you excluded? A systemic leader ensures each brain has a place just like each person in their team has a place. Anyone that is excluded will lead to organisational entanglements and difficulties that compromise organisational health for all.

Courage: Show up as yourself. From a centred place. A place of mindfulness and meditation. A place where you will not be easily recruited by other people and their stories which serve to only entangle the system further to the detriment of everyone in the system. Perhaps one of the most courageous acts for many is this: Play at work. Give it a go. I find inspires me and others towards a greater purpose. Leading by example.

Respect: This value was added in the second version of Kent’s book. And it was the game-changer for me. It addresses 3 key needs we all have as human beings: Belonging, safety and recognition.

  • Belonging: It ensures everyone has a place. No one is excluded.
  • Safety: Each of us agree to be the same-size. No one is bigger, no one is more than another.
  • Recognition: To truly see and be with one another requires us to “go beyond the field of right and wrong” and meet each other in the field of non-judgment described by Sufi poet Rumi.

A useful reminder regarding respect I’ve found among leaders is this: “Giving up wanting to help or to rescue people is essential if you sincerely respect them.” from the creator of Family Constellations Bert Hellinger.

Back in the Playing Field

Now that we’ve come full circle, I invite you to consider this: What would be a baby step towards better for you and each of those people or entities who are part of your Agile Leadership system? And if what you are contemplating were a chapter in a book, what would be the chapter heading in just a few words? Say them out loud. Play with the words until they feel true. To you.

Thank you for joining me in the field today. I had fun. I hope you had fun, too. I invite you to take what’s useful and leave behind what’s not with me. Let’s play again soon!

Resources You May Wish to Look At

Books on Agile

Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck (2nd Edition) – One of the “ancient” (ie earliest) texts about Agile in terms of values, principles and practices of which Extreme Programming is one particular method.

The Dream Team Nightmare by Portia Tung – A “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” Agile novel with eight different endings designed to enrich and put your Agile knowledge and experience to the test.  Contains useful exercises to try with your team as well as an Agile glossary. Also available on Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles online stores.

Flow of Life and Love in Systems

Flow by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi – Science-backed research on how to lead a meaning and productive life as described by ancient philosophers.

Systemic Coaching and Constellations by John Whittington (3rd Edition) – A great introduction to systemic thinking and practice with plenty of exercises to explore your own peacock feathers.

Play On!

Playful Leadership: How to Create Transformational Change and Have Fun Doing It by Portia Tung – 60-min closing keynote at Agile 2019 drawing on my experiences and learnings from organisational change and play science.

Play by Dr. Stuart Brown – The book that inspired me to play for my life by promoting happier adulthood through lifelong play.

TED talk: Play by Dr. Stuart Brown – A brief introduction to Dr. Brown’s play research

TSOP: Autumn Term 2019

Welcome to The School of Play Autumn Term!

We hope you’ve had a playful summer and are looking forward to Nature’s colour orchestra as autumn sets in.

Summer in Two Countries

This summer saw the launch of our flagship programme on Playful Leadership which leverages the latest research on Play Science, neuroscience, psychology and coaching to explore and develop your personalised leadership style through play. The first ever Playful Leadership Foundation course took place this sunny July at Chicheley Hall in beautiful Buckinghamshire, the UK country home of the Royal Society.

This was followed by a weekend of play at the MaSCoT conference organised by Wolverhampton University in support of local maths teachers at schools and universities where we gave a talk on “Unleash Your Play Brain: Play Your Way Towards a Happier Adulthood“.

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Next we flew across the pond to Washington DC where we gave the latest talk on Playful Leadership: How to Enable Transformational Change and Have Fun Doing It as the closing keynote to 1500+ playmakers at Agile 2019, the world’s largest Agile conference.

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What’s Next?

More Playful Leadership Please!

A lucky bunch of us are off next week on  7-8 October for some outdoor play and indoor contemplation for the next Playful Leadership Foundation course. Registration is now closed. We will be announcing more dates for next year soon!

Other Upcoming Courses

For a thought-provoking, playful and change experience when it comes to creating effective Agile transformations, there are two options this autumn in two equally beautiful cities:

And if you fancy an introduction to play fundamentals, here’s the chance to play in Milton Keynes:

Conferences Where Play Happens

If you would like to experience the power of Playful Leadership LIVE, join us at these two super-fun conferences:

Meanwhile, wishing you, your colleagues and loved ones a playful autumn!

Happy Birthday to The School of Play!

Chicheley-HallYay! The School of Play turns 3 today (proof that the Universe has a sense of humour given it’s April 1st), the same week as our favourite play festival CounterPlay 2019 gets ready to play later on this week (BTW you can still buy a ticket to play at CounterPlay).

To celebrate our toddler of a startup’s birthday we are launching our Playful Leadership Foundation Course set to take place this 8-9 July in the beautiful venue of Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire, a stunning Grade I listed mansion as featured in film and television projects as Pride and Prejudice, The Meaning of Life, and Black Beauty.

Chicheley Hall is also the home of the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, a venue for residential events. As the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, The Royal Society is dedicated to promoting excellence in science and is a fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists.

We very much hope you’ll come and join us to play at Chicheley Hall this summer to experience and celebrate the transformative power of play!

What a Wonderful World

New-Year-CourageEver since I can remember, I have approached each new year like Indiana Jones the Temple of Doom. For me, a new year is a paradoxical praline, a seductive chocolatey shell of adventure and challenge filled with a soft centre of unease flavoured with dread. And the only way to deal with dodgy chocolate? Run it off of course.

What I think about when I am running

As I set out from my doorstep, one foot pounding in front of the other, I thought about the gratitude I feel for my family. Of the freedom to do what will hopefully enable me to do my life’s work for long enough to make a difference.

And that’s when I remember one of the most useful lessons I learned in 2018: to welcome my Fear whenever, wherever and however it shows up. Then give it a hug.

And then I remember a curious riddle and answer I once saw while splashing about in a hotel swimming pool far away from home, spelt out in mini turquoise and white tiles: “What is the shortest distance between two people? A smile.”

Three Magical Words

And before you know it, instead of my usual greeting of “Good Morning!”, I find myself uttering a heart-felt wish out loud to each and every passerby: “Happy New Year!” First to a young couple out jogging together. Then to an elderly lady walking her cockapoo. And then to a family of father, mother and their grownup son. And then to an elderly man who seemed deep in thought.

In reply to my gift of a wish of “Happy New Year!”, that elderly gentleman said with deep sincerity, “I hope you make lots of money!” To which I reply with a challenge and a smile, “May be happiness!”

And that’s all it took, a simple wish of “Happy New Year!” from one human being to another to light up our faces and keep our hearts warm.

That’s when I remember what is probably the most beautiful song in the world: “What a Wonderful World” performed by Louis Armstrong. And my running adventure this morning was just like he sang, “I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do / They’re really saying I love you.”

And I’m reminded, “I hear babies crying, I watch them grow / They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know.”

What a wonderful world indeed. Happy New Year!

The F Word

4-The-F-Word

Befriending Inner Demons

One of my favourite things is to think the unthinkable, speak the speakable, dream the seemingly impossible. It forces me to dig deep, face my fears and then befriend them – after all, they’re part of who am I so why wouldn’t I care for them like I do the rest of me?

And when I give my fears the time of day, listen to all they have to say and thank them… something magical happens. I am suddenly reminded that now’s as good a time as any to live my life’s purpose because no one else is going to do it for me. And that I won’t be around forever to do my life’s work.

F for Fun, Fear and Friends

Just before I created my puppy of a startup The School of Play, I met up with my friend Mark. He’d always struck me as a good listener and wise and kind. I wanted to sound him out on my latest idea.

Me: I know this sounds crazy, but I’m going to create The School of Play to promote happier adulthood through lifelong play.

Mark: (Silence)

Me: I think it’s my life’s purpose.

Mark: (Silence)

Me: So what do you think?

Mark: I think you’re right.

Mark’s calm and non-judgmental response wasn’t only refreshing but it helped me realise I was onto something huge because, as a person with endless ideas that challenge the status quo, I’m used to people telling me I’m an idealist and why my ideas won’t work in the real world.

The Keys to Happiness

Gretchen Rubin’s research on happiness reveals that the keys to happiness are:

  • Challenge
  • Novelty
  • Atmosphere of Growth

While our brains are delighted with the surprise of the new and we extend our comfort zones through continuous growth, to expand our self-definition we need challenge. Gretchen goes on to describe how the more elements we have that make up our identity, the more robust and resilient we become when one of those elements are threatened, such as losing our job.

The Meaning of Life

But what’s the point of being robust and resilient if we don’t know our life’s purpose? I’m 42 and I’m not alone in experiencing so-called midlife crisis regularly and often. Each crisis has been an opportunity to either move closer or further away from the person I wish to become. In my experience, Purpose exists to light the way less travelled.

My wish to promote happier adulthood through lifelong play is my attempt to create a better world for my little girl and her friends as well as all those children who are now grown up and have the chance to effect positive change as adults, for themselves and for future generations.

What’s your life’s purpose? And what’s the smallest step you can take to live the life you long for?

The Fun Fear Factor

3-Lateriphobia

Sharing is Caring

First of all, a big “Thank You!” to those of you who’ve written to let me know I’m not a lone sufferer of Legophobia and shared your personal brick stories of terror and bravery.

Second of all, an even bigger “THANK YOU!” to those of you who complained that I had made up a condition to justify my prejudice against what is probably one of the most beloved childhood toys in human history. After all, the only appropriate answer when one is given feedback is, of course, “Thank You”.

According to Urban Dictionary, Legophobia is “the irrational fear of playing with a Lego set”. Urban Dictionary goes on to assert that the fear is due to “a person’s negative school experience when trying to visualise three-dimensional solids”. This definition has been given a definitive 210 thumbs up from 210 Urban Dictionary readers.

Ways of Seeing

I can’t remember when my aversion to Lego developed, but I remember struggling with the VRML module on my Masters in Computer Science course. These days I still find it hard to visualise in 3D but that’s because I naturally visualise in 2D images and words. As a writer, my preference for words and 2D to date has been more than sufficient in enabling my imagination to express itself.

What’s more, I’ve managed to lead an extraordinarily playful life in spite of my limited physical depth perception. With hindsight, I believe this is partly because of my acute level of critical self-reflection. You lose some, you win some.

The Same Fear by Another Name

A further Google search reveals that a synonym for Legophobia is Lateriphobia (from Latin Lateri meaning “brick”), a term coined by Kaleb Palmer in 2015.

According to Kaleb, Lateriphobia is a condition you are either born with or develop as a result of “difficult or terrifying experiences” with Lego such as “accidentally deconstructing it then fixing it”.

Kaleb continues, “In extreme cases, Lateriphobia can cause hysteria. Sufferers may feel like the Legos are trying to harm them and do what they can to either destroy or escape the Legos”.

I have no doubt many of us will have observed repeatedly such reactions from toddlers attempting to play with Lego, to young children transitioning from Duplo to Lego as well as older children and adults.

Lateriphobia as a Lifelong Companion

Based on my observations and firsthand experience, I assert all human beings are susceptible to Lateriphobia throughout our lives. What’s more, Lateriphobia could be used to describe the universal human condition that is our aversion to learning: because learning causes discomfort, can be difficult, requires work as well as reveals our deficiencies and incompetencies.

How can play help you with Lateriphobia?