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


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?

Lego Nightmare


My Fear of Lego

I suffer from Legophobia. I first realised I had this condition when I attended an introductory Lego Serious Play workshop run by wonderful Lego Meisters Duo Katrin Elster and Jens Hoffmann at the ever playful conference Play4Agile some years ago.

Prior to attending that workshop, I’d noticed in passing that as an adult, given a choice of playing with Lego or another activity, I always preferred the alternative (including doing chores!). And since building Lego didn’t feature in my job description at the time, I dismissed my aversion as simply a personal preference.

It wasn’t until I found myself having to first follow instructions to build a turtle as a warmup exercise and then use it to represent my thoughts that I realised the severity of my Legophobia.

My inner critic shrieked with pain as I struggled to piece the brick animal together. What’s more, I was surrounded by other adults who were clearly more adept than I was and I had to refrain from snapping back at offers of help.

“You’re rubbish at Lego!” my inner critic remarked. “Should have played more with Lego when you were little!” it continued. “Following instructions has never been your strong point!” it hollered. “Everyone will see when you get it wrong!” it sniggered.

“But the hard edges as so constraining,” I protested. “I prefer curves and round edges. I’d much rather be implementing my own design rather than following someone else’s. This feels like handwork. Where’s the fun in all this?”

Not to mention other perturbing challenges such as searching for a particular widgety piece in among a mountain of similar looking bricks which reminded me of searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack or, worst still, looking for something important and not being able to find it because I hadn’t been tidy enough.

Yet in spite of the clamorous voices in my head (isn’t  there an orchestra in yours?), Katrin and Jens had somehow created a safe space for me to first recognise my Legophobia and second to engage as an active participant so that I could learn from the experience.

Since then I’ve attended the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitator Training run by Katrin which was one of the most demanding and draining training courses I’d ever been on, but also one of the most rewarding as it deeply affected me throughout the course and long after the course was over.

Letting It Go with Lego

The course enabled me to experience firsthand the importance of psychological safety (also known as safe play), a key ingredient to true play. True play is the place where deep learning takes place and, if you’re lucky, transformative change happens in what could be described as an enjoyable way. The playfulness of expressing my metaphors through Lego models helped me learn what true vulnerability means among adults and it feels just as Elsa described in her snow song. Who would have thought plastic bricks could evoke such as a sense of ice lolly freedom?

Hope and Play

My favourite insight to date from my Lego Serious Play encounter has been this. Just as Hope research reveals that a person’s past hopefulness in no way predetermines a person’s future hopefulness, we each of us have the choice to choose to play differently in spite of our personal play history. How will you choose to play?

Play for Your Life

My-Happiness-Project-1On Becoming a Playful Person

Having engaged in play with thousands of adults for the past sixteen years in various roles, ranging from Agile coach, trainer and keynote speaker to executive and personal coach, I am convinced that play is the most effective, efficient and enjoyable way to bring about positive change.

True Love for True Play

From leading live sing-alongs of “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes” at conference keynotes held at places like Churchill College, Cambridge and the Ministry of Justice to facilitating organisational change in large corporates and running play adventure experiences, I have repeatedly witnessed and experienced firsthand the phenomenon of true play. True play, to paraphrase Play Expert Dr Stuart Brown, is fair play, safe play and being a good sport. True play enables people to re-open their hearts and minds to learn and grow where previously they may have existed as zombies shuffling to the beat of 9-to-5. True play reinvigorates the mind, body and spirit like no other tool, technique or framework I have come across in all my years of zombification, first as a working adult and in the past 4 years as a working parent.

Following the Footsteps of Kindred Spirits

So imagine my delight when I recently stumbled upon Gretchen Rubin’s concept of a “happiness project” (the reason I missed her book the first time around was because I was too busy playing with a number of my own happiness experiments all involving play of course!).

According to Gretchen, each person’s happiness project will be unique. The first step to defining your happiness project is to answer the following 3 questions:

1. What makes you feel good?

Because of the nature of my job as an organisational change agent and working in a number of highly toxic environments (thus inducing a feeling of being perpetually discombobulated), play became my goto coping mechanism.  I learned very early on that if I can’t laugh at myself, then I’ve missed the biggest joke of all. Over the years, I have developed key survival skills such as making light of the intolerable to bring hope (even for but a moment) where previously there was only corporate darkness and despair.

2. What makes you feel bad?

Being surrounded by wasted lives – untapped human potential in others and myself (of course!). This became a top priority when I became a parent because I discovered that in spite of all the playing I’d done in my professional capacity with adults, I knew nothing about true play when it came to working with real play experts such as my own newborn. What I needed was to learn and grow more, faster than I’d ever done since being a child myself.

3. What feels right?

Play has been a lifelong passion for me because it’s synonymous with continuous learning and personal growth powered by love and kindness for others beginning with love and kindness for oneself. Formalising my passion for play, from play science and play philosophy to play culture, makes becoming a play researcher an obvious next step.

My Happiness Play Project

My happiness project is based on research answers to the following questions:

  • Is it possible to become a more playful person?
  • What is play anyway?
  • How can I become a more playful adult?
  • How can I become a more playful parent?

I’ve decided to adopt a personal approach to my research because, like Gretchen’s happiness project (how to make herself happier), I believe that change begins with myself and if I can figure out how to become a more playful adult and parent, then it’s highly likely that other people may find the research useful too since our common denominator is as human beings.

Vita Brevis

I invite you to join me on what is sure to be a playful adventure – challenging and changing the way we live by becoming our best playful selves. For you. For me. For humanity.

By the way, did I mention that risky play is a key ingredient to true play? Play at your peril to live long and prosper. Happy 2018!


Happy 1st Birthday!

Share-PlayThe School of Play turns one today! And as though by magic, it falls on April Fools’ Day.

Dare to Dream Greatly

The School of Play began as one of my most ambitious dreams to date. It goes like this:

One day, when my little girl is all grown up, just before she sets foot on her starship, ready for yet another intergalactic mission to make new friends and facilitate intergalactic peace, she turns around and kisses me on the cheek. “Mama,” she says, “I love doing what I do every day with my friends knowing that we’re creating a better world.”

And that’s when I know we’ve together created a world where everyone can thrive by turning their dreams into a reality. Just imagine what such a world would be like!

The Power of a Wish

Like all powerful wishes, The School of Play came to life in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. Many people would tell me, “Are you sure you want to include the word ‘play’ in the name of your school? People might not take it seriously”. While others would simply roll their eyes with disapproval and disgust at the thought of adults having fun, not just at home but at work, too.

And that’s when I knew I was onto something important. Every time I’ve had a truly weird and wonderful idea, I’d experienced such negative reactions. That was, until I moved out of the naysayers’ sphere of influence and went in search for others who were courageous, nurturing and generous enough to let other people’s ideas live.


Carpe Annum

The first year of running the school has turned me into an entrepreneur, a product manager, a web designer, an accountant and a philanthropist and much more besides. That’s not to say that I’m an expert in all those roles, but rather I now get to practice whole-heartedly things like Lean and Agile principles and practices and put them to the test on my life’s purpose: to promote happier adulthood through lifelong play.

Gratitude and Friendship

And so it is with great gratitude and joy (not to mention relief), that I find myself celebrating The School’s first birthday with global playmakers in a world playground created by play visionary Mathias Poulsen with the purpose of creating a more playful society for greater good for all.

Lovely to have met up with my old friend Carsten Ruseng and many thanks to Flick Hardingham and Ben Ross for showing me the magic doorway to the world of play!


Want to Play?

As part of The School’s birthday treat, we’ve launched the next 1-day play adventure, “From Strangers to Ourselves: Exploring Our Identity and Relationships“. We hope you’ll join us!

We’re also developing a programme on play intelligence – so watch this space!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a playful 2017! With much love from the beautiful town of Aarhus, Denmark.

From Carpe Diem to Carpe Annum


Each new year warrants at least a glance in the rear view mirror and, for me, what leaps into focus is the Secret Santa present I was given during Christmas dinner hosted by my friend Debs.

I’d been daydreaming about taking The School of Play to Scandinavia for a while now so imagine my delight when I was given “The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the Happiest Country” by Helen Russell. The next thing you know, I’m practicing hygge, pronounced “hooga” loosely translated as “coziness”, by treating myself to a guilt-free Danish pastry on the way to work.

What more liberating way to start one’s day than with a sugary hug on a cold winter morning? A great antidote to the chronic zombiism to which many of my fellow commuters seem to have succumbed given the way they barge their fellow human beings out of the way in order to get a seat on the train or tube so that they can stay asleep for longer.

What’s more, fuelled by the comforting combo of cinammon and sugar, I’ve dared to experiment with living Danishly by trusting those around me more. According to Denmark’s ‘happiness economist’ Christian Bjoernskov what Danes really care about is trust: “In Denmark, we trust not only family and friends, but also the man or woman on the street – and this makes a big difference to our lives and happiness levels.” When asked “Do you think most people can be trusted?” More than 70 percent of Danes say: “Yes.” The average of the rest of Europe is just over a third.

There’s more. Research shows that intelligent people are more likely to trust others ( – possibly because they are better judges of character, a form of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences according to Dr Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.

By setting myself the challenge and chance to be my authentic self, I’m re-discovering firsthand that trust engenders a sense of belonging and with it well-being that I’d only hitherto experienced back in my childhood days. And being congruent is so much more fun than wasting time and effort pretending to be something we’re not.

So where has practicing hygge got me so far? A special invitation to Denmark to present at Counterplay in March, a conference that summons the most playful community from around the world organised by fellow playmaker Mathias Poulsen. I’ll even be flying into Billund where The School of Play will warm up with a day out at Legoland on 29 March 2017 to rediscover many of the things we learned as children but have since forgotten… including trusting that strangers are simply friends you’ve not met yet. I hope you’ll join me and come out to play!

Watch this space for more fun and games… Meanwhile, wishing you a playful 2017! Here’s to happier adulthood through lifelong play!

To Play or Not to Play


The most common question I get asked whenever I mention the School of Play is this: “The School of Play… what’s your demographic?”

What people really want to know is: “What kinds of adults want to play?” And, more importantly, “Are these adults like me?”

Based on my observations:

1. Adults who come to play at the school usually have a healthy sense of curiosity and some memory of play associated with past happiness.

2. The adults come from a diverse background with a shared desire to play more in order to achieve more of what they want in life. There is no stereotype of a typical player (or playmaker as I like to call us). This is evidence that play satisfies a fundamental drive and supports the ongoing development and maintenance of adults, not just for children.

The Risk of Play

It’s a well-known phenomenon that play isn’t all laughter and lightness. True play also comes with a degree of risk, stretching us beyond our comfort zone so that we can grow to become the person we want to be.

The Reward of Play

The reward of this risk-taking is a sense of freedom that many of us rarely get to experience as adults in our everyday life. And rarely at work. Engaging with more play outside of work is one way to begin to address this imbalance.

Do you dare to play?

Play means different things to different people but the benefits of play remain the same for those who have fun and let themselves enjoy life as it comes. When we play, we feel a sense of connectedness, to others and to ourselves. We feel a sense of belonging and play gives us hope so long as we keep going in pursuit of our life’s purpose (including figuring what it actually is).

What more can we ask of something seemingly simple and modest as pure play?

Yay or Nay to Play?

When we play, we become present as our whole selves and with this comes a great joy, relief and reassurance that we actually have what we need to overcome the challenges we face – at times, with a little help from our friends, of course!

So what will you choose to say the next time you’re invited to play?

A Play Confession


When I listen to people talk about play for long enough, they eventually tell me this: “Come to think about it, I don’t really play. I spend most of my time working and I’m too tired to do anything else when I get home. And if I happen to have any spare energy, I feel that I ought to spend it on something worthwhile instead of squandering it on play!”

It’s uncanny because this has always been my default response ever since becoming an adult. In spite of the compulsion to achieve all the time, I’ve come to recognise there is a direct correlation between how much I play and the amount of energy and happiness I feel. In fact, the more I play, the more energy I have, the happier I feel and the more I grow, the more I achieve.

And that’s why I make sure I play at least once a day for at least 15 minutes. Why? Because research shows that getting your daily amount of play is at least as important as taking your vitamins or ensuring you have a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. It’s not always easy to find the time to play, but I know I’ll feel better for it when I’ve played.

Playing to Survive or Thrive?

Judging by the large number of people doing the zombie shuffle during the daily commute, the majority of adults aren’t getting their daily recommended amount of play (15 minutes of play a day should help you overcome most of the ennui or challenges you face according to Dr Stuart Brown, a world-renowned expert on play).

What’s more, I’m seeing a recurring pattern. The more ambitious, hardworking and successful you are, the more likely you are to neglect play. Over a prolonged period of time, this could result in chronic play deficiency. And if we continue to live a life of all work and no true play, we may well end up coming face-to-face with our own Terrible Yoot (in the form of Depression and Despair).

So why not treat yourself to plenty of fun this summer and welcome the autumn with a night at the Curiosity Carousel held in the ultimate fun and crafty venue of Drink Shop Do?

The Meaning of Play


Imagine. We’re sat in a field together on a fine summer’s day among friends and I ask you, “How do you play?”

If you find yourself bubbling with a myriad of answers and become increasingly excited just thinking and talking about play, then it’s likely you can play and want to play.

If you start reminiscing how much fun you used to have playing and wish for more play in your life now, then it’s likely you don’t currently play enough but definitely still want to play.

If, on the other hand, you become blocked and need a definitive definition of play before answering the question of “How do you play?”, then it’s possible that…

… You can play but some reason(s) you won’t play (otherwise you would have just started playing by making up answers in order to figure out the meaning of the word “play”).

… Or perhaps you can’t play and won’t play. “Can’t play” in this instance refers to the possibility that you’ve forgotten how to play or may be you never learned how to play in the first place. “Won’t play” means you are unwilling to play even if you knew how.

Play-QuadrantWhat’s do we mean by “play”?

Just as there are more than 70 definitions of intelligence, there are many definitions of play.

Dr Stuart Brown, play researcher and founder of the National Institute of Play defines play as:

  • Seemingly purposeless
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent attraction
  • Time flies by
  • Reduces sense of self-consciousness
  • Potential for improvisation
  • Desire to keep going

I’ve been testing Dr Brown’s definition and have discovered it resonates strongly with a key finding from my own play research: There is no one-size-fits-all definition of play.

After all, we’re individuals. That’s why it’s important we explore what play means to us. For ourselves. And in that exploration, we gain insights into our understanding of play and our relationship with play.

And if we play with our ideas of play for long enough, somewhere along the way, life-challenging and life-changing questions start to crop up such as “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and “What kind of person do I want to become?”

Over to you, My Friend. How do you play? Be you a Play Seeker or Play Skeptic, come along and join us to learn more about play!

The First Mini Play Adventure in the World


“You’re a what? A change agent? I thought you were joking when you said that’s what you do.”

And it does feel like a joke much of the time if I’m to be honest.

I met David last Saturday at a mini play adventure, the first event run by The School of Play. The moment I heard my soon-to-be friend David’s words I knew we were going to have lots of fun together.

And so it was that seven strangers met on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Milton Keynes Museum talking, playing and contemplating how we play and our multiple intelligences externalised through play.

I was delighted to discover that there are other adults who, like me, long to play more in their lives and are willing to pursue it wholeheartedly. And as we explored our ideas of play, amongst buttercups and concrete cows, an invisible thread appeared that connected our individual definitions of play.

It turns out one of the reasons adults want to play is because it helps us be authentic. And we want to be authentic because it feels good. Because it connects us with our true selves. Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown calls this “living wholeheartedly”, to show up and allow yourself to be seen. What our mini play adventure demonstrated was that to be authentic, we need a space that is safe and non-judgmental. The same condition necessary for true play.

Play for a Change

Creating The School of Play has been a long-time dream of mine, promoting happier adulthood through lifelong play. Having spent the past 15 years being paid to play as a change agent in large corporations (from airlines to biscuit manufacturing to financial institutions), one of the most effective and efficient ways I’ve found that keeps me going and growing is to play our way through change.

Making Play History

If we wish to change the world, we need to first change ourselves. I hope you’ll join us at the next mini play adventure on Saturday, 25 June, at the historical and beautiful setting of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. What better way to transform into our better selves than through play in the company of friends? Hooray!