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!