Designing for Play – How to Play your Work

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In the March DwD session with Farzad Sedghipour, we explored the importance of finding play in our work through a semi-structured facilitated workshop.  Roughly 20 members of Toronto’s innovation community attended, ready to design for play. The workshop was based on Farzad’s Strategic Foresight & Innovation project,  Play to Perform: Why Play is the Future of Work

Play is one of life’s top motivators, it is fundamentally collaborative, and we have to play in creative work.

The Process

“Work and Play are words to used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”
-Mark Twain

The DwD workshop comprised several improv games; a short-discussion defining play, what it is and is not, the creation of individual Play Personalities through a Maker’s survey, and group games exploring the future of play at work.

Defining one’s Play Personality required individuals to reflect back into their childhood experiences and remember moments when they were fully immersed in an activity for its sake.  Participants were asked to also consider times they made a difference, what made them come alive in these instances, and what animal personalities and historical/fictional characters they identified with.

The final piece of this exercise was a magazine montage, in which participants created their play personality using magazine cutouts, to help them define what personality traits and attributes characterize them when they are in a state of play.

In the second exercise, we explored jobs many would consider “mundane” or “boring” – call center operator, assembly line worker, retail etc. –  and how we as managers might help our employees find more play within them.  We talked about how Toyota for example, injects play into manufacturing work through their Kaizen culture, which encourages employees to take ownership of continuous improvement initiatives and processes.  We talked about how a call center might “playify” its work to A/B test various strategies, while enabling staff to have fun and produce more great work.  In general, we talked about how managers can give employees more agency and control over how they do their work, in order to cultivate a play mindset in their employees.

Rank your top 2 drives to play are:

  • The Joker: loves nonsense, and practical jokes as an adult
  • The Kinesthetic: needs to move (to think); loves being in their body: dance, swim, yoga, walk
  • The Explorer: Actively seeks out new experiences, be they physical, mental, or emotional
  • The Competitor: loves playing games to win, to be number 1
  • The Director: Enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. Born organizers, party givers; the world’s a stage and we are all players in the director’s game
  • The Collector: Have and hold the most, best, and most interesting objects: coins, toys, wine, shoes, ties, videos, music etc. can be solitary or social
  • The Artist/Creator: The maker, including painting, woodworking, pottery, and sculptor.. more recently, the programmer/developer
  • The Storyteller: Imagination is the key to this kingdom; novelists, playwrights, cartoonists, and screenwriters; Performer of magic tricks, lectures, dance and actingLeading with a play mindset is what creative entrepreneurs and master crafts people do explained Farzad, because for them, play is the work they would do even if no one required them to do it.

A few key insights that emerged were:

  1. Employing sensory props such as smelly markers, jelly beans, and balloons can nudge participants in more vividly recalling their childhood experiences,
  2. More opportunities to learn about the neuroscience and theory of play,
  3. and facilitate mad libs and co-creations to inspire more play-led activities.  

All great suggestions to think about, for how else could one consistently perform with vitality, creativity, and skill, without play.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Farzad is an economist and a futurist who is passionate about strategy and organizational design, play, and the future or work.  He thinks systematically and behaviourally to help clients find innovation opportunities between diverse values and interests. Farzad’s past experiences include 8-years’ leading economic research, organizational development and business design, and strategic-foresight projects for the private and public sector. He holds a M.A. in Economics & Finance and a MDes in Strategic Foresight & Innovation.

 

Game Changing – Adapting Workshops for Emergence

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In this DwD session with Stephen Sillett, we explored the nature of emergence in structured facilitated workshops and the approaches to breaking structure in planning and convening to create the conditions for generative emergence. A good cross-section of Toronto’s current generation of innovation leaders attended, about evenly balance between social innovators and business/design consultants. Th first sketch of the evening mapped the sectors and approaches from particpants during our check-in.

 

The Process

We used the Groupworks Pattern Language (available for download) to discuss and incorporate instigating (evocative) patterns for emergence. Several key patterns are core to engaging vitality and dynamic emergence in a group intervention: Emergence, Improvise, Letting Go, and most of the patterns included in Flow and Faith.

While these sound like simple expressions within a convening structure, they are not easy choices in practice.  When actually facilitating large group interventions, we often follow a strict plan of events, agreed upon in advance with our sponsors and stakeholders. Two questions explored in the session:

How do we best change options or parameters of a scripted workshop while maintaining integrity of the purpose and ensuring high-value outcome intended?

What happens when we change the structure and process of workshops, possibly violating key elements of a plan or facilitation approach?

The function of non-dual experience, BOTH / AND becomes operative here.  How do we know how (and when) to restructure, reduce, accelerate, or improvise within a well-defined group process? How does an interplay of structure and emergence in facilitating group interventions relate to these shifts?

Experienced group facilitators know well the difference in experience and participation between following a script and drawing out emergent engagement. However, experience also tells us there’s a balance, between some structure and some emergence, and a dynamics shift that occurs between them. Are these transitions between structure and emergence the key to creative balance in workshops? Also, even with experience these is a point at which we realise that changes to the workshop context, content of process fall outside previous encounters, and levels of uncertainty rise. How do we deal with this uncertainty? When should we say “let’s give this a go!” and when “this is not viable, it is not ethical to proceed!”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketches by Patricia, playthink.com. Harvest of evening final dialogue, as summary.

Small groups developed engagement stories and models for exploring these interventions in engagement. These were developed from several design provocations:

  • Use of time:  Some activities are multi-day journeys, others 1-day, 1 hour or last only 10 minutes.
  • Modularity: How do we scale to the needs of our stakeholders?
  • Intensity: Activities may vary in their level of intensity regarding participation, accountability, pressure to meet deadlines, level of physical activity
  • Outcome: Some processes may work toward consensus, others toward proposals, others are more fluidly co-creation .

 

 

Finding & Building Peace – What’s Possible?

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Design with Dialogue starts each new year with proposals for the upcoming sessions, and we aim for both intentional impacts and resonant emergence. Rather than planning a series of programs, we set themes and look for opportunities to engage those themes with interested hosts or presenters. A recurring and critical inquiry, both intentional and emergent, is that of a peaceful future in Canada, North America and our relationships with the world.

Our January DwD convened a group for a conversational dinner to explore together the possibility of policies and engagements for peace in Canada.  The intent was to start a continuing dialogue across viewpoints and cultures grounded in the unique Canadian experience and expression of “peace, order, and good government.” Rather than moving toward activism, the opportunity was held for discourse and perspectives that might promote peaceful relations to our governments and colleagues.

Throughout the year we’ll be joining other communities of inquiry – with Unify Toronto’s Indigenize or Die series and Interchange for Peace (Stephen Sillett) in particular.  Another fellow treveler is the Science for Peace series at UofT (also held on Wednesdays)

We started with several initial inquiries, that might continue throughout the year as recurrent themes:

  • Why isn’t there a robust peace movement in Canada? Given Canada’s longest participation in wartime in its history (Following Afghanistan, we are in Ukraine in the NATO build-up against Russia) – Why are we complacent? How do we wake up to the moment and realize the societal costs of these engagements?
  • The Doomsday Clock is set to the closest to midnight since the 1950’s nuclear arms race. There’s a good chance it will go closer in 2017 given the promised increase in nuclear weapons support by US presidents Trump and Obama. How might we live with and communicate about this symbol in our civic lives?
  • What ought to be our priorities for peace making in this era? How might we FIND peace?
  • How might we ally and participate with indigenous people to inform peace advocacy? See the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • What do we have to reconcile within ourselves and the national culture do become peacemaking a peacekeeping culture?
    (Can we design interventions relevant to Canada’s 150th?)

 

 

2016 Retreat / Visions for 2017

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Every year a group of DwD facilitators and stewards (community volunteers who curate sessions) meet for a year-end retreat. We celebrate and appreciate the learning and accomplishment of the year and have an inquiry toward planning for the next year.  Among the dreams and possibilities we considered for 2017 were:

Dreams from the Retreat

  • The Stoa and the Agora – Creating spaces for emerging challenges received as significant or arising within society as opportunities for deliberative dialogue. Extending DwD to civil society and public engagement.
  • Continuing with Unify’s Indigenize or Die, guiding its continuity toward a community to deepen participation with settlers toward reconciliation and becoming stewards of the original land
  • Rather than singular issues, fostering a commons to reveal connectedness between our programs: Such as Indigenous ways of knowing, Theory U, Listening practices (Bohmian)
  • Integrating an connecting issues or dialogues between the series events.
  • Host indigenous speakers in Systems Thinking ON to inquire into aboriginal systems of thinking
  • Inviting and appreciating the “Mixing of Unlike Minds”
  • DwD can take on specific problem areas: Environmental Defense – break stakeholders out of groupthink Inclusion and flourishing of newcomers with right livelihood
  • Host invitational innovation circles again – such as with Toronto Star
  • Cartography of social issues: Mapping issues and interfaces in collaborative dialogue, boundary crossing and boundary object formation
  • Creating pop-up labs and studios through DwD – Connect with MaRS, Innoweave, Interchange Peace Finding
  • Critically engage the rapidly forming memes of the day: “Fake News,” Russia-bashing, Fake foreign policy, …

Design with Dialogue – 2017

  • January – Can we Reenvision Peace as a Goal Again? Also, Ethics of Autonomy, Information Warfare, Causes and confusions of the Refugee Crisis
  • February – Play to Perform?
  • Invited Workshops
  • SSHRC Imagining Canada’s Future (Canada @150) and social futures

Systems Thinking Ontario – 2017

  • Reframing the purpose of ST-ON: Outreach, Education, Connecting local systems community, Creating contexts for teaching, youth engagement
  • Bringing local and international speakers to the regular sessions: Martin Bunch, Steve Easterbrook, Judith Rosen
  • Exploring classic issues, e.g. The Human Use of Human Beings (Wiener)
  • Entertaining “unlike minds”
  • Exploring mindsets – limited scope of thinking
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Invited subject experts who can host a systems conversation about their practice
  • Invite artists and creatives to explore systemic thinking
  • Constructivism
  • The human and natural systems of water

DwD Engagement Model

The Agoras model of staging from “Lab” to the field of stakeholders has relevance in the current proliferation of social innovation labs, as the lab concept has been employed ubiquitously and metaphorically. There’s little evidence of external impact in terms of higher quality programs and stakeholder services that would not have been done without the labs. They are often small developmental teams using facilitative approaches that work with policy or startup organizations. Given that the SFI MDes program trains people for leading in such roles, we need to consider whether there are more or less effective models of “lab work.”
Christakis and Warfield developed an approach 20+ years ago for the developmental evaluation of social science innovations in stakeholder applications, as a reference for SDD. Known as the Domain of Science Model, it shows that the “Lab” is the initial, most tentative stage in a series of four domains that are needed to develop an evidence-based social innovation. The stages are summarized in the following model:

 

      Lab – Building creative Foundations from philosophy, social science, systemics

      Lab – Visualizing Theory & building artefacts to test in Studio

      Studio – Design science, adapting Theory > Methodology

      Studio – Building new methods for application in Arena.

      Arena – Adapting & testing method & evaluating in Arenas with stakeholders

      Agora – Releasing to public in new forms.

 

 


Peter Pennefather shared a sketch of his extension to this model after the retreat, in the following diagram. His contributions adds several new dimensions, such as the dominant logic/reasoning process in each stage, the transformation of public goods (from need to effect) and the inclusion of the design process that’s central to DwD.

 

 

 

Envisioning the Future of Toronto’s Public Lands

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Can we ecologize Toronto’s green lands and watersheds? Can we enhance access and inclusion of cultural uses of our parks, common places and spaces? How might we recover, restore, reimagine or rewild Toronto’s public lands?

Toronto’s urban planning team has been comprehensively revising its downtown planning – the DwD engagement held a session to cocreate citizen proposals for the Toronto Parks and Public Realm Plan as part of TOcore: Planning Downtown.

tocore-areas

 

 

Unify Toronto Dialogues held its October session with the TOCore team, voicing indigenous perspectives on decolonizing the common lands and stewarding ecological restoration.  Following a presentation on the city’s regional public lands plan, over a dozen indigenous community members spoke up with visions and concerns for:

  • Restoring the native flora ecologies and balance of the Humber and Ontario shoreline waters
  • Opening up the ravines and public open space to urban farming and renewing healthy soils
  • Restoring and enabling the fish ecologies of Ontario, a lake that once teemed with indigenous freshwater fish
  • Ensuring indigenous access to land for ceremony, fire circles, and councils.

 

The live sketch (thanks Patricia) shows one of the maps of discussion and questions raised by particpants during this session.

unifyoct3