Permission to Play

After our training-of-trainers workshop in Belo Horizonte in March, someone asked me:

How do you get a room full of executives in skirt suits or ties to play with materials from a child’s playroom?

I thought I’d take to opportunity to reflect on that question, because giving people permission to play is a critical piece of our “Data Therapy” approach.

Usually our workshops start with some introductions, where I mention my time doing a master’s degree under Mitchel Resnick in the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group.  I always introduce the educational approaches I learned there, and its connections to the Media Lab’s approach to work.

That’s right, I have an advanced degree from a group called “Lifelong Kindergarten”.  From MIT.  It’s hard to overstate the privilege this background gives me in “rooms full of executives”, or most other rooms.  I can get away with things like asking them to build with pipe cleaners, glue, and pom-poms… and they take me seriously.  Of course, I take full advantage of this, because it gives me a short window of time to convince participants that it is worth following me on this journey!

When I give folks permission to play, they take it.  The key insight I’d offer though, is that most people are looking for permission to play.  Working with data is too often rendered boring by hard-to-learn tools and stuffy restrictions on looking “official”.  People want to do interactive, hands-on activities.

The kind of privilege my MIT credentials give me is powerful, but doesn’t last long if my content isn’t relevant.  Our hands-on activities, my facilitative energy, the insights of their peers, and the content of the workshops keeps folks engaged and interested.  You can do all that without having an MIT degree! People want to play… it is up to you to give them, and yourself, permission.