The Learn Do Share (London) experience

Have you ever observed kids playing with lego blocks?

Sometimes they start with an idea (I want to build the tallest possible tower), sometimes they invent a story (I am a princess that is getting lost in an enchanted world) and use the blocks as props to visualise the world they want to create, and then sometimes they already have a story in mind (maybe they are in their Harry Potter phase?) and, as they are playing with friends, they wonder “what would Harry Potter build as a weapon to defeat the dragon”?

After having spent two full days at the Learn Do Share event in London it just occurred to me that this it was all about: reconnecting with that inner child that feels inspired by others, that wants to build stuff and have fun with it and, most importantly, that wants to do it with (and not for) others.

If by now you feel you are a “professional adult”, if you think that you spent years training to “know how to do it”, if you assume you are judged by what you can achieve on your own… then this could be a life changing experience for you, or, in the opposite way, it could feel a piece of useless collaborative propaganda. I suppose it all depends on how you see the world really and, certainly, on what role you want to play in it.

The Learn Do Share (LDS) events were started by Lance Weiler in 2008 – and used to be called the DIY Days. A mixture of conference (Learn), hands on workshops (D0) and divulgation (Share) they are free thematic events focused on open collaboration, design fiction and social innovation.  Held in over ten cities each year (and growing!), Learn Do Share (LDS) do have a shared format, but the rest is  left to the initiative of the local producers: up to them to choose the main social topic of the event, the location, the guest speakers and facilitators and the content of the book that they will collaboratively produce at the end of the two days. A good introduction to the philosophy of the day is encapsulated in the following interview with Lance Weiler:

So… is LDS as a new methodology to invent stories? Is it a methodology for creative collaboration, where story can be used? or is it a just a fun event and that’s it?

Let’s go back to our Lego blocks.

Can we separate the story kids are inventing while they are building legos with the final construction? Does one make sense without the other? If we consider that the motivation of their play is to have an end result (the construction) then we are probably looking at them with a linear eye (you go from A to B, getting to B is the end goal, in other words: you are defined by what you achieve). If we look at their playing as an experience in time – where there is no A nor B, but a world of possibilities to be experienced, in other words: the fun is in the journey and your role is to be part of it) then we are looking at them with an inter-related (ecological?) eye. So: are the lego construction and the story around it separated? I would tend to say that if the kids are playing for their own pleasure (and therefore they are the target group of their design process) then the goal is to create an experience where the story they use to create, the insights they all bring to the experience and the final lego construction are all interwined to create a whole that is fun to them. If any of them wanted to control the whole experience, forcing his ideas on others, the whole experience would be less fun (at least for the others). And would the final lego construction look better? Maybe, or maybe not, but the project would have failed because its purpose was to play together.

This brings us to re-consider the dynamics of how we create projects and how we judge their success: who are they for (target audience)? and what are they for (purpose)? Clearly, this leads us also to consider the possible tension between leadership in the process of creation and quality of the end result. Do we need a leader for a story to be good?

As I was facilitating a 3 hours workshop with Philo van Kemenade on design thinking and storytelling, we came to this exact same tension point.

LDS workshop

The 12 teams that had been creating an experience for a target audience that they had selected themselves, following our brief and a scenario given by us, got to a point where their ideas were led by their understanding of their target audience needs, rather than by their individual ideas. Interestingly, this often felt as a loss in the creative process rather than a source of inspiration that could unify the group in a collaborative process. We are probably so used to start our stories from our own imagination that the process of losing the total ownership of it feels awkward and that our first reaction is to doubt the quality of the final result. At the same time there was a sort of general amazement when all the groups pitched to each others their final ideas. The variety of solutions that were developed out of a same brief was showing that multi-disciplinary teams can create ideas that none of the single team members would have formulated, if they had worked alone.

Now… is the idea of the single better than the one emerging from the group interaction? Again, and back to our lego example, if the purpose of the exercise is to create a common language, and an attitude, where people add to each other’s ideas – but still retaining the ownership of their own input in the process – then confronting the final prototype to what people would have wanted to do on their own is useless. This is just not the point.

Lance Weiler’s aim is to install the doubt in each of us that our current world needs a different way to approach and solve issues. That if we want to have an impact we need to do so by connecting with “the other”, and therefore by “creating with”, which means seeing our roles as collaborators and not only as single entities. It is about learning a new language and a new attitude in the creative process. But probably also about a new world, were the individual is never really separated from the others. LDS is not just a methodology for creative collaboration, but a whole philosophical take on our individual value and role in this connected world.

This might works for some, but not for all. As I always say to my students: if your aim and burning desire is to tell the story you have in your mind, do so, this is absolutely fine, and there is a space for it – but just be aware that it might not interest everybody, as in this case the target audience is mainly yourself. But if your inclination – and probably your way of being in the world – is to start a debate and see what comes out of it, then you’ll benefit from using an interactive media, and you will need a multi-disciplinary team to do so… so you’ll better give a voice to those talented people you have around you.

LDS is all about the second option. It is about discovering that collaboration can lead to richer stories and that we still have to figure out  how to do so. It is about trying. It is also a bet: that if we are suddenly put back into the situation where we play lego with others (with a licence to fail and no critical eye behind our back) we’ll might re-connect with that inner child that wants to have fun and think out of the box, and that this might lead us to reconsider the way we see your own “added value” in our own professional (and private?) life.

And the best part of it: you have to experience it yourself to be able to come up with your own conclusions!


(PS: And thanks to Nina Simoes for producing LDS London!)