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What if I am not a superhero

Liu Yan

· NGO,social innovation,heart hand head

There was the intense moment in the room as if the time has stopped ticking, “I always had nightmare that I am drowning, even though I have been a good swimmer. ” sobbed one of the workshop participates from two dozens of fund-raisers from well-respected international charities such as Green Peace, Amnesty International and UNICEF, she continued quietly while holding her freshly-built-Lego model: a dolphin trapped in a box made of blue lego bricks, “When I knew the people who we went to rescue were all drowned in the ocean with their life-jackets on, my heart sunk as if my nightmare visited me again…” She walked silently back to her seat, still sobbing, with her Lego model covered by both her hands. Some participants wiped the corner of the eyes, someone blowed his nose. I exchanged a look with my co-facilitator Seri, she nodded at me. I cleared my throat.

“Many of us began our work with a strong compassion and idealism to build a better world, to correct the wrongs, to help people, animals and planet, like a superhero. As the challenges we are facing are getting more complex, we find ourselves buried in spreadsheets, bureaucracy, isolation, habitual behaviours and even felt a kind of numbness or disconnection with the sacred mission that drives us and everything else, towards the better future we all desire.”

A lady from UNICEF raised her hand: “perhaps we are not superhero after all.” I nodded and thanked her. There was the silent pause in the room, everyone dwelled in their thoughts.

“Perhaps we are not, perhaps we are just human after all, just like anybody else. We have our dreams, our joys, our fears, our doubts. We go through each daily moments to feel appreciated and celebrated, more often we go through each daily moments feeling lonely, judged and lack of confidence, even hope. It is those small microbyte size moments that connects us as human, something we often lose touch with.”

Seri stepped over and clicked for the next slide. I looked at the slide and there is a life-size, three-dimensional torso of a yellow man ripping his chest open with both his hands and piles of Lego bricks spilling out. “Ha, Lego art sculpture by Nathan Sawaya.” I thought. Seri started to speak in a gentle but firm voice.

“What if the challenges we are facing are the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities in the world? What if the personal struggle we are going through are the best learning components of personal mastery? What if all the judgements, cynicism and fears are the necessary ingredients to build our mental muscles to be more resilient? What if there is enough abundant resources in the world to help us to solve all the problems in the world? What if we have all the inner compassion and wisdom to overcome all the “nightmares” in our organisations and within ourselves.”

“Now let’s envision the desired state and the transformation you want to see in the future. Just imagine the future is already here, it is inside your minds. Let’s build a model that describe the one thing you wish to see in new eco-systems for social good. Your one thing can be a new service, a new process, a new approach, a new experience, or perhaps a new actor or protagonist? Don’t over-think, just build. You have 2 minutes!”

There started to have giggles and laughters in the rooms, mostly the joyful sounds made of more than 40 hands searching for the next best Lego brick.

This is merely a snapshot of the two “Play for Good, Play with Gumption” Lego Serious Play workshops my colleague and I at School of Gumption facilitated at International Fundraising Conference: in Bangkok on 19 and 20 June 2018, in order to to play, collaborate and explore the core theme: “Building new ecosystem for social good”. In this 90-minute session, we engaged participants in a hands-on workshop exploration of the conference theme and harness the ‘creative intelligence of crowd’ using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methodology. The process took the participants through a structured process and exploration of these key building blocks:

Current Identity: Who are we and what we do?
Challenges: What are our current organisational challenges and barriers?
Limits: Why the need to go beyond fundraising?
Building the future: What if…we could create ‘a new ecosystem for social good’, what would that look like?


Through the workshops, we aimed to establish a trust environment for our fundraisers to build deep heart-to-heart connection through collaborative play, to reflect and discuss the current organisational challenges and barriers, and ultimately, to explore innovation at scale by building an “eco-system” mindset.

Very often, when we set the goals to come up with the next big idea and achieve the big innovation to “disrupt”, we forgot the very core of the innovation is human-centric. Speaking of human centric, we immediately think of the needs of customers or the users whom we are trying to help or sell product to, we don’t necessary think about the need of ourselves, the needs of the innovators. At the School of Gumption, we step into the shoes of the every individual who dreams and has the desire for the better future, we ask how the journey of the innovator looks like, what are the mental states of the innovator in each innovation phase, how we can help the innovators to build their self-awareness and find the best way for us to blossom into their full potential is to constantly navigate their life based on the internal compass: “what do we do best? How do we learn best? How do we express ourselves the best? What do we care most?What types of activities do we lose ourselves in?”


At the end of workshop, I invited the participant to share their reflection on the following questions:

“What were you feeling when you envision or build the new eco-systems?

What kind of mindset, behavior and emotion did you let go? What kind of mindset behavior and emotion did you let come? ”

One participant stood up and said. “when I shared the difficulties I faced in the organisation, my thought were all about my own needs of security and feeling great; when I am invited to envision to build the new eco-systems with all the abundant mindset and inner wisdom, I left all my negative thoughts out, I even had a sense I took myself out of the picture, then everything just started to flow, it felt like an infinity source of inspiration and energy.”

Yes I couldn’t agree more, when we embrace our own vulnerability and full spectrum of emotions, when we are no longer hi-jacked by the chattering voices in our head, we have more courage to try out unconventional approach, more curiosity to ask new questions and inquire deeply into the problem, more commitment to re-iterate the solution development process and stay on course despite challenges, more collaboration with unlikely allies that leads to the cross-pollination of ideas and solution evolvement, have calm and compassion to engage and hold the space for generative dialogue is key in every effective communication. We find ourselves being the flow of connectedness with ideas, resources, trust, and LOVE.

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