Ducking Responsibility

I’m not compulsively tidy, but I do like a place to put things and things in their place. That has been challenged recently, in a very playful way…

Anyone who has come across a Lego Serious Play® practitioner (the need for a registered trademark symbol speaks volumes) will have a yellow duck. Nearly every introduction to the method starts with a little bag like this.

True adherents (such as Ollie Bray from Lego) attribute a lot to this humble construction act.

Photo taken at a conference. Ollie stands in front of a screen showing lego bricks encircled by four sets of words: self-regulation; symbolic representations; spatial abilities; executive functioning;
Ollie Bray telling us about the mighty duck at ALT-C in Edinburgh this year

Having taken part in a range of Lego Serious Play® sessions, I have a small badling of ducks. Until recently they stood quite happily on the top of my bookshelf. That was all to change.

Lots of lego covering a table. In the foreground is a yellow castle with Lego figures defending the walls.
More lego than you should admit to owning (unless you are still writing to Santa)

I blame the 2019 Playful Learning Conference.
Nothing has ever been quite the same since. I think that fact would really please the organisers. As it should.

It started with someone stealing my ducks and relocating them all round our office – by the kettle, on the stairs, on a window sill. For some reason I took this as a challenge and spent a good 5 or 10 minutes each morning returning my ducks to the safety of the shelf. No-one in the office said anything, or even acknowledged this act.

Three ducks stuck to a Lego baseboard. In front stands a Lego figure holding a sign.
The ducks back on the bookshelf, now safely attached to a baseboard and with a guardian

It was time for action. I couldn’t start every day with a duck hunt! A few ideas came to mind. Make a giant yellow duck – reflected because I didn’t have enough yellow bricks. Use Lego to spell out a message? Again rejected – not enough space on the bookcase for many words. Finally I settled on attaching the ducks to a baseboard and using some of my family Lego to add a small guardian in front to protect them. Job done I thought.

Stuck to the outside of my window is a Lego figure holding a sign "Free the Ducks".
A protestor outside my window

The next day I came in and sure enough the ducks were still stuck to the board, safely on my book case. A few minutes later when I looked out the window I saw another Lego figure. Ignoring the fact that it appeared to be standing on a disassembled duck, I read its banner: Free the Ducks.

Fearing that the white-tack holding it to the window may not be able to resist the unseasonably strong sunshine for long, I opened the window to retrieve it (and look for clues).

Looking down at the grass. A Lego figure lies face down amongst the scattered remains of a duck. The figure is still holding their banner. A message on the back reads "Don't hate - migrate"

Unfortunately, as I opened the window, the duck under the figure crumbled and the whole assembly fell to the ground below. Rushing down the stairs (accompanied by my office-mate Julie) a tragic scene unfolded. The duck was in pieces and the protester was lying face down and not moving or responding to my voice. I could now see the message on the back of their banner: Don’t hate – migrate.

Having no immediate plans to leave the country, I decided not to dwell too much on the latter. I carefully picked up the Lego pieces, carried them inside and back upstairs, before laying them out respectfully on my desk.

One senior management meeting later and when I got back to my desk, the ducks were gone again. My ducks. Gone.

Four Lego ducks stuck to the ceiling of my office.
Do not adjust your set

Looking up the answer dawned. Someone – clearly not an animal lover – had stuck them by the feet to the ceiling. How long before the blood drained from their feet and they fell? This was getting crazier and crazier. That said, I was enjoying coming in to work each day and wondering what would happen next. I was also getting knowing smiles from people as I walked around the building.

Some tweets from the "Free Ducks" account. Thet are seen driving a VW camper van (sporting the Free the Ducks banner). Many of my colleagues are name-checked in the tweet.
The ducks’ plight had made it onto Twitter

Then I saw them on Twitter. It was interesting to be painted as the villain, with people feeling the need to free them. Clearly they didn’t understand the difference between kidnapping and rescue, home and away.

I expect this is not the last chapter in this story, especially as we move to a new office next week. It has caused me to pause and reflect on the impact of play upon my attitude to work.

What started out as a very silly, probably impulsive gesture has snowballed. The list of perpetrators collaborators? liberators? players? continues to grow.

It has made work more fun. How often do you get to write that? It hasn’t stopped me from doing my normal job, but it has added a little spice, an edge of unpredictability. It has given me something to think about on the drive in and talk about at the dinner table.

Assuming at least one of the people involved is from my team – and I am pretty sure they are – it also has made me think about how we interact at work. Should I be annoyed or pleased that someone I manage thinks it appropriate to hide my possessions?

I am pleased (although if they started doing it with my laptop or coffee mug I might change my opinion). I’m also looking forward to going into work on Monday and seeing what happens next…


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