In love with the Lab

The Lab is one of my favourite ways to spend a day, although I question whether I’d enjoy it quite as much if it happened more regularly?

For the uninitiated, the Lab is a place folks can ‘fail happy’ – a place where people, who tend to, but not limited to, work in the people development space, can test ideas and experiment.

There are a few ‘rules’ if you choose to pop an experiment into the R.E.G. (the Random Experiment Generator).

  1. You’ve never tried it before
  2. You have no idea whether it will work or not
  3. It’s in service of enlivening human beings

Immediately, you can start to sense the playfulness that surrounds the Lab.  There are also a set of conditions that set a liberating tone for the day:

  • Leaping beats looking
    • Being there reminds me of being a kid at a birthday party where an entertainer would ask for a volunteer and ALL the little hands in the room shoot up – even though they have NO idea what they’re volunteering for. It’s a slightly more sedate reaction at the Lab but you get my drift.
  • Awareness beats application
    • I really appreciate a time-out where the focus is purely to learn about ourselves and our reactions, just because. There’s a huge value in that.
  • Movement beats stuckness
    • I probably did at least 6000 Fitbit steps whilst at the Lab – there’s always movement.
  • Failing happy beats looking good
    • At one point I was on my hands and knees, sniffing pillars and cocking my leg
  • Curiosity beats judgment
    • Always.
  • Play beats profit
    • All proceeds go to the Lab fund for reinvestment.
  • Showing up beats showing off
    • Relatively new to the world of freelance, I’m always in awe of the talent, humility and authenticity in the room. I feel totally accepted, whatever I have to offer that day. I’ve not experienced any ‘showing off’ however, I’m told it’s hideously obvious when it does happen!

Intrigued to know what experiments we conducted on Friday?

We kicked off with James’ ‘K-tel presents…’ – inspired by Lab founder Steve Chapman’s ‘Sound of Silence’ experimental podcast.  We paired up and introduced our new found friends to the group with an interesting fact before entering a collective two minute silence. After the silence, we were thanked and that was experiment one done.

As is often Lab serendipity, it was the perfect way to start as we got to know each other’s names and fun facts – some more useful than others.  I was introduced as, “This is Tabitha, until a week ago she was a virgin… a cross-fit virgin”.

Next up ‘Nobody knows what they are doing’– again in a pair, one person ‘did’ something – for example moving in a fluid fishy way, the other person asks, “what are you doing?” receiving an “I’ve no idea response” but having to exude that it was the best thing ever not to know. Why?  I’ve no idea either. Which makes it a perfect experiment.

Hilary encouraged us to consider a time we had been a ‘Biggus Diccus’ – otherwise known as when have you been a ‘big dick’?  Adopting poses to reflect our memory (which could have been fuelled by shame / embarrassment or a high pride dick swinging moment) we then arranged ourselves in order of most dickish to least dickish, with no knowledge of what other folks confessions / memories were.  I can’t quite remember how we explored this a bit further, but think resulted in us letting go of our biggus diccus moment.

Sliding into ‘The Shape of our Feelings’ Lucy asked us to lie down and connect with an emotionally charged memory. She guided us to feel into it and then draw ‘the shape of our feelings’.  A big eye opener to demonstrate the fragile complexity of humanity.  Emotions shared ranged from joy, grief, fear, buzzing, contented, love, lust, anger, excitement, anxiety and more.  We all feel.  And all ‘feels’ feel different for everyone.

I got a bit lost in ‘Un-playtest-ed’ – directed to an online card game we had to select cards under time pressure and review our outcome.  Whether intended or not, my mind went to the amount of time we spend making decisions and if we left things to chance – might we get the same result?  Or if our current government had made more quick, snap decisions, if we’d still be in the same political mess?  Like I said, I didn’t really understand the game.  But nonetheless it sparked some thoughts.

‘New beginnings’ with Lizzie.  What was this?  Yes!  My leg cocking, pillar sniffing moment.  An idea borne from ‘lost mojo’ – in trios we pooled our collective talents to come up with new business ideas – we came up with ‘Guide dogs for the stuck’ – taking a dog on a coaching journey which then collectively morphed to ‘Decision Dogs’. Another offering was sourcing open spaces for creative wellbeing – with ‘Air Tree n Tree’ offered up as a brand.

Ooh and then it was my turn with the ‘Haka’thon’– my first ever ‘long’ experiment – the R.E.G. has two settings (coloured bowls) – one for <10 minutes and one for >10 minutes.  I’d had the idea of a Haka’thon a while back when trying to come up with creative, immersive experiences for predominantly male workplaces.  Most organisations have a set of ‘values’ – often so many that employees can’t remember or connect to them which doesn’t bode well for ‘living’ their values.  My signature design style is to deliver a felt experience as a way of creating a strong memory anchor.

Each person selected a value (cobbled together from online examples) and in small groups they were tasked to come up with and perform a ‘Haka’ that represented their company values.

Admittedly the Lab IS a test environment – however it’s not real in the sense that you know the attendees will throw themselves into whatever is asked of them – so may work slightly better than if threw ‘joe public’ in the deep end.  I adored the finished products and even though I knew what values went into the pot – I had no idea what was being represented – but I bet you that the teams themselves can still remember!


As the saying goes, ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ – although not necessarily in the case of the Lab!  Encouraged by Rina to think about a bird that reflects our personality, we answered a series of closed questions such as, ‘when planning a holiday do you like to be spontaneous or have a plan of what’s going to happen’ – the last two questions (I think at their simplest introvert vs. extravert and task vs. people focus) separated the group into four quadrants and our ‘bird types’ were revealed – Eagles, Doves, Peacocks and Owls (I ended up as a Peacock although interestingly had a Dove in mind at the start).  Essentially a more interesting way of doing a Myers Briggs type indicator and starting a conversation.

‘Chair Game Contagion’.  I’ve only experienced small snippets of the Chair Game but understand from Steve it has the potential to bring out the worst of human behaviour.  True to Lab criteria, no idea if it would work, it didn’t.  Although that depends on your criteria – zombies, infections and more walkers than chair people resulted in carnage. Simple for the walkers to take a chair, most of the chair people ‘checked out’ – they were witnessing what seemed a futile situation and saw very little point in playing so chose inaction.  Sound familiar?

Carol offered up ‘Strong Angels’– first we embodied how a strong internal structure felt to us then what it felt like to have angel wings of wisdom – then what happens when you merge the two. We interacted and shared our shapes and insights.

Kay’s ‘Genres’ put us in movie pitch teams – given a ‘secret’ genre and set of four postcards, we constructed a movie concept and delivered a 90 second pitch.  Five teams, five ideas.  Turned out we all had the same postcard input but different genres.

‘Interpret the interpreter’ was almost ‘crowd sourced’ from the title – ideas given as to what the experiment could be.  We took a turn down surreal with the offer of ‘In ter Pret er’ – so Dave had us draw our favourite sandwich and use the picture to share a positive trait with our pair.

You could say we unknowingly saved the best til last (but it’s all subjective!)  I will try to explain but it could be a ‘you had to be there moment’.  In a simple 15 minute experiment, the hilarity of the Lab and the absurdity of the corporate world we operate in was captured.  For context, Laura has a real-life interview to prepare for and has received an ‘Inscrutable Brief’.  To help ‘stuckness’ she put each of us in the interview hot seat to be asked one question each.  We had a 20 second limit on our response but otherwise total freedom – to speak, act, dance etc.  As we moved round the circle, by question three I was crying with laughter.  Common place sayings and phrases featured but when interpreted literally had hilarious consequences.  ‘Can you tell me how you would shift that paradigm’ and ‘Can you dial that down a bit’ – I wish I could remember more as they were just too funny.  Perfect fodder for a future comedy sketch.

Why is it one of my favourite ways to spend a day?

It starts with the people.  What awesome people.  Turns out I love being surrounded by creative, fearless, authentic folk.  I grew up immersed in the arts but chose a corporate career away from that world.

Although through my lens, I see most of the attendees as being way more experienced and talented consultants than I, I always feel welcomed, accepted and seen.  It’s precious and humbling and feels like coming home.

At one point I thought, ‘my god, this room, right here, would make the most amazing creative consultancy’. If we could harness the passion as it is, not the way it may need to be to be accepted by the current world of work.  Sadly, I don’t think the world is quite ready for it.  Maybe tomorrow.

Given my current vocation, I can credibly put the Lab under the banner of ‘CPD’. And even though a regular Light Mind hashtag is #itpaystoplay – I’ll be the first to admit that it’s HARD.  It’s hard to let go of expectations, years of conditioning and ‘Imposter FM’ that prefers to value ‘head down hard work’, achievement, top grades and ‘be better than others’.  BUT, when I do remember to take time to play – it energises, sparks ideas, creates meaningful connections (with me and the folk in the room) and makes me feel alive – it reminds me how it feels to be human.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Wrapping up I was grateful for Steve’s pub wisdom – there was a shared Lab sense that work is not currently free flowing for freelancers – Brexit uncertainty is resulting in lockdown and paralysis of personal development spend.  Having seen a few more ebbs and flows than me, he shared that when it’s like this, it’s a great chance to have a play and be ‘playful with not knowing’ – if there are ideas you want to try, develop them and do free stuff with cool people.

So there we have it.  I love the Lab.  And #itpaystoplay.


Date not set for the next one but if you want to find out more, suggest following @itsthelab on twitter or sign up for Lab notes via Steve’s website.