Interview with Flick Hardingham on using games for learning

This September we held our second #play14 London conference –


We were interested to talk to professionals who use play within their work environment.  Flick Hardingham runs a creative consultancy and uses games extensively.  We asked her a few questions about her use of games in her work.

Please tell us a little about what you do?

Hardingham: I recently launched JOiN THE DOT, a creative consultancy helping companies and individuals kick start creative thinking, solve problems and drive innovation through interactive workshops.

Creativity is becoming an increasing vital tool to compete in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. The Global Creativity Index, demonstrated how creative thinking and economic development are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, CEOs ranked creativity as the most crucial factor for future success in a recent IBM Institute for Business Value survey. Creativity is the new economy and thankfully, many of the most forward-thinking companies recognise the need to build creative teams and foster a culture of idea sharing.

How do you use games at work?

Hardingham: All of our workshops and learning programmes are based around live, interactive, collaborative challenges using your best resource: unadulterated gray matter. We create challenges a world away from teams’ day jobs, that will arm them with the tools to survive in the creative economy. This includes practical tips and tricks to generate ideas, lead effective brainstorms, tackle any problem through lateral thinking, boost your creative confidence, creative leadership, allocating time for company creativity and building cohesive, collaborative teams adept at spotting opportunities and hacking growth.

We use games as a vehicle to teach these vital skills, with subsequent benefits on communication, collaboration and strengthening team ties. There’s a lot of Lego, brain benders and the occasional nerf gun!

Why do you use games? (as opposed to traditional techniques)

Hardingham: Last year, I qualified as a Primary School Teacher, spending each day ‘tricking’ children in to learning through play. It struck me that as we adults, we are generally expected to acquire knowledge and skills through traditional methods, heavy on PowerPoint, facilitator speak and passive learning. However, these methods ignore the very serious science backing interactive, learning in action.

Games are the ideal environment to inspire creative thinking, as they break conventional ways of working and seeing the world. They are also a lot more fun than a two hour PowerPoint presentation! By encouraging teams to be more playful, they naturally become more relaxed, curious, experimental, open-minded and less averse to risk – all fundamental to a creative mindset.

We’re big into science and the current research by Dr. Stuart Brown, neuroscientist and leader of Stanford’s ‘From Play to Innovation’ class, exploring play and its impact on corporate change. Brown’s research advocates that play shouldn’t stop once we’re fit for facial hair, as it continues to have a dramatic and positive impact throughout our lives. As adults, play creates rich, new neural connections that fire together in new ways building more creative, productive and innovative minds, which in turn creates more creative, productive and innovative people and societies.

The Greek philosophers rained praise on play, hailing leisure time and games as the foundation of ‘the good life’. More recently, Professor Jonathan Gershuny, Oxford University’s time-use expert, found that some of the greatest innovations, art, philosophy and discoveries were formed during play. Play is also our brain’s favourite way of learning and as integral to our biological wellbeing as sleep or nutrition.

Unfortunately, over 15 centuries, the Greek wisdom has gradually lost favour and work has become the golden beacon. JOiN THE DOT is conspiring to drive change through creative thinking and games are our favourite camouflage.

How have your teams/audience responded?

Hardingham: Extremely positively! Since launching in May, we have worked with a wide variety of industries, age groups and skill sets. We supported 94 developers, product managers, scrum masters, testers and consultants at Accenture UK through a digital transformation project, armed Deloitte Digital with the tools to survive in a creative economy, kick started product innovation for consumer finance provider NewDay, helped entrepreneurs think laterally and are working with two media agencies to support idea generation.

We pushed 54 budding founders at Escape The City to form, develop and test over 100 business ideas in one evening. Each entrepreneur left with a framework on how to generate ideas and tools to unlock creativity, helping demystify the creative process.

More recently, 20 communication hotshots from Lansons generated over 200 campaign ideas to meet specific pain points for target customer groups backed by insight in just 90 minutes. The best plans were reimagined in Lego and teams also created a ‘Blue Sky Future Report’, helping them visualise how the campaign might run in global media. 50 nerf darts and threw 87 balls were also fired during this time!

The feedback has been great with participants leaving empowered and inspired to flex their creative clout! Many of the ideas imagined during the sessions verge on creative genius. I have no doubt that the reaction would have been very different, if our sessions were based around more traditional teaching methods.

What’s your fav game you have played with you team/audience?

Hardingham: We developed a new game based on popular TV show ‘Dragon’s Den’ as a creative ice-breaker for innovation sessions. This is an interactive review of some of the best and worst business ideas launched in recent years. Participants play the dragon and decide whether they would choose to invest in each company.

It’s a great way to get everyone warmed up, initiate the dialogue around the basis of a good idea, discuss key learnings from perceived failure and help gauge the group’s current appreciation of business viability. It’s a lot of fun, as many businesses you might expect to have completely flopped are in fact hugely profitable, such as the ‘Pet Rock’ that made ad exec Gary Dahl a millionaire!

Has your team’s reaction to a game ever surprised you?

Hardingham: The only true surprise comes from participants, when they have a sudden realisation that they are creative and can conceive an abundance of brilliant, valuable ideas!

What game would you propose at a play14 event?

Hardingham: One of my favourite games is a take on rolestorming called ‘What Would Bieber Do?’ It’s a great creative problem solving tool and encourages participants to tackle puzzles from all directions. The theory is that if you pretend to be someone else, you’ll feel more comfortable putting ideas forward and it helps people come up with ideas that they may not have otherwise considered.

Everyone wears a character mask, ranging from Justin Bieber, Kermit the Frog or The Queen to a spoilt 6 year old, a local post man or a Chinese businessman. Once in character, they explain how their new persona would tackle the problem.

Flick Hardingham, Founder, JOiN THE DOT

imageFlick loves making things. Connections. Copy. Coffee. You name it. Over the last 10 years, she has been joining dots on almost every continent. She stole her creative talents from the media world, wrapped her head around experential learning theory as a teacher and mastered the agile mindset as a brand and innovation consultant for London’s nimblest start-ups.

She also has a (rather unhealthy) obsession with lateral thinkers and this summer launched JOiN THE DOT, running action-packing, interactive workshops to help companies hone the art of creative thinking, solve problems and generate ideas.

Twitter: @chasingdots

There are a number of different play14 conferences running all over Europe.


Checkout the play14 website to find out when the next one is.

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