Extensive research has explored the role of perfectionism in individuals (Hewitt & Flett, 1991; Mackinnon & Sherry, 2012). Perfectionism is considered as a stable personality trait that is characterized by “high standards of performance which are accompanied by tendencies for overly critical evaluations of one’s own behaviour” (Frost et al., 1990, p. 2). To live up to such ideal standards, individuals may be motivated to portray ‘ideal’ images of competence and perfection in an attempt to appear perfect. Accordingly, individuals use perfectionistic self-presentation as a vehicle that involves “self-presentational attempts to create an image of perfection in public situations” (Hewitt et al., 2003, p. 1303). Perfectionistic self-presentation is an interpersonal expression of perfectionism and is a contextual, situationally-activated strategy that may differ in distinct contexts (Mackinnon & Sherry, 2012).
Previous research has indicated that perfectionists experience difficulties in disclosing or displaying their imperfections in daily life and are, as such, less likely to engage in open conversations (Hewitt et al., 2008). When using conventional approaches such as interviews or focus groups, perfectionists may be hesitant to share their stories in specific detail as the interviewer could then ‘see’ their imperfections and, consequently, develop negative beliefs about them. Using conventional approaches that are prone to response bias limit to gain a better understanding of research areas which are characterized by well-known cognitive and affective biases. In sum, exclusively relying on research methods such as interviews and focus groups may result in validity issues. The aim of the current paper is to present LEGO® Serious Play (LSP) as an alternative research method in the context of perfectionism. Even though LSP has been used by few studies in the fields of Education and Management Studies, it has yet seen little application in the field of Work & Organizational Psychology.
Gauntlett (2007) explains that the LSP method draws on a constructionist philosophy and that it rests on four pillars. First, the participants use LEGO blocks as artefacts to build metaphorical representations of abstract concepts (Mccusker, 2014). The usage of a metaphorical model as a communication tool enables participants to open-up authentically and unconstrained, as they are not directly questioned about themselves (Blair & Rillo, 2019). This, in turn, creates feelings of trust and safety (McCusker, 2020). Second, LSP engenders a child-like state of play, which helps participants to put aside barriers of expression in groups. Play is essential in how we obtain knowledge about the outside world and by ‘thinking through our fingers’ different modes of thought and imagination are engaged (Papert, 1999). Third, the LSP method helps to connect skills, enjoyment and concentration, leading to a state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). Finally, as the method relies on metaphorical storytelling, the participants explore their socially constructed realities. The stories told about the models built facilitate a new understanding of reality that is not captured by more traditional methods (Schön, 1983).
In our research on perfectionism, LSP has proven an effective method in opening up the conversation about presenting ‘ideal images’ in the offline and online settings. To demonstrate how the method can be used in the field of Work and Organizational Psychology, we draw on examples from two LSP workshops which we held an independent training institute focused on ‘bildung’ for young professionals. The workshops consisted of three rounds of building, sharing, and reflecting on the models (Simon et al., 2020). First, the participants engaged in an initial warm-up exercise (e.g., “build a tower”), and afterwards the participants progressed to metaphor construction where they were asked to build models of their ‘ideal self’ (1) at work/in their study environment and (2) online.
The use of LSP permitted a deeper level of critical introspection on the participants’ ideal images. Moreover, it helped the participants to better understand and articulate their personal stories on ideal images. We argue that the four pillars of metaphors, play, flow and social constructionism could help to facilitate dialogues on intimate and sensitive topics, leading to more valuable and honest conversations with participants. As a novel method of dialogue, this paper argues that the LSP method provides opportunities for researchers working in contexts where sensitive, intimate topics are discussed that are prone to response bias, such as with perfectionistic self-presenters (Hewitt et al., 2008).