Lesson from a Lego Brick

Be open to play… as an adult.

A classic, 2x2 Lego brick. It looks so simple.

The Backstory

Since my daughters who are almost six and three years old have so many toys and stuffed animals (I mean A LOT), I started sorting through them and thinking about which ones would make great objects for deriving lessons.

Of course they have the classic Barbie dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more “Little People” people, cars, and houses than I can count. Sure, all of these action figures… yes, action figures NOT dolls, have a ton of potential for story telling, but in a clear tub and spread all over the floor is the king of toys… Lego bricks.

The Object

What most people think about when they hear the word “Lego.”

When I started to explore the Lego bricks in more detail, it really is fascinating just how expertly crafted and simple these blocks really are… no matter what combination you dream up, they will fit together.

Lego bricks are extremely thought out and subliminal in brand strategy… even each knob on the top of the blocks has the Lego name stamped on them. Now that’s extreme.

Driving Inspiration

Lego continues to spark the imagination of anyone who plays with them, but what is amazing me more and more is how the imagination is being guided through specially designed shapes, people, and animals!

Yes, these are Lego cats.

This is ingenious. Lego is expanding into the depths of imagination and continuing to grow an empire, or a generation, of loyal future customers. Kids like to play, earn respect, and demonstrate pride. It took awhile, but Lego finally got it and figured out how to profit from it. The following article is about how Lego really dug in deep to understand WHY kids play, WHAT they care about, and HOW kids place value. This is also ingenious.

Lego’s brand turned around by watching kids play:

An excerpt from the article above…

Those theories about time compression and instant gratification? [of the Millennial generation] They seemed to be off base. Inspired by what an 11-year-old German boy had told them about an old pair of Adidas sneakers, the team realized that children attain social currency among their peers by playing and achieving a high level of mastery at their chosen skill, whatever that skill happens to be.
If the skill is valuable, and worthwhile, they will stick with it until they get it right, never mind how long it takes. For kids, it was all about paying your dues and having something tangible to show for it in the end.

Right on. Lego went right to the basics… the customer. Understanding how its audience thought and behaved is what drove the plan for its products. These toys not only inspire imagination; they inspire creative thinking, creative problem solving, and encourage focus. Lego bricks challenge the mind and make connections that may not seem obvious at first… Lego bricks bust through the initial layer of mind clutter and enable us to be critical thinking machines.

The Lesson

While this study seems to only be applicable to kids, it can be applied to adults and what we do in our every day lives at home and at work. In a previous job of mine, I had a team of software application developers that I worked with, and while most projects and processes ran smoothly and predictably, we would sometimes run into critical problems… some were extremely time-sensitive and others were giant mountains that needed overcome, in order to deliver to our internal and external customers.

I remember on many occasions I sat at my developer’s desk thinking through and brainstorming solutions and areas to investigate… while playing with Legos. Yup… while playing with Legos. Some of our best work and solutions were a result of playing with Legos.

A problem-solving technique we learned… 
get the mind focused through distraction.”

Working with the Legos freed our minds’ fringe layer and helped us think deeper. I wish we took photos of the creations we made during these sessions to help us remember those times, because we had some pretty complex builds, set ups, and story lines. Ha! We even set up scenes that played out like a movie. Some people thought we had toys on our desks… little did they know that these Lego bricks and Lego animals were the key to unlocking and solving the complex problems we faced… and they secretly drove organizational success.

Key Take-aways:

  • Distract yourself to solve your most difficult problems.
  • Study your customers enough to really understand them.
  • The simplest things in our lives can often be the most complex.
  • You can still learn from your childhood toys as an adult.

To this day, I keep toys like this at my desk and around my team’s work space. Others may think we like to have too much fun and wonder why we have these types of items in the workplace… if they only knew that the awesome application or idea that made their life easier was because of our toys.

Legos are not just toys. They are tools… for the mind.

BONUS: As my developer and I would have these sessions, it became interesting to see the visual representation of how our minds worked. My builds were typically symmetrical and had distinct patterns; his were abstract yet structurally sound at the base to support massive builds. It was really insightful to see how we thought, so we could become stronger together.

A classic example. Thanks Sean Wedig, Aaron Petry, and Jason Hart for the inspiration! Photo credit to Aaron Petry.

Written by Shaun Holloway.