photo credit: Daniel Cheung

If You Want to Be Creative, Stop Being So Serious

I own a shark. A Lego shark.

So when I went to visit a Lego store recently, I was surprised to see the exact same shark on display after so many years.

Had they kept the same shark mold all this time? Didn’t they feel the need to change things up? You know, sharpen the fins a little, try a different color, or anything like that.

Apparently not.

At Lego stores, new product lines are frequently added and themes are changed to reflect the newest version of Batman (or whatever is popular at the time).

But the foundation, like the blocks and figures, stay the same. I think that if I were to put a building block from over a decade ago with a block sold today, they would fit together perfectly.

Funny how that works. Some things, like the trends, are constantly changing, but the basics remain timeless.

Speaking of which, I’m reminded of my dentist, who is a big Lego fan. He has two grown children and he still loves collecting Lego sets (for himself, not them).

Some things never change.

What Lego Means

It all began when Ole Kirk Christiansen began a toy shop in 1932. A carpenter by trade, he built wooden toys for children from his home in Billund, Denmark.

He named his company “Lego” from the Danish phrase “leg godt”, which translates into “play well”. Coincidentally, “lego” means “put together” in Latin.

15 years later, his company started producing the plastic building bricks that we’re familiar with today. Since then, the Lego company has incorporated the philosophy of generating creative solutions through play and imagination.

Their headquarters embraces these concepts through their open design. The yellow offices are filled with life-sized Lego figures and building blocks. To encourage learning and connection, the Lego workplace has a campus-like feel to it.

Employees embody this playful spirit by setting up Lego structures and banners. Personal Lego objects are collected and set up at work spaces. To better understand play, children are frequently invited to participate in creation events.

Bricks Help People Share Ideas

Companies, such as Google, NASA, and Coca-Cola, are catching onto the idea of using bricks to communicate. In their sessions, participants are expected to use Lego pieces to answer a prompt given by the facilitator.

The “unplugged” approach, which relies on your hands to create, has become a popular way of brainstorming ideas that are hard to express otherwise.

When your hands work freely to construct items, you can physically see and build upon your existing structures. Other people who see your creation can then contribute by adding their own designs.

I’ll use another example to describe this approach. Have you used your hands in a way that seemed almost automatic? Maybe you were playing an instrument or typing in your PIN to pay for an item. Afterward, you might not have even remembered exactly what you were doing or how you did it.

That’s because you relied on your muscle memory rather than on conscious effort. Using our muscle memory can be more effective than consciously thinking up a solution and verbalizing it.

The other benefit to this approach though, is psychological.

Imagine two scenarios. In the first one, you walk into a boardroom. Like everyone else, you sit at your seat and wait for the person at the head of the table to speak. The person explains the topic, then looks around and asks if anyone has any ideas to share.

In the second scenario, you also walk into a boardroom. But this time, there are a set of bricks and figures in front of each person. The person at the front gives you a prompt and asks you to express your answer using the pieces in front of you.

Which scenario would you feel more comfortable contributing in?

In a typical situation, there’s a hierarchy involved. The senior members of a team are expected to contribute the most to the discussion. The junior members, as you might guess, will usually nod their heads in agreement (or else face the consequences of disagreeing).

When building blocks and toys are brought to the table, however, the playing field equalizes. Everyone can freely share their ideas. Once again, our environment dictates how people behave.

Use Play to Get Better Results

We tend to compartmentalize our lives to create a sense of balance.

Work means boring, mind-numbing tasks. Play equates to the spare time we have to watch a movie. Exercise is defined by running on a treadmill.

But work and play don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes, they can work together to help you achieve a breakthrough.

For instance, let’s say you’re trying to come up with ideas. It can be hard to think of something on the spot.

But if you immerse yourself in various activities, they might give you food for thought. Architects and engineers, for example, use doodling to express and combine their ideas to generate solutions.

In my case, I’ve found that jotting notes by hand, as opposed to typing, can get my thoughts unstuck. The words will flow more easily at times when I try a different method.

It can be hard to connect our thoughts together simply by relying on our conscious. But if we try doing something, such as going for a walk or watching someone create a piece of art, we can stimulate our minds to come up with different ideas.

Creative results often stem from creative processes.

The other benefit to play is that it can push you towards important goals.

Let’s say that you want to:

  • Exercise. Many of us dread the thought of exercise, because it’s painful, boring, or time-consuming. But what if you were to combine exercise with a fun activity, such as hiking on a trail or playing a sport? It stops feeling like exercise and starts becoming a hobby.
  • Learn a language. Sure, you can listen to a word and recite it ten times over. Or, you can treat language as a cultural adventure. Watch movies, quiz yourself, or create challenges that will keep you excited to learn more.
  • Explain a concept. Listing out facts may get your point across, but it’s also the best way to make your listener fall asleep. A more interesting way to engage other people could mean retelling a vivid experience or creating interactive activities. Do something that pulls your listener in.

There are many ways to go about reaching your destination. But when you approach your goals from a creative standpoint, interesting things happen.

For one, you become more open to new concepts. Seeing a problem from multiple perspectives helps you find a better solution for an issue.

The other benefit is that challenges become less tedious when you approach them playfully. Seeing obstacles like a game means not taking things too seriously when you face a setback. Instead, you evaluate where things might have gone wrong, and try again using a different method.

Who Are the Real Experts?

Experts love to rely on years of experience and complex theories to figure out which direction to take. But sometimes the best approach is really the simplest one.

We admire children because of their natural curiosity. They want to learn more about their world. They want to discover new things purely for the enjoyment of it. They play with Lego to see what stories unfold and what they can come up with.

Maybe it’s time we took a lesson from them on how to appreciate learning, progress, and the process of it all.

Plus, we could all do with more playfulness in our lives. Don’t you agree?

Let’s Connect

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