To Start Being Creative, Stop Being So Serious

Why play is the answer to reaching breakthroughs and problem-solving.

Funny How That Works

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.