In my line of work I get to work with engineers who frame skyscrapers, build solar powered cars, plan entire cities, and even design vehicles fit for space travel. As I observe groups work on these technical projects, I see their very human natures – some are clear leaders, others hold back and prefer to work by themselves, some take criticism gracefully and some, well, not so much. And then their parents pick them up and they go home for lunch. Oh – did I forget to tell you this is LEGO engineering?
We guide these young builders, not just the fundamentals of physics and engineering, but also in how to gracefully face the real challenges of the world. They slowly learn to grit their teeth when their gondola falls off the wire, and start to rebuild – or to help their classmate pick up the pieces. They learn to manage their time so that they can put the finishing touches on their spacecraft in time for the class intergalactic parade. In fact, we teach all kinds of life skills at LEGO class, but the best part is, that it just feels like play – not school at all.
There might just be some LEGO lessons that we can apply to the workplace, too. In my former job as an engineer for an environmental consulting firm, I wish I had the following tips from LEGO class:
1. Put FUN First. If you’re not having fun while creating a model of your dream house, you’re not doing it right – you need to redirect your goals for the day. As adults this can be hard, but we really need to find ways to enjoy some part of what we’re doing each day. Always putting off fun until the evening, or the weekend, will eventually make us miserable people.
2. Keep it SIMPLE. Get the tank working, before you start to make it armored, six-wheel drive, articulated with a scissor lift. Lots of times, being overwhelmed is simply a symptom of trying to tackle too much at once. How can we start small, and really master a portion of the job before moving on?
3. DELEGATE. It takes trust, time, and effort – but it’s worth it. A team goes up in flames when one kid takes on the entire fleet of vehicles and asks others to do the “landscaping”. The tree-planting members become disengaged and the boss is overwhelmed and burns out. Take the time up front to allocate tasks and come up with a plan so that all members feel included and responsible for the team success. Allow some autonomy so that people are working on portions of the job they feel passionate about.
4. FAILURE is not a loss. This is the hardest one for kids and adults alike. You just spent 90-minutes tweaking the gear train on your motorcycle, and in the end, it won’t even stand upright. Epic LEGO fail. What’s the value in that? Well, you had some false assumptions on balance and now you can better gauge what will work and what won’t. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail again, but it does mean you’ll have a better chance at success.
5. Get IN THE ZONE! Psychologists have defined a special mental state in which a person feels fully immersed in a task at hand, so much so that he or she loses track of time. The condition, called “flow”, requires complete absorption and focus on a specific goal or challenge. When all 30 LEGO students are totally engaged in the project, you can feel the positive flow in the room. Flow is good for your brain while being intrinsically rewarding and energizing! Set yourself up to experience flow at work by seeking out moderately challenging tasks with a defined goal and rapid feedback. Achieving flow in the workplace has even been found to contribute to organizational goals including higher productivity, innovation, and employee development.
6. LOSING is learning. Okay, you probably don’t do as many demolition derbies at work as we do in LEGO class, but this goes for anything. If you fall short to someone else or someone else’s organization – figure out why! They know about something that you don’t know, and as soon as you find out, you can implement it for yourself, and then rise to be a formidable opponent once again.
In other words: “All I ever need to know in life, I learned in LEGO class”. But don’t worry. If you missed out on LEGO class as a kid, there’s still hope for you (adults can build too).
Post by Molly Lebowitz, Seattle Area Manager for Play-Well TEKnologies.
Molly has worked in consulting as an environmental engineer in industrial regulatory compliance and remediation. Currently, Molly is managing and teaching engineering classes for kids in the Seattle area with Play-Well TEKnologies, with a goal to get more young students excited about art, architecture and engineering. Molly gets to play with LEGOs every single day at work!
Hear Molly speak at Urban Campfire: Girls Edition in DuPont, Washington!!