David Brooksby, MBA. Dean of Students at LDS Business College.
Earlier this year, I brought my Lego DeLorean to Monument Valley to recreate some playful photos from the Back to the Future trilogy as I camped in front of the sandstone buttes. This trip was planned with the hope that I could recharge from work and process things weighing on my mind. The sun was setting over the iconic and majestic landscape when suddenly a bolt of lightning struck my mind like the Hill Valley Courthouse. It occurred to me as I took these pictures that Legos had educated me in my youth regarding all the basics of a great employee.
And so, if my calculations are correct, here is a list of principles Legos taught me as a child that can help you be a great employee. Of course, these principles are not exhaustive, and neither am I claiming that I am a great employee. What I am stating is that these are principles that will yield a return on investment for your life regardless of the career path.
- Focus on the big picture. Know exactly what success looks like so you can be guided through any ambiguity along the way.
- Follow the plan. Plain and simple – complete the outlined steps in each phase and ensure each piece of a project is fully closed.
- Focus on results. There’s a common phrase about not confusing action for traction, and it’s true. The fundamental way to demonstrate value is to focus on and accomplish key results.
- Have fun with your results. The purpose of anything you do at work should be to add value to the organization and to the world, and so your finished product should be fun to use.
- Define direction so well that anyone can understand. Notice how Lego instructions only present a picture with no words? They figured out an effective way to communicate to a person of any age and language to help them build the finished product.
- The best time to start is now. I remember the thrill of getting a new set of Legos and immediately going to work to build it. Sometimes, however, I noticed that this enthusiasm could begin to wane if I allowed some time to pass by before starting. Whenever you get a new project or assignment, start immediately while enthusiasm is high.
- Be comfortable with change. When searching through a large pile of plastic bricks, sometimes you have to use a different piece that doesn’t match with the rest of the project, or perhaps there comes a time when the structure that took so long to build is torn down and something else is built out of it instead. Responding well to change is a key skill that will help in any organization.
- Make corrections quickly. It’s better to go back a few steps and correct a crucial mistake than ignore it and move forward. In fact, it can even be very irritating to do this, but it is worth the effort so the big picture can come to life.
- Follow the steps of the project. There’s a reason why project management has become its own major in college. Break the project up into as many steps as needed so the final product is as it should be.
- Know when to end a project. The nice thing about Legos is that the instructions do end, and the projects you do at work should be the same. A never-ending project can result in decreased productivity, motivation, and sometimes morale.
- Celebrate results. Just as you should have fun with your results, intentionally plan celebrations when key results have been accomplished.
- Clean up. This may be the least enjoyable part of the entire experience, but it’s needed. I hated clean-up as a kid, but it affected the lives of everyone in my home (including my own) if I didn’t.
- Build People. Building a character covered in armor, a sword, and shield was one of my favorite ways of playing Legos as a child, and it’s become a cherished aspect of my career to help build people.
- Build a place for people. Nearly every Lego set made was created with the intent of building a place for its characters to thrive.
- Stepping on Legos hurts. Don’t step on people – this happens anytime blame is thrown on someone else, unkind words are said, projects are sabotaged, or anything unethical is done to another person. Perhaps there is no physical or emotional pain when someone is guilty of this, but it does hurt their reputation.
- Be durable. If you have been stepped on, remember that Legos are durable and very hard to break. Even if someone calls you a “chicken” or tells you to “make like a tree and get out of here”, know that you are built to be durable.
- Work well with others. As a child, building Legos was fun but playing Legos was even more fun. However, it was only fun if there was someone else to play with. The founder of Lego wanted the phrase “play well” to convey its purpose, and working well with others is one of the fundamental requirements of any job.
- You are capable of working with difficult people. Legos come with all kinds of faces – most of them with smiles painted over their little, yellow heads. It was completely possible to work with and even enjoy the unhappy and angry faces. While these faces didn’t come with human emotion, the principle is still the same. On the other hand, if you are always portraying anger, just know that you might develop the reputation of “the bad guy.”
- Promote your product. Effective advertising is what introduced me to the majority of the Legos I purchased or received as gifts.
- Position your product. Most of the Lego themes I had were because of how the company portrayed them in pictures and script. It showed kids my age using them with excitement, and the figures and structures made me feel connected to them by how they were displayed.
- Place your product. I had so many Legos as a child primarily because they were easy to find. They are even easier today through the power of the internet.
- Be creative. You may feel that you lack the resources to create something, but sometimes being restricted in resources can actually boost creativity. Just make sure you’ve allotted time for it so it doesn’t result in losing money for yourself or the organization.
- Design as you build. In some cases, this is a wonderful principle to apply that results in some very incredible results.
- Save your money. Saving was the primary way I could get new Legos so frequently.
- Seek donors/investors. In this case, my parents were my primary donors who spent so much on these little bricks in hopes that it would enhance my creativity and likely keep me out of trouble.
As Marty McFly bids farewell to his beloved mentor at the conclusion of the trilogy, he receives priceless advice from Dr. Brown that completely changed his density. Oh! I mean, his destiny. “Your future hasn’t been written yet,” Doc said. “No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”
In summary, you don’t need a flux capacitor, 1.21 gigawatts, or to even move at 88 miles per hour to solve the problems you face at work – all you need as a starting place is to remember the principles you learned from Legos.