My six year old son Seth is far more skilled at Lego than I ever was at his age (or arguably ever).
Playing lego with him is something that I’ve taken to lately. He really is amazingly talented, not only can he build structures designed for kids much older than him (according to the instruction sheet) but he also is able to come up with his own designs (symmetrical I might add).
His abilities make me proud. They make me think that a career in design or technology could be in order in a couple of years. That excites me.
In playing Lego, fairly extensively, with him over the last month or so I’ve also recognized a number of principles that help me as an entrepreneur as well.
Who knew I’d find inspiration in such a simple place?
Here is how playing Lego with my son is helping me in business:
1. “As long as we have the box, it’s ok if we lose the instruction sheet.”
Even if we lose the instruction sheet (which generally happens within a day or so of getting the new Lego set in our house – remember my son is good at Lego, but he’s still six) we are ok if we still have the box.
The box gives us a picture of the end game – the result that we want. If we lose the instruction sheet we can adapt by keeping our eyes on the final destination (the image on the box). We may not take exactly the same road, but eventually we’ll figure out where all the pieces go, and re-create the structure that we see.
In business we try to obtain instruction sheets (a mentor, a marketing strategy, a strategic plan) designed to pave the straightest path to the result that we want. But once we start down this path we often find that the instructions aren’t that helpful (so they might as well be lost), there are obstacles that we didn’t anticipate, and variables that we couldn’t have seen coming.
But as long as we can remember our goal, and why we are doing what we are doing – why we are in business in the first place (the “image on the box”) we’ll be ok.
We might take a different route to the final destination but that’s ok. We’ll still arrive.
2. “This piece isn’t the right colour, but it fits, and it does the job”
Everyone who has played Lego knows exactly what I’m talking about here. A piece goes missing (as they always do), and you end up finding a replacement, but it’s the wrong colour. To a perfectionist Dad (like myself) this can be somewhat traumatic – but hey – life isn’t ever perfect.
This is a great lesson for an entrepreneur.
Life isn’t ever perfect, so get over it. Sometimes you have to come up with solutions, that while not perfect, at least work, and get the job done until you can get a replacement. A key skill as an entrepreneur is adaptability, and agility to move quickly. So if I can get a “replacement piece” from time to time then that’s a victory.
3. “Dad, the dog just stepped on the Millennium Falcon, now we have to start all over again!”
Such is the sad state of just about every boy or girl who has ever built a lego structure (and has an older / younger sibling or nosy pet).
Life is about uncertainty, especially in business. There isn’t a business in the world that has gotten things “perfect” without any difficulty and then maintained that “perfection” to a steady run of perpetual profits. Just like the Lego ship, we have to rebuild from time to time. We have to start over again. That’s life! But we can endure.
4. “This ship is boring, I want to make a different one”
Progression is a principle of a happy life – in both Lego and business. That is part of the intrigue, and joy, of being an entrepreneur (and Lego designer).
After you successfully complete one structure (and various derivations of it) you want to progress, you want to grow, you want to test your abilities on a more difficult set.
Such is the case in business. Progression and innovation is necessary, not only for continuing profitability in a competitive environment, but also for the enjoyment of an entrepreneur.
So I shouldn’t look at challenges and innovations as frustrations (and longing for the “good old days”) but rather as fun opportunities to grow and challenge myself. That is what being an entrepreneur is all about, and part of what makes it so enjoyable.