Sometimes you find the best things on Twitter. Not often, but when you do, it’s worth sharing. Such is the case with a tweet I came across from LEGO earlier this week.
On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss that as cliché, or some sort of corporate feel-good platitude. That, however, would miss a much bigger point. In fact, I would argue that single sentence–just 18 words–is one of the most important rules of creativity. For that matter, it’s one of the most important rules of life. Here’s what I mean:
Creativity is a funny thing. Far too many people think they aren’t creative at all, but that’s simply not true. The problem is that for most of our lives, we are conditioned to color within the lines. We spend our childhood learning to present ourselves professionally in the hopes that we’ll get a job where someone tells us what to do and we’re measured on whether we can follow instructions.
Now, following instructions is a pretty important part of life, for sure. In some cases, following instructions is critical to the success of whatever you’re doing. If you’re a pilot, all of us on board your flight are counting on you to follow your checklist, listen to the tower, and stick with the flight plan. There’s not a lot of room for deviation.
But, somewhere along the way, people lose the sense of wonder that comes with creating something. We spend a lot of time following instructions, and not much time being creative.
It turns out, LEGO is a great parallel to this in our own lives. First, though, let’s be sure we all agree on a definition for creativity. I agree with this definition, that creativity is “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
One of the things that makes LEGO so popular as a toy is that you can buy elaborate sets with instructions and build creations based on your favorite characters or movies. There are Star Wars sets, and Harry Potter sets. If you follow the instructions, your creation can look just like the one a designer dreamed up.
We have a lot of LEGO creations in our home. Some look like the picture on the box the pieces came in. They were put together with attention to the instructions, and they are very cool.
Some, on the other hand, very much don’t look like anything you’d see on a shelf in the toy section at Target. Some of them don’t look like anything, period. At least, not to me. To whichever of our four children who built them, however, they are a product of their imagination–they are their original idea.
That’s kind of how creativity works. Sometimes the thing you’re working on is following someone else’s plan. Sometimes it can be scary to venture away from the instructions. It can be uncomfortable to deviate from the plan–or, to have no plan at all. It can be like getting in a car and starting to drive without knowing where you’re going.
Even as you read that, some of you are very uncomfortable at the very thought. I apologize for that, but please don’t miss this–you might be exactly the person that needs to take the pieces and start building.
It’s okay if you don’t know how it will turn out. It’s okay if you don’t have an instruction set. Creativity almost never comes with a nice set of photos guiding you to the finished product.
The thing is, neither does just about anything worth doing. Starting a company doesn’t come with instructions. Raising children doesn’t come with instructions. Most things in life don’t come with instructions, we make them up as we go based on our imagination and our ideas. That’s creativity.
Granted, the stakes are a lot lower when you’re building with LEGO bricks, but honestly, that’s why it’s such a great place to start. Creativity is a muscle that grows the more you work it. It gets stronger the more you use it.
And, one of the most amazing things about creativity is that it develops exponentially. Every time you set out to create something, you don’t start from scratch, you do it with the experience of every previous attempt and every previous creation–success or failure. You do it with the motor memory of every brick you assembled in the past, figuratively, at least.
Even if you think you aren’t creative, know this–humans are wired to create things. Everyone has an imagination, it just might need a little workout. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the creative muscle, though it might need some exercise. One way to do that might be to start putting together a few LEGO bricks. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad build.