[Spoiler Alert – This will pretty much ruin The LEGO Movie for you if you haven’t seen it]
I love LEGOs, so when two of my kids wanted to see The LEGO Movie I happily took them. In the movie, the wizard Vitruvius protects a superweapon known as the Kragle from the evil Lord Business. When Lord Business steals the Kragle, the wizard prophesizes that the Special will arise and find the Piece of Resistance to destroy the Kragle and Lord Business’s evil plans.
Enter Emmet, an ordinary construction figure who always follows the instructions and builds things by the book. He’s far from special, but when he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance he is thrust into leadership over a rebel group of creative Master Builders. They tell Emmet of a time when characters from all playsets worked together to build hodgepodge worlds and adventures. Confused and angered by this chaos, Lord Business built walls to separate the worlds. He now intends to use the Kragle to freeze the world in this ordered state.
We eventually learn that the story is playing out in the imagination of a boy playing with prized sets belonging to his father, a micro-managing businessman. The playsets are separated by walls, and signs reading “Hands Off” or “Do Not Touch” warn others not to play. The father chastises his son for combining characters and playsets, starts to use Krazy Glue to permanently set the pieces, but notices his son’s work and asks him about it. The father is shocked to learn that he is the antagonist in his own son’s struggle to play freely. His eyes now opened to his suffocation of his son’s creativity, the father relinquishes control and lets his son lead the way as they play together.
Snuggling with my kids, I was overtaken by the allergens floating around the theater’s air-conditioning, as well as the movie’s message. All too often we micro-manage others instead of allowing them to explore their own way. As an admitted control freak, I struggle with this as a parent. But the more I considered things, the more I thought that The LEGO Movie applies not only to parenting, but also to how business can kill innovation.
Think about it. Are your organization’s leaders solely focused on doing things by the book? Do they think that combining things in new ways ruins them? Do they build walls or otherwise separate people? Do they micro-manage? Worst of all, have they said “That’s the way we’ve always done it”?
If you answered “yes” to more than a few of those questions, you may work for Lord Business. But the good news is you can be Emmet. Not everyone is creative, but creativity can come from almost anywhere. So throw out the Krazy Glue, grab some nail polish remover, and unglue your bricks at work. Break them apart from how they should be and see if you can make something better. Make a mess and don’t be afraid to fail. Toss out the instructions. See if someone on the other side of the wall wants to play. You may be able to create something really innovative if you’re not afraid to put your pieces together in a new way or combine your pieces with someone else’s.
But…when you’re done innovating at work, go home. Put your things down. Resist that urge to pick up your iPad or turn on the TV. If you’ve got young kids, get down on the floor and play with them. Let them lead. If your kids are older or if you don’t have any kids, no worries. LEGOs are awesome for grown-ups, too.