Instructions vs. Imagination

When I was growing up (circa mid 1970’s), Legos were my favorite toy. Back then, Lego sets consisted of random bricks of various sizes and shapes and it was up to me to build what I imagined. It was all about discovery and exploring the possibilities. Problem-solving. How to construct what was in your mind.

Today, my 13-year-old son Noah still enjoys a good Lego set, but they have changed dramatically. Now you’ll find a box with a beautiful picture of a pirate ship or a Ferrari on the cover. Inside, there are lots of single-use specialty parts. And, unfortunately, detailed instructions that step-by-step lead to a single outcome while simultaneously erasing the possibilities.

Instead of building blocks of right-brain imagination, the sets have become a left-brain exercise of how to follow instructions. Do what you’re told exactly. Follow the rules. There’s only one right answer. And God forbid, don’t make mistakes!

How ironic, considering this trend is the exact opposite of what we need to win in business (and life). In the industrial age and even much of the information age, following instructions was just fine. Get good grades, work hard, do what you’re told, don’t make waves, and 30 years later you’ll retire with a gold watch. Today, that fantasy simple no longer exists… right along with rotary phones and lead-based paint.

Today, the world has become too complex and changes too fast. There are no more operating manuals for success. Today, winning is about creativity and imagination and exploring the possibilities. You may still get hired based on your resume, but you will advance based on your ability to improvise, adapt, and create.

In this new era of business, a key challenge for you as a leader is to develop the imagination of your teams. Instead of issuing detailed instructions, allow your people the freedom to dream. Establishing a culture where team members can unleash their creativity and explore the possibilities will not only drive better results… it will create teams that are motivated, happy, and actually having fun instead of being clock-punching drones.

The next time you are tempted to issue a set of instructions, try a different approach. Provide the building blocks and then let your team create their own masterpiece. You may just discover that game-changing innovation is already present. It may just be locked inside a team that needs to be instructed not to just follow the instructions.

It’s time to let your team’s imagination come out to play. And I’m happy to lend you my old-school Lego set if it will helps jumpstart the process.