Everything is Awesome! Lessons from the Lego Movie
Our family has a significant Lego collection. I still play with my Legos from childhood. I have two young sons whose favorite gift is a new Lego thing to build. So, if you knew us you might have guessed that we would be at the new Lego movie on opening weekend and we were.
Spoiler alert: I am about to share the story line so if you want to be surprised, come back and read this after you see the movie.
The story follows Emmett Brickowski, a typical Lego mini figure construction worker who gets up every day, consults the instructions, and follows them to the letter; jumping jacks? Done. Breakfast? Done. Overpriced coffee? Done. If you have ever built anything Lego out of the box, you know the instructions are very detailed. Step by step and brick by brick each page tells you how to make an airplane, or truck, or Darth Vader death star. In the movie this step by step approach tells Emmett how to live his life, how to be happy, and how to have friends (of which he has none – your first clue that this isn’t working). There is a cotton candy sweet theme song to the instruction-following city dwellers that has the line “Everything is Awesome” over and over again. Wow, that sticks in your head (unfortunately).
At the end of a construction workday, Emmett falls down a hole and finds “the piece of resistance” something that has been part of prophesy for generations. The prophesy states that he who finds the piece is “the special”. Emmett is thrust into an underground network of master builders who don’t use instructions to build things. They understand their purpose and use whatever is at hand to build what is needed to accomplish what they need. My favorite scene is when WildChild (yes that is her name) takes pieces off of the street and buildings of an alley to create a motorcycle so they can get away from “BadCop” who works for “President Business”, the man driving the policy of following instructions. In the end and through a series of twists and turns, President Business realizes that it might be okay to create what you need from the parts that you have in order to accomplish your vision. Well isn’t that an interesting idea!
There is a goal with each of these departures from the instructions and there is the system of connection that makes all of the Lego bricks fit together in some way. The completely obvious message and conclusion is that in the Lego world and in the real world, if the goal is clear, and the systems and boundaries are understood, the solutions are better when they come from creativity and not step by step instructions. When we are building a business, we have a tendency to forget that. It is so much easier to create policies than deal with individual creativity. However, the businesses who manage to do just that, outperform the rest by significant margins.
The moral of the story: allow your people to become master builders. Clearly communicate the goals and be meticulous about designing the systems for connection, but let your people make the things that need to be made in real time.
The day after the movie, my sons were back in the Lego boxes making cars with trees growing out of them, switching mini figure legs to bricks with wheels, and making what they called a dinosaur plane. My five year old held it up proudly and said “look mom, no instructions!.” Cool.