Career Lessons from LEGO

Change consultant Ken Perlman wrote a great article in Forbes this week called Leadership Lessons from LEGO. It’s a smart take on leadership, especially for companies in the midst of change, but there are some applicable lessons for job seekers

Lesson #1: Start with what success looks like. Perlman points out that “LEGO provides a complete – and existing picture of the final product right there on the box. It always looks AWESOME.” You know that success is around the corner and you have a really clear idea of what it looks like, thanks to that picture on the box. “People fall in love with the idea; that makes them eager to spend their time putting all the pieces together to make it happen.”

Does your career path have an AWESOME end result? Can you picture it clearly in your head? Are you in love with it? Will that excitement help you get through the rough parts of your job search? If you’re having trouble feeling excited about your job search or career, do an “awesome check.” Does the end result of your career excite you? If not, consider how can you shift focus and inject that kind of energy. A little daydreaming can go a long way.

Lesson #2: Consider interchangeable parts. When a LEGO set is missing a block, you can pull out another set or some spare blocks and keep building. In an organization, we often come up with new solutions instead of going back to a previous item that we could find a new use for.

The career search makes a lot of people think about reinvention, but sometimes it’s about realigning your current skills rather than going out and building new ones. What have you liked about previous jobs? Why did you choose your career field? Rather than looking at the reasons why it hasn’t worked out in the past, consider those transferrable skills and parts of the job that you’d really like to focus on in your next opportunity. This is a helpful approach if you’re struggling to reframe your past experience in a more positive light.

Lesson #3: Instructions are only so helpful. Experienced LEGO builders know that the instructions only get you so far; at some point you just have to start building and see what happens. Perlman points out that “fearless experimentation is a critical element to accelerating innovation” and asks “What’s the worst that could happen?” Fear of looking wrong is often our biggest obstacle.

If this isn’t applicable to the world of work, I don’t know what is. Are you looking at jobs doing the same thing you’ve always done? Did it make you happy? Is it the only option out there? The job search can be scary and demoralizing, but it can also be exciting and – yes – fun. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” You could try something and fail and go back to the job search armed with more information about yourself and what you’re looking for. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Throw away your instructions and see what happens when you experiment.

Lesson #4: It’s more fun when more people are working together. On any big project, getting lots of different perspectives and having more people collaborate makes the work go faster.

Do you have career collaborators? Are you reaching out to other people and getting new ideas, perspectives, job leads, and industry information? Don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck behind your computer and feeling isolated in your job search. Tap into your network – or build one – and remember that the world is full of people who want to help you get what you want, if only you can ask them for it.

Lesson #5: The quality of the final product relies upon the input of imagination. Again – the instructions only go so far. If the end result falls apart or doesn’t work the way you need it to, a LEGO builder can take it apart and make it better.

Do you approach your job search thinking there is only one right way to do things? We’re all unique individuals, with different goals and skills and aspirations – our job search shouldn’t fit into a cookie-cutter mold. While there are some best practices to keep in mind, what works for a friend or a colleague may not work for you. Don’t judge your success with someone else’s ruler.

awesomeForrest Gump said that “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but I’m inclined to think it’s more like building a really excellent LEGO set. Your path is limited only by your imagination – throw away those instructions and start building something AWESOME.


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