A LEGO Parable

My seven year old son has an extraordinary number of Legos.  When I was his age I only remember Legos coming in squares and rectangles. Now there are endless shapes, sizes and colors.  The possibilities are endless.  I didn’t have Legos of my own as a child, so I had to wait until I went to my cousin’s house to play with his.  Most of what I made looked like big multi-colored blocks or walls.  I was not terribly creative with the Legos I’m afraid, I’d like to think more from lack of exposure than aptitude.  My son creates endless variations on the theme of space ships and flying contraptions of various types.  My son  has also created complicated constructions like the Star Wars Millennium Falcon and the Republic Frigate in his short career.  Objects that entrance even our grown men visitors.

I’ve been thinking about his path from building Lego blobs like mine, albeit at a much younger age, to building elaborate structures both with instructions and from his own imagination.  I recall that there was a definite progression.  When we first started buying him Lego sets he had no idea how to read the instructions.  So he started out helping someone else build the sets.  When he was at this stage he would play with the finished product for a few minutes, find it boring, and then would replace sections of it with his own creations.  This has stopped now that he is older.  Finished projects go on a shelf like trophies to collect dust.  Finally, he then moved to creating the sets on his own, only calling in help to find a lost piece.  At the same time I noticed that his ability to create complicated structures of his own from scratch radically improved.

I’ve realized that working through the instructions for these intricate projects did more than teach him how to follow directions.  It also gave him a feel for what each piece could do and how to put them together to create a framework for whatever he set out to achieve.

I’ve heard and read many stories that most project managers end up in the field accidentally.  They are working on projects and with projects, gradually getting handed more and more responsibility.  This accidental project manager then is like my son, needing to make something big but with a limited tool set.  Then, the budding project manager learns about the instruction manuals and the tools that exist.  The books full of theories and the software.  Which one do they use?  How do they use them effectively?  How many are lucky enough to get a mentor to work with them showing them how to put it all together?  Finally as they are able to do it on their own, only needing the occasional piece of advice, they are able to move away from the instructions and start using the free-form techniques to get what they need.

It is a nice idea anyway.  I certainly would love the opportunity to be mentored by a successful project manager to help me make sense of the instructions.

Are you a project manager?  Did you have someone to show you the ropes or did you have to figure it out as a trial by fire?  I’d be interested to know the path that you took to get where you are.

And my son, what’s next for him?  Apparently NERF guns.  Not sure about an analogy for that one.


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