What if I said to you that the skills you learned playing with the Legos strewn all over your parent’s floor would add more value and differentiate you from other business leaders who didn’t share your passion but had the same level of education and training as you. Sounds ludicrous, right? But hear me out.
The pandemic was unexpected, with impacts unprecedented beyond even the predictions by the most astute risk analysts. COVID-19 paralysed economies, retarded health care systems, fractured supply chains and reminded everyone of the frailty of life itself. As we struggled to respond, business leaders equally struggled, trying to make sense of a senseless situation. With minimal economic activity, countless organisations closed their doors and, without the wherewithal to survive, released employees. In a few others, remote working became the new modus operandi. These organizational changes were sudden and largely unsustainable. Operationally driven, these changes make sense to the pragmatist; a reaction to the stimuli.
Today though, COVID is still here. The stimuli is still present, but doors are reopening. Employees are returning. The question is, ‘To what exactly?’ What does the work environment look like? How is work being done? The eagerness to return to pre-COVID ways illustrates that we missed the opportunity to make entrenched and value adding changes. So, what do organisations need? My answer – business leaders who loved Legos.
I know you’re thinking. Legos? Seriously?
Yes. Too many of us have forgotten the hours we invested playing with those multicolored plastic blocks, trying to construct the tallest towers, the most elaborate castles and script the coolest stories with the Lego characters.
But why does the post-COVID world need leaders who loved Legos? As employees return to the workplace with new expectations on how work can be done and outputs delivered, two leaders emerge to guide them. The first leader sees survival as a function of how fast the reset button could be pressed and return to the default pre-COVID-19 settings. The other recognizes the opportunity to craft something new and relishes the potential carte blanche upon which to rebuild in an intentional and improved manner. The second is our Lego Lover, and if we stepped into their playground we might better see their perspective on this new world.
Let’s imagine your organization as a complex, well-engineered structure, uniform in the distribution of colored blocks. Your Chief Engineer and CEO – a child with a box of Legos. After investing several hours trying to follow the detailed and elaborate instructions, a masterpiece has been created. Their face is beaming with pride from a job well done. However, as COVID has taught us, it doesn’t take much time for masterpieces to be sullied and, in some cases, destroyed. For kids, the period of grieving over a ‘mashed up’ toy is brief, though intense. Tomorrow, our child is back at it, creating a brand new masterpiece from the same box of Legos. There’s a lot we can all learn from Lego lovers.
- Resilience is a part of the Lego Lover’s DNA. Resilience doesn’t mean toughness through rigidity, but permanence through flexibility amidst disruption. A child playing with Legos is the perfect expression of an openness to change that overrides the tether to the past. Their ability to breakdown and rebuild, whether intentionally or accidentally, allows the Lego Lover CEO to see the broken business model not as a failure, but as an exciting avenue to rebuild differently, better.
- Be creative with what you have. How many times have you been left in awe by the carefree abandonment of the instructions by a child who has made something totally unorthodox with their Legos? Even after losing pieces (or worst yet, if they are at a play date with other Lego sets around, they suddenly have a bunch of ‘new’ ones) they are still able to make toys they loved more than the original, sometimes even using the box as a prop. Lego Lover CEOs are adept at pivoting quickly and utilizing those resources they have at their disposal. As many organisations grapple with reduced revenue, one question leaders will find themselves faced with is ‘How can we do more with the resources we have or have ready access to?’. Can we afford to build, buy or borrow that talent we need?
- Visualise connections between seemingly unrelated things. Children are inspired by everything around them. It is how they can incorporate Legos from a totally different set to make something totally different from the picture on any of the boxes. It’s this creativity manifest that birthed Airbnb; it explains how the leadership at FedEx found inspiration to optimize their office space from Formula One racing and how Sprinkle’s Bakery evolved their customer experience by introducing the Cupcake ATM. Creative leaders are sparked by insights which allow them to imagine potential realities well beyond the status quo.
- Be intentionally inquisitive. Kids have a knack for wanting to know. Often misrepresented, we portray the picture of a child asking ‘Why’ repeatedly as if there’s the malicious intent to annoy us. Why must the wheels go there? Why do I have to place that piece there? Why not over here? As companies seek to rebuild better, there is a chance to solicit feedback, but my caution is do it intentionally with a desire to act on the information received. Countless questions can be asked. Do we have the trust of our team? What office footprint do we need to have? Is working remotely aligned to our operations, brand and culture? Whatever you choose to ask, it isn’t enough to ask if there was never an intent to act on the answer.
- Be wary of who you play with. Who a child shares their favorite Legos with is telling. It reveals who they trust, often who have similar values and shared energies. Kids building a tower have little time for other kids who have no interest in their construction project or seek to destroy. After a few unsuccessful attempts to engage they make those tough decisions we often hesitate to make as adults. Figuring out early on who are the change makers, builders and blockers is critical to their success in the playground as much as it is in the Boardroom and wider organization. Being deliberate in building your team post COVID will be critical in whether key strategic decisions can begin to take shape.
While the pandemic did not necessarily allow for the pause that was often promised as a benefit of the repeated lockdowns and isolation. It has provided the platform upon which we as business leaders can redefine how we engage our workforces. Much has been lost as a result of the pandemic. However the greatest loss still to be incurred is the advantage and opportunity to refashion how we work and in so doing propel our organisations to a new stage of evolution. In a post Covid world, survival won’t be based on battling zombies, but on our ability to tap into the right sides of our brains, honed through years of Lego play. Embracing destruction may just be enough to get us through this period of disruption.