Legos at work

by Bernard De Koven on September 21, 2006

Funscout Eric Jacobs writes about connections between the qualities of Lego-play and worklife:

Most of my Lego playing recently has been with the small pile of pieces I have at work. I think my collection at home has gotten too big and unwieldy, but I’m working on setting up a dedicated storage/play area to take care of that. I really want to be able to build some larger, more involved models like I used to. So back to the office: I encourage everyone in the office to play with the Lego, take a handful back to their desk, whatever they want.

I’m a programmer at a software company, and the other programmers especially like the Lego, though almost everyone plays with it sometimes. I’ve always thought programming is a mix of art and engineering, which I think is why the Lego is so appealing- an open-ended building toy, that exercises a combination of art/creativity and engineering/building. A lot of people (including me) like to just have something to fiddle with to keep their hands busy while they’re thinking. So during impromptu meetings and design discussions, people grab a handful of bricks and doodle with them. Sometimes people actually take play-breaks, come sit down for a few minutes and dedicate their full attention to building something.

Something interesting that my team-mates and I noticed is that the quantity and complexity of Lego models being built is inversely proportional to how much fun we’re having actually working. The last project we were working on was pretty rough, which resulted in a lot of play-breaks to unwind. (By the end of the project, we ended up with a lot of models of classic video-game characters. For some reason I love the idea of using one toy to build another toy.) The current project is actually fun, and the Lego models have dropped off dramatically.

Something else interesting that I think I’ve noticed: The last company I was at wasn’t a particularly good place to work. People would stop by and build pretty dark stuff. There were a couple minifigs of Santa Claus in there, and by far the most popular theme was dioramas of Santa being killed in creative ways. James Bond type lasers (“No Mr Claus, I expect you to die!”), wood-chippers, industrial accidents, you name it.

Granted, a lot of people like the irony of building dark models from Lego, but nowhere near as much dark stuff like that gets built at the current company. We’ve got cars, airplanes, pimped-out lawnmowers, video-game characters. (Not too far from what your average kid would build.)

A couple of us have actually used the Lego as a tool too. We were working on labor-scheduling software, and found the blocks were great for working out algorithms by hand. (Ok, the red bricks are 15-minute blocks of time that we need a cashier. And the blue is stockroom. So the leveling algorithm needs to move the blue from here to here…)

One last thing I think you’ll like: Many, perhaps most, adult Lego fans go through a period, usually the teenage years, where they decide they’re too old to play with Lego. I don’t know who coined the term, but we call that ‘the dark ages.’

from Bernie DeKoven’s FunLog

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