What Building LEGOs Has Taught Me About Being a Professional

Posted on September 20, 2019

Lego Stan Lee

Today’s Buzz is by Tim Gomez– connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter!

What I am watching: Silicon Valley 

What I am listening to: Cinematic Score from The Dark Knight Rises

What I am reading: The Dark Phoenix Saga (Uncanny X-men #129-138, 1980)

Legoland with Fam

LEGOs are a total family passion!

The term “LEGO” is derived from a Danish phrase which translates to “play well.”

Building LEGOs is the only bit of artistic flair that I have ever shown. There are not many things I find as satisfying as taking boxes of random plastic bricks and creating a new world out of them. With each new piece comes a new idea on how to use it. Through trial and error, you find out how to best use that piece for the situation and for the model in your mind. Many times the ideas come streaming into your consciousness faster than you can process them or have a chance to reflect on whether it’s a good idea. Our lives and building a LEGO world share a lot of similarities.

At the start, we are given a bunch of building blocks with limited instructions. We organize them in a way that makes sense to us, picking and keeping some of the most special ones. Then, through trial and error, we discover what works well and what doesn’t. We seek out new ideas and mentors on how to make process improvements. In the end, we try to build something terrific out of random and often times unrelated blocks.

I often reflect on questions while building and designing my LEGO sets. It is a reflective time to ponder life’s meaning at the same time wondering which Iron Man suit looks best in the armory (hint: any look amazing).

Below are some of the ways in which building LEGOs has made me a better local government professional.

Lego Desk

A current view of my credenza as LEGOs threaten to take over Tempe City Hall

Better is Still Good: Don’t Underestimate Modest Improvements

Anyone who has been around local government long enough will be exposed to Jim Collins’ acclaimed Good to Great. One of the most well-regarded management books published in the last 20 years, its impact has been influential across many industries. One of Collins’ key sayings is based around, is that “good is the enemy of great.” To achieve greatness and perfection, an organization cannot be satisfied with merely achieving good or mediocrity. To be great is to push beyond the normal limits of human nature. But LEGOs, and I, have to disagree.

Building anything of note takes a tremendous amount of time, and the stacking effect of modest improvements along the way is what yields a terrific end product. The process of creating something impactful is arduous, and if it wasn’t it would be accomplished by everyone. The value of something is often tied to its rarity. Each project, whether in real life or LEGO world, is unique and requires small improvements along the way. Modest changes over a long period of time creates success. This is true in project management, LEGO world-building, dieting, exercising, academic comprehension and any other endeavor worthy of pursuit.

Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix Rising is one of the most iconic scenes in comics and had to be included

Make a Plan, But Be Willing to Adjust

LEGOs have taught me that there is no failure in deciding to do a complete teardown and build from the ground up.  My recent Avengers Tower has gone through at least four complete tear downs until I decided on a concept that worked.

How often do you map out a plan for your project, life, and career? If you’re like me, you do this daily. You can spend weeks making a complex plan to achieve an end goal. Yet we often forget how fragile plans are and the variables that they depend on. During my time trying to impersonate a LEGO Master Builder, I have had many ideas that have been derailed because of variables outside of my control. Broken pieces and missing pieces have destroyed my plans for would-be masterpieces (sarcasm clearly implied).

Similar to our careers and life in general, we must be willing to adapt and pivot when we get a broken piece. There is joy in the process, not just the end goal.

Avengers Tower
The joy is in the process.

You Probably Have Everything You Need Already

We could spend an eternity bemoaning the pieces that we don’t have that we think we need. Will your career suffer without the Certified Municipal Clerk certificate? Should you go back to a CPA? Should I order a 1×4 white base swivel hinge or will my project be doomed without it? These are questions that go through the mind of every person eager to produce the best possible version of themselves. Would it be nice to have? Yes. Do you need it? Probably not.

Being a proficient LEGO builder requires tenacity and creativity. These skills are needed for a career in local government as well.  Anyone that has been a part of budget deliberations knows how creative departments have to be when they don’t have all the materials that they need. In the end, we generally come out with a successful product despite the initial feelings of dread.

LEGO w Carson

As always, a special thanks to the wife for letting me destroy the home floor with my hobby.

You’re Never Too Old to Stop Growing Up – Have Fun and Be Yourself

We spend a lot of time in our pre-career life wondering “Who am I going to be when I grow up?” Most of us are dedicated to self-improvement through professional development, getting proficient at our day-to-day lives, looking for efficiency hacks, etc. I thought about this often, and always wondered would future me be okay? The idea of future attainment and positive progression throughout life is alluring and is what a lot of people use to motivate themselves in the present. Over the last five years, I’ve found myself wondering when a person truly becomes that future version of themselves?

I remember sitting down on the floor trying to find the right cup to fit into a cabinet (again talking LEGOs I don’t ever worry about real-life cabinets or cups) and having the thought of future me. Then it dawned on me that I was already 30, and this IS future me. It was one of the first times it dawned me that I am the person I’m going to be for the rest of my life. And I was completely fine with it. Gone were the delusions of behavior modification, or the idea that I should pick up a more substantial or “meaningful” hobby. I know who I am, I know what my limitations and strengths are, and I know what I get enjoyment out of.

This thought process then bled over to my personal life. I’ve gone on many interviews where I knew immediately it was not the right fit between person and organization. It’s something you can feel, but it’s more of an art than science. But you know what? That’s okay!  I urge anyone that will listen to make sure to understand an interview is a two-way communication. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

In the end, our careers and our lives are ephemeral.  We only have a short opportunity to accomplish what we set out to accomplish.  Once our time in the profession and life is over, the world will continue moving along without us.  I intend on enjoying every second of that brief time.

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