What I learned from some plastic bricks

Today I was humbled by a kids toy.  Well technically speaking, it was designated 14+ which means I was humbled by a toy for teenagers (or precocious 7-year olds).

Last Christmas I was given an 1,158-piece Lego kit.  A charming Ferrari F40 in fact.  It’s currently School Holidays in Australia, and in between bouts of sheer bewilderment as to how parents over the years have survived this terrifying period, I upended the enormous box of perfectly engineered pieces onto the floor and kicked off the build.

It started off reasonably easy, with the chassis and engine bay the first elements coming to life.  It wasn’t until the body started to take shape that I realised simply how far away I am from being an actual Engineer.

Dramatic revelation for a Lego build, I know.

As the perfectly sculpted, 99.9999% consistent pieces fitted together into small chunks, and those small chunks fitted together into bigger chunks, and the bigger chunks evolved into an elegant feat of engineering magnificence, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat inadequate.

The way in which these little pieces came together was just astonishing.  Now I’ve built a lot of Lego in my life.  Like, a lot.  I don’t however, recall having the eye-widening, brow lifting response to the thought, the intricacy, the engineering marvel that is the 1,158-piece F40 kit.  Chunks were coming together to form graceful curved edges, out of straight bricks!  Chunks that didn’t appear to have any rhyme or reason would effortlessly slot into sub-millimetre exactitude, forming delicate wheel arches and passenger foot-wells.

And here I was calling myself an Engineer.

Did I expect that when I left University I’d be neck deep in calculations, clutch pencils and reams of sophisticated looking computer outputs?  No.  I failed Engineering Computations in 1st year, and probably failed it again in the subsequent Summer School (I think I may have been awarded a Pass Conceded out of sympathy?).

-1x-1
Confusing then, out of reach now.

No, I was never destined (smart enough) to be a design engineer, and I knew early on that my career would likely be in the people side of things; solving problems together, leading teams, delivering outcomes as a group.

Which as it turns out I really enjoy and appear to be OK at.

What it did show me though, is that as Project Managers in civil infrastructure, we underestimate, and I suspect, under-value the expertise, input and often brilliance of the designers in our industry.  How often have you complained that a design drawing is poorly set out, or about how some element would be difficult (and in some cases, impractical) to construct, or any number of other apparent grievances?  Honestly, for me, it must now tally to the hundreds, if not thousands.

How often though, have you marvelled at the fact that someone, somewhere, has coordinated the design of an entire structure, from function, to form, to reinforcement detail, to integration with any number of complex elements, and shown it all in a set of (mainly) easy to read drawings, and then gone to said designer congratulating them with a hearty “Well done!“?  Honestly, for me, it must now tally a total of about 3.  In 18 years of working construction.

Which makes it about 0.00045 times / day.  Which is just not good enough.

Being a Designer must sometimes feel a lot like being in IT.  How often do you ring IT and say “Hey there, all my systems are working fine.  My email is good, my printer drivers are all up to date, I’ve remembered to change my password in the allocated time, and I just wanted to say Thanks!“?

Honestly for me, it must now tally a total of…..

Capture45

We only ever ring to complain.

So the next time you see something that’s smart, or innovative, or just a job well done, tell someone.  Tell anyone.  Send them an email.  Do something!  Make an effort to find the person or team that designed it, or built it, or maintained it, or swept it up, or cooked it, or whatever’ed it, and tell them.

Covey wrote about it back in 1989 and nothing has changed.

“Satisfied needs do not motivate… Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

– Stephen Covey

Apart from the obvious, that thanking a person is just a nice, polite thing to do, there are 5 reasons why positive encouragement is important in the workplace:

  1. People want to feel important
  2. Encouragement reinforces the right things
  3. Encouragement inspires people in tough times
  4. Encouragement builds employee loyalty
  5. Encouragement is free, and gives huge returns

All that from some Lego.  Now that’s a lesson in the every day.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

Have you thanked a designer lately?  Have you thanked anyone today?  Grab someone (politely) and tell them you appreciate them!