Understanding LEGO and systematic creativity

LEGO bricks are almost universally synonymous with creativity, the exuberant energy of children to imagine the future and craft it with their very own hands. Much has been said about creativity, and in recent years a lot of new research has emerged, shedding new light on this complex human quality. Creativity is not something you are born with – but a collection of many ‘ordinary’ abilities that together enable us to ‘generate ideas and artifacts that are new, surprising and valuable.’

However, many products, concepts, toys and ideas out there have already been developed to the final, finished article – leaving very little room for us to use them to come up with new things that are surprising and valuable to us. On the other hand, one of the reasons for success of so many of the web 2.0 tools is that they are platforms, enabling many new things to be created and contributed, rather than closed solutions with only limited applications. But in time before time, so to speak – before systems and platforms became the plat du jour of any self-respecting developer and designer out there – one man realised just what potential a system could have, as opposed to a finished solution – when given to millions of children the world over to use, experiment with, and become familiar with the power of their own imagination.

Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen, the founding father of the LEGO® System of Play, believed that children should not be offered ready-made solutions, instead they needed something different that would strengthen their imagination and creativity. He devised the notion that a range of toys should fit together to form a system, in order to create a toy with value for life. Thus no LEGO product is ever finished, it leaves the factory in pieces that you put together yourself into either the model you fell in love with on the cover of the box, or more intriguingly – into something entirely different from your own imagination. Either are correct and no LEGO creation is ‘wrong’ – anything can be built and through that open-ended freedom, becoming familiar with the bricks, we gradually become familiar with and begin expanding the limits of our own imagination.

Recently we asked LEGO parents from the UK and US what effect playing with LEGO bricks has had on their children and over 90% cite improved creativity, problem-solving, coordination, thinking, learning, engineering and reasoning skills. Despite this strong testimony, most parents have limited understanding of why and how LEGO play helps their children grow. This was the mission set forth for the LEGO Learning Institute and its associated experts – to help us define what is the nature of the creativity that LEGO play develops in children.

A year and countless hours later prof. Edith Ackermann, prof. David Gauntlett and I have pulled together research from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, sociology and so on to put into words just how and why LEGO products are so much more than a toy – a creative tool, that through learning to master you learn about mastering your own creativity and making creativity a deliberate practice – not just a purely randomly occurring incident.

We are pleased to make this research available to all, and through sharing it we hope the debate around and understanding of creativity can only improve – we would like to demystify it and encourage anyone and everyone to stop saying ‘I’m not creative!’, but in fact begin recognising all the times we think an unfamiliar thought, and are in fact being creative on a personal level. Through recognising that, we can begin celebrating creativity in ourselves and others and nurturing it with the same commitment as professional sportspeople and musicians have turned their ability from a hobby or amateur level to excellence through deliberate practice.

Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. (Albert Einstein)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Web 2.0 says:

    Lego also produces 306 million tyres a year making the firm the worlds largest tyre manufacturer. Web 2.0

  2. Gryfino says:

    Actualy my kid often uses toys in ways completely unpredicted by a manufacturer. Toy cars as rollerblades for a barbie dolls would be just one of the examples…

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