Last week, for my birthday I actually got two Lego boxes. I always loved playing with Lego as a child and still do, and Lego was smart enough to design a couple of – quite expensive – boxes for grown-ups, ranging from 2,000-5,000 pieces. Lego, in my opinion, is the best toy-brand ever, combining durability, fun, flexibility and creativity and construction basics all in one. To be honest, a lot of my understanding of real-life elements I have learned as a child through the little building blocks.
In the academy it was actually adviced to use Lego as a way to shape concepts. It is easy, fast to use and can mend to anything you heart desires; besides and empty sheet of paper the next best thing for a designer.
Actually, when I was working with LogicaCMG, there were yearly competitions between departments to program a Lego robot to do certain kind of things.
And still, even when I worked on one of these boxes over the weekend, there were times that I wondered about the creativity and insight the designer must have had to use a limited amount of shapes and pieces to get to such a result. Especially also, because I think any programmer or designer sees the roots of object oriented programming in here too; how can you make as flexible as possible use of one single element. And all these elements together form – in this scenario – a fire department, but in another scenario it might have been a boat or spaceship with exactly the same elements.
If you play with Lego, this is extremely easy to visualize. My daughter who is 5 has no problem seeing this. Now she has made a horse-barn, but tomorrow she wants to make a house for her lego kitties (including sofa to sleep on and television and radiator to keep it warm).
Why, if it is easy for a 5-year-old to grasp, is this concept practically too difficult to understand for most grown-ups? Before the weekend a colleague asked if I could make a certain functionality in a program to accept decimals instead of integers, since this is what his superior requested who is ‘wise’ to avoid asking me the question directly, since she was the one mentioning a year ago that she never would use decimals. Now, of course, she thought that adding the decimal in there is easy, since it is onlya tenth of a number. But it is then obviously too hard to understand that adding the decimal feature needs to be first adjusted in the database – in which the difference between decimal and without decimal is like night and day (from the original Integer to Numeric), and all the building blocks built on top of it who are expecting an integer, need to be reprogrammed. It is like changing the bottom Lego brick in your masterpiece to a different shape; it might make your whole building tumble down.
Sometimes, the smallest changes might require the most work. I think it is time any person who is a manager or project lead should at least play with Lego a bit more. It would make the world of IT a lot easier.