An Unmistakable Symbol in Legos and the Right Colors

Clemson Paw logo mosaic. 48 X 48.

Created: 12/28/2007

Trendsetting into the mainstream - one block at a time

It should come to no surprise by now that I have all sorts of Lego creations in my office. From assembled sets to original inventions, my workspace is a kid's playroom. I catch all sorts of flack from co-workers, but they can't wait to see what I build next and are often impressed. Mostly they just don't get it. "Legos for an adult? It just doesn't make sense," they argue.

What people fail to understand is why I play with Legos. They immediately link Legos to children (it's a kid toy) and don't see past this connection. There is so much more that they are missing. It de-stresses me it really does. I've always maintained it serves as another creative outlet. It also works as a great mental treadmill much like doing a puzzle or a crossword would be.

So my boss walks in this morning with an article by Shelley Emling he found in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (AJC) precisely mentioning how big companies are now using Lego to increase their workers' creativity along with serving other team-building purposes. He'd been proudly sharing it with others and using me as an example. Go figure. Lego yields a boost in creativity and problem-solving abilities what a revelation.

I do the things I do because they work for me. Playing, building, creating things out of Legos has always worked for me. This has been a toy, a tool that has allowed me to break away from problems. It's broadened my imagination and creativity and it has allowed me to exercise my mental engine. I find it funny, yet extremely interesting, that corporate America is catching up with something I found to be true a while back.

Below is a copy of the article since I have known the AJC to cleanse their old articles quite regularly. I thought I'd save a copy for posterity here.

Serious side of play: Lego training helps workers boost creativity

By Shelley Emling
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/28/07

Billund, Denmark - Children have long used Lego Group's colorful snap-together blocks to unleash their creativity by building dinosaurs, airplanes, even complete fantasylands.

Now at huge corporations across the U.S. and around the world, adults are using Legos as a tool to enhance organizational creativity and performance.

The Danish firm, the world's fourth-largest toy company, has transformed its beloved plastic toys into a business resource called Serious Play.

In two-day training sessions costing about $7,000, skilled Lego facilitators help clients build models that act as metaphors for their organization's strengths, weaknesses and overall challenges. For example, employees might use the blocks to model a perceived threat of a corporate takeover.

Already Home Depot, Georgia Power and R&L Foods Inc., the San Antonio-based owner and operator of Taco Bell and KFC franchises, are among the more than 400 companies that have participated in the program.

Employees at the Florida Department of Children and Families will participate in a Serious Play workshop in September.

"When it comes to protecting vulnerable children, the wrong decision could mean the difference between life and death," said Al Zimmerman, a department spokesman. "The Serious Play workshop will introduce child welfare workers to a new way of thinking, communicating and problem-solving in order to sharpen their skills and performance.

"It sounds strange to say this, but based on the proven success of the program, Lego blocks could ultimately improve our ability to protect and provide for the children in our care," he said.

Robert Rasmussen, one of the architects of Serious Play who is now a facilitator based in Massachusetts, said the program is effective because it results in 100 percent participation from 100 percent of the group 100 percent of the time.

He facilitated a workshop in January with about 95 Home Depot store managers from throughout the New England region.

"The idea was to teach employees how to think outside the box," he said.

In general, Rasmussen said Lego is rare in that it functions as a universal language understood by people regardless of their age, race, gender, or culture.

"This means that you don't leave any insights, opinions, thoughts or ideas undiscovered or untouched," he said.

Rasmussen said that the use of metaphors is a huge part of Serious Play.

For example, he said he might ask a group to build a model that describes the identity of their organization. The result might be a race car to express the idea that their company is a fast-moving one.

"Metaphors make it easier to express complex matters in a way that helps your own understanding and also the listener's understanding," he said.

Lewis Pinault, an American facilitator based in London, said he might ask a group of employees to model threats of a takeover, or to represent the person at work who irks them the most.

"We use Lego as a tool that enhances psychological flow," Pinault said. "Lego takes people out of their usual comfort zones."

The Serious Play program has proved so successful - some 110 facilitators have been trained around the world - that Lego has started to explore the idea of marketing the tool to families and perhaps even schools that are struggling with uncommunicative children.

"We might try to broaden our reach by introducing the idea to families and also to classrooms in order to help build social connections," said Jesper Jensen, the Denmark-based director of Serious Play. Before going on holiday recently, Jensen said, he asked his own two children to build their idea of the perfect vacation out of Lego.

"This got the whole family talking about what we hoped to get out of our time away together," he said.

The 6,500-piece Lego set designed for Serious Play mixes elements of various Lego theme packs.

Jacqueline Lloyd Smith, a Canada-based facilitator, said Serious Play is based on "hand knowledge."

She pointed to research showing that the hands are connected to 70 percent to 80 percent of people's brain cells.

Created: 9/7/2007

A Timely Creation - Building a Clock

As previously stated, I have not been a stranger to designing Lego contraptions mechanisms if you will. Not too long ago I wondered if it'd be possible to make a working clock purely out of Legos. And why not? It seemed like a perfectly interesting exercise... for a Lego geek (I admit it). So I did an online search and found the reference from which all known weight-based Lego clocks come from: Leo Dorst's website (University of Amsterdam).

After studying his design, I picked the sub-assemblies I deemed necessary and began building. I also incorporated some of Eric Harshbarger's clock design ideas. I had to make several mechanical changes to fit my own design. Most of the aesthetics are 100% original. Unlike Eric, I was constrained by the amount of pieces I had, so instead of a full grandfather clock, I had to settle for something much smaller.

Building it was relatively easy until it came time to determine the best weight and gear ratio to drive the clock. This took a lot of re-engineering and physics analysis. I broke one gear and twisted one axle beyond repair. I constantly changed the weights I used, added and subtracted gears, and also changed the length and weight of the pendulum. After I realized I needed about 4 lbs to run the clock with in my final setup, I asked a co-worker to help me find something a bit heavier that I could use. He got me a perfect piece of metal that weighed 8 lbs. Not exactly what I needed but heavier is always better in this case.

By the time I was done, I had a clock that I could sit atop my office furniture that could tell accurate time. The weight that drives the machine falls at a rate of 10"/hour. The clock runs uninterrupted for 6.5 hrs from its current location. The weight is held by 30 lb fishing line. The true force applied to the main spindle is significantly less due to angling of the weight line under the gears and across the clock (intentional). This makes the weight exerted on the machine less than 5 lbs which is perfect.

Resetting the clock takes less than 30 seconds and I don't mind doing it twice a day (once around 1:30PM and again before I leave - getting it ready for the next day). The clock runs approximately 30 seconds/hour fast. This is due primarily to the imprecise escapement wheel/assembly. A solid piece, like the one Eric uses in his clock, would yield more precise timing. I actually enjoy listening to the loud "tic-toc" the clock makes as the mentioned escapement wheel drives and controls the pendulum's motion.

After much wrestling and testing, I felt comfortable enough with the design, accuracy, and weight rate of descent to use. I have though of trying harder to get the weight to descend slower (using more of the full 8 lbs worth of force and down gearing the mechanism some more). It's probably not worth the effort. Besides, I set out to build a clock and I did. What more should I want? And after all, how many people can say they've built a real clock anyway?

Created: 9/7/2007

A Cube for a Cube

Created: 9/6/2007

An Unmistakable Symbol Says it All... in Legos

Clemson Paw logo mosaic. 48 X 48.

Created: 9/6/2007

The best toy ever created

For the type of person that I am, with all my aptitudes and interests, with my fascination for how things work and my unbound creativity, there is not a better toy than Lego. Ever since I can remember I've had Legos. My dad traveled internationally with some frequency when I was young. When he'd return home, he always brought me back one set or more. He got me started with Space-themed sets. As I grew older, I "graduated" to the Technic sets. My collection grew and grew throughout the years. I never discarded any of them and kept them in excellent shape considering how long I'd had them. I never kept the boxes and few instruction manuals survived the pass of time, but the blocks made it pretty well. I don't remember when, but certainly as my blocks became harder and harder to store, a denim bag (Lego brand) with a red drawstring became the keeper of my pieces.

As I grew older I continued to find enjoyment in this toy. I went from building houses and vehicles (and even doing stop-motion animation with them I wish I would've kept that tape), to building useful contraptions. During my late teens, I recall having a TV that had thirteen punch-in buttons, one for each channel (sad times). The TV had no remote and I had to get up from my bed to change the channels (indeed sad times). So, in a spurt of imagination and using my mechanical inclinations, I made a remote solely out of Legos. A series of interconnected axles spun a gear which moved a spring-loaded shock absorber sitting on a rail that moved parallel to the channel buttons. Voila, I had a remote that I could use to change the channels from my bed. Granted, the contraption couldn't turn the TV off, but beggars can't be choosers.

Time passed, I got a better TV, more channels became available, I finished high school, and then I went off to college. While I was away, and as I have discussed somewhat in another cube, my parent's marriage fell apart and they eventually sold our house. Somewhere in the move, my Legos were given away. My younger brother never cared for them (he's in Law School Engineering wasn't his cup of tea). My mom figured I'd outgrown the toy, and so she saw no better option than to give it away. There's no telling how much money what I had was worth. Now that I'm determined to have a collection again, I'm finding out how expensive Legos can be a pound at a time (on Ebay) and a set at a time (retail). Regardless, these plastic blocks are worth their weight in gold. This is a truly timeless toy that sparks imagination, creativity, mental development.

Created: 7/25/2007