Lessons Learned From Building A Lego Car

As a kid, Porsche was my dream car. I also liked building legos. One of the themes during COVID was reconnecting with my inner child, so I embarked on a journey to build a 1500 piece lego car. Here are my reflections from this experience:

  • You like what you can do well: When I first started, I was moving very slowly, having a hard time finding the pieces and understanding the instructions. After completing 20% of the instructions, I became more familiar with the process, started to move faster, and got more engaged. The same phenomenon happened when I got a new job and started working on a new codebase. Initially, things looked unfamiliar, simple things took me a long time. I got frustrated, my enjoyment was low. As my familiarity and competence increased, so did my enjoyment and engagement with the new job. This simple idea is explained by Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Model as well: there’s a sweet spot of challenge vs skill level that gets you into the flow. I experienced this first hand.
  • Breaking down the big problem: Reading 50 books a year sounds challenging. Reading 30 pages a day does not. If you read 30 pages for 365 days, that’s more than 10,000 pages. Say 200 pages for each book, that’s equal to 50 books a year. Same idea with building legos. There were 500 instructions to complete to put together 1,500 pieces. These numbers sounded scary at first. I noticed that it took me 1 hour to build ~50 instructions. If I spent 1 hour per day building lego, I could complete it in 10 days. That’s a less scary and more achievable goal.
  • Reflecting along the way: After finishing 100 instructions, I reflected on what was not going well. I noticed that I spend most of my time searching for pieces in 10 different bags. I decided to put them all out on the table, group the same pieces together and sort them by color. Having this preprocessing step made it easier to build. I made it a habit to reflect along the way and make improvements to my process to increase my speed and reduce defects. Similarly, I added a recurring Slack reminder for Friday 5 pm to reflect on the past week at my job.
  • Enjoying the process: We often get into things with the result in mind, but overlook the process. People start companies because they want the result: change the world, get rich, become famous. Or kids think they want to be a doctor because they like the idea of curing others. But will you enjoy the daily life of being a doctor? Being in the hospital all day, seeing patient after patient, having late night shifts and all the other challenges that are a part of a doctor’s day to day. A part time job I do is helping engineers prepare for coding interviews by conducting mock interviews. The result is fulfilling, I enjoy helping people grow, but the process for me as an interviewer is repetitive and not as fulfilling. That’s why I don’t do it full-time. I decided to buy this lego car because I liked the end result, but didn’t really think about whether I’d enjoy the 10 hours it would take me to build it. For things we do long term, it’s essential that we enjoy not just the outcome, but the process as well.

Overall, it was interesting to see the building blocks of the car and how they interact with each other – how the engine turns the wheels, how the wheel turns the tires, how everything comes together etc. It was also fun to revisit a childhood activity as an adult. Did I enjoy putting together pieces for 10 hours by following an instruction manual? Not that much. But the learnings were worth it…

January 31, 2021

sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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