My friend Emily shared an analogy with me the other day that really stuck in my mind. And while she was using it to describe science, it can certainly apply to many other realms of life. Here’s how it goes:
She was talking about her genetic engineering company, and explained that the science of it was like Lego.
DNA is built up like a Lego tower, and by replacing different blocks, they could make dozens of different bacteria that do different things.
By switching out a red block for a blue block, they could make a brand new bacteria. So instead of just having a bacteria that senses arsenic, they could swap out the odd gene and make a bacteria that senses zinc, chromium, iron, or dozens of other elements. Instead of having one useful product, they now had the potential for dozens.
It was such a simple explanation of such complex science. Of course, it’s also applicable far beyond the walls of the lab. It’s a template for any creative process. Instead of starting from scratch each time, building something new from the ground up, you take the existing building blocks of experience and knowledge you have and change a few details.
In sewing, you might use a pattern for a shirt, and can modify the sleeve length, neckline, colours, materials, buttons, and countless other embellishments to make dozens of different clothing items. In the tech world, once you know how to make an app for banking, you can modify fonts and features to make apps for a whole range of businesses. In story writing, you can take a known plot line and swap out the details to make a brand new novel.
The examples are endless. This strategy can be used in writing, business, tech, science, education, dance, engineering, factories, and so much more. The important thing to remember is that you’re never really starting from scratch.
Of course, this brick-based building blueprint can be used to build more than ideas; it can also construct a sense of calm in your life. I am the kind of person who agonizes over any new or unfamiliar task, ESPECIALLY in the realm of creativity. As you can imagine, this can create a constant sense of impending doom for a spoken word poet whose job is to constantly create new things. Switching mentalities from “waiting for inspiration” to “building a solution” gave me a productive path forward and saved me a lot of stress.
Instead of sitting at my laptop and staring at the blinking cursor until words emerge from it, I'll give myself smaller, bite-sized tasks to start with. Okay, list 5 images that might fit with the poem. Do a short, paragraph-long journal entry about the theme. Make a bullet-point storyline. Write down all the words associated with this topic. Circle the words that might lend themselves to word play.
In looking at the smaller pieces that made up this new task, I began to realize that a lot of these steps are familiar. I have begun to look at life through this Lego block lens, flipping each new task upside down, pulling it apart, and saying “hmmm...which building blocks do I have already? Let's start there!”
This makes me believe that, no matter who you are or what task you're taking on, we are all capable of building Lego castles in our lives. If we just clip all the little pieces we already have together, we can create a masterpiece bigger than any of us thought possible. One block, one word, one experiment at a time.
So whether your passion is making quilts, compositions, calculations, or casseroles, do your thing. Break it down. And use the pieces to build the future you dream of.