Build a Better Mousetrap

Do you remember the classic game Mousetrap? It was a board game from the 1960’s, where the idea was to build a Rube-Goldberg-like mousetrap out of random pieces through the course of the game. The game culminated in a cage dropping down from above to trap a mouse player.mousetrap

It was one of my favorite toys when I was a kid, not because I played with others (although I did) but because the budding engineer in me loved to just build the mousetrap without playing the game. I loved putting the pieces together, piece by piece, segment by segment, so I could get to the final finished product…the falling trap.

The apple hasn’t fallen too far from my tree. When my son was very young, perhaps 4-5, he would build his own Rube Goldberg machines using random items he’d drag from all corners of the house. A Rube Goldberg machine is a complicated system of pieces that work together to perform a relatively simple task, like drop a cage on a toy mouse, or fill a cup with water. My son would use all sorts of pieces:  marbles, dominoes, toy train tracks, cups, string, spatula and lots of tape.

Don’t know what a Rube Goldberg is? Check out this video for some insight. It was a wildly popular Honda Commercial from the mid 2000’s. Click here for video

There was something so intoxicating and engaging about pulling together unrelated pieces and building something from them. It’s the thrill of crafting: using raw materials to craft them into something else.

We all love to craft in one way or another. It may not be in building a toy or a Rube Goldberg machine. But we all are wired for it. We craft in many different ways. Any time we take raw materials and re-make them into something else, we are crafting. So, if you like to build, paint, construct, sew, draw, decorate, cook, assemble…anything that puts pieces together in a unique way, you are crafting. And when you are crafting, a piece of your soul leaps to life.

As a leader of a team, it’s essential that you tap into your team’s desire to craft. Sometimes they may have a better way of doing something. Let them have the freedom to do it their way, as long as it doesn’t compromise the organization’s reputation, methods or safety standards. Create teams of people to brainstorm a way to craft a solution to a problem, or approach a situation from a different perspective. Allow your team the freedom to craft their own space, if possible. When I was at NASA, our offices were tiny and barren, but we were allowed to craft them into more “homey” places with personal items, decorations and wall art. Allow your team to use their “crafting” talents in ways that are not directly related to their jobs. Let them develop an event, plan a PR campaign, or host a party.

When you allow your team to engage in “crafting”, they will surprise you with their creativity. We are all so powerfully creative, but we don’t often get the chance to develop or express that creativity. Even people who say “Oh, I’m not very creative” are indeed supremely creative. They just don’t know it.

Let your people create. Let them craft. Give them the tools, resources and time to see what they can come up with. You will be amazed. And they will be much happier.

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