My wife and 2-year-old son were playing with building blocks.
A single adjustment to his construct was the genesis of this post.
I made one adjustment to a toy and delighted myself on how the successive improvements flowed from one to another.
My son was delighted that he had a new toy.
If this post brings me some mirth when I reflect on it a few years from now, then I’ll consider it a success.
For the reader, this post intends to showcase some concepts using observations of my family playing with a construction set. There are a couple of tools introduced here and my hope is to put some tools out there for others to learn.
I would also like to show how play, and an iterative approach to problem solving can form an iterative, experimental opportunity generating mindset.
Agility is not just “a thing” that technology people do. It should be “a thing” that all business people do, unless such business owners want to stay romantic with how they make money. The speed at which markets are changing means that businesses cannot become too comfortable with their business model.
Here are the unpacks for this article title:
Agile – Learning through doing, getting feedback, incrementing on the product design with the new feedback.
Catalyst Co-Creation – There are no expert opinions being forced. We build on each other’s ideas. The resulting product is far better than what any one of us could produce as it was all of our design.
Advanced Learning – Any form of advanced learning is indistinguishable from Play. How often would you and your friends pick up something new and… just play with it to determine what it does?
Experience Cube – A method of structuring our thoughts, emotions and wants around an observation. Everyone makes the same observation but has different experiences about it.
Toddler Interaction Session – An increment of playing with my kid!
The title sounds somewhat important. Should I create an alt-doctorate program?
What do you want?
I returned home with my son after some time at a playground. We were giving mom a break so she could plant her balcony garden. Upon return, my son wanted to watch train videos. We are ensuring he has limits on screen time, so my wife started to play blocks with him while I worked on some educational materials.
The contraption they evolved with the blocks was a rolling tower similar to a medieval siege tower. He’s more of a tinker toddler rather than an imperium toddler so we will call it a ball drop tower. Knights and castles may come at a later time in life!
My son likes to play with wooden balls that came from a Connect-4 inspired game. He finds it fun to have the balls drop through the tower and be ejected at the bottom.
What does my son enjoy:
- Construction toys
- Cause and effect when experimenting with gravity
- The randomness caused by watching things drop under the power of gravity
How to measure success?
My son is not quite 2 and a half years old at the time of this writing. His needs are not very complex so having fun is at the top of his list.
How do we measure “fun” for toddlers? I found that my little guy just wants to have fun and receive appreciation from mom and dad. He also runs his own Boredom Minimization Framework, of which the rules are still not fully known by mom and dad.
We will measure success using the following:
- The loudness of his laughs
- Number of spins in his victory dance
- Length of focused, quiet engagement with the toy after the initial enthusiasm.
You need to be aware of your experience before you can describe it, and you need to know what experience is in order to use your curiosity well. (Busche, G., 2009)
My paraphrasing of Busche’s work is: An experience is our interpretation of an observation we make. We have an awareness of an event that creates an emotional response within ourselves. There is then a voice in our heads that forms a narrative. Then what follows is a want or moment of curiosity.
An example of using the experience cube to step through an event may look like this: It is a rainy day, then the sun breaks out and starts shining, it warms up outside. When looking at this there is a feeling of happiness. The thought running through my head is the sun that comes out after a rain is very refreshing. A moment of need arises, I want to go outside to be in the sun as I am curious if I will feel that same refreshing feeling as I have in the past.
Another can observe the sun shining and feel a sense of despair. Their thought: I now need to honour my agreement to go out and finish the yard work, I wanted to stay inside and binge watch a Netflix series while it was raining!”
One observable truth leads to two completely different experiences. The Experience Cube helps us to “create data” by expressing our feelings, thoughts, and wants. Teams that exercise this tool create greater understanding between their members.
Leaders in knowledge based industries need to adopt new ways of adapting to rapidly changing market conditions. (Joiner, B., 2007). Industrial command and control style may have limited success with knowledge based product development. Effective executives work to grow themselves, their superiors, their reports and the peers that work around them. (Drucker, P. F., 2002)
I will provide a short summary of the leadership stances. My hope here is it sparks a reader to investigate these further. I believe we would be better served to have more people with catalyst based leadership toolkits in the world.
Here is my summary of Joiner’s Leadership stances. No leadership stance is truly better than the other. They each have their representative toolkits. However, there is a learned progression of the stances. A Catalyst stance is an evolution of the Achiever stance, which is an evolution of the Expert stance. A Catalyst leader has access to all the tools of the three stances. An Expert leader only has the tools of the Expert stance. The Catalyst leader stands the greatest chance to create more options for their teams, increasing their chance to discover breakthrough solutions.
Expert Leaders focus on solving the problem as fast as possible. They are very skilled and tend to default to creating groups rather than building high performing teams. Providing opportunities for learning, growth, and opening paths for serendipity may be viewed as “inefficient”. Often the Expert Leader is an individual contributor who is elevated to a management or supervisory role because of their performance while on the line.
In my toy observations later in in this article, a pulley system that we implemented on the toy, broke. From an Expert Leadership stance, I go over and fix it before returning to my writing.
Experience Cube – I saw that the pulley system broke. I feeling apprehensive because I thought I would get aggravated if my son disengaged with the toy (he would come to the laptop and start pressing keys at random). I wanted him to continue playing with the toy so I could write this article!
Achiever Leaders focus on achieving goals as fast as possible and landing the quick results. Training and education is looked upon as a means to an end. Achiever leaders set in their ways tend to approach people as commodities which packaged skills. Those that produce are rewarded, those that flounder are discarded.
A softer approach to Achiever leadership is to set the measures for success and have the team provide the “how”. The intention here is not to colour this leadership style in a negative light. There is a time and place for each style.
I ask my wife to cut a piece of string so I can create the pulley system. If I was in an expert leader stance, I could have found the scissors myself and cut the string. However, I did not know where the scissors were at the time and I wanted to implement “my” idea.
Experience Cube – I saw that he was manually lifting the balls to the top of the tower. I felt a bit of a fun feeling coming on with the thought that I could create a magnet lifting system (he likes magnets) as I wanted him to engage with the toy rather than asking for videos.
Catalyst leaders show a passion for a vision and grow their people in order to achieve it. There are many approaches to a problem and they will engage with the team to create many diverging options before having the team converge on a solution. This leadership style engages all members of the team to be active participants in generating options. This can lead to solutions that are significant breakthroughs that no single member of the team could have created individually.
Iterative Crane Development
While building the toy contraption, my wife added this mechanism to the top of the tower. She then operated it in a pincer-like fashion. I looked up from my work and thought (Achiever Stance), “Neat idea, but there is an opportunity for more fun”.
Selecting a single blue unit block, I add it to the pincer contraption so that there is a larger range of motion. The yellow boom can now swivel 360 degrees. My thoughts were to add a slight improvement on the design (Catalyst Stance) to open up more options for play. My wife started to swivel the unit while making a mechanical sound.
Laughter from my son.
Looking up from my work again, I see that they are manually lifting small wooden balls to the top of the tower then dropping them down the centre. This is a tower ball drop design that my son enjoys.
There is a piece of string tied to a toy car which is used to pull it around the room. The Expert leader in me would like to take that string and improve the contraption, so I start to tinker with it.
I’m not getting anywhere. My craft skills are rusty.
The Achiever leader in me wants to ask my wife to get something to cut the string. The Catalyst leader in me has me explain the vision of what I want to do to my wife. So she has some ideas, gets the scissors, cuts the string, ties it off on a block, slings it over the yellow boom.
The contraption needs to elevate stuff up to the top of the tower. So my intention is to connect blocks to the block that mimics a crane hook, then elevate them up to the top.
My son finds that the rope slips too much and the payload drops back down.
He installs a flag on top of the tower. I think this was just to add some fun to the tower. He has seen flags on top of buildings so may have been mimicking that design.
However, that little bit of genius trapped the string between the flagpole block and another block on the top of the tower. This provided friction on the string and the payload would no longer fall.
Experience Cube – I was seeing the design evolve. I noticed I had some urges to jump in and “fix it and make it better”. I caught this urge then thought I would just stop and watch, wondering what would happen next.
There was a lot of quiet building time during the last few iterations. A key observation of high performing teams is they get very quiet when they are focused and in flow. As an important “Public Service Announcement” – Do not go into a team room when the members are heads down focusing, shout out how quiet it is, then attempt to bring “life to the party”.
If you had this happen to your team, add your story to the comments section below.
We discovered that the balls fit perfectly into the elevation block when we flipped it upside down. We tinkered with it a bit and my son helped QA the change before we put the friction block back on. A couple of slight modifications including moving the elevating block to the other side of the boom so that the balls can be dropped into the tower with one move rather than pulling the device over the boom. Too much kludge.
Lots of laughter and “Wows” from my son.
And everyone is happy – we all played our parts!
My son now knows the basics of a pulley system. Coming back to the toy after a couple of hours, he re-installed the elevator device and started to raise and lower the payloads, air dropping the balls, reloading them, overloading the container, moving the entire contraption back and forth while raising and lowering the payloads, fast lowering the payloads so they spill and see how the balls move, creating an unbalanced load, integrating the contraption with a Brio train toy.
My tired son eventually deconstructed the crane platform. Later in the evening, he rebuilt it with the help of my wife and I showed them how the flag piece provides friction on the pull string in order to suspend the load. Looking at it now, there might be an opportunity to evolve it into a sort of gantry crane…
A few days later while editing this article my son walks up to me, with the string and attached elevator brick in hand.
“Error, Error”, he exclaims.
The pulley system was disconnected from the tower and he wanted to report the incident…
- Joiner, B., & Josephs, S. (2007). Leadership agility: Five levels of mastery for anticipating and initiating change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Drucker, P. F. (2002). The effective executive. New York: HarperBusiness Essentials.
- Bushe, Gervase, R. (2009). Ch. 4. The Four Elements of Experience: The Experience Cube. In Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work (pp. 91-107). Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Pub.