Eight Leadership Lessons from a Lego Man in Space…

While NASA spends over $18 billion annually exploring space, two Canadian teenagers manage to send a Lego Man into space, have it return safely to Earth and then find it – all for under $400. What can this teach leaders?

The two 17 year olds achieved this by using a helium-filled weather balloon, a Styrofoam box, a video camera, three still cameras, two mitten warmers (to keep the cameras from getting too cold), a hand sewn parachute, and a mobile phone with GPS tracking so they could find it. The Lego man was superglued onto a plank attached to the side and, in a nice touch, was carrying a Canadian flag. The whole thing travelled 25 km into the air (technically not ‘space’, but close enough), and took amazing photos showing the curvature of the earth and the vast blackness beyond. Here's a video:

Now, I’m not sure what you were like at High School, but when I was 17 my biggest achievements included playing guitar in a U2 cover band and blowing things up in Chemistry when the substitute teacher foolishly allowed us access to some of the chemicals ‘out the back’. Exploring the outer-atmosphere wasn’t on the agenda. It’s such a great story, and I believe there are eight leadership lessons we can learn from the Lego man in space:
  1. Set an inspiring goal – this wasn’t your typical ‘mouse trap powered car’ school project but rather an inspiring and audacious goal
  2. Importance of autonomy – their teachers and parents allowed them the freedom to attempt the seemingly impossible, giving them the autonomy to research and experiment
  3. Avoid the normal –it’s true that almost without exception when people say they’re ‘thinking outside the square’ these days it’s a giveaway that they’re thinking firmly within the square, but this was genuinely outside the normal
  4. Learn from those who have gone before – it turns out the teenagers were inspired by video of MIT students doing something similar – they took some ideas based on the video, but then added their own unique touches
  5. Persistence and hard work – the project took over 2 years, which is basically a lifetime for most teenagers
  6. Don’t forget the mitten warmers – often times the success of a project hinges on the equivalent of ‘mitten warmers’ – the simple and creative solution to a challenge that could otherwise derail a project
  7. Give it a go – as adults we’re wired to place more attention on ‘risk’ over ‘reward’ – teenagers have a lot to teach us about correcting this balance to ensure we grab opportunities
  8. Share the success with others – they shared their video on YouTube, set up a website, and eventually captured the interest of the world’s media, inspiring others to try the same thing
So, a Lego Man in space… could your organisation have done the same? Do your leaders create an environment that would allow others to come up with something extraordinary?