Cognitive Dissonance: LEGO & Creativity

I often hear complaints about the “lack of creativity” in LEGO sets. Getting a LEGO set and building it precisely according to instructions stifles creativity, we are told.

It reminds me of Michael Chabon’s essay on LEGO in Manhood for Amateursin which he says he resents “the authoritarian state of the new LEGO” and longs for the ‘70s era tubs of bricks. Even The LEGO Movie praises the creativity of set-free creation (while concurrently selling movie-themed sets.)
Or this image making the rounds…

…which draws remarks about the time before LEGO told us precisely what to build.

Time for a little cognitive dissonance.
Creativity is important, and rote following of LEGO instructions doesn’t encourage the out-of-the-box thinking I want my sons to prize. I don’t want my sons to grow up to be cogs in industrial jobs: I want them to be wildly creative and to make amazing new things.
On the other hand, my design-minded oldest has gleaned many useful concepts from building LEGO sets straight from the box. He’s learned about solid construction, color, unexpected approaches to construction. One trick LEGO often uses is to slip a garishly colored brick into the early foundational steps. Knowing that elements are there that you can’t see in the finished product: a valuable lesson.
And over time, he has evolved into a creative designer, building various objects strictly from his mind.
Imagine a world where both ideas are true. Engage in cognitive dissonance: it’s good for you to hold opposing viewpoints. The world is not monochromatic, whatever you hear people say on Facebook.
This LEGO argument reminds me a lot of the young artist’s fear of training. “If I study color theory, will I lose my instinctive eye?” “When you get good at analyzing music, do you lose the sheer joy of listening?” “If I get trained, will I stop being creative?”
And vice versa: “If you don’t attend a top-notch conservatory, you’ll never make it as a musician.” “You aren’t a real artist until you can draw a perfect circle.”
All of us succeed through a mixture of talent and training, a blend of intuition and craft. Like LEGO. There’s not one right path to learning, there are many. So I’ll keep letting my boys play with LEGO any way the choose. I know they’ll be learning no matter what.