Beyond the Build


Building Blocks of Problem Solving

When I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I took these two pictures on the same day. The first: A bank of slot machines, gold and noise. The second: Wooden building blocks in the corner of my hotel coffee shop, waiting to be taken off the shelf and built into something. Both are meant to be forms of entertainment, but the approach couldn’t be more different. As a lifelong builder, I suppose I favor the blocks. Here’s why.

Like most parents, I always thought about the best way to teach my children problem solving, how to be creative and how to figure things out.

When I was a child, I collected bits and pieces of wooden blocks from my dad’s workshop–scraps and odd shapes, which I mixed in with a few marbles. I would use these materials to fashion forts, buildings, roadways, imaginary towns and who knows what else. One of my children spent hours working with his Legos, creating different creatures and things, dealing with moving parts. While there may or may not be a correlation, he is now a cardiologist figuring out how to make hearts work.

Making a wooden road, a marble shoot or a Lego tower is not cutting-edge technology, but transforming these into something that works does take planning and creativity. Working with our hands, we see things more readily in three dimensions. Debugging, and figuring out how to get the train back on the track. Isn’t this the kind of principle successful people apply to their adult lives?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.