In 1915, Albert Einstein was living in Berlin and working on his theory of general relativity while his estranged wife tended his two sons in Vienna.
In a short note to his 11-year-old son Hans, we see Einstein in a less familiar light—that of a caring father who uses forceful simplicity to offer young Hans some exceptionally good advice on how to learn more quickly:
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such
enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal.
Geniuses don’t talk in riddles but in language that is exceptionally clear. Einstein knew how to learn. He knew we learn best when we enjoy what we are doing.
As this past school year came to an end, one of my sons extracted a promise from me that we would finish the arcade machine I started building almost eight years ago. The list of things that needed to be done was long, and most of them were complicated and would require a lot of research, trial, and error. Against my better judgment, I agreed to the deadline and started working on the “Cowboy Arcade” soon after school ended.
We dug into the list and started finding out what we didn’t know. Soon, we were completely engrossed in the effort, and on several occasions, we worked until 3:00 a.m. or later without even being aware it was so late. We were having fun. It was fun to work together. We were both learning, and my son was teaching me as much as I was teaching him. As we fixed, installed, and completed each item on the list, we were delighted to see our work come to life as the arcade began to play the games, light the lights, and make the sounds that were familiar to me and new to him.
How can we make the things we do at Kimray more enjoyable and make them richer learning experiences in the process?
A friend and mentor of mine frequently says, “There is my part, the other person’s part, and God’s part. I can only do my part.” Each person must want their work to be engaging and enjoyable. Attitude does matter.
Our part, though, is equally important.
Are we quick to praise and ready to acknowledge the effort, success, and input of those on our team? My son has a truly grateful spirit. He is fun to work with because he readily and frequently says he appreciates it. As we work on this project together, we often divide and conquer a topic or problem, each bring back our answers and ideas, and then choose how to proceed. He is right as much as I am, and I try to tell him often.
Do we delegate the interesting and challenging stuff to others? We can’t always delegate, but I can delegate great stuff to others far more often than I like to admit. Give your team challenging and exciting work. With this arcade project, I often found myself in the less glamorous role of “downloader-of-files” and such, which I then handed to my son who had the pleasure of loading and testing them on the arcade. Did he make some mistakes? Of course, but he learned a lot in the process.
Are we finding opportunities to have fun even when we are working on difficult and tiring projects? Sometimes all it takes to gain a new perspective is a little break. My son and I stopped often to play the arcade (once we got it running). Sure, we could have gotten a little more wiring done or another software problem resolved if we had kept our heads down. We also might have grown tired of the project and quit. Playing the arcade kept us excited about fixing the next thing so it would work even better. I am obsessive and detailed, but my son was fanatical about not giving up on the little things that could be refined. Playing made him even more determined to get it right.
As leaders, we should look for any way possible to make the time our team members spend at Kimray enjoyable. Our attitude, the way we encourage others, the way we delegate and divide work, and the value we place on rest and renewal will all impact the team’s ability to learn and grow.
Let’s enjoy what we do, and help others enjoy what they do. That’s The Kimray way.