Fueling the Creative Flame

Keith Malone

The senior design director at Lego Systems, Inc., is the father of three children, ages 12, 10, and 6.

How did your family encourage your creativity?

I was the youngest of five, and two of my older brothers were very talented at drawing. Like most younger brothers, I wanted to be just like them, so I would draw a lot. We also lived next to my great-aunt and uncle-he would make or restore furniture and she would paint it. She was the most creative person I knew and would always encourage me to draw and paint.

Who were the adults in your life who most encouraged your creativity?

My mom and dad could see that drawing was important to me and as I got older, began to encourage me more. I remember having a discussion with my parents about wanting to go to art school. My father was worried that I wouldn't be able to find a job and would become a "starving artist," but my mother was confident that I was serious. As I mentioned before, I was also very much influenced by Aunt Julie. She had a wonderful library of art books, and we would look at them together and talk about the different paintings and the artists who created them.

Which books and other materials inspired you most as a child?

My favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I loved the story and the illustrations are beautiful. I must have copied Max and his monsters a thousand times. When I was 8, I saw Star Wars and realized how powerful creativity and imagination can be. And not least of all, my dad brought home a Lego castle from a business trip to Norway. I was in second grade. It was a school day and I had to stop building it and go to school. I had such a hard time concentrating that my teacher called my mom to come get me so I could go home and finish it. I still have that castle to this day!

If you could share one piece of advice with a child about being creative, what would that be?

Every child is naturally creative. Sometimes parents are so busy they don't have time to break out the paints and colored pencils. But creativity is important for healthy development and needs to be encouraged. Applied creativity develops things like fine-motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to really study an object, to be able to duplicate or interpret it, which has all sorts of other life applications. For me, it was drawing, and I couldn't draw enough. The more you do it, the better you get. So if you love something, celebrate it and just do it, over and over again!

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

I am very fortunate to work for a company with the values and ethics of Lego. Because of the toys, I have the greatest audience for my work that a person like me can have, which makes me so proud. We made some short animations that have played on television and on the Web. The reaction from the kids (my own included) was unbelievable.

Why do you think encouraging creativity is so important, and how has it helped you in your life and career?

Well, I'm not very good at fixing the car or the plumbing. But if the kids need help with a school project, Dad's the man. Being a fun and helpful dad in that way has been very fulfilling for me.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I still do a lot of the things I did as a child, like collecting toys, watching cartoons, building, drawing, and playing video games. Working for Lego makes it easy to stay inspired and totally engaged because I enjoy the product and our audience. Knowing that what we're producing and designing has longevity and will be just as cool to a kid 30 years from now motivates my inner creator.

What have you done to encourage your kids' creativity?

I have three wonderful children and all are very different. My oldest loves to play sports and read. My daughter likes sports and drawing, and my youngest loves to build with Lego and play video games. For each of them, creativity means different things. It's not just about art supplies; you can be a creative athlete! My wife and I try to balance and juggle all the kids' interests and activities so that they each have the right outlets for their passions. We really go for it when they bring home projects from school. We have done everything from build a two-foot ceramic alligator to a giant working View Master to a video with sound and animation. I inspire and share with them but let them do all the work. That's how they'll learn to be creative-because they'll be proud of what they create.

What do you think are the ideal toys, games, books, activities, and art supplies for promoting creativity?

Well, Lego, of course, because it's familiar and intuitive for kids. You often hear about the adverse effects computers and video games can have on our children. In moderation, these things are fine and an important part of our culture. I imagine the modern-day version of my aunt and me surfing the Web to look at various works of art, and that's okay. I think exercise and a lot of hands-on activities are essential. Give your kids an inexpensive digital camera; you will be amazed by what they see, how they see it, and how they choose to capture it.

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