Recently, NASA and Lego collaborated on a project to educate children on outer space. Together on the Lego site, they use Lego bricks to explain the galaxy and space exploration. As a way to get children to exercise their creativity, they also launched a contest in which participants create space shuttles out of Lego bricks.

But Lego isn't simply a toy for children these days. Companies, including NASA, Google, and Coca-Cola, are catching onto the idea of using bricks to communicate. In their sessions, participants are expected to use Lego pieces to answer prompts given by the facilitator.

How the "unplugged approach" works.

The "unplugged" approach, which relies on your hands to create, has become a popular way within companies to brainstorm ideas that are hard to express otherwise. Using their hands to construct items, company employees can physically see and build upon one another's existing structures. Other people who see their creations can then contribute by adding their own designs.

Have you used your hands in a way that seemed almost automatic? Maybe you were playing an instrument or typing in your PIN to pay for an item. Afterward, you might not have even remembered exactly what you were doing or how you did it.

That's because you relied on your muscle memory rather than on conscious effort. Using our muscle memory can be more effective than consciously thinking up a solution and verbalizing it. The other benefit to this approach, though, is psychological.

Lego bricks help people communicate and share.

Imagine two scenarios. In the first one, you walk into a boardroom. Like everyone else, you sit at your seat and wait for the person at the head of the table to speak. The person explains the topic, then looks around and asks if anyone has any ideas to share.

In the second scenario, you also walk into a boardroom. But this time, there are a set of bricks and figures in front of each person. The person at the front gives you a prompt and asks you to express your answer using the pieces in front of you. Which scenario would you feel more comfortable contributing in?

In a typical situation, there's a hierarchy involved. The senior members of a team are expected to contribute the most to the discussion. The junior members, as you might guess, will usually nod their heads in agreement (or else face the consequences of disagreeing). When building blocks and toys are brought to the table, however, the playing field equalizes. Everyone can freely share their ideas.

Work and play aren't mutually exclusive.

We tend to compartmentalize our lives to create a sense of balance. Work means boring, mind-numbing tasks. Play equates to the spare time we have to watch a movie. Exercise is defined by running on a treadmill.

But work and play don't have to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes, they can work together to help you achieve a breakthrough. For instance, let's say you're trying to come up with ideas. It can be hard to think of something on the spot. But if you immerse yourself in various activities, they give you food for thought. Architects and engineers, for example, use doodling to express and combine their ideas to generate solutions.

In my case, I've found that jotting notes and drawing out plans by hand, as opposed to typing, can get my thoughts unstuck. The words flow more easily at times when I try a different method. This method of working with my hands is especially useful when trying to break through a problem.

Play generates creativity and new ideas.

It can be hard to connect our thoughts together simply by relying on our conscious. But just like how Lego can help company employees generate solutions, participating in non-work activities such as creating art can stimulate our minds to come up with different ideas.

Creative results often stem from creative processes. The other benefit to play is that it can push you towards important goals. When you approach your goals from a creative standpoint, interesting things happen.

For one, you become more open to new concepts. Seeing a problem from multiple perspectives helps you find a better solution for an issue. Playing in a pretend environment gives participants the opportunity to practice scenarios, as if being in a simulator.

The other benefit is that challenges become less tedious when you approach them playfully. A study at Cambridge University found that both adults and children pick up skills more easily and develop greater social skills when they are given the chance to play.

Seeing obstacles like a game means not taking things too seriously when you face a setback. Instead, you evaluate where things might have gone wrong, and try again using a different method.