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Brick by Brick : How Lego rewrote the rules of innovation 2012
(and made everything awesome)
By David Robertson, with Bill Breen : A review
Lego seems like it has been ever present, however it did almost manage to drive itself into bankruptcy.
This book was a rags to riches to almost rags before back to riches again story. In the late 90’s Lego had witnessed a sustained period of massive growth. It had a large and vibrant research and development department. The only problem was there was little control over this department, and too many ideas were being developed with no strategy for getting them out to market. Those that did, were not liked by children or not given enough time to establish themselves before being supplanted by other product lines.
The book describes how Lego changed their operating methods, and some of their company philosophy to averted a bankruptcy predicted to be less than 6 months away.
Lego were aware of the challenge of remaining creative and innovative despite having grown to be very large company. This challenge, was named ‘the innovators dilemma’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator’s_Dilemma by Clay Christensen. It can be very hard for companies, once new and innovative, `to remain able to see new niches and ways to develop new products. The reason being that they become so focused on trying to defend the markets they have carved out, that creativity and openness to new ideas become secondary to promoting and pushing their existing products. Lego were well aware of the examples of other companies that were once top of their field, but then declined as newer more disruptive products managed to develop products that were initially seen to be of no value.
The book highlights Lego’s successful attempts to simplify the number of individual pieces they were producing, at the same time as creating playable appealing products. The idea was to come up with new innovative products, and yet also ones that were clearly recognisable as being part of the Lego stable. For a long time for example they had been reluctant to tie in with the Star Wars brand.
And yet once they did it, it seems such an obvious winner of an idea, and is now a fantastically successful part of the Lego range. From the Millennium Falcon to the Death Star, these are massive models to build, priced more for adults and fans than children.
Similarly with Lego Mindstorms, the programmable robotic Lego kits, it quickly became apparent that AFOL’s (adult fans of lego) were creating products beyond what Lego had expected to see. For a long time Lego resisted engaging with these non core users of their product, seeing as them as an irritation rather than a source of ideas and innovation. Eventually, and tentatively, using NDA’s (non disclosure agreements) Lego finally sought out the top Lego Mindstorm users, through on line user groups. A MUP (Mindstorm users panel) was formed, as Lego realised the fantastic, and yet obvious in retrospect, value of asking your users what they would like from your products.
The MUP grew from strength to strength, more top users were incorporated, and the panel expanded to include others. These were naturally called MUPpets!
The book is a good read. Robertson is well aware of various concepts of innovation, discussing blue ocean marketing strategies, and other key strategies to ensure a large company remains innovative and capable of causing disruption. The massive success of Minecraft is discussed. How it achieved success where Lego’s own previous in house game development failed massively. This time around though Lego were more open to going into partnership with what could have been a rival, and instead, naturally, you can now buy Lego Minecraft sets.
What about Lego the movie!?
Reading the book, it only seemed fitting to watch the movie too. In many ways, the movie clearly reflected the key values Lego itself would want to promote. In a key scene towards the end, as the Lego people finally rise up against the evil Kracle dictator, Lucy, aka Wild Style (are you a DJ?) urges everyone to pull up the Lego structures and rebuild into whatever they want them to be. In this way Lego has managed to return to it’s roots.
Lego = meaning in Danish, play well.
You can also watch a video of David presenting his ideas on youtube at