It’s Up to You to Make the Brick Click

Christmas morning found the following under our tree:



The story of our family fun putting it together is recounted elsewhere, but our week-long adventure reminded me of a great book on a recent success story of LEGO – and the lessons we can learn from it.

The LEGO brick is deceptively simple. By itself, it has almost no value and worse, no use. Only an engineer can appreciate the creative value of those knobs on top and the hollow tubes underneath.

LEGO brick patent drawing

Snap two or more of them together, and you’ve suddenly opened up a world of almost infinite possibilities. Google LEGO creations and be prepared to be amazed:

  • A functioning supercomputer (1,000 bricks plus electronic parts)
  • A full-size Rolls-Royce aircraft engine (152,000 bricks)
  • A detailed recreation of the 2012 London Olympics (over 250,000 bricks)
  • A life-size two-story house with working toilet and shower (3.3 million bricks)
  • A full-scale replica of the Star Wars X-Wing fighter (over 5 million bricks)

In the fifty-five years since it was patented, the LEGO brick has ignited the imaginations of millions of children and adults – and become a universal building block for catalyzing creativity.

What was the secret behind LEGO’s decades of success?

LEGO owes much of its enduring performance to a core set of founding principles that have guided the company for over eighty years:

  • Values are Priceless
  • Relentless Experimentation Begets Breakthrough Innovation
  • Not a Product but a System
  • Tighter Focus Leads to More Profitable Innovation
  • Make It Authentic
  • First the Stores, Then the Kids

Even so, at the height of its success toward the end of the 1990s, LEGO stumbled and almost became a statistic – another failed company. They began to confuse growth with success, literally selling their LEGO systems around the world. Unfortunately, the company’s rapid globalization was not accompanied by sufficient innovation. Technological advances also began to change the nature of play – VCRs, video games, cable TV, computers, the Internet, which claimed an increasingly larger share of the core market of LEGO – children.

Determined to rebound from successive years of loss, the executive team embarked on an ambitious initiative for reigniting growth. The effort was oriented around some of the world’s most popular strategies for developing new products and services.

Seven Innovation Strategies

  • Hire diverse and creative people
  • Head for blue ocean markets
  • Be customer driven
  • Practice disruptive innovation
  • Foster open innovation – heed the wisdom of the crowd
  • Explore the full spectrum of innovation
  • Build an innovation culture

LEGO heeded the proclamations of management strategists and adopted the seven truths of innovation – all of them. For a time, the strategy worked. For a company that was struggling to catch up with a world that was passing it by, there was in inherent logic in the LEGO Group’s pursuit of the seven truths.

But LEGO had placed a lot of big bets in just a few short years. The company was trying to expand on so many fronts it was in danger of losing its focus and discipline. Individually, the seven truths have worked for other companies. Collectively, they almost pushed LEGO into bankruptcy.

The most difficult challenge in business is not to invent an innovative product; it’s to build an organization that can continually create innovative products. It took LEGO seven years and played out in five stages.

The result? LEGO emerged from its near-death experience as the world’s most profitable and fastest-growing company. From 2007 to 2011 through the worst of the global recession, LEGO profits quadrupled, far exceeding the giants of the toy industry, Mattel and Hasbro. From 2008 to 2010, LEGO profits grew faster than Apple, despite competing in an industry with few entry barriers aggressive competition, fickle customers and no patent protection on its core product – the LEGO brick.

LEGO achieved those results not by breaking with business convention but by building within it.

They operated “inside the box”.

Excerpted and adapted from Brick by Brick, by David Robertson with Bill Breen

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick is the story behind that seven year journey to success. Sometimes radical, but always applicable, Brick by Brick contains real-world lessons for unleashing breakthrough innovation in your organization.

The excerpts above have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom contained in Brick by Brick. Leaders in organizations of all sizes, profit or non-profit, will benefit from the lessons it contains. It digs into the LEGO Group’s practical approach to everyday innovation and shows how your organization can do the same.

It’s about LEGO’s reinvention of innovation – making continuous innovation less of an abnormality and more of the new normal.

A warning – like every LEGO set, Brick by Brick‘s principles require you to bring your own imagination and experience to the game to figure out what’s best for you and your organization.

It’s up to you to make the bricks click.