It’s Up to You to Make the Brick Click

Christmas morning found the following under our tree:

legocastlefb-1

 

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.

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LEGO Bricks: Toys for Kids, Lessons for Adults

LEGO Bricks and I go a long way back.

As a boy growing up in the mid-60’s, LEGO play sets were a treat at our church. After we completed our Sunday School lesson, and if we had any free time, and if the weather wouldn’t allow outside play, our teachers would bring out a big box of LEGO Bricks and let us have at it.

Lego Bricks - pile

When I became a parent in the early 80’s, it wasn’t long before the first of dozens of LEGO sets appeared. Over the years, our four children (now 35, 31, 27, and 23) were the recipients of LEGO play sets with themes like Castles, Undersea Adventures, Cities, and of course, Star Wars. For some reason, our second son was captivated by the Star Wars universe, especially LEGO sets with a Star Wars theme. Even at age 31 and in the Air Force, he still manages to acquire a new LEGO set every Christmas (my wife and I – guilty as charged!).

With 4 grandchildren now part of our extended family, the LEGO fascination has been passed on to a new generation of Adams kids. It started with Duplos for Jack, but at age 8 he has rapidly progressed to creating masterpieces with traditional LEGO sets. Lucy, age 5, is enjoys regular LEGOs but always eyes her dad’s Star Wars collection. Lola, 3 years old, left Duplos quickly after eying her brother’s LEGOs. Leia, almost 3, doesn’t have a chance! Between her Star Wars dad and sister, she will probably pass us all in LEGO abilities!

LEGO Bricks are not just for kids. The LEGO Group – reluctantly at first, but now all in – regularly connects with AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO) groups. There are user groups like LUGNET (LEGO User Group Network) and dozens of conventions, competitions, and the like all over the world.

The full-scale replica of a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter astounds me: It’s 43 feet long with a 44-foot wingspan, weighs over 22 tons, and was built with over 5 million LEGO bricks. A crew of 32 builders took over 4 months to construct it.

Amazing.

All from a plastic toy brick which only has value when it’s connected to another brick.

Authors Ron Hunter and Michael Waddell recognized this, and included the LEGO Brick in their book Toy Box Leadership. Here’s how they saw the value of LEGO Bricks when talking about leadership:

LEGO Bricks provide the essence of the leadership lesson on Relationships: Building begins with connecting.

LEGO Leaders recognize connectional value

  • Connecting builds a strong foundation
  •  Connecting unleashes the power of synergy
  • Connecting utilizes the strength of unity

LEGO Leaders recognize connectional ability

  • LEGO bricks are reliable
  • LEGO bricks are reusable
  • LEGO Leaders recognize connectional failure

LEGO Leaders recognize connectional failure

  • Misplaced bricks
  • Forced bricks
  • Isolated bricks
  • Unorganized bricks

 

Leaders often get so caught up in the programs that they forget about the people – the building blocks of any organization. There may be tremendous value in plans, but the strength of any organization is in its relationships.

In LEGOS – and in organizations – building always begins with the clicking sound of connections.

 

Toy Box LeadershipToy Box Leadership

Consider the LEGO Brick…

It’s the ubiquitous toy.

Lego red brick

Lego pieces of all varieties constitute a universal system. Despite variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in the current time, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers and adults.

It’s been named the Toy of the Year, Decade, and Century.

Who hasn’t been mesmerized for hours, building things, tearing them down, and starting over? It’s been a part of children’s lives since 1949 – but before that, LEGO meant wooden toys.

Speaking of meaning, the word LEGO in Danish means “play well.”

That applies to adults, too. LEGO bricks may have been designed with children in mind, but it didn’t take long for adults to get into the act.

A global Lego subculture has developed, supporting movies, games, competitions, and themed amusement parks. All for the kids, right?

 Right.

Each Lego piece must be manufactured to an exacting degree of precision. When two pieces are engaged they must fit firmly, yet be easily disassembled. The machines that make Lego bricks have tolerances as small as 10 micrometers.

The Lego Group estimates that in the course of five decades it has produced some 400 billion Lego blocks. Annual production of Lego bricks averages approximately 36 billion per year, or about 1140 elements per second.

And yet with all this, remember these two complementary facts about LEGOs:

  • The unique and singular purpose of a LEGO brick is to connect with another brick.

  • A single LEGO brick is worth, well, practically nothing.

What will you learn from LEGO today?

The LEGO Principle

Pastor Joey Bonifacio, author of The LEGO Principle, has written a brilliantly simple book about discipleship – built on the metaphor of the LEGO brick.

LEGO brick orange copy

The LEGO Principle: Connect first to God and then to one another.

You’ve gotta love it!

Regardless of the shape, size, or color of a LEGO brick, each one is designed to do just one thing: connect. LEGO pieces are designed to connect at the top with studs and the bottom with tubes.

Like LEGO, if you can connect to the top with God and to the bottom with others, you can pretty much shape the world you live in.

Here are a few examples pulled from the LEGO world, with Bonifacio’s application to the life of the believer:

Not all LEGO pieces have the same ability to connect. Some have the capacity to connect with as many as twelve or more bricks while others are limited. There are pieces that can connect to only one other brick. The secret of LEGO is not that every brick connects with the same number of other pieces but that each piece has the capacity to connect.

This secret applies to believers as well: every believer has the ability to connect directly to God.

Each LEGO brick comes with studs that give it the ability to connect. Every stud has the LEGO trademark engraved on it, a symbol of trust. In the past others have tried to copy LEGO bricks but have been unsuccessful. Their studs did not connect as well.

Like trusted LEGO bricks, we connect best when we are the real thing.

Two eight-stud LEGO bricks can be combined in twenty-four ways. Three eight-stud bricks can be combined in 1,060 ways. Six eight-stud bricks can be combined in 102,981,500 ways. With eight bricks the possibilities are virtually endless.

Just like LEGO bricks, using love to connect with people has endless possibilities.

By 1968, nineteen years after the first LEGO brick was made, the LEGO company built its first LEGOLAND – an entire city of LEGO structures in its hometown of Billund, Denmark. Something was missing: people.

In 1974 LEGO began making people, starting with the LEGO family. These mini figures soon became the biggest-selling product, enjoyed by both boys and girls. Several billion of these figures have been built to date. LEGO realized that people love people. What good is a world without people?

To the degree that we value and love people will we  engage our community and culture.

LEGO bricks are built to connect multigenerationally. That means bricks made in the 1950s connect just as well with those made in 2013. Connecting bricks made decades apart is not a problem.

In the same way, when people make disciples through relationships, generational, traditional, and denominational differenced fall by the wayside.

And like LEGO bricks, when the connections happen, the possibilities are endless.

The Lego Principle

The LEGO Principle