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David Robertson with Bill Breen

How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry

4.6 (10 ratings)
18 mins
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    Brick by Brick
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    LEGO’s initial success resulted from shifting focus from creating individual products to developing a system of play.

    Everyone has heard of LEGO. You probably even grew up playing with those distinctive, multi-colored bricks in your home! But have you ever thought of LEGO as the multinational corporation behind the bricks – an economic force to be reckoned with on the world stage?

    Founded in 1932 by a former carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen in the small town of Billund, Denmark, LEGO (which roughly translates from Danish to “play well”) originally specialized in building wooden toys for kids.

    Kirk followed a principle of constant innovation, so it’s no surprise that the LEGO company was the first toy company in Denmark to experiment with plastic toys.

    LEGO’s big turning point would come when Kirk’s son, Godtfred Kirk, followed the advice of one retailer, who suggested he build an entire system of play rather than building individual products. As a result of that discussion, Godtfred decided to scrap the vast majority – 90 percent – of LEGO’s portfolio to focus on what would become one of the most iconic toys of our time: the interlocking brick.

    This new unified toy-production system meant that a brick from one set was compatible with bricks from any other set. This meant, for example, that kids could combine LEGO model buildings from one kit with LEGO model cars, streetlights, traffic signs and train tracks from other kits, allowing kids to create all kinds of interesting, novel contraptions.

    Decades before the rise of Apple’s suite of connected i-branded products, LEGO had taken a holistic approach to its product portfolio, linking everything together via the ubiquitous brick.

    Not only was LEGO’s new system fun; it also allowed LEGO to increase its share in the market and opened up a whole new world of product development.

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    What is Brick by Brick about?

    Brick by Brick looks at the failures and ultimate success of one of the world’s most beloved brands: LEGO. By examining the management strategies that brought LEGO back from near-disaster, Brick by Brick outlines how innovation can be managed responsibly.

    Best quote from Brick by Brick

    The result [of LEGOs innovations efforts] was a cascade of runaway innovations that either bombed or imploded.

    —David Robertson with Bill Breen
    example alt text

    Who should read Brick by Brick?

    • Anyone who played with LEGOs as a kid
    • Business leaders looking to yoke their innovation efforts into a coherent system
    • Anyone interested in how LEGO almost collapsed, but came back stronger than ever

    About the Author

    David C. Robertson is a former McKinsey & Company consultant who currently teaches at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

    Bill Breen is a founding member and senior editor of Fast Company in addition to the co-author of The Responsibility Revolution and The Future of Management.

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