Engaging toy story
Oct 31 2013
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson & Bill Breen is a detailed, illustrated and highly engrossing account of the vicissitudes of fortune of this much-loved toy brand. Having access to every part of the company, Wharton professor Robertson provides intriguing insight into how the company that has a gross profit margin of 71 per cent— higher than even Apple —almost sank a la Titanic, just a decade ago. LEGO came agonisingly close to death in the crisis of 2003, when it posted its biggest losses ever. How it moved from this lowest ebb into the world’s most profitable and fastest-growing toy company is what this book is all about.
Robertson begins at the very beginning; the birth of LEGO in Billund, then a “god-forsaken railway stopping point” in Denmark. He even has pictures from the 1930’s to show you what he’s talking about. There’s the story of how the LEGO motto “Only the best is good enough” came into being, and how the wondrous little plastic brick came into existence when the company was only producing wooden toys.
Right at the outset, Robertson declares that this book only means to identify signposts rather than chart out a blueprint for innovation. In fact, some of the lessons and observations made are pure and simple business sense, demonstrated in the comeback story of LEGO, driven by the ‘unlikely’ CEO Knudstorp. That said, at times the facts pointed out are rather too obvious: “The company’s third mistake was to refuse to learn from those setbacks and take corrective action to reset its strategy…” Or, that once you’ve set in motion a stream of creativity, it needs to be managed, controlled and given direction.
More than guidelines for innovation, this is a microscopic look at LEGO, as all this information was initially meant to be just a case study, which the author reveals right away in the preface. Robertson says that “the outpouring of enthusiasm for the brand and its capacity to reawaken the sense of experimentation and play that resides within everyone” was the reason he decided to turn it into a book in itself.
Hence you have all-engrossing details about virtually everything LEGO — the stories behind blockbuster kits such as the Star Wars line, how LEGO turned digital, the advent of the robots, the astonishing board games, how the company made use of the “wisdom of crowds”, how co-creation with the lovers of the game helped them see new light. The gist of it all was perhaps being able to identify what the brand meant to customers and how to keep the offerings “quintessentially LEGO”.
Through these pages you can grasp the various ways in which innovation can be fostered and sustained. This is not the just the story of one company, it is the tale of limitless human imagination.