Meet LEGOs 6 year old chief designer

Have you played with Lego bricks lately? No? You should have for two reasons.

  • It’s important to stay creative as a manager and by playing with the kids toys are good exercise to your brain.
  • It’s crucial to stay innovative by digging into the world of Lego you will discover important learning’s on innovation and value creation.

Meet LEGOs chief designer

Now – meet one of Lego’s chief designers and R&D managers….he is six years old and already an experienced innovator with a long record of novel designs and products. He loves the bricks from Lego and have thousands of them in many forms and colors. Most of them original came in designed sets with a manual how to build them.

The bricks are put together in the way and order Lego describes in the manual and after while the “Lego R&D manager” start to dismantle them again in a search for new ways to use them. Often in combination with other Lego sets, and new products is born.  True innovation and real value is created.

This is why Lego is successful and has a worldwide market share of 7 percent at the total market for toys.

Lego has a gigantic R&D department with hundreds of thousands R&D manager and Chief designers assigned to come up with the next “big thing”. The danish company has an effective and very successful co-creation model – are very innovative – and at the same time they managed to do this without increasing the fixed costs.

In the April issue of MIT Sloan Management Review Lego is the cover story “Collaborating with Customer Communities: Lessons from the Lego Group”.

By tapping into the knowledge and (more important) enthusiasm of thousands of users of Lego products, the company has been able to be very innovative and creating new products and product lines during the last ten years.

Actually Lego did what every company should do. Collaborate with the customers, start a dialogue, listen to them and engage them in co-creation processes. When we take a closer look at how Lego did it is obvious that it is not question of rocket science how to do it. Just do it because you want to lift secure your companys license to operate in the future.

Lego saw the emerging groups of lead users (in 1999 there was 11 known Lego groups and by February 2012 there were more than 150 known user groups), and after a while the company made an important strategic shift. The company changes from being a private and “we don’t accept unsolicited ideas” to an open and collaborating company embrazing it’s lead users.

The company made an important discovery: They produced toys for kids, but a large group of enthusiastic adults were not only playing with the colorful bricks – but they were designing, creating and discussing together with other Lego-nerds , how to use Lego-bricks.

It was time to tap into the customer communities.

What did Lego learn in how to manage an open and collaboration innovation process?

First and foremost important, that it is not a process that needs management. Instead of regarding collaboration as something that needs to be managed exclusively by the company, it is fruitful to think of it as an ongoing dialogue between two allies.

Secondly – when collaboration has worked out most successful Lego management has found, it was outside parties have a particular area of expertise, such as architecture or sensor design and manufacture, that individuals within the company don’t have. They learned the important lesson of creating external network with people or businesses with competencies that Lego don’t have.

Here is the Lego Learnings:

  • Be clear about rules and expectations
  • Ensure a win-win
  • Recognize that outsiders aren’t insiders
  • Don’t expert one size fits all
  • Be as open as possible

The six year old R&d Manager knows this together with the hundreds of thousands lead Lego users around the world. They work hard every day to co-create and they love. They don’t even get paid for it – because that is not what drives them. It is their shared interest in Lego.

Now – ask yourself if you could do like Lego in your company? My answer is yes. For starters you could talk with your customers and begin a dialogue with. Be open and be ready to take new views into your company – It might pay of well in the future.

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