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Lego. Innovation is more than creative play

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Extracted from "Creative Genius: Innovation from the Future Back" by Peter Fisk, to be published 2010

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Lego. Innovation is more than creative play

  1. 1. theGeniusWorks Lego Innovation is much more than creative play Extracted from Creative Genius by Peter Fisk Lego, “toy of the century”, is reinventing how it innovates through D4B, Design for Business. In Danish “leg godt” means “play well”, and that remains the inspiration for the brand. Since the creation of the timeless plastic building blocks in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen, Lego has been one of the world’s most popular toys. It has come a long way from a small carpenter’s workshop to become the fifth largest toy manufacturer in the world. Indeed the bricks were initially made of wood, and it was not until 1958 that they became plastic and colourful – acquiring its unique interlocking tubes that offer the opportunity to build houses and cities, dinosaurs and robots only limited by your imagination. The Lego Group, based in Billund in Denmark and with 4500 employees, is now led by the founder’s grandchild, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. Its purpose is “to inspire children to explore and challenge their own creative potential”. It does this by helping children to “learn through play” – developing their creative and structured problem-solving, curiosity and imagination, interpersonal skills and physical motor skills. However, in 2005, Lego started to run into trouble. It was struggling against the high-technology and computer-based games, the power of fashionable personalities from the likes of Disney, and low cost producers of other plastic bricks. It responded by diversifying, creating more and more different products - which only made things worse. After three years of headless creativity, leading to more than 14,000 branded components, the Danes realised that they needed more focus, they needed to return to “classic” Lego, with fewer better products, engaging its 20 million customers more deeply.
  2. 2. theGeniusWorks Aligning business and innovation Lego’s new design system, D4B is redefining how its whole innovation process is run. Key elements of the approach are a stronger alignment between business strategy and design strategy, more collaboration between functions, more challenge and rigour in the creativity and analysis, a more consistent approach which is easy to share, and better innovation that drives profitable growth There are more than 120 Lego designers, drawn from 15 nationalities, small youthful others deeply experienced, most based in Billund, Denmark. A number of others work in satellite offices around the world, adapting ideas to local tastes and tracking new trends and technologies, particularly in Japan. Whilst people were previously chosen most for their creativity, they are now drawn as much for their passion for the Lego brand, and wanting to create its future. The team also collaborates with many universities, and especially with MIT Media Lab, from which the Mindstorms system emerged. The D4B process seeks to create a more holistic, creative and commercial approach to innovation. There is more stretch and stimulus, but also more rigour and evaluation. It embraces new language and tools which form an innovation “DNA” and new computer-based simulators for rapid prototyping allow quick iterations. Time to market has also reduced, from 24 months to 9 months. It moved from a focus on products to customers, and how all aspects of the business and customer experience could be part of the innovation. There are three components to D4B • Lego innovation model – more collaborative in the early stages, more aligned to objectives and resources, more tested and focused on results delivery. • Lego innovation roadmap – clearly structured phases of development, bringing a consistency of steps and evaluation gates, and strong links between phases. • Lego foundation overview – a simple way of visualising the outputs through posters rather than lengthy documents, enabling more engagement, comparison, and better decisions. The process is separated into “P” stages for prototyping, and “M” phases for manufacturing. The focus is much more on making ideas tangible quickly, and thereby making more evaluation and focus
  3. 3. theGeniusWorks possible in later stages, so that all resources can be focused on the best opportunities. The stages within the phases are • P0 (portfolio kick-off): defining the business objectives, and focusing on then key issues to be resolved across the business and portfolio • P1 (opportunity freeze):: exploring what opportunities would solve the issues identified, approving the business and financial case for doing the project • P2 (concept freeze): making sense of the emerging concepts, and how they apply to each function, from communication to customer service. • P3 (portfolio freeze): deciding which concepts should be turned into projects, specifying all the requirements for development, and the business case. The P cycle can take up to 6 months, after which there is a go/no-go decision as to whether the project enters M cycle in which there are 5 more stages • M1 (project kick-off): designers and product managers work together to refine the concept specification, and the plan to take it to market • M2 (business freeze): the business case is finalised and the product design is completed to meet the business requirements • M3 (product freeze): product design evolves into packaging, marketing and communication, aligning the product concept with the overall brand proposition. • M4 (communication freeze): packaging and communication materials are finalised, and the supply chain is specified ready for manufacturing • M5 (procurement freeze): the supply chain is developed, manufacturing begins and the product is launched. Designers were initially concerned whether such a structured process, dependent on commercial objectives, would stifle creativity. What they found was that they no longer need to think about how they go about establishing the project and gaining approval, and their creativity is more focused on the design itself. Whilst the D4B process has accelerated a more focused set of innovative products to market, Lego has not lost sight of the future. Lego’s “Concept Lab” works separately from the mainstream innovation process, with a team of 15 designers focused on more stretching opportunities – more radical products that will redefine its markets. It works on a different cycle, with more intuitive evaluations of novel ideas that Lego hopes will delight our children’s children one day. Did you know that there are more than 915,103,765 ways of combining six eight-stud Lego bricks of the same colour? © Copyright GeniusWorks 2010 Peter Fisk’s new book Creative Genius: Innovation from the Future Back will be published in late 2010 by Wiley Capstone. Starting with Leonardo da Vinci it helps you stretch your imagination and sharpen your intuition, with the likes of Armani and Banksy, Gü and Guggenheim, Maeda and Miyamoto ... 50 creative tracks, 50 inspiring stories, 5 innovation zones and 15 practical toolkits. www.theGeniusWorks.com www.CreativeGeniusLive.com