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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
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.
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