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

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

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by David Robertson

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Brick by Brick takes you inside the LEGO you've never seen. By following the teams that are inventing some of the world's best-loved toys, it spotlights the company's disciplined approach to harnessing creativity and recounts one of the most remarkable business transformations in recent memory.

Brick by Brick reveals how LEGO failed to


Brick by Brick takes you inside the LEGO you've never seen. By following the teams that are inventing some of the world's best-loved toys, it spotlights the company's disciplined approach to harnessing creativity and recounts one of the most remarkable business transformations in recent memory.

Brick by Brick reveals how LEGO failed to keep pace with the revolutionary changes in kids' lives and began sliding into irrelevance. When the company's leaders implemented some of the business world's most widely espoused prescriptions for boosting innovation, they ironically pushed the iconic toymaker to the brink of bankruptcy. The company's near-collapse shows that what works in theory can fail spectacularly in the brutally competitive global economy.

It took a new LEGO management team – faced with the growing rage for electronic toys, few barriers to entry, and ultra-demanding consumers (ten-year old boys) – to reinvent the innovation rule book and transform LEGO into one of the world's most profitable, fastest-growing companies. 

Along the way, Brick by Brick reveals how LEGO:

- Became truly customer-driven by co-creating with kids as well as its passionate adult fans
- Looked beyond products and learned to leverage a full-spectrum approach to innovation
- Opened its innovation process by using both the "wisdom of crowds" and the expertise of elite cliques
- Discovered uncontested, "blue ocean" markets, even as it thrived in brutally competitive red oceans
- Gave its world-class design teams enough space to create and direction to deliver
built a culture where profitable innovation flourishes

Sometimes radical yet always applicable, Brick by Brick abounds with real-world lessons for unleashing breakthrough innovation in your organization, just like LEGO. Whether you're a senior executive looking to make your company grow, an entrepreneur building a startup from scratch, or a fan who wants to instill some of that LEGO magic in your career, you'll learn how to build your own innovation advantage, brick by brick.

Editorial Reviews

LEGOs are so much fun that it's sometimes difficult to remember that behind these educational playthings is a management team determined to make a profit. And in the early nineties, we were probably too enraptured playing with our old sets to notice that LEGO was experiencing a major corporate crisis. To banish the fiscal doldrums, the company hired academics and management consultants who offered hours and hours of eye-straining PowerPoint admonitions: "Find Blue Ocean Markets"; "Practice Disruptive Innovation"; "Open Innovation." Ten years of that advice nearly bankrupted. Then, brick by brick, as the title says, LEGO managers retooled and recreated itself and became a toy industry leader and a very profitable firm.

Publishers Weekly
LEGO’s iconic building system is a favorite of children and parents worldwide. Wharton professor Robertson’s entertaining, informative, and fast-paced account of LEGO’s rise, fall, and subsequent victory in the marketplace will have readers rooting for the survival of the little brick. Writing with former Fast Company senior editor Breen (The Responsibility Revolution), Robertson recounts how in 1932, founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish master carpenter and toymaker, spent more than a decade perfecting the plastic brick; how his son Godtfred “bet on the brick” in the mid-1950s and developed play systems that propelled the company’s expansion through the next several decades; and how grandson Kjeld drove global growth from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The majority of the book examines the company’s precarious health over the last decade. A turnaround operator’s attempted innovation backfires and leaves the company’s balance sheet bleeding beyond repair. In the end, a new CFO and CEO take draconian measures to repair the company, focusing on “profitable innovation”—rather than innovation for innovation’s sake—and listening to the customer. This book will be a valuable read for any business leader or student, but will also delight those familiar with the beloved toy. 37 b&w photos, 8-page insert. Agent: Carol Franco, Kneerim, Williams & Bloom. (June)
From the Publisher
One of “The Best Books of 2013” -Fortune

One of the “Best Business Books of 2013” –Strategy + Business

"Well told...Mr. Robertson, with the benefit of access to staff at Lego and partner companies, provides unusually detailed reporting of the processes that led to Lego's current hits." -Wall Street Journal

"Robertson uncovers and shares a rare inside exploration of innovation-led transformation at its worst – and best. Any manager can learn from these lessons." -Forbes

“An engaging, surprisingly suspenseful and intimate view of the inner workings, leadership dynamics and decision-making process.” -Success

“Compelling reading.” –Business Standard

"Good storytelling, with considerable insight into Lego's efforts at innovation, including both successes and failures." -Winnipeg Free Press

“A valuable read for any business leader or student, but will also delight those familiar with the beloved toy.” Publishers Weekly starred review

"A fascinating book. The story of how Lego came perilously close to disaster but then transformed itself into one of the most successful and innovative companies in the world serves both as an inspiration and an object lesson." -Chris Anderson, bestselling author of The Long Tail and Makers

"Brick by Brick is a fascinating study of an iconic toy company that figured out how to stay relevant in a rapidly changing market by returning to its core values and the guiding principles that made it a success in the first place. A must-read for any executive struggling with change." – Bryce G. Hoffman, journalist and author of American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company

"In an era filled with so many disheartening stories of corporate failure its refreshing to witness the turn-a-round  success of one we have all grown up with during our childhood and that will  continue for generations to come." –Adam Reed Tucker, LEGO Architectural Artist

“David Robertson and Bill Breen have done a wonderful job explaining brick by brick why Lego is loved around the world and what it took to keep this product at the center of toy industry for so long. Like Disney, Lego’s success can be attributed to their drive for innovation, creativity and persistence. While the bricks are loved by children, Brick by Brick is for any business person wanting to understand what it takes to be great.” –Lee Cockerell, executive vice president (retired and inspired), Walt Disney World Resort, author, Creating Magic and The Customer Rules

From the Hardcover edition.

Kirkus Reviews
How LEGO, the closely held, family-owned Danish toymaker, rose to world leadership in its business class, flirted with bankruptcy collapse and recovered to stake its claim to global leadership once again. Wharton School professor Robertson (co-author: Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, 2006) and Fast Company founding member Breen (co-author: The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win, 2010, etc.) map the history of the company in relation to the principles that currently underlie business thinking about how to organize innovation successfully for the long haul. Founded in 1932 by master carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen in Billund--where its world headquarters and manufacturing facilities are still located--he company's name is a play on the Danish leg godt, which means "play well." Christiansen's son, Godtfred, bought their first plastic-injection molding machine in 1947 and developed an "Automatic Binding Brick" by 1951. It was not until 1958, however, after years of experimentation, that they hit on the small hollow brick and its distinctive "clutch power" when the bricks are snapped together, that the company was propelled to world success. The authors show how chasing short-term popular trends in the 1990s alienated the customer base and sapped revenues, but LEGO recovered stronger than before, as their now-grown-up customer base stepped forward and helped transform the company's world position with the volunteered designs and criticisms that went into successful products like the LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot. Turning back to their traditional base with things like Henrik Andersen's 2004 design for a LEGO fire truck and products like LEGO Architect, also helped. A lively account of a company whose products will be familiar to most readers.

Product Details

The Crown Publishing Group
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Random House
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8 MB

Meet the Author

DAVID C. ROBERTSON joined the faculty of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in January of 2011, and was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland from 2002 through 2010.  As the LEGO Professor, Robertson was given unique access to the company’s management team, has written two case studies about the company, and is the co-author of a Harvard Business Review piece on LEGO.   At IMD, Robertson was the co-director of the school’s largest executive education program, the Program for Executive Development, and directed programs for Credit Suisse, EMC, HSBC, Skanska, BT, and other leading European companies. For more on Robertson’s background, and to contact him for speaking and consulting engagements, visit www.robertsoninnovation.com.
BILL BREEN is a founding member of the team that launched Fast Company, which gained an avid following among businesspeople and won numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. As senior editor, he edited Fast Company's special issues on design and leadership and wrote many articles on competition, innovation, and personal success. He is the coauthor of The Responsibility Revolution and The Future of Management, which the editors of Amazon.com selected as the best business book of the year. Breen speaks to business audiences on leadership, innovation and sustainability; he has appeared on CNN, Fox, CBS, National Public Radio, and other media outlets. Connect with Bill at bbreen@billbreen.net.

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Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gets dry at points, but a very good read. Shows how not being flexible hurts a company. Then being to flexible can about kill it. Balance seems to be the best solution.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Happiness is one brick at a time.
classicalall More than 1 year ago
3 grandchildren (Boys of one family, father a graduate of Wharton at U of Penn ) have put together and enjoyed all Legos, over & over, since ages of 2-4-7 to now at ages 6-8-11.  They love them all and always will. (Except when certain parts are left out of the sets - these are returned & money is refunded.)  Architecture sets are VERY educational and putting together any of them is great for Finger Dexterity.  They are WONDERFUL.  We have a big house and we don't  mind finding and picking up the pieces that are temporarily lost.. You can do it in a Condo or smaller house, and appreciate the wonderful creations that are surrounding you.  I love the Big Black  Pirate Ship .