A Little Toy Story

What do Brad Pitt, Anna Kendrick, Gillian Anderson, Britney Spears, Matthew Perry, Mayim Balik, Mark Hamill, Chris Pratt, Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson, and David Duchovny all have in common? Think about that for a minute…or a million years and you will never get it.

Okay, give it? They are all “AFOL’s” …no not awful (my spell checker is working) they are all AFOL’s Adult Fans of Lego! You’d be surprised how many  AFOLs there are in the world.

The great Norman Mailer was an AFOL even before the term was created. He built a whole city of Lego bricks in his New York apartment. He is also famous for stabbing his wife (she lived) but maybe she had touched his Lego City creation!

By the way, the name is Lego, not “Legos” and it means something like “Play well” in Danish. Get that right because the Lego people go nuts when you call them Legos.

Okay where is this all going? Well, I have a confession to make. I am a full blown addict. A bona fide AFOL, and I have been one for years. I got into Lego building so I could get closer to my son when he was younger, and I got hooked. I am always building with Lego bricks, and I mean always. Even when I am on non-video Zoom calls, people have been known to ask, “what is that clicking I hear in the background?”

I am so addicted that I have built every Lego set I want to build and have taken to going online to find similar sets from non-Lego companies. And since Lego let the patent lapse years ago there are plenty of them. Some of them are even better than the original Lego kits.

During this pandemic, not being able to travel and working from home, I have built over thirty sets. So many that I am running out of room in my office. I am so addicted to these Lego creations that they have replaced my beloved books. Many of my  books have been exiled to the sun porch with my Lego sets taking their place on my office shelves.

And by the way we’re not even going to talk about what these sets cost! Especially not to my wife. Let’s just say the architecture and building series that I prefer are over two hundred bucks.

Now a little business lesson taken from the history of Lego. Talk about people who came to success kicking and screaming all the way!

In the fifties the company was building wooden toys like those little ducks that you pull on a string. Exciting stuff like that, yawn! Well wood burns, and after their factory burned down three times (yes, three times) they finally got the message to stop using wood and build something else. So, they invented these little interlocking plastic bricks.

They sold the bricks in boxes, the biggest set  being about five thousand pieces. They liked the idea that a kid could dump the bricks on the floor and create stuff (not to mention liking to hear their parent’s  swear when they stepped on them). The problem with this plan was that once a kid got a huge bin of Lego bricks the buying was done. There was no more repeat business, so they started going out of business.

Then someone in the company got the bright idea to develop construction kits so kids could build  a fire station, or a train and play with it and then want to build something else. This way they could sell more kits than ever. They could design all kinds of construction kits and get kids to buy them and become customers forever! Of course, they hated the idea and fought it for two years before they decided to do it. And yes, it was a success.

Then a few years later, one of their executives got a call from this company called Lucas Films wanting to know if they were interested in working with them to develop products based on this little movie called STAR WARS! And of course, they were not interested. They did not license products and there were weapons in Star Wars, and they did not sell models of weapons. But after a lot of meetings and banging on tables they decided to make the deal with Lucas Films. And the rest of course is history, a rich history at that.

Then a few years later, a Chicago architect approached them with the idea of making Lego brick models of famous buildings like the Sears Tower. And of course, being the open minded execs that they were, they said “nej.” But the architect, apparently not having much to do, persisted and finally to get rid of him they told him to design it, and they would send him the bricks to build the kits himself. He and his wife put together the kits and sold them in museum gift shops and they sold out immediately. The Lego folks were still not interested until they figured out that they could charge seven times more for architecture kits than regular kid kits because adults were interested in buying and building them and they said go for it.

And that, ladies, and gentlemen, is the simplified (but true) version of the Lego story or how a bunch of hard-headed company leaders backed themselves into a corner of being the most successful toy company in the world! So, the next time someone comes to you with an innovative idea for your company, think first before giving them your customary knee jerk response of “Nej.” Instead, tell them “Ja.” It’s only common sense.