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Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry Paperback – Jun 24 2014

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (June 24 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307951618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307951618
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.3 x 20.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 281 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #134,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


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.

About 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
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 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

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Format: Hardcover
The family-owned LEGO Group is among several once great companies that deteriorated almost to the point of self-destruction. Then in 2004, led by Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and his leadership team, it was transformed - "brick by brick" - into one of the world's most innovative as well as most profitable and fastest growing toy companies, in ways and to an extent once thought impossible. In this book, written by David Robertson with Bill Breen, the focus is on two processes: the deterioration of the LEGO Group and then its subsequent transformation.

As Robertson explains, “a new leadership team pulled off one of the most successful business transformations in recent memory. One by one, LEGO reinvented those academic prescriptions for innovation, synthesized them into a world-class management system, and reemerged as a powerful, serial innovator. LEGO built the world’s first line of buildable action figures, fueled by a riveting story lined that played out over a nine-year span. It launched a line that included an ‘intelligent brick,’ allowing kids (as well as many skilled adults) to build programmable LEGO robots. In another first, LEGO rolled out a series of board games that could be built, broken apart, and rebuilt.”

Moreover, “LEGO opened up its development process, enabling legions of fans to go online and post their own customized DIY LEGO sets. And it reimagined its core lines of classic LEGO sets, keeping them real while making them modern enough for twenty-first century kids.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Robertson’s coverage.
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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on July 10 2014
Format: Hardcover
As a child and then a parent and finally a grandparent, I am all too aware of the iconic presence of the ‘brick’ in my life over sixty-some years. The world’s largest and best-known toy company has made a very good living out of producing billions of interlocking plastic bricks that make up an ever-expanding family of toylines. Originating in the small Danish town of Billund back in the 1930s, LEGO, the brainchild of the Ole Kirk family, has since expanded throughout the world in an effort to promote toys made out of the simplest of components. Its commercial success, while impressive, has not been clear sailing down through the decades. You could say that LEGO has had to remake itself several times over in order to avoid going under. Its biggest challenge, in trying to stay relevant in the very competitive toy business, is to build cultural bridges between succeeding generations by building on concepts that keep changing and improving with time. Their secret to success is bound up in keeping control over the design of toys like Bionicle, Mindstorm, Minecraft, Star Wars, Theme Parks, Robotics, et cetera, while inviting the public as co-creators in an effort to fine tune them. Led by a team of top engineering designers, LEGO has learned the importance of rolling out product in an orderly fashion and incorporating improvements in subsequent updates. Its impeccable track record on delivering innovative toys that can be added to as an ongoing saga makes its unique because it is essentially the democratic right of all users and owners to form their idea of play narrative to go with it. Most households, I would hazard to guess, if we are anything to go by, keep their LEGO around for years.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x98807a20) out of 5 stars 75 reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98d8cad4) out of 5 stars Very Insightful Account on Highly Admirable Company July 11 2013
By R. J. de Jong - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some 4 years ago, while cleaning our children's rooms, my wife dropped a Lego train, and the rarest thing to the utterly robust Lego happened: a little component broke off the train. It turned out to be a critical little part, making the whole train unusable. Having to explain to a 4 year old that his train was broken is nothing to look forward to as a parent, yet buying a whole new train set is unreasonably expensive as well. Our local toy store could not help out, but were kind enough to give us a Lego customer care number to call. Unassumingly we called them, having no expectations really. After all, who were we kidding, 1 component out of the zillion components Lego produces. And after all, we were just one of their millions of customers; why would they care...? We explained them what happened, explained the piece and the train model, they jotted down our name and address, and that was the last we expected to hear from it.

Three weeks later a little envelope arrived. Adressed to my son (4 year olds love getting letters). It was a personalized letter from Lego to him, explaining how sad he must have felt when his mother had dropped the train. Therefore, Lego was glad to provide him with 3 new parts, no costs. And a free membership to the periodic Lego magazine.

My jaws dropped. Not only did Lego totally outperform our expectations, they seemed to defy all logic. In the age of call centers and their associated customer carelessness, automation, mass production, depersonalization and standardization, they managed to do the exact opposite. It made my son and me life time fans of the company.

This book is about how Lego manages to be so exceptional. Not by some wild eccentric leadership fad, but by a disciplined approach in their ways of working. Focused especially on Lego's innovation culture that developed after their near-death at the start of the century, the account stands for much more than innovation. It stands for a company with a soul and a deep-rooted belief that it wants to support children in their desire to explore, build and create. Written in a very pleasant style, it provides an in-depth account on Lego, based on a 5 year extensive study by the author David Robertson. It's highly inspirational, excellently documented and very convincing, and now gets me to understand the question how they managed to do that, which puzzled me since the day we received the spare parts for my son's broken train.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98aea870) out of 5 stars Interesting parallels between Lego and Apple July 16 2013
By Jeffrey Phillips - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There could hardly be a more compelling story than the decline and eventual recovery of LEGO. Anyone who has been a child, or has a child, has experience with this iconic brand. The story contains all the necessary ingredients: hubris, near failure, a dogged recovery, a beloved brand. Actually, after reading Brick by Brick I'm amazed at how many parallels there are with Apple, another noted innovator.

Like Apple, Lego was burning cash and found itself months away from bankruptcy. Lego was forced to make huge changes quickly. Both Apple and Lego fell on hard times by dramatically increasing the range of products with little emphasis on profitability or differentiation. Both brought aboard unlikely executives to lead the recovery. Apple brought back Jobs, and Lego brought in a junior ex-McKinsey consultant with little turn around or leadership experience. Both leaders dramatically reduced product complexity and took a knife to operating costs, returning to profitability before attempting to grow through innovation.

As an innovator, I think Brick by Brick is really a forensic story about the recovery of Lego, and not really a book about innovation per se. In many cases the previous Lego administration got Lego into trouble through unfocused innovation aimed at expanding the idea of what Lego meant to consumers, without bothering to discover real needs or consumer goals. Lego operated on a "push" model and angered customers by changing the meaning of Lego and the products' positioning. The resulting disaster wasn't a failure of innovation, just poor management. After all, as the book points out, Lego didn't understand that only two product lines were profitable, and didn't take into account the fluctuation of the Star Wars branded products based on new movie releases.

As the authors note in the conclusion "the most difficult challenge in business is not to invent an innovative product; it's to build an organization that can continually create innovative products". Time will tell if Lego has learned its lesson, and built a sure foundation of effective processes and controls to sustain profitability while incorporating better customer insight gathering and market reading to identify new trends and opportunities. It's not as though one can choose to be efficient and profitable or choose to be innovative. Both conditions must exist for future success.

Brick by Brick identifies what it calls the Seven Truths of Innovation. They are:
1. Build an innovative culture
2. Become customer driven
3. Explore the full spectrum of innovation
4. Foster Open Innovation
5. Attempt a disruptive innovation
6. Sail for Blue Oceans
7. Leverage diverse and creative people

Arguably, Lego before the downfall violated many of these "rules". Lego was disjointed, run on a country by country basis, and had a fairly homogenous workforce that wasn't customer driven. Plougmann, the former CEO who takes much of the brunt of the near failure of Lego, attempted to create more products in more spaces and to disrupt existing markets, but did so without enough customer feedback, and failed to understand who Lego's customer was - both the retailer and the child. After Knudstorp, the new CEO took over, Lego first focused on efficiency and profitability, cutting almost 50% of the product lines. A new CEO brought in better financial controls. Only then was Lego ready to innovate effectively.

The real story here is that innovation isn't a panacea for a poorly run business. Innovation can accelerate growth and profits of a well-run business but will eventually expose the shortcomings of a business that is too insular, too conservative, too narrowly focused or too poorly managed to maintain growth and differentiation. If you are looking for innovation insights, this may not be the book for you. If you are looking for an interesting forensic tale of a near death experience with a remarkable recovery of an iconic brand, which was supported through innovation, this is an excellent book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98aea72c) out of 5 stars Reads like a series of extended case studies looking for a coherent narrative Sept. 16 2014
By Tech Historian - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There’s some probability I read a different book than all these 5 star reviewers – but the one I read was a confused mess. It read like a series of extended case studies looking for a coherent narrative.

The author had hard time figuring out what book he was writing. Was it about the 7 Truths of Innovation in Chapter 1? Or was it about the wave of innovation the new CEO Plougmann brought to the company? Nope. Perhaps it was the Lego in danger of failing story in Chapter 3. Nope. Or the story of the new CEO building an Innovation Culture in Chapter 4? Nope. Perhaps it was about Binacle? Lego Universe? Lego Games? Your guess is as good as mine.

Was this a story about the birth and resurrection of Lego? About lessons learned? Who knows? BTW, it’s hard to believe that author missed the postmortem of Plougmann as CEO: 1) Lego had inadequate financial controls, 2) they stuffed the channel, 3) they lacked the agility to respond to changing consumer and retail channel changes, 4) they had a board of directors that failed in its fiduciary duties. Yet the breathless narrative of the new CEO coming to the rescue read like it was written by someone who was too close to the company for a dispassionate analysis.

Reading this book was like playing business school buzzword bingo. While it is possible that Lego was one of the most buzzword compliant companies of all times with Blue-Ocean Strategy, Clayton Christensen, Open Innovation, Innovation Matrix all making appearances. But given the short shrift the author spends in describing how these strategies were used in the company it’s impossible to tell.

All in all a frustrating read from someone who was there but was too close to the details to figure out how to tell the story.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98aea9b4) out of 5 stars Perhaps on of the most complete discussions of a company journey its ups and downs Oct. 23 2013
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This is an honest look at one of a company creating one of the best know products in the world. Most business books are filled with hyperbole, god like executives and laser like decision making that make the company look like an unstoppable firm only to crash and burn. Brick by brick is an honest, highly readable narrative of the challenges, ups, downs and decisions of a well run company.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED both as a good read and a great business book.

Robertson does more than report on what happened to Lego, he explores the context, culture and options they faced. The positive and negative decisions are equally treated in this compelling book. We all know LEGO the brick but few of us know LEGO the company and how it operates.

Every book written about a company should be as balanced, complete and clear as this one. It stands as an example of what compelling business writing can be, one that attracts both business students as well as the public.

It is one of the best books I have read in a long time and perhaps one of the best books focusing on a specific company ever.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98971e64) out of 5 stars Great Story of a familiar Company that grew, sufferred, and turned itself around before it was too late. Jan. 2 2014
By S. Reyna - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, this is a well written story that is easy and interesting to read. Second, this is a business book and there are lessons here that can be applied by any company. The message to business leaders is you can destroy your company doing the right things the wrong way. This is the story of how two different leaders applied the same principles. The first attempt nearly destroyed Lego, the second attempt saved Lego by modifying the application of the same principles.