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Lessons from LEGO: Think Around the Box and Innovate

David Robertson, Ph.D., professor of practice at the Wharton School, global innovation and IT consultant, and author, provided insights on how to lead innovation across a company in his IHRSA European Congress keynote, “Innovation Management: The LEGO Story.” 

“Whether you are a start-up or a Forbes 500 firm, sustainable innovation can be your key to success,” Robertson said during the Monday, October 17 address. “Radical thinking can put you out of business—innovation doesn’t necessarily need to disrupt or change the game drastically.”

In his Technogym-sponsored presentation, Robertson discussed the practical approach to everyday innovation and how the company’s leaders should guide the process while retaining the focus. According to Robertson, who wrote “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry,” innovation: 

  • Is a new match between a solution and a need;
  • Adds value from a customer’s perspective;
  • Is sustainable and generates profit. 

Using the case study of LEGO, one of the most successful turnarounds in modern business history, Robertson explained the four rules of low-risk innovation strategies: 

  1. Define your key products. Tighter focus leads to profitable innovation.
  2. Focus on your niche and embrace it. Reduce the world to those customers who matter the most.
  3. Be costumer driven. Your most valued customers will tell you what can be done with the brand.
  4. Do more with less. With the proper direction, challenge your team to come up with new ideas and do things in a better way. 

“Innovation is not a matter of thinking outside the box—high-risk high-reward disruptive innovation—but thinking around the box—multiple low-risk innovations that support a core product” he said. “LEGO tried radical, disruptive innovation, and that experiment almost put it out of business. When they went back to their traditional product, their customers came back, their sales growth returned, and their profits soared.”

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