Tag Archives: Lego

Some more Lego Gifts

As a follow up to some of the earlier posts about what kinds of “Lego-related gifts to present” and on “How to Lego your Keys?” we have identified some more fun stuff that could be consider as Lego-related gifts to your friends or to your very Lego-addicted self. Amazon proves to be a rich resource for those types of merchandize. A couple of funny examples:

Have you seen anything similar funny and geeky? Add your comments below.

MIT Researchers Use Legos To Solve Real-Life Problems

By David Wade, WBZ-TV

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – From the blockbuster movie, to the new Legoland Discovery Center opening in Somerville at the end of the month, the old school children’s toy is a modern day hit.

Across the river in Cambridge, there is evidence that Legos are also a hit with researchers. It turns out, the brainiest of the brainiacs at MIT are also Legomaniacs.

Ira Winder is a researcher and project manager of CityScience at the MIT Media Lab. He’s using Legos to study the “walkability” of a city.

MIT Media Labs Lego Landscape
MIT’s Lego version of Kendall Square in Cambridge. (WBZ-TV)

“The Legos help me express the ideas I’m really passionate about,” he said. He builds Lego models of cities, then projects computer data onto the Legos so researchers can test how changes to infrastructure will affect real life.

Winder is currently helping city planners in Australia increase the walkability score of a proposed new city.

“We took that goal and we simplified it into a math model and we actually programmed Legos so they could pretend to build their city, prototype it in an environment before they even build it and that informed model would then tell them how their city scores, is it walkable or not,” he said.

It’s not just in Ira’s office. Legos litter the landscape here.

MIT and Lego have had a partnership since the 1980’s and Winder says the school has about one million Legos to be used for real-life problem solving.

MIT Media Labs Lego Building
One of the many creations in the MIT Media Lab. (WBZ-TV)

MIT’s motto is “mind and hand.” What’s in Ira Winder’s mind might make cities run better. What’s in his hand might just make it all a little more fun.

“We like to think we have these great ideas, but if they’re not approachable,” he said, “then what’s the use of ideas?”

Lego Education Learn to Learn Promotional Video

Lego Education YouTube channel has published a number of promotional videos about their preschool concept called Learn to Learn.

LEGO Education LearnToLearn

This approach bears a number of conceptual similarities to Lego Serious Play, relying to a set of core principles. Set up in a practical, four-step learning process supported by classroom solutions.

  1. Connect phase awakens pupils’ curiosity and the desire to learn.
  2. Construct phase encourages the pupil to tackle the challenge by building something functional or meaningful to them.
  3. Contemplate phase involves reflection and dialogue with the teacher and other pupils and reflects an assessment as part of the learning process.
  4. Continue phase gives pupils the opportunities to apply their newly acquired knowledge to new challenges and to take ownership of their learning.

See some other videos below:
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The Bricks that Keep Building – About Lego History

This post was published in the Norwegian airlines magazine. Text by Mandi Keighran / Photos Alex Howe

Lego has grown by more than 40 per cent every year for the past five years. After a near-collapse in 2003, and with the rise of Minecraft, we ask how. There are over 400 billion pieces of Lego in existence. That’s more than 80 interlocking Lego toy parts for every person on the planet. Lego now exists on our iPhones and game consoles; and when the trailer went up for The Lego Movie, released early next year, starring Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman, six million people saw it in the first week.

However, just 10 years ago the Danish company behind this massive global phenomenon was on the verge of going bust. “In 2003, Lego was universally acclaimed as the greatest toy of the 20th century,” says David Robertson, the author of Brick by Brick, a book on the business behind Lego, “yet the toymaker was months away from insolvency.”

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

How, exactly, did the Billund-based company go from near-collapse to last year becoming the world’s most valuable toy company, with a value of US$14.6 billion (NOK87 billion), after profit increases of more than 40 per cent every year for the past five years?

The Lego story begins at the height of the Great Depression in 1932, when Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen began making simple timber playthings to supplement dwindling orders. Two years later, toys – in particular a timber duck on wheels – were the focus of a growing business. Christiansen called the company Lego, a contraction of leg godt (Danish for “play well”), and, in 1946, bought Denmark’s first injection-moulding machine, making the jump from wood to plastic. When he began work on a modified version of American toy designer Hilary Page’s Kiddicraft Self Locking Bricks, the foundations were laid for one of the world’s most successful brands.

What had been simple bricks grew to encompass tiny human-like characters: Minifigures. Collections of parts were packaged together in the factory in Billund so children could create specific worlds: knights in medieval castles or astronauts in space. Between 1978 and 1993, the company doubled in size every five years. By the early 1990s, sales were well over US$1 billion (NOK6 billion) – and then things started to go wrong.

Lego began to think too big, branching out into entertainment, clothes and watches, while trying to appeal to girls as much as their core market of boys aged five to nine. “Innovation was one of Lego’s greatest strengths during its early years,” says Robertson. “But in the late 1990s this innovation became a scourge. Amid all the blue-sky thinking, they lost sight of what they’re really about.”

The most spectacular of these failed product lines, according to Robertson, was Galidor, a Power Rangers-like line of action figures introduced in 2002 that spawned McDonald’s Happy Meals, video games, DVDs and a live action TV show that apparently left top executives “gobsmacked with disgust” when they first saw it.

By 2003, after six years of falling sales, Lego made an operating loss of DKK1.6 billion (NOK1.73 billion) and was sitting on DKK5 billion (NOK5.4 billion) in debts. As US rivals Mattel circled for a takeover, the company was in danger of going under. Christiansen’s heirs decided to stand by the family business, and took swift action. They injected DKK800 million of their own money into Lego and appointed Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, a former management consultant at McKinsey, to get the company back on track. The new CEO decreed that the company had “become arrogant” and had stopped listening to its customers. So he set about masterminding a recovery.

In March 2004, 3,500 of Lego’s 8,000 employees were laid off and, over the following three years, close to half the 2,400 Lego employees in Billund lost their jobs; production moved from Switzerland and America to Eastern Europe and Mexico (although many of the components are still manufactured in the Billund factory); and a simplified management structure was introduced. The rest of the solution was relatively simple: Lego looked back to the original values on which it was founded.

“We were getting off track and realised that having a strong brand wasn’t enough,” says Jørn Lykke Strange, Vice President Nordic/Benelux at Lego. “Even if you are good at developing and offering play sets based on construction toys, that doesn’t necessarily make you the best movie producer. We learnt that through the difficult years.

“Our traditional values are still very important,” Strange continues. “Our success after the problems has come from being true to the core of the company.” That core is the “system of play” – a notion conceived by Christiansen’s son, Godtfred, who took over the company in 1958 – by which every Lego element is compatible with any other. Innovation now is focused on brick-building and play – Strange says that every Lego meeting room has bricks in it, and that the company aims to “nurture the child in each of us”.

As part of the re-focus, Lego also shed any aspect of the business outside that core. They sold off the Legoland parks and stopped producing video games, television programmes and other products, and instead began working with partners who are experts in their specific fields.

If anything, the Lego “extras” have only proliferated, from video games to a consultancy called Lego Serious Play, which helps businesses to think creatively. But Lego has only given its name to the best – its six theme parks, including the new Legoland Florida, are run by Merlin, the world’s second biggest amusement park operator; its illustrated books are made by respected publisher Dorling Kindersley; and the new stop-motion movie – in which an unlikely (Lego) hero has to save the world – is being produced by Warner Brothers.

Crucially, Lego has also learned to embrace rather than shy away from the rise of digital play. Take Swedish gaming phenomenon Minecraft, which could be described as digital Lego – instead of seeing it as a threat, Lego has produced various Minecraft-themed play sets. “What we see with children,” says Strange, “is that they play across platforms, and for them to fully engage with something they expect to be able to play with it on different platforms. We see the digital world as an extension to the physical play we are offering.”

For example, Legends of Chima, the new “adventure” launched this year by Lego, comprises play sets and mini-figures alongside a video game, an iPhone app, an interactive website, and a television series – all produced by companies outside Lego, leaving Lego to focus on what it does best.

“The core of Lego will remain our core in the future,” says Strange. “We realise that reality changes fast, so one of the things we are focused on is to be adaptable. Even if the world becomes more digital and children play in new ways, we believe in the value of Lego play. There’s something fundamental about taking two bricks and putting them together with your own hands – you can go to a kindergarten anywhere, give the kids some Lego and they’ll start building.” With crisis averted, the future looks bright – and brick-like.

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A Key to Create Stories using Lego Bricks – Gwynn Technique

Below a Lego Serious Play practitioner from Chile – Claudia Gwynn of Llava Creativa elaborates a facilitation methodology. The full text of the White Paper, which was published in Spanish language on Neuronilla website can be downloaded here. Any comments welcome!

Every time we decide to build a project in any area – personal, professional or vocational, which requires us to step out of the usual path to undertake an uncertain journey, we go through a series of stages, obstacles, challenges that sometimes hinder the achievement of our dream and invite us to give up.

Llave Creativa Workshop

Should I take this job opportunity? My future depends on the career I choose and I am not clear, what will I do? I don’t know how to begin my undertaking, how I face this challenge? These are important questions that can paralyse us because they attack directly our goal and sometimes that is threatening.

How to overcome the rational barriers we place on ourselves when we have a problem considered very difficult to address? Using lateral thinking, that is, taking an even friendly alternative path which will help us to find creative solutions to complement rational analysis. In this design the tool that will lead us on this journey will be creating stories. Let us begin:

Imagine a history of which we are protagonists and is set in a house inhabited by a character named “My Challenge/Problem”. This character is almost three times bigger than us and most of the time is awful. Our goal is to transform Mr. My Challenge/ Problem into an opportunity, and we must meet and conquer it to be our ally.

What should we do to achieve that? Enter the home. But the thought of getting in and face it frightens us to the point of paralysing because we know that Mr. My Challenge/Problem knows us too well. Isn’t the first time we face this battle and it “can smell our fear of miles away”, so Mr. is ready to receive us? What to do? Clearly follow the usual path will produce more of the same and our sense of failure increase. We are trapped by and into our Challenge/Problem. But what if, contrary to what he expected we walked quietly through the kitchen, through a small window located behind the house, through the keyhole of a door?

The most likely thing is that Mr. My Challenge/Problem doesn’t see us because it’ll be very worried monitoring the front door. This would give us the chance to see it from another place, analyse the opportunities presented to us and plan an appropriate strategy. Maybe we could even visit more than once without being detected. Did you imagine?

This is the story I tell every time I introduce this methodology. Rather than talking about lateral thinking, techniques, hemispheres, etc, I tell the story of the house of Mr. My Challenge/My Problem and everyone -regardless of context, culture or age- understand what it is.
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Lego Gifts

Lego bricks have been considered perfect gifts when you contemplate to give them out to a 3-to-12-year-something olds. However, as a Lego Serious Play facilitator your wish to present something associated with Lego to a bit older person might seem childish. It depends obviously what your aims are – childish is sometimes good. For that reason let me dig into the subject of discussing something to hand to your business partners when you would like to leave an impression.

If you plan to sell your ideas with a short LSP session then it might be a good idea to use one of the small kits to use them as a tool to facilitate a short intro session with your participants and leave it with them to use. This is where the Window Exploration Bag becomes handy, but as suggested by David Gauntlett – also other small kits could be very adequate.

Lego Red Brick Keychain
Lego Red Brick Keychain

But what about memorabilia to those with whom you do not have the chance to work on an actual LSP session?

I remember that when we were visiting Lego Serious Players’ mother ship in Billund and wrapping up our sessions with Per and Jacquie – they took us to Billund Lego store to stock up our facilities for different types of Lego merchandise. One of the first things Jacquie suggested us to buy in bulk was a bunch of Lego Red Brick Key Chains. As a follow up to an earlier post you may suggest your business associates how to use those keys in your office or at home.

Jacquie also suggested to use different minifigures to see if your potential clients could associate themselves with simple businesspeople, powerful CEOs or even the Superheros in their company, or whether they are just friendly elves who try to get things done.


There are also other fun alternatives out there, which include:

All these items can be easy to carry along and easy to simply hand as welcome gifts to your potential business partners. Finally – if you like to be thorough then you may Lego gift wrap your gifts nicely and in style.

Doing Business with Lego Serious Play

One of the recent members of the Serious Play Pro community asked me privately about whether it pays off to quit his day job and starting working as a facilitator full time.

He wrote: “I want to pick your mind on how you got started on LSP. Did you start it while you were already doing freelance consulting/coaching? Or did you start it within a corporate setting and then just spun off to a freelance gig once you got the hang of it? If you know of anyone with similar experiences, whether freelance LSP consulting right off the bat or a spin-off from their corporate career, a referral would be appreciated.”

Charles Handy - The Elephant and the Flea New Thinking for a New World
Charles Handy – The Elephant and the Flea

Let me start with a reference to a research paper that I read in the most recent Academy of Management Journal. Two PhD students of of University of Wisconsin Madison: Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng wrote an interesting piece: Should I Quit My Day Job? A Hybrid Path to Entrepreneurship. They concluded that while entrepreneurship entry paths are different – those who started as part-time hybrid entrepreneurs while retaining their day jobs had higher survival rates. But still – the most decisive factor of entrepreneurship success were the characteristics of the particular individual.

Like Raffiee and Feng wrote in their paper and supported with data – I also believe that all the roads that lead to Rome are different, but probably it is worth discussing about various models of business for starting off as an entrepreneur for handling Lego Serious Play and other facilitation work. Lets start with my story. Hopefully others will find it interesting to spell out their experience below.

I started off as a self employed consultant a dozen years ago in 2002 when I came to realize that you may as easily work for larger organizations without being a part of them. While large organizations can give you interesting collaboration and learning opportunities – the headache of daily rigidities of reporting, some pointless meetings and power at wrong hands destroy the fun part of it.

Brand You
John Purkiss Brand You

After reading a couple of popular books in this field (e.g. Charles Handy’s The Elephant and the Flea and John Purkiss’es Brand You: Turn Your Unique Talents into a Winning Formula) I decided that an one-man-band type of organization would be much more suitable for my taste.

Instead of jumping the ship completely I created my firm and thereafter started off with a single client. I worked for 4 months for one of my previous employers as an independent consultant. At the same time, I started actively building my independent brand, seeing how to best open the sales leads and after a few short training and analytical gigs I commenced full time into the world of managing myself.

During the past years this has been the approach that I have had. I have balanced the work between a handful of long term clients with whom I frequently establish long-term collaboration that span over 2-3 years. These larger customers seem almost similar to full time job in a larger organization, but in reality they are not. They usually account for 50-70 per cent of my time and provide a bulk of my income. However, with the remainder of my time I can work on interesting short-term research assignments, training and speaking engagements here and there, which also add value to my long-term clients.

Book Thinking from Within

I came across the Lego Serious Play methodology in 2005. After reading a few working papers and Johan Roos’s Thinking from Within I tested and tried the use of the methodology at a number of companies. I used the methodology based on my best knowledge quite some time and it was not until 2009 when I finally went through certification process with Lego.

Nowadays I just use the Lego Serious Play as one of the tools in my consulting practice. I would not think about working only with that and be known as just the “Lego guy” because there are just so many things that a method can help you to achieve. It certainly comes with its limits. It works well in situations with lots of ambiguity, where creativity is required and where the group dynamics needs some space to develop. However, there are plenty of situations where you need to handle lots of data, supporting an analytical team who scores extremely well in terms of open collaboration and understands its tacit signals. Under those circumstances the Lego Serious Play-based approach does not add much value.

For that reason there are many other methods that I rely on. Some are more analytical, the others more playful. In my case – Lego Serious Play-based facilitation is an important aspect of my daily work, but it still just accounts for roughly 10-20 per cent of my time and income.

As a Summary – Some things to Think About before Embarking the Journey of an Self-Employed Facilitator

  1. When you contemplate starting off your business then I suggest also to you that try to think about the Lego Serious Play as just one of the tools. If you don’t have many other alternatives then I would propose expanding your portfolio.
  2. Remember that all facilitation work relies heavily on your personal time, which means that it is ultimately scalable only up to the maximum useful, productive and billable time that you can provide for your clients. Until you have a number of those clients potentially at sight, you might wish to postpone your independent moves.
  3. Finally – in addition to your network of clients – try to also build your network of peers who help to develop your professional skills and challenge your thinking.