(Disclaimer: I love Legos)
When Lego announced they would be laying off 7-8% of their workforce my first thought was the same as my 10-year-old son’s reaction, “Well if people aren’t buying Legos we should buy more to keep them in business.” Unfortunately for Lego, there is a finite number of birthdays and holidays I am willing to spring for a $100 set of plastic bricks but my family will do our best to help. Then I started to think about what will be lost if Lego goes out of business: creativity.
In 2004 the toy manufacturer almost when bankrupt due to low sales, partially driven by a higher demand for video games than plastic models. Lego changed their business model to embrace a number of themes like Star Wars and Batman, which captured the minds and wallets of both kids and grown up collectors. Although video games and iPhone apps have been around now for a few decades, Lego seemed to maintain their share of customers with these changes.
Today, I don’t think this time the toy manufacture is being challenged by virtual cities and Candy Crush games, but by itself. Perhaps Lego embraced that 2004 change a little too much and stepped too far away from their mission of helping kids “think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential.” Over the past generation, Lego has evolved. When I was a kid (a long, long, time ago in this galaxy) there weren’t 300-page instruction booklets for creating the Lego Death Star, there were just Legos. If I was bored on the weekend I built grass roof Lego huts for my Barbie dolls after my dad mowed the lawn. Later that day, my brother used the same set of blocks to build a car or boat or elephant.
Is that same level of creativity even possible today? Lego seems more like a competitor to Revell plastic toy models these days than to Lincoln Logs. Lego kits today often build a single thing with unique and single-purpose blocks, rather than provide an open environment for the creativity we embraced a generation ago.
I am sure part of the reduction in sales is because real bricks are being replaced by apps that let kids build virtual cities by unlocking coins with the swipe of a finger. But Lego has taken the creativity out of its own brand. Potential model builders are losing the opportunity to create something on your own, versus being dependent on someone else’s originality.
Creativity can’t be taught, it has to be cultivated through exploration. Touching sand, grass, and bricks creates neural pathways that spark the imagination. Instead of giving kids a guidebook on how to be creative, perhaps Lego should use this opportunity to find ways to help kids create their own version of Hogwarts or The Battle on Hoth.
On a side note, I try to practice what I write so I proudly share my son and my summer project (in the photo on this post). We embraced the building plans of my youth and had an evening project: build our dream house out of Legos. Not only did we get wonderful family time, but our basement now has a 5 bedroom, 5 bath, ocean and mountain side home, complete with a pool, ice cream shop, helicopter landing pad, and home theater. No instruction booklet needed.