Brick by brick – how to use the Lego innovation matrix

by | Mar 10, 2023

I ran a strategic innovation workshop recently for a group and I shared some of my favourite frameworks and ways to think about how to innovate.

One of the models that I think best combines many different innovation principles in one place is LEGO’s innovation matrix. The model is explained by David Robertson, in his book “Brick by Brick,” where he provides an in-depth analysis of Lego’s innovation process and how the company has managed to remain relevant and successful for almost 100 years.

The background

Despite being around since 1932, the company has managed to stay relevant and innovative by constantly adapting to changing consumer needs and preferences. I thought I’d share some of the insights from the webinar around how Lego innovates and how the innovation matrix has contributed to their success.

However, even this iconic company has had serious issues when it comes to innovation. LEGO faced serious challenges in the 90s due to the rise of digital play experiences and the expiration of its brick patents, as well as increased competition from other toy companies.

Technology radically disrupted and changed the way we think about play. Despite some ‘fails’ with LEGO heading too far into the realm of digital toys, the company realised that the humble brick itself was integral to the brand.

One of the key ways in which Lego innovates today is through collaboration. The company works closely with its customers, designers, and even competitors to develop new ideas and improve existing products. This approach is exemplified in the Lego Group’s “Open Innovation” program, which allows external partners to submit new ideas for Lego sets and themes.

The LEGO Innovation Matrix

The book introduces the “Lego Innovation Matrix,” as a framework for categorizing new ideas and determining their potential for success.

The matrix includes four quadrants:

  1. Core
  2. Adjacent
  3. Transformational
  4. Disruptive

Core innovations are those that build on existing products and processes, while adjacent innovations involve expanding into new markets or product categories. Transformational innovations involve significant changes to existing products or processes, while disruptive innovations create entirely new markets or product categories.

How does the theory hold up in practice?

I was at Waterloo Station in London yesterday and in the run-up to Mother’s Day and I saw this ‘flower stall’ made up entirely of brick ‘flowers’.

Using the LEGO innovation matrix we can assess what kind of innovation this is and where it sits, which I think is really helpful for analysis of different innovations we see all around us, and for thinking about opportunities for our own.

Where do you think the brick flowers sit within the framework?

I see it as an adaptation of the current product, so core, with some new incremental/adjacent innovation with new pieces, and it’s disruptive in terms of a new audience and product category, and a new revenue stream, tapping into adult play and crafting. But with the physical bricks still at it’s core. You can use this to assess anything you like.

By using the matrix, the company is able to prioritize and allocate resources to different types of innovation projects based on their potential impact and feasibility. This approach has allowed LEGO to stay ahead of the curve and continue to innovate in a competitive and rapidly changing market.

One of the key takeaways from the book is the importance of iteration and experimentation in the innovation process. Lego designers and engineers are encouraged to experiment with new ideas and prototypes, even if they are not initially successful.

Where can you build some experimentation into your work?

We can all learn from LEGO’s culture of experimentation and iteration and approach to innovation with this framework. See if you can put it to work today!

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