The story of the Lego® Serious Play® method, now widely applied in small and large organisations globally, is an interesting one.
The LEGO Company, despite being in the business of creativity, decided that the manner in which it developed its own strategy was decidedly uncreative. In addition, the company was facing huge pressures as video games had begun to enter the market. The trend of children growing up before their time meant less young people were asking for Lego bricks at Christmas. Kirk Kristiansen, CEO of LEGO, decided that it was time to get imaginative and create a new, lived strategy for the LEGO Company, one that departed markedly from more traditional approaches. But how?
He looked to Professors Bart Victor and Johan Roos from IMD in Switzerland. This business school had been assisting the LEGO Company leaders with their own professional growth and development. The prof’s and Kristiansen departed from many of the same points: they believed that approaches to developing strategy had much room for improvement, that people are central to organisational success and that they can and want to do well. Strategy should not be static, but rather created and lived every day.
Together they embarked upon a journey of research and development, hoping to formulate a superior, effective and creative approach to setting business strategy. They established a LEGO subsidiary called Executive Discovery Ltd, and agreed that the work would be funded as a new approach for LEGO to use inside the company. The subsidiary offered the advantage of being able to carry out academic work within in a real-world setting.
The task at hand required much iteration and live-session prototyping with companies. Finally the team came upon a process that was found to work consistently across different groups in a robust and reproducible way. A new way forward was emerging. They called it Lego® Serious Play®.
A large part of the appeal for companies was the way in which the method provided a unique opportunity for groups to see the systems in which they were located, with roles, relationships, and culture, and to test those systems with different scenarios. Organisations today compete within ‘complex adaptive systems’ which have emergent properties, making it less clear cut to predict how one change may alter an entire system. The Lego® Serious Play® Application Techniques (building individual models, building shared models, creating a landscape, making connections, building a system, playing emergence and decisions, and extracting simple guiding principles) draw on research into complex adaptive systems. They act as scenario planning tools, allowing us to imagine the future and its variants, and to debate them with visual aids.
Lego® Serious Play® requires 100% participation, everyone must lean in and contribute as wisdom is considered to be in the system – a useful touch for our distracted age. It activates, extends and releases new thinking, valuable in our age of high innovation. The facilitated process of construction, where Lego bricks serve as metaphors, is said to function as a language that connects within and between brains. Building shared models connects individual thinking into collective wisdom and can rally teams around a central focus or goal. The method is used for a wide range of personal, team and business development topics. Facilitators must be trained to work with the method.
It is seldom that we have the pragmatics right at our feet for unlocking new thinking, breaking habitual thinking, and jointly designing new futures. But here it is.
Have you tried Lego Serious Play at work?