The LEGO Lesson: Embrace Your Fans

In Forrester‘s Josh Bernoff / Charlene Li blog, Josh relates this story by Jake McKee (formerly Lego) of how Lego changed by engaging with AFOLs (Adult Fans Of Lego, sometimes referred to as ALE: Adult Lego Enthusiasts). There’s a lot to learn in this story – particularly for companies with a top-down corporate culture. Here’s how Lego learned how to embrace their fans:

Jake began to evangelize the idea that “Lego is a creative medium” — the AFOL’s central idea. First step: don’t respect the hierarchy. Second: use tenacity and get air cover (he got that from Tormod Askildsen, who’s in our book). Third: get the company to come down from its ivory tower. He proved that the fans new more about Lego than the people at the company. He invited fans in to look at a set of new products (Lego trains) — which they rejected. Result: the designers redesigned the sets based on the fans’ feedback. Fourth: there are no secrets. Jake released information about bricks for the fans, which created an internal uproar — until he proved that the “secret” wasn’t much of a secret. And Jake repeats (and I agree) — skip the NDA. NDAs inhibit conversation. (For the record, I respect NDAs, but I find them frustrating.) Lawyers want to reduce risk to zero — but that is not what business is about. Fifth: don’t hold your breath. Change takes time. “A big part of my job was to get people out of the office to visit” events — see what’s happening out there. Jake tells an incredible story of how after exposing some marketing people to a Lego event, he had to explain why people engage in hobbies. Sixth: the answers are not within the company. AFOLs had built their own tools where they shared everything from the contents of Lego sets to photo sharing. “There were so many tools, I didn’t have to build anything.” Lesson here: don’t build tools if your community already has them. Summation: “Success by 1000 paper cuts.” Don’t start with a huge program, build small piece by small piece. “Your company has a fan club” — go for it.

This is some great advice right there, and as simple as it sounds: Go for it!

Oh, and here’s some AFOLs in action:

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