Critique of Lego open innovation

lego ideas open innovation

I am a huge Lego fan. I grew up with Lego and I never stopped playing. Our kids grew up with Lego. Our home is decorated with Lego sets. My favorite collections are trains and space.

When I started learning about open innovation, Lego Ideas helped me understand it. Everything about Lego Ideas makes sense – open calls, suggestions, voting, and finally the products I can buy in the shop. It is simple and it works.

But now, years later, when the potential of open innovation is clearer to me, I see much missing in Lego open innovation.

Lego Ideas is the world’s most famous open innovation case study. It is constantly praised by press, experts, academia. However, I am not aware of any other open innovation initiatives by Lego, and yet there is so much they could improve:

Lego uses more than 3 million tons of plastics. Less than few percent of world plastics is recycled. Lego never had a recycling project which matches Lego Ideas in size and awareness. Plastics recycling is the first project I would apply open innovation to, especially because of the transparency and trust open innovation offers. Publicly engaging global recycling industry and experts would set a standard for all plastics manufacturers.

Lego did not change the packaging since I was a kid. Plastic bags, paper boxes, and printed manuals are mostly thrown away. Note that Lego sells more than 200 million sets per year. This part of Lego product has resisted change in spite of all the global changes in the last decades. Open innovation could be used to improve packaging to reduce pollution.

Lego is European company. It dominantly reflects European culture. And yet it is one of the most popular toys globally. While Lego Ideas offer an opportunity for more cultural diversity in toys, this is not enough. For example, Lego traditionally struggled to make sets for girls. Open innovation can be used to make Lego into a truly global brand that reflects its customer diversity.

Lego pricing has been growing faster than inflation. There are low cost sets but Lego shops dominantly feature more and more expensive sets. And Lego patents do not allow for cheaper alternatives to Lego. Open innovation can be used to provide more value and options at lower prices.

An open innovation company
Lego stopped at Ideas. Ideas was an amazing project that resulted from common sense – it was a natural step to allow customers to design products made of bricks. However, Lego did not adopt open innovation. It simply followed common sense. If they adopted open innovation as a strategic imperative they would continue opening up and innovating with customers, experts, companies globally. They did not. Lego never used co-creation in such an important way again. Lego company, excluding Ideas, is a typical closed company that only sometimes uses open innovation.

I hope that Lego adopts open innovation with the same passion as it did Lego Ideas. This is important because Lego can lead the world not only as a top toy company which inspires millions of children, but also as a plastics company that can set an example to all the other companies.

Written by: Nikola Tosic
Publishing date: 6 Jun 2024