Leveraging Diverse and Creative People - Mastering the Seven Truths of Innovation and Transforming LEGO - Brick by brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry - BusinessNews Publishing

Brick by brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry - BusinessNews Publishing (2014)

Part II. Mastering the Seven Truths of Innovation and Transforming LEGO

Chapter 10. Leveraging Diverse and Creative People

The Ninjago Big Bang

People who come from different disciplines provoke and challenge each other, which is a lot more fruitful than working with people who think the same way.

—Erik Legernes, senior LEGO creative director

THEY CALL IT THE “BIG BANG.” THE MONIKER REFERS TO A homegrown LEGO theme that’s built around an arresting story, one that shows a high potential for creating a worldwide sensation and generating lucrative revenue streams from the Web, television, and spin-off products, just as Bionicle had done for the better part of a decade. A Big Bang is also a big bet. LEGO launches a Big Bang line about every other year, and when it does, nearly every unit within the company, from manufacturing to logistics, marketing, IT, and beyond, goes all out to get behind the line and deliver a hit. If the Big Bang is a big bust, à la LEGO Universe, it lets much of the air out of the company’s earnings.

By 2008, LEGO had instilled its product development teams with enough discipline and focus to regularly churn out profit-pumping hit toys. When senior vice president Poul Schou assembled a small concept team to create the next Big Bang, he had enough confidence to give the team’s leaders, creative director Erik Legernes and marketing director Henrik Nonnemann, lots of leeway to invent the theme and set its financial targets. Schou’s design brief was little more than a simple goal: “double the fun; double the consumers.” That was Schou’s shorthand for defining the team’s ambitious stretch goal of doubling sales from the company’s previous Big Bang hit, a series of underwater adventure sets called Atlantis.

Several months later, having sorted through scores of ideas and focus-tested them with kids, Legernes and Nonnemann proposed their new concept to Schou. Their team had concocted a ninja theme, replete with such kid turn-ons as battling shoguns, Spinjitzu weapons, and an army of evil skeletons. They called the theme Ninjago, and set a daunting target: the line would deliver 10 percent of the company’s total revenue. No other LEGO-generated theme, not even Bionicle, had ever surpassed that milestone. It was, as Nonnemann later put it, a “dream scenario.” But they had identified so many potential revenue streams, they believed they could make the dream a reality.

During a focus group session in New Jersey in late April 2009, the team had sketched out a full suite of complementary products for Ninjago. In addition to the actual product line, which would total seventeen sets in its first year, LEGO would develop a Ninjago board game for LEGO Games, create a Ninjago-themed world for LEGO Universe, work with the Cartoon Network to develop an animated TV series (which debuted in January 2011), and partner with TT Games to create a video game (which launched in April 2011). Ninjago iPad and iPhone apps, as well as a series of graphic novels, would follow.

Cole, one of the ninja heroes, battles Bonezai in the LEGO Ninjago Battle Arena.

When Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu launched in January 2011, it set new financial and innovation records for LEGO. The LEGO Group reported a 20 percent increase in sales in the first quarter of 2011, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of the Ninjago line, which went on to rack up the highest single-year sales of any LEGO-invented theme in the company’s history. With that, Ninjago’s front-end development team redefined the conventional notion of success at LEGO.

Most striking, Ninjago signaled that LEGO had flipped its top-down approach to managing innovation. During the company’s do-or-die survival phase of 2004, leaders such as Mads Nipper had defined the company’s direction (back to the brick), identified its core customer (five- to nine-year-old boys), set its return-on-sales target (13½ percent), and even picked the look and feel of new LEGO sets. After all, it was Nipper who, at that town hall meeting, used Henrik Andersen’s fire truck to set a course toward a classic yet modern look for LEGO City. Back then, LEGO was very much a hierarchical organization, with the big dogs at the peak of the pyramid evincing a command-and-control leadership style and, as Knudstorp described it, “only one truth and black-and-white thinking.”

Just four years later, LEGO was remarkably decentralized. Nonnemann and Legernes, not the company’s senior management team, defined the Ninjago design brief, conceived the toy and its complementary products, developed the business model, and ultimately set their own ambitious sales targets. To be sure, Schou, Nipper, and other managers approved the brief and saw to it that the team followed through on its commitments. But the team had abundant white space to make the important decisions and lead the way.

What changed during those four short years? Knudstorp and his team skillfully twined the challenges that so often make innovation so difficult. They vividly defined the outcomes they desired, and then gave people absolute freedom to innovate “inside the brick.” They reached for the stars with never-before-seen efforts such as Mindstorms NXT and LEGO Games, even as they put a premium on the smaller innovations that refresh serial moneymakers such as LEGO City and Star Wars. They knew that before they could transform the brand, they first had to rebuild the business.

Above all, they concluded that while strategies matter, the prime source of competitive advantage consists of diverse and creative people. After all, strategies can be copied; people can’t be. Since the Poul Plougmann years, one of the LEGO Group’s biggest changes resided in building a culture where the people who make and market LEGO toys can summon all of their passion and creativity.

The Rise of T-Shaped LEGO People

Recall how in early 1999, after reporting the first loss in its history, LEGO fired more than one thousand staffers. Among those forced out were veterans who held much of the institutional memory for creating and marketing brick-based products that conformed to the System of Play. Their replacements: talented designers who could concoct imaginative play experiences but knew little about creating LEGO toys that clicked. Plougmann dispersed the new hires to design outposts throughout the world but failed to harness their creativity. The result was a host of big-bet, “never seen before” product launches, such as Galidor and Jack Stone, that were not “obviously LEGO” and very nearly crashed the company.

One might think that in the wake of such disasters, a chastened LEGO would return to its old model of recruiting mostly Danish designers who’d grown up in a land where LEGO is bigger than Coca-Cola. But today’s LEGO is more heterogenous than at any other time in its history. Walk through the LEGO cafeteria in Billund and you’ll hear conversations not only in Danish but in French, German, and lots of English. Consider the team that created Ninjago: Legernes hails from Norway, Nonnemann from Denmark, and lead designer Phil McCormick from the United States, and they were supported in part by Japanese illustrators and prototypers.

LEGO product development teams are diverse not only in terms of nationality but also in the skill sets and expertise they combine. Years ago, the Bionicle team demonstrated that sustained innovation occurs when people of dissimilar talents and mind-sets are brought together in close physical proximity, where they can have frequent meetings and serendipitous encounters. Systematic innovation does not often come from a homogenous group of designers working in isolation. Thus, every LEGO development team now comprises a project manager as well as a handful of designers, marketers, engineers, modelers, and communications people. All are expected to contribute to every phase of the project, not just the parts for which they are functionally responsible. LEGO believes that when people from different backgrounds mix it up in a creative endeavor, there’s a human friction that can spark real breakthroughs.

“People who come from different disciplines tend to think differently,” said Erik Legernes of the Ninjago team. “They provoke and challenge each other, which is a lot more fruitful than working with people who think the same way.”

In keeping with that logic, LEGO has gone out of its way to recruit what some call “T-shaped people.”* The vertical leg of the T represents expertise in one particular area, while the horizontal bar signals a breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines. This potent mix of depth and interdisciplinary skills increases the likelihood that T-shaped people will solve wickedly difficult problems, something that LEGO designers encounter all the time.

Today, the vast majority of the LEGO Group’s developers share the same depth of competence: they are abundantly creative when it comes to inventing with and for the LEGO brick. At the same time, they are diverse in the range of experiences they bring to the job. Just consider:

✵ The chief designer of LEGO Games, Cephas Howard, has the brick in his blood and a genius for imagining clever board games. He is also a skilled commercial designer and, as evidenced by his days at London’s Guardian and Observer newspapers, a successful salesman with enough leadership skills to have managed a large team.

✵ As we’ve seen, Mark Hansen, the original architect of LEGO Factory and the project leader in the development of LEGO Universe, is a former U.S. Navy SEAL who spent three years researching mass customization and holds a master’s degree in engineering.

✵ Mark Stafford, a British AFOL, formerly worked as a marine cargo surveyor on the Amsterdam and Antwerp docks in the Netherlands. It was Stafford’s girlfriend and fellow LEGO adept, Megan Rothrock, who encouraged him to apply to become a model designer for the company. The couple moved to Billund in 2006, and Stafford went on to design sets for best-selling lines including Exo-Force, Power Miners, and Space.

✵ Jamie Berard is a star designer who created extreme LEGO models for advanced builders, such as the four-thousand-piece replica of London’s Tower Bridge. Berard is so devoted to the brick, he estimated that LEGO sets account for 70 percent of his earthly possessions. He’s also studied civil engineering, holds a BA in English literature, and once worked as a monorail driver at Disney World.

T-shaped people might be configured differently from others, but they aren’t superheroes. They, too, are exposed to the same forces that derailed the LEGO designers of the late 1990s: kids are still getting older faster, and nine-year-olds are as fickle as they ever were. Today’s LEGO designers are just as creative as their predecessors and just as capable of chasing fads and losing their way. So how does LEGO ensure that diversity’s spark doesn’t fuel a runaway conflagration, as it did during the Plougmann years?

Part of the answer resides in the fact that while the company has been aggressively hiring diverse and creative people, it’s also recruited people whose primary responsibility is to bring focus and discipline to all that creative energy. There’s the community organizer Steven Canvin, who collaborated with the expert AFOLs to make Mindstorms NXT such a success. Paal Smith-Meyer, the new business developer, seized on Adam Reed Tucker’s vision to create LEGO Architecture. Bionicle’s licensing group manager, Sine Møller, was the internal voice who worked with licensees to make Bionicle-branded clothing, books, and games. And then there are the Design Lab’s system controllers, the grizzled veterans who have the ultimate say on whether a designer’s newly created color or shape has enough LEGO DNA to be admitted into the LEGO System of Play. All throughout the LEGO Group’s Billund headquarters, there are managers whose chief role is to bring more focus and discipline to the creative process.

Most important, LEGO has surrounded its creative people with guidance mechanisms that channel their work into profitable innovations. Such mechanisms gave people enough space to create and direction to deliver. If you had followed the team that created Ninjago, here’s what you would have seen:

Restructuring the company to give people a sharper sense of direction. When Nonnemann, Legernes, and their colleagues set out to create the company’s next Big Bang, they knew they didn’t have to seek out a pristine market space, à la LEGO Games. Nor were they expected to step into the breach that LEGO Universe had created and make another run at a disruptive innovation. Their task was to invent a new play theme, but one that was rooted in the company’s DNA and would appeal to core LEGO customers who loved to build. The Ninjago team’s sense of what was in play and what was beyond the project’s scope grew out of the companywide restructuring that had occurred three years earlier.

In 2005, after taking the company back to the brick and defining the types of innovation they would pursue, Knudstorp and his team sought to bring a clearer sense of direction to the LEGO Group’s individual business units. During the Plougmann era, the company’s new leaders had seen firsthand that when discipline and focus are lacking, profits can suffer even when creativity flourishes. Seeking a way to harness the talents of the LEGO Group’s diverse and creative people without reining them in, the management team used the innovation matrix (which we described in Chapter Six) to plot the company’s key initiatives, as well as which unit was responsible for each.

Knudstorp set up the main part of the business, called Product and Market Development (PMD), to focus on profiting from the company’s core assets and capabilities. Its assets: the LEGO brick, the building system, and the beloved LEGO brand. As for capabilities, they included the company’s expertise in designing and manufacturing brick-based play experiences and its capacity to sell those experiences onto global markets. This is where the Ninjago team lived. The team was free to create anything it could imagine, so long as it innovated within the PMD’s boundaries.

Past experience had taught LEGO management that the metrics and processes that bring incremental innovations to such classic PMD lines as City and DUPLO wouldn’t lend themselves to creating “never seen before” play experiences. So they carved out an area at the top of the matrix for the Concept Lab—the unit that developed LEGO Games—that focused solely on developing brick-based experiences that LEGO itself had not yet imagined.

However, the innovation matrix revealed a yawning white space: no one group was directly responsible for the brand’s globe-spanning community of passionate fans. LEGO, said Knudstorp, was treating this community of engaged users, which was entirely unique to the toy industry, “as a sideshow.” He also saw gaps in the more experimental part of the business, which called for the creation of new business models, new channels to market, and new ways of connecting with customers. Strengthening ties with the community of LEGO users, building out the LEGO education business, selling directly to consumers through platforms such as Factory.com, and exploring new business models (as Paal Smith-Meyer did with LEGO Architecture)—no single group was accountable for those initiatives. So Knudstorp and his team carved out a new unit, Community, Education, and Direct (CED). PMD and the Concept Lab could focus exclusively on the core and revolutionary parts of the company’s brick business; CED would take on everything else.

“The work we do in PMD is the same that goes on in all successful toy companies,” said Knudstorp. “But what we do in CED, no other company is doing. No one else goes direct to the consumer, no one else has an education division, and no one else has that level of community involvement. Creating CED was a way for us to clean up and optimize the business model.”

Although the Ninjago team worked within PMD’s confines, Nonnemann and Legernes knew that to deliver a Bionicle-size hit, they’d also call on CED’s experts to help shepherd the creation of a suite of complementary innovations that would tap into additional revenue streams. So while the product team set about creating a line that would light up the construction toy aisles of Walmart and Target, its partners in CED would help define ancillary products—board games, movies, iPhone apps, and video games—that customers could access through the Ninjago website and LEGO stores.

In this way, the company’s restructuring served to compartmentalize the Ninjago team’s effort. Since it sat within the PMD organization, the team could home in on developing brick-based play experiences for core (and potentially core) LEGO customers. It had to focus on that single task, to the exclusion of all else. Yet, so long as it worked within those limits and delivered on its stretch goal, the team was free to innovate whatever it could imagine. As we’ll see, the team’s results underscore Knudstorp’s formulation that “innovation flourishes when the space for it is limited.”

A box of direction-setting tools. When LEGO launched the third stage—manage for growth—of its “Shared Vision” plan, its senior management team had taken enough direction-setting steps to give designers and developers a vivid sense of where the company needed to go and the kinds of play themes that would take them there. They had refocused associates on winning back core consumers, principally five- to nine-year-old boys who loved to build. They had dramatically reduced the number of elements in the LEGO product portfolio, a “do more with less” strategy that channeled designers’ creativity. They had equipped developers and marketers with the CPP financial tool, which calculated the cost implications of designers’ decisions and helped them drive the LEGO Group’s return to profitability. And they had developed a credo, “obviously LEGO, but never seen before,” that reasserted the primacy of the brick, even as it challenged associates to invent LEGO sets that are magnets for twenty-first-century kids.

Having set a clear direction, senior managers could then leave it to project teams to navigate much of the journey, as Legernes and Nonnemann’s concept team did with Ninjago. “Design DNA” was one of the navigational tools that helped point the way. Every LEGO product line has a specific DNA, which outlines the toy’s target audience, the desired play experience, the toy’s “expression” (realistic or fictional, sunny or dark, timeless or trendy), and other details. Explicitly identifying the various strands that make up the toy’s DNA helps guide new efforts to refresh or refine the line.

To create a new theme, LEGO developers first define its DNA. At the Ninjago project’s outset, Nonnemann sketched a simple two-by-two matrix that mapped out, in four quadrants, four distinct play characteristics: themes based on realism, fantasy, low conflict, and high conflict. (So, for example, LEGO SpongeBob would map as a low-conflict fantasy theme.) The matrix sparked discussions that helped the team home in on the zone in which it wanted to compete: high-conflict fantasy. Nonnemann reasoned that since the team would have to deliver sky-high sales volumes, “the safer bet was to be up there with the fantasy and high conflict.”

The choice hardly ensured success, since a LEGO theme can win or lose in any of the four quadrants. Case in point: LEGO City became a franchise theme by succeeding in the low-conflict realistic quadrant. And Galidor, a high-conflict fantasy theme—just like Ninjago—was an abysmal failure. But the matrix did help the team begin to target the theme it would pursue and edit out all other options.

The matrix also served to remind the front-end team of the degree of innovativeness that the new theme would require. An evergreen franchise such as LEGO City typically relies on 90 percent replication (deliver what fans have come to expect) and 10 percent invention (add enough new details to make the next set feel fresh). A high-conflict fantasy theme, especially one that’s a homegrown IP, reverses that formula. Ten percent of the new creation might replicate design features from an older, out-of-circulation LEGO kit. But 90 percent of the theme would have to have a novel look and feel.

With that, the concept team had a rough but ready schema of the line’s Design DNA—maximum fantasy, conflict, and innovation—to serve as a starting point for creating the company’s next Big Bang.

Time for “inspiration and exploration.” One of the foremost challenges for sustaining any innovation effort is to carve out enough time and space to build for tomorrow’s success when the organization is already running flat out to deliver today’s results. Although patience and perseverance are critical to value creation, they are highly vulnerable to short-term pressures to hit financial targets and deadlines.

By 2008, when the team was developing the toy that would become Ninjago, Knudstorp and his managers had injected a big dose of urgency into LEGO; as we’ve seen, the design and engineering teams responded by halving the amount of time it took to develop and launch a new toy line. But the company’s senior managers also knew that before there can be productivity, there must be creativity. And creativity takes time. LEGO hedged against expediency by sometimes adding more lead time, in the form of an idea generation phase, to its product development process.

When senior managers meet with project teams to refine an existing product line, they typically kick-start the effort at the LEGO Development Process’s P0 review stage. That’s when market opportunities are identified and business objectives are defined. But concept teams that are charged with developing new themes, such as the Ninjago team, are allowed an extra “exploration and inspiration” stage that runs prior to the LDP’s P0.

During this prelude to the actual development process, a team’s search for a promising theme will lead it to seek inspiration from a wide array of sources—competitors’ offerings, children’s TV shows, successful LEGO sets from the past. The Ninjago team, for example, went on a weeklong reconnaissance mission to Japan, where the LEGO designers and marketers traveled three hours north of Tokyo to visit the Iga Ninja Museum. As they walked through a fifteenth-century ninja dwelling, with its revolving walls and hidden compartments, the LEGO designers soaked up the telling details that might bring a ninja-related theme to life. They also began to orient themselves around the challenge of bringing the medieval world of ninjas into the lives of twenty-first-century kids.

“Cocreating” with kids. Every LEGO product development group now uses focus testing with kids to evaluate potential concepts. In most of those tests, a couple of designers introduce kids to a prototype and elicit their reactions, with an eye toward gauging the strength of children’s interest in the concept. The front-end teams, however, take a more robust approach to play testing.

The Ninjago front-end team regularly convened in an office building in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where they’d spend several days ensconced behind a one-way mirror, watching small groups of eight- to ten-year-old boys gather in a conference room and react to storyboards illustrating potential Big Bang concepts. Megan Nerz, a market researcher who’s worked with LEGO for nearly two decades, moderated the discussion. With equal measures of discipline and aplomb, she enticed the kids to reveal their impressions. The kids could be funny, canny, crabby, and kind, often within the space of just a few minutes. They could also be unusually insightful, if you knew how to read them.

Although the Ninjago front-end team sometimes called those sessions “cocreating with kids,” the boys rarely delivered a creative idea that could be directly applied to a concept design. Rather, Nerz and the LEGO designers interpreted the kids’ impressions by utilizing a set of clear-eyed standards.

As Nerz walked the kids through richly illustrated storyboards featuring themes such as cities of the future, underwater adventures, and ninjas, the front-end team ranked the kids’ feedback against a specific set of categories: the kids’ spontaneous reactions, their understanding of the story line, the concept’s ability to spark sustained play, and the extent to which the concept delivered on its play promise. Thus, while the kids’ impressions were highly subjective, the team’s interpretation was more measured.

“The best way to rank a theme is to see if the kids keep talking about it,” said Nonnemann. “If they keep coming up with stories about how they’d play in the world you’re showing them, you know you’re on to something big.”

Another way the kids helped the Ninjago team was in the choice of the villain. If ninjas were the heroes, whom did they battle? The team developed six different options for the villains, including monkeys, robots, skeletons, and lizard people. The response from the kid tests was overwhelming: skeletons. Kids understood that ninjas were real historical figures and that skeletons were “real” fantasy villains. Fanciful creatures such as demon lizards didn’t make sense to them. The team homed in on the skeleton idea in the next round, showing four different skeleton options.

The ninja theme elicited waves of stories from kids, but not enough to convince the team that the concept, by itself, would propel the line to its sales target of 10 percent of the company’s revenue. To clear that bar, the team would have to come up with an element that would give Ninjago “schoolyard currency,” as Schou put it. “We needed something that was competitive and cool. Something the kids would talk about at school.” In fact, the Ninjago concept team’s goal—left unstated to upper management—was for the toy to be so popular it would be banned from schools.

To hit upon a solution, the team organized a series of brainstorming sessions and invited LEGO designers, marketers, and prototypers from other departments to participate, in hopes of sparking some fresh insights. For inspiration, they investigated iconic toys such as marbles, yo-yos, and spinning tops, which had succeeded across multiple generations of children.

The design group ran with the notion of fitting ninja minifigs on top of LEGO versions of spinning tops. The idea was to spin a pair of tops so that the ninja minifigs would whirl around and collide, or “fight,” just like real ninjas. The team went on to develop more than sixty different prototypes of the ninja spinners, until it perfected one that included an eject button: when two spinners struck each other, one of the ninja minifigs would pop off. “Suddenly there’s a loser—the one that falls off—and a winner,” said Legernes. “The winner gets the loser’s sword, which turns it into a game where the kids compete for weapons.

Ninjago Spinner prototypes.

“When we tested the spinners with kids, they almost blew the roof off the place,” he continued. “They were so excited they started screaming. The moderator told us we were sitting on a treasure. She’d never seen such a strong response to a test.”

By continually testing and retesting with kids, the front-end team concocted the varied play experiences—story (compelling heroes and villains), competition (between Spinjitzu spinners), and collectibility (the weapons)—that would make Ninjago such a rousing success.

Teams—rather than management—driving the review process. By the time the front-end team had fully developed the theme that became Ninjago, hundreds of kids, ranging from boys who were lukewarm to the brick to those who were gripped by it, had weighed in on the concept. The constant rounds of testing, refining, and retesting Ninjago reduced the risk that this new-to-LEGO fantasy theme would hit the market with a whimper instead of a bang. Moreover, the unbiased test results reassured LEGO management that the team was on track to produce a line that might actually hit its lofty sales target.

“To get the resources we needed, we had to convince the people in our organization that this was right,” said Legernes. “The testing was not only a creative tool, it was a persuading tool.”

Although Poul Schou, as the overseer of more than 70 percent of the company’s products, sat in on many of the early rounds of testing the ninja and other themes, he participated mostly out of a desire to get a firsthand feel for which concepts were resonating with kids, given that the Big Bang project was such an overriding priority. Otherwise, the Ninjago front-end team drove the testing and development process. And as we’ve seen, it was the team itself—not upper management—that wrote Ninjago’s design brief and set the line’s sales target. For their part, Schou and other senior managers used the LEGO Development Process’s stage-gate reviews to take a wide-angle view of allthe projects under development, not just Ninjago. Their feedback helped to ensure that as specific themes evolved, they brought variety to the company’s product assortment.

Essentially, the reviews were a form of addition by subtraction. The executives guided the development of stronger concepts by ruthlessly editing out those that duplicated other efforts or failed to deliver a promising play experience. Of the scores of LEGO ideas that were introduced at P0, just twenty made it to the P3 stage, where the final commitment is made to bring a toy to market. “It’s very much a deselecting process,” said Schou. “Survival of the fittest.”

Prior to the company’s turnaround, the LEGO Development Process was a hit-or-miss proposition. LEGO would bet big on themes early in the process and bring them to market when they were ready. Now it’s like a Swiss railroad—a new set of products (the “train”) heads to the market, reliably and on time, every year. LEGO management commissions teams to explore many different potential themes; only the best are allowed on the train. In fact, Ninjago was delayed a year, after management decided that while it was a good concept, another year’s development would make it a great concept.

At the time of this writing, the LEGO Group’s diverse and creative people have delivered a heterogenous mix of thirty-four product categories that take in not only Big Bang themes such as Ninjago but also board games, video games, kits for girls, kits for experienced builders, kits for preschoolers, two different robotics platforms, sets that combine bricks with digital devices, licensed lines such as LEGO SpongeBob and Toy Story, and more, much more. Like their creators, all of those lines are grounded in the brick and the “hands-on, minds-on” LEGO play experience.

The LEGO Group’s front-line developers and marketers now have the incentive to do the right thing for profits. That’s because, like the team that invented Ninjago, they have the freedom to set their own financial and innovation goals. Of course, having largely established their projects’ objectives, people are responsible for delivering on them. This tight link between autonomy and accountability reduces the need for motivation-sapping interventions from upper management. The LEGO Group’s diverse and creative people no longer have to seek out executives such as Mads Nipper for inspiration and direction. They need only look to themselves.

* The concept behind the T-shaped profile has long been a staple of McKinsey & Company, Knudstorp’s former employer, as well as the design firm IDEO.

Gender is one area where LEGO developers are decidedly unvarying, as most of them are men.