Tue Jul 13 2021 Michael McQueen

There are only a handful of companies that have stood the test of time, and Danish toymaker Lego stands out among them. Voted the most popular toy of all time,[1] Lego has endured through an array of changes, remaining an unwavering and dependable company through all of the social and economic changes of the last 70 years. It brilliantly exemplifies the ability to move with the times without compromising core values, and businesses would do well to learn from the company’s history and habits.

Here are 5 essential lessons we can learn from Lego:

1. Purpose is worth pivoting for.

Recent weeks have seen Lego take a leap forward on sustainability measures with their plans to make bricks from recycled plastic bottles in the coming years. As pressure is increasingly placed on businesses to limit their production of unsustainable goods, companies are being forced to rethink familiar processes and products. For companies like Lego, the principal product line of which is plastic, these kinds of contemporary pressures have the potential to spell out their demise.[2]

However, no stranger to the necessity of pivoting, Lego’s recent moves are characteristic of its agility as a company and its willingness to move with the times. It is becoming increasingly clear that businesses that are looking to last in current times must pursue a purpose beyond profits. While it could be said that adapting production to suit environmental interests is simply a strategic move, its current success suggests no immediate threat. Yet it has taken intentional and lasting steps to ensure that this pivot is sustainable for both the company and the environment.

As is fitting for the ethos of the company, Lego plans to find a way of meeting the demands of environmental sustainability without compromising the quality, consistency and durability of its products. Lego has recognised a purpose that is worth pivoting for, and businesses looking to progress with the times will do the same!

2. Move with the tides, not with the waves.

As agile and open to progress as Lego is, the company also exhibits the ability to discern the waves from the tides. Rather than attempting to pivot for every passing trend, fad and fashion, lasting companies are able to recognise which changes are here to stay and are thus able to move forward without compromising stability, time or resources.

When the digital age gained dominance in the late 1990s, Lego’s make-or-break moment arrived with it. Recognising the rise of the Internet as a defining economic and social tide, adapting to digital became a priority for Lego. The company entered a series of licensing arrangements with well-known movie franchises such as Star Wars, Batman and Indiana Jones to create co-branded play sets and even video games.[3] Buoyed by the success of this new direction, Lego expanded their digital offering with the release of robotic Lego kits. In 2006 the product Mindstorms NXT was launched and broke all previous Lego sales records.

A company that is looking to maintain stability through the rapidly moving trends of the modern era must be able to tell the difference between a wave and a tide. As with its digital adaptation, its recent environmental moves suggest Lego knows this difference.

3. Consistency trumps complexity.

While adapting for the Internet was essential and initially highly successful for Lego, the early 2000s saw the company enter a fight for survival and relevance in the digital age. By the end of 2003, Lego’s sales had plunged by 30 per cent in one year. Worse still, the company had racked up $800 million in debt and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.[4]

Amidst this crisis, a new Lego CEO by the name of Jorgen Knudstorp was appointed in 2004. Knudstorp quickly identified that Lego needed to significantly streamline and simplify their product range and production processes. Knudstorp set about returning Lego to its range of core products and significantly reduced the complexity involved in manufacturing — reducing the number of components in Lego’s product portfolio by a full 50 per cent.[5]

The results were almost immediate. By the end of 2005, Lego rebounded from a $292 million loss the previous year to a pre-tax profit of $117 million. That same year, the company would post sales of $1.2 billion but, more importantly, profitability would more than triple.[6]

As is evidenced by the enduring popularity of traditional Lego, there is unparalleled strength in a company that knows the value of consistent and dependable products. While Lego clearly moved with the tides when necessary, it also understood the value of consistency in both sustaining its internal processes and its market’s attention.

4. Customers are a creative crowd.

In 2008, Lego turned its outdated mindsets on their head by adopting a radical new approach to product design with the launch of Lego Ideas. Contrasting to its standing culture of closed-system design, this new crowdsourcing site saw Lego fans accredited to use Lego’s IP and submit ideas for new inventions that they could earn royalties off, should the concept make it into production.

David Gram, head of marketing at Lego’s Future Lab, admits that this change in direction ruffled a lot of feathers: “When we started up our crowdsourcing site, there was complete resistance in the company. Nobody wanted an external platform. No, we have our designers, they know better. We don’t want to show our competitors what we are doing, so it was a no-no.”[7]

And yet the company persisted with the new direction and it began to work. In the years since the launch of Lego Ideas, a raft of new innovations, including a Lego Minecraft range, a Beatles-themed Yellow Submarine toy set, and Lego series inspired by NASA’s brightest female stars over the years, have come to market.

For a company as large and established as Lego, crowdsourcing ideas was a bold move. Despite this, it saw success and exemplified the kind of relationship with customers that marks loved and lasting companies.

5. The best things are built to last.

Fitting with the quintessential sentiment of the time when the company was first born, Lego is well and truly built to last. As seen in its adaptation to tides, its prioritisation of consistency over complexity and its pursuit of purpose over profits, the systems and processes of the company exhibit its orientation towards lasting stability and success.

Even its recent moves towards recycled plastic and sustainability further evidence the mindset of building lasting products. According to Tim Brooks, Lego’s products have always been designed to last several generations, and its new recycled plastic bricks will be no different. The company continues to emphasise products that are durable rather than biodegradable. Instead of building products that are cheap, breakable and destined for landfill, Lego hopes to continue creating products that can be used and inherited for generations.

Lego has reached an equilibrium in maintaining company stability and moving with the necessary tide of sustainability – and what could be more environmentally and economically sustainable than a product that is built to last?


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 9 books. His most recent book The New Now examines the 10 trends that will dominate a post-COVID world and how to prepare for them now. 

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[1] Robertson, D. 2013, Brick by Brick, Crown Business, New York, p. 3

[2] Espiner, T 2021, ‘Lego plans to sell bricks from recycled bottles in two years’, BBC News, 23 June.

[3] Osterwalder, A & Pigneur, Y. 2010, Business Model Generation, Wiley and Sons, New Jersey, p. 72

[4] Robertson, D. 2014, Brick by Brick, Random House, New York, pp. 98, 70.

[5] Ibid, p. 114.

[6] Ibid, pp. 283, 216.

[7] Durkin, P. 2015, ‘How Brick-Headed Consultants Almost Killed Lego, And It Rebuilt To Be 2015’s Most Powerful Brand’, The Australian Financial Review, 13 October.