Mr. Innovation David C. Robertson: learn from LEGO how to get back on track

14. March 2017 – Katharina Schlangenotto

In case the name David C. Robertson doesn’t ring a bell, right away, LEGO might be a hint? LEGO, that were these bricks that we used to play with when we were kids. A children’s room in the 70s, 80s and 90s with no LEGO bricks? I don’t think so – at least in Europe.

However, at the beginning of the new millennium the picture changed. Where did the LEGO bricks go? What happened?

Well, if anyone knows it is für sure Professor David C. Robertson, considered to be Mr. Innovation himself. From childhood on, he was interested in innovation; not so much in  innovation as such but rather in the process and the change which  accompany innovation management. He understood quickly that an innovative invention alone does not ensure success and profit.

Many innovations are not yet successful

The Danish company LEGO made exactly that mistake in 2002. They came up with a lot of good ideas and innovations, narrates David C. Robertson, but they didn’t generate enough profit.

In the years 2002 to 2010, David C. Robertson was known as the “LEGO Professor” for Innovation and Technology Management at the Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland. He supported LEGO decisively in finding himself again and made it believe in the core of the brand, the bricks, again.

He remembers how the company’s management wanted to reinvent the brand in 2002. They believed that building blocks were no longer contemporary and that nowadays, children would rather play with digital toys. LEGO experimented with many different business ideas: they sold watches, clothes, invested in the LEGO theme parks and produced computer games. The whole thing collapsed in 2003 and almost led LEGO into bankruptcy.

Around the box instead of out of the box

David C. Robertson talks about the experience he had with innovation management and explains the importance of the  “around the box” strategy: existing core products are complemented by complementary innovations, which make these products sexy (again). Disney, Red Bull, Apple, Amazon or LEGO are only a few of today’s successful examples.

David C. Robertson says: “The strategy does not work without drastic changes in internal procedures, structures, rewards, roles and systems.” Innovation in particular means transparency and the willingness of everyone to contribute to the strategy. Innovation strategies have often failed because they were launnched from a management level. But they failed to inspire the rest of the company. In this case, innovation is doomed to failure.

Brick by brick to success

LEGO has obviously remained his hobby horse. He even wrote a book titled BRICK by BRICK in which he describes how the “empire of bricks” moved back into children’s rooms. “Do you know what a mixed marriage in Germany is for Americans?” David C. Robertson asks. Puzzled head shaking. “A mixed marriage in Germany is when a child who has played LEGO is marrying a child who has played Playmobil.”

Sweet and funny imagination. David C. Robertson dedicates his audience to the secrets of innovation success and shares his experience with the management and structuring of innovation.

LEGO is again one of the most profitable and fastest growing companies in the toy industry. If you want to know how it all works with innovation, listen to Mr. Innovation David C. Robertson.

For further information and booking by phone or email:

David C. Robertson

Professor at Wharton School Boston, Expert on Innovation & Change Management