Brick by Brick, by David Robertson

Review published on September 17, 2013. Reviewed by jj redfearn

A first rate project manager once asked me what was the change management process for her new project. I said thats easy. You ask me, I say no.

In business the hardest thing to say is no. People don’t like no. No is negative, discouraging, initiative killing, demotivating, essential. Don’t say it. My simple No did it all. On that project every single person got down to making the project succeed. The usual industry of change requests, alternative proposals, it’ll never work’s, we’re looking at the wrong targets, we need more time/money/people, and wooden-it’s never got started. Because everyone knew the answer would be No. That project was a runaway success, overcame, innovated or went around the barriers, delivered early, came in on target and on budget and ensured low long-term maintenance and support costs. Saying no at the right time is an amazing agent for focus, motivation, change and innovation.

LEGO forgot that lesson, and nearly went bust. It stopped focussing on the brick. It had half a decade of unconstrained yes.

The second lesson it forgot was all things in moderation. Innovation is essential to any companies continuing success. Unrestrained, unconstrained innovation is a disaster. The head of one of our business units called me in one day and asked, thinking about cutting the IT budget again, what would happen if we released (ie fired) most of the IT staff and replaced them with just ten or a dozen of the brightest and the best. Easy. Day to day operations would collapse, a raft of new, exciting, innovative expensive and high risk projects would kick off, most would either produce zero or negative benefits and nine out of the ten brightest and best would either quit or be relocated upwards and out of IT. You don’t release the brightest and best no matter how much they mess up.

Remember those strange LEGO toys from the early 2000‘s? The ones that made you think you were looking at Mattel products instead of LEGO ones? When DUPLO died? Unconstrained and unrestrained innovation did that, driven from the top and led by the brightest and the best but without a Steve Jobs and his almost trademark no’s, destroying LEGO’s profitability and almost breaking the company.

This is the story of how LEGO forgot the Boston Box, ignored its cash cows, grew its dogs, threw much of its resources into a big range of disastrous innovative new products and finally, just in time, rescued itself from itself. How taking the new management-guru fads and forgetting business basics kills businesses, no matter how big and how successful. How innovation can be tamed, directed, straight-jacketed down a track that delivers change and profitability and evolutionary as well as revolutionary new products while forcing creativity and bottom-line focus. A book about saying No just a few times in just the right places. A book about how innovation and change must be applied judiciously across every aspect of a business, not limited into its own little experimental department. A must read.

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