It’s a good thing I have a book report for you today, because I wasn’t in a good mood and was pretty down. But forget about that! Let’s talk about my most recent book, The LEGO Story: How a Little Toy Sparked the World’s Imagination, by Jens Andersen (2022). The translator was great, too (it was originally in Danish, as are all things LEGO).
This book is both a book about how a business was born and nurtured and a story of a family and their relationships with each other. The same family has run the company that makes LEGO for five generations, which is pretty impressive.
The Christiansen or Kristiansen family (they spelled it different ways) seem to all have had a creative genius to them. I enjoyed reading about Ole Kirk Christiansen, who founded the company that made innovative wooden toys, to Gotfred Kirk Christiansen, his son who grew the plastic bricks we’ve come to know and love, to Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, and on to Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, who is apparently still in charge.
One of the themes of the book is the strong Christian faith of the family (ironic, given their name). They were members of a group of Danish Christians who stuck together and from what I can tell were darned cheerful and practical. Ole Kirk got through THREE fires that burned down his factory and many other challenges by just declaring he’d be fine, because the Lord would provide. I’m sure hard work and perseverance had a little to do with it, too.
That Ole Kirk was both talented and resilient. He had a vision of what LEGO could be and nothing was going to stop him! He, and his son and grandson, are examples we can all follow, in that they were willing to try new things and if they failed, regroup and use what they learned to try again. As well as LEGO has done in the long run, they had some big failures and challenges. Interestingly, they kept their headquarters in Billung, Denmark and are still there today. That’s consistent.
It is a lot of fun to see how the LEGO brick concept grew and changed. The key was putting those circular tubes on the bottom that hold them together. Before that, you could stack them, but they couldn’t be picked up. Genius. Another genius idea was the LEGO figures of people. They were so carefully designed to be able to move and to be very versatile.
The final things I got out of the LEGO story were a lot of ideas about business management practices and philosophy. They tried many different techniques from very lax to top-down management, to a blend. No matter what they did, though, they respected their workers and encouraged their creativity.
The company philosophy has also been laser focused on the needs of children to play and learn. Even when they made all those commercial connections to Star Wars, Harry Potter and all that, LEGO philosophy never wavered and still hasn’t. That makes me feel good about the hours and hours my brother and I spent building towns from our bricks, and all the things my own kids built.
Just as much as I enjoyed the positive aspects of the company and the family who runs it, I enjoyed learning about their disagreements and squabbles, because they also learned a lot from that and ended up creating a company and subsidiaries that respected their individual needs and talents. As a member of a family-run company, I got a lot out of how they divided responsibilities and shares. They were kind, fair, and good to each other, even when they disagreed.
This isn’t the usual kind of book I read, but I sure learned a lot and I must have liked it, because I keep telling poor Lee about it. Now, go introduce your children and grandchildren to LEGO blocks!