Review of Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson and Bill Breen
Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry
By David Robertson and Bill Breen; Read by Thomas Vincent Kelly
Approx. 10 Hours 23 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: June 25, 2013
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Business / LEGO / STAR WARS / Denmark / Copyfight /
I’m not one for business books, and this is explicitly a business book. The closest I’ve come to one, in the last decade, was Joseph Finder’s corporate espionage thriller Paranoia. On the other hand, I really am one for LEGO and Brick By Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry is an audiobook about The LEGO Group.
Most of the book is about the recent history of LEGO, how it became unprofitable, and how it, through controlled innovation, recovered from that unprofitably. Along the way there is a fair amount about the company’s history – and even more importantly about the philosophy behind the “system” of The LEGO Group’s core product, the LEGO bricks themselves.
I started with LEGO in the mid-1970s, and barring a few pieces (lost, vacuumed, and stolen) along the way I still have much of it. But, similar to many other AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO) I experienced a decline in interest in LEGO as I entered my teens. As a kid I appreciated that LEGO allowed you to build your own toys, as a tween I programmed my own robotic LEGO creations (LEGO LOGO for Apple II) – but shortly thereafter the corporation seemed somehow go off track – creating products that were less LEGO sytem than LEGO branded toys. That is until around the mid-1990s. And that’s about when my re-invigoration of interest in LEGO started. No coincidence there, as this was also about the same time as the company’s financial revival. It seemed that the more I got more into LEGO the more the company became financially viable – but, of course, it was actually the reverse.
Indeed, Brick By Brick is essentially Robertson and Breen trying to figure out how the company works, where it went wrong, and how it recovered. In doing this they have looked at a number of failed projects, how they came to fail, how the company reorganized itself and how, with help from both adult LEGO fans and child LEGO fans they learned to operate without patent protection.
One of the more interesting comparisons between companies that Robertson and Breen make is that of LEGO to Apple. The parallels between the companies’ aesthetic philosophies (and cult like devotion by their customers) are many. I myself am a committed Apple iPhone user, not because I buy into the ecosystem, but rather because of the sculptured discipline of the technology. Likewise, though Megablocks and other LEGO competitors are making bricks that are 100% compatible with (and cheaper) than LEGO I am scrupulously careful to weed out MEGABLOCKS and other “fake lego” from my collection. The iPhone’s competitors aren’t really competitors, and the LEGO system’s competitors aren’t really competitors.
Back to the book, David Robertson and Bill Breen talk about a number of LEGO lines that I like, particularly the CITY, SPACE, and CASTLE lines but they also explain the thinking behind popular licensed IPs like STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Several chapters cover the creation of the successful BIONCLE line (originally conceived as a line called “VOODOO HEADS”), the innovative board game division (that sneakily gets moms to buy more LEGO), and the massively expensive failure of the LEGO UNIVERSE project (an ambitious project aimed at disrupting LEGO’s own core market). And that last one is one of the most fascinating sections of Brick By Brick. By trying to make the experience perfect, by trying to produce a graphically rich massively multiplayer online game without bugs, then charging a whopping $40 to start playing it LEGO screwed up royally. The failure of the LEGO Universe project is all the more ironic in that a lone computer game programmer, Markus “Notch” Persson, came to create a sucessful kind of digital competitor to LEGO system, in the form of Minecraft. Peterson’s success, using almost no resources and no money, make the error of LEGO hierarchy all the clearer. But in an even more ironic move LEGO has since produced a Minecraft set!
In my view the only thing missing from Brick By Brick is talk about the very successful, collectible Minifigures line (now up to Series 10). To my ears Minifigs get very short shrift in Brick By Brick. I’d love to hear a two or three hour audiobook about that alone.
There’s very little to say about narrator. Thomas Vincent Kelly is a relatively new narrator, his reading is clear and precise, like the LEGO system. The occasional Danish place-name pronunciation, and the names of the LEGO products themselves are the only real narrative challenges. Kelly delivers.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #220 – The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster; read by Elizabeth Klett (for LibriVox). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the story (1 hour 13 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Professor Eric S. Rabkin, and Mr. Jim Moon.
Talked about on today’s show:
Novelette or novella, novellini?, E.M Forster wrote some Science Fiction?, genre boundaries, H.G. Wells, adventure, horror, The Time Machine, a critique of English society, dystopias, diegesis, a didactic approach, The War Of The Worlds, a bogus bifurcation of the body and the spirit (or the mind), ambiguous possibility, the “Machine” of the titles, Morlocks and Eloi, a reversal, a complement, prophetic vs. appropriate, looking through my blue plate, this book is the biggest existential critique of my lifestyle, it was lovely to meet Jim and Eric, a caricature and a critique, blackberry season, a swaddled lump of flesh, a curiously intrusive narrative technique, a fable, author backchat, in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien, lampshading, breaking the fourth wall, an aural phenomena, a fable, a parable, philosophical scenarios, Plato’s Myth Of The Cave, The Republic, Socrates, ontological imaginary equivalents, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the narrator isn’t exactly human, “back chat”, man is not necessarily the measure of all things, empiricism vs. rationalism, the unanswerable questions of the stars, everyone is a lecturer in the future, “second hand ideas”, the French Revolution not as it was but as it might be in our society, Alexander The Great’s monstrous rampage through Asia, “the juice of the individual human experience”, we have many books, books as experience generators, Ion, J.R.R. Tolkien, “there is a muse”, the rhetor, aiming out of the subterranean, why are we obsessed with essays?, SAT style essays, a quasi-Aristotelian view of happiness, what does a happy horse look like?, fleet fleets make happy shipwrights, happiness verb, man is not an animal like the others, the body doesn’t matter, man is a mind, big fat babies, the wealthy vs. the working, the bloom of Victorian society (men in sheds), a satire of academia, the Logical Positivists, natural deductive logic, Mr. Jim Moon does a lot of research, rehashing, Terry Jones, Christopher Columbus, Nathaniel Hawthorne, an unexpected continent, the North-West Passage, telling powerful and relevant, the use of the word “idea”, “forms”, Rene Descartes, interpenetration, Orion, the hunter giant,” when you give a bad podcast do you ask for euthanasia afterwards?”, you’re not there for the characters, a very erudite story, Vashti (from the Book of Esther), Purim, the worst possible kind of mother, “the book”, unmechanical, religion, what is the machine exactly?, is the machine Capitalism? Google? Wikipedia? The Internet? Communism?, the beds only come in one size, the six sided cell, a hive society, command societies, totalitarianism, “machines are in the saddle and ride mankind”, the trains make us run on time, a network of machines is the Machine, a perfected machine disallows individuality, “In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus”, the worship of Helios, Ancient Greece, the homeless don’t die, despite being set in the future this is a danger in human existence, a perfect social system (utopia), an inversion of the ancient Spartan technique, not to go against the Greek, an inversion of the Garden of Eden story, in real life, a very disturbing story, a hopeful ending, a white snout, sexual competition as in Dracula, have we learned our lesson?, a passion for connection, Wall-E, infantilized adults, vomitorium, Logan’s Run, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, an anti-romantic Eden, “they give me no ideas”, “metal blind”, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster invented Skype?, pneumatic tube, Paris, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, the business of Science Fiction isn’t technological prediction, a totalizing synergy, the blue slates, an Edwardian future, the machine religion, humans enslaved by their own social attitude, Cory Doctorow, the mending committee doesn’t know how to fix anything, personifying and deifying the machine, Voltaire’s “The better is the enemy of the good.”, Protagoras, the Sophists, a sophist editorial cartoon, give me money and pay attention to me, an incredibly weak story with spectacularly fruitful ideas, what does it mean to say “I read something and liked it?”, The City And The Stars by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, its left to us to ponder some very deep questions, we’re not at The City And The Stars tech yet, the 1970s and the 1990s was the time for Brave New World, complementary drugs, the work and the context we read them in, recycling of knowledge and group consensus, exciting and relevant for our time, where and when we are when we first read something is important, Against The Fall Of Night, The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Have Space-Suit, Will Travel, Little Brother, the civilized society and the outer savage, Dr. Eric & Mr. Moon.
Posted by Jesse Willis
I probably should have told you about this podcast earlier, the thing is, I forgot just how stupid BBC policy can be. So, hurry up and subscribe to this great podcast before what remains of the earlier files drop out of the feed!
Tales from Ancient Greece, a production of BBC Learning, is a dramatized retelling of the Greek mythology. Officially the show is “particularly suitable for children aged 9 to 11,” but I like it quite a bit too. The premise is that Hermes, the winged messenger god, was a witness to practicality every famous Greek myth and in each 15 minute show he’ll take us on one such adventure. Here’s a snippet of the official description:
“[Hermes'] stories are full of laughter and sorrow and unusual people, places and creatures. The series includes such favourites as the story of Persephone, King Midas, the Minotaur and Medusa.”
Unfortunately you’ve already missed Orpheus and Eurydice (episode 2) and Persephone (episode 1)!
The show is weekly and began with Episode 0, beginning on May 1, 2013 (it was just an introductory 9 second podcast announcing that the show would be weekly).
iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|
My favourite episode so far was that of Perseus And The Gorgon (episode 4) |MP3|. I’ve even LEGOized it!
Posted by Jesse Willis
From 1920: The Statement Of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft – |MP3|
Posted by Jesse Willis
Filed under: Audio Drama, Aural Noir, Recent Arrivals
I had an exciting Friday a few months back. I’m calling the events of June 1st, 2012 The Adventure Of The Mysterious Sherlock Holmes Audio Dramas In The Thrift Store
The story begins with me visiting a thrift store. I first found this vintage 1975 box of Lego (with the original Woolco price tag still on the box) – I got it for just $4. Then I picked up a $2 game called Isaac Asimov Presents Waddington’s SUPERQUIZ.
Then, in the audiobook section I spotted three two-cassette collections for $4 each.
And they turned out to be the big winner.
Entitled simply “The Sherlock Homes Collection“, at first I thought they were audiobooks, something I’ve seen many times before. But the price stickers obscured the details. Then was a shock, an instant of recognition for the actor pictured on the back covers was none other than Roy Marsden of The Sandbaggers fame – I covertly peeled back one of the stickers and investigated further.
They were audio dramas!
According to Grant Eustace’s website (he adapted them) only 6 of the 24 dramatizations produced were broadcast (on BBC World Service). But that may not mean they were no well received as it appears that they were actually produced for British Airways in-flight audio entertainment. One thing seems clear, I didn’t know they had even existed before that Friday, and I think that probably meant they wer’e not very well known.
I got “Collection Three” (ISBN: 0773305033) which features adaptations of:
The Red Headed League
The Solitary Cyclist
A Scandal In Bohemia
The Blue Carbuncle
“Collection Four” (ISBN: 0773305041) which features adaptations of:
The Speckled Band
The Golden Prince-Nez
The Man With The Twisted Lip
And “Collection Six” (ISBN: 0773305068) which features adaptations of:
The Devil’s Foot
The Bruce Partington Plans
The Cardboard Box
There are two different companies credited with publication, BFS Audio (and BFS Entertainment is still in business) and Talking Tape Company (which I have no data on). The tapes themselves all have the BFS Audio logo on them.
Here are the details:
Cover of Collection Three:
Interior details from Collection Three:
Cover of Collection Four:
Interior details from Collection Four:
Cover of Collection Six:
Interior details from Collection Six:
Now, after listening to the twelve dramas over the last few months I can happily report that these are really excellent productions. Very swift, but dialogue driven, with uniformly excellent acting.
If you’ve got a source that has the other three collections please let me, and everyone else, know by commenting. This series should be much better known.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #153 – Small Town by Philip K. Dick, read by Gregg Margarite. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story followed by a discussion of it with Jesse, Tamahome, and Gregg Margarite!
Of Small Town Philip K. Dick wrote:
“Here the frustrations of a defeated small person — small in terms of power, in particular power over others — gradually become transformed into something sinister: the force of death. In rereading this story (which is of course a fantasy, not science fiction) I am impressed by the subtle change which takes place in the protagonist from Trod Upon to Treader. Verne Haskel initially appears as the prototype of the impotent human being, but this conceals a drive at his core self which is anything but weak. It is as if I am saying, The put-upon person may be very dangerous. Be careful as to how you misuse him; he may be a mask for thanatos: the antagonist of life; he may not secretly wish to rule; he may wish to destroy.”
Talked about on today’s show:
Gregg is getting better at girls, girls are always questioning you, horror, urban fantasy, The Twilight Zone, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Rod Serling, paranoid Verne Haskell, a lead quarter, the redistribution of wealth, playing god, “…and he rested and he made a sandwich”, god games, SimCity 2000, churches can’t be stopped, Microcosmic God, “shoved into the next dimension”, is it slipstream?, Stopover In A Quiet Town, transformers are the science, diorama, the train doesn’t run them over, “moral”, “extremely moral”, train guys, Lego, erector sets, Lincoln Logs, Meccano, matchbox cars, small towns can be hell, comic book stores, “urbane-al-ity”, is Verne the god of Woodland?, pet shops and mortuaries, little man, SFSignal’s Sword And Sorcery Panel suggest characters should be the focus, “Finished!”, world warping, John Carter, handwavium, “make out”, Beyond The Door, Dick’s faithless women, Clans Of The Alphane Moon, how risque were SF mags in the 1950s?, San Fransisco, Silvia is one of Dick’s most common female character names, a life sized diorama, The Tell Tale Heart, The Days Of Perky Pat, The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, the game of Life, Barbie, chew-z, the documentary Marwencol (2010), “he wants love”, Mark Hogancamp’s world is open, living in a real dream world, Deja Thoris has a time machine, Jeff Malmberg, A Clockwork Orange, adding layers, “well done Jeff”, R. Crumb, Blade Runner‘s androids take photographs to take memories, “reality and consciousness are fluid constructs”, crazy vs. differently enabled, Esopus magazine, a world without irony, authenticity, people are complicated, Greenwich Village, cross-dressing, WWII.
Posted by Jesse Willis