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Social Innovation

Interview with Tormod Askildsen

Tormod Askildsen is a Senior Director at Lego, and the head of Lego's user community department. Lego's user base extends beyond children and teenagers to adult Lego-builders – and the company regularly uses the ideas and inputs of this community in the development of new products. Here, Askildsen discusses the role Lego's user community plays in the company's innovation cycle, and the various ways in which Lego interacts with its user base to foster innovation.

What are the main goals of Lego's user community activity?

My department focuses predominantly on four areas. One of these is building an environment that encourages lifelong Lego playing among our customer base. We want our customers to start playing with Lego as children, and continue for the rest of their lives. The second is to build a community of users that is independent of the Lego group – authentic, user-driven advocacy for the Lego brand. Thirdly, we aim to grow the Lego group's innovation pool by tapping into external talent. Finally, we aim to influence that which we cannot control – building relationships with our biggest fans.

One of the most important of these is increasing our innovation capacity, and leveraging open innovation as part of our overall strategy. We want to be able to leverage the insights, knowledge and passion that our customers have for Lego, and use it to improve the overall Lego experience for all our customers.

What is your approach to sourcing innovation from your community?

Our customers have a lot of ideas and suggestions that they want to share with us. Part of harnessing this was to create a system by which these users can share their ideas with us – which we do through our website, call centres and local groups where Lego users meet up face-to-face. Then, we also approach the user base with specific challenges that we're working on. We take those challenges to our user community and ask them for their reflections, ideas and suggestions.

Thirdly, we rely on user-driven innovation going on within the Lego user ecosystem, independent of the company. There are a lot of projects on Kickstarter, for example, and many user-driven businesses and services that are related to a Lego offering, but with no direct connection to the company.

Why don't more companies tap their user base in the same way as Lego?

Because as soon as you open the doors to a user community, you are starting to relinquish some control over the direction things could go with your brand. Not only do you need to throw open the doors to opinions – you need to listen to them too. But this is largely positive: sometimes, users come up with solutions to problems we didn't even know we had. Users see things that you can't, and approach problems from a different perspective. This can be challenging for some companies, because they just don't know how to deal with feedback like this – but if you're open minded as a company, the rewards can be immense.

It can require a lot of resources, and dedication, but the result is a completely new way of innovating – no longer is it done in secrecy, but out in the open.

the Future

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