Leadership Lessons from The Lego Movie

Credit: RogerEbert.com The Lego Movie (2014) Review

Credit: RogerEbert.com The Lego Movie (2014) Review


In HBR's most recent episode of IdeaCast, Transcending Either-Or Decision Making, Adjunct Professor and author of Creating Great Choices: A Leader's Guide to Integrative ThinkingJennifer Riel, was featured on innovative thinking through the lens of the movie industry.

Risk mitigation for the brand vs. trusting the best talent you can find

Did you know there was a previous version of a Lego movie in 2010? Me either. Heavily controlled by Lego with a product and brand first mentality, the cost of this authority was sacrificing access to the best directors and filmmakers. The result was disappointing. The second time around, through integrative thinking and compromise, Lego put their viewer first, found great talent, and trusted them.

Take a 10-second comparison between 2010's The Adventures of Clutch Powers Lego Movie and 2014's, The Lego MovieWhat do you think?


Now, Lego did not blindly trust. To build this confidence with Hollywood's top talent, they asked the creative team to spend time with Lego’s most committed, fanatical customers to understand what the brand means to them and to fall in love with Lego the way the kids do.

In fact, a key plot from the movie came from the insight that the spirit of Lego is to build and rebuild again where glue goes against this belief and is absolutely forbidden.

Strategy is making tradeoffs. You can’t be everything to everyone.

So, stop trying to please everyone and understand (1) which tradeoffs are unacceptable (2) if there could there be a better way (3) create a better choice that doesn't exist today.

The Methodology of Integrated Thinking

Stage 1 - Get clear about the problem (creating tension) worth solving and realize the current answers are not good enough (i.e., standardization/customization).

  • Explore two very opposing ways of solving it.
  • Testing the extreme boundaries
  • Try to fall in love with each of the models. Opening your mind - what’s great about each of those choices. What does each option get us?

Stage 2 - Push ourselves to notice similar outcomes and actual distinctions while holding the opposing tension.

Stage 3 - Generate a few answers on what a better outcome could look like.

Stage 4 - Test your new model before rolling it out. Adjust and refine.

Common Missteps

  • Rejecting the idea of finding a compromise.
  • Inability to push your thinking to fall in love with the opposing model. Treating stage 2 only as a checklist.
  • Rushing through the process.

Signs You Are on the Right Track

Stage 1: You genuinely understand the other model.

Stage 2: Something you did not recognize before could push you in a new direction.

Stage 3: Making progress towards a better solution for the problem.

Stage 4: Learning as you go and producing an answer you are excited about.

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