Lego System and the Value Delivery System

I love Lego. The fact that my Facebook avatar is a sinister looking “Liago” man from a Chinese clone of the famous Lego System is a little personal in-joke (and I’d love to see what their facial recognition makes of that). But I also love my daughter, who is bright, imaginative, and creative. And I hate to see anything that might curtail that and box her thinking into a gender-appropriate bucket that she might struggle to climb out of in years to come.

That’s why I hate the fact that ‘girls’ toys are all pink. I’ve given up to an extent on the battle against all girls’ clothes being default pink. Everyone seems to think this is the way it has always been, but no it’s not. It’s new, and it has been the other way around as well. Here’s a quote from an article in the Smithsonian Institute’s magazine:

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

But Lego is supposed to be different. It is supposed to allow children to think outside the box (literally as well as metaphorically). My fondest memories of childhood centre on a massive 30 litre white bucket that my grandmother bought at a time before my memory which was filled with every piece of Lego bought for my uncles, for me, my brothers and which did the rounds of ALL my cousins.35 year old Lego being played with without prefixed form or format, constrained only by our imaginations and the laws of physics, whether we were boys or girls (I’ll admit – mostly boys, but that just makes my next point more important as I do have some girls in my extended family).

New Lego is shit. More precisely: New Lego for Girls is shit. Sexist, insulting, degrading shit. It is so shit that I will not let it in my house. Ever. Here’s why:

Lego Friends–Silly imagination retarding lego playsets for girls.

So.. gone are the fun Lego person minifigures, replaced with anatomically approximate figurines with long hair. Who go shopping. And hang out with their friends. And have handbags and Beauty parlours and cake shops.

Jebus. There’s no need for any small girl to risk burning out a brain cell engaging in that ‘imagination’ thing. Keep your brain inside the small box that society is creating for you, accept the parameters and all will be well. Compare to the style of the ‘boys’ Lego (which is a slightly formulised version of the Lego I love)

Lego that makes you think about what might be possible….

Yes. I’m guessing the Astronaut is a boy. (I secretly suspect girl astronauts wouldn’t have sent a broken satellite into space or would have been more careful with the fragile bits when it got there).

Lego say that their product design is based on market research and studying what girls play with. This is a mistake. This basically means that their research has essentially asked questions like:

  • “How have different genders reacted to mass market indoctrination by other toy manufacturers who are creating pre-assembled play sets? ”
  • “When faced with a choice of toys in pink, pink, or pink that establish certain female gender roles, do girls choose the astronaut (who is not an option they can chose)”

Which, unsurprisingly has left them with the answer that girls like pink, want to have a beauty parlour, and the only space they are interested in is the one where they will be building their beauty parlour.

This inevitably has lead Lego to creating a range of products that women find sexist and demeaning and men find to be a heretical travesty of the concept of Lego as we know it.

What might they have done differently?

A few years ago my friend and mentor Andrew Griffiths introduced me to the concepts and principles of the Value Delivery System, as developed by Michael Lanning at McKinsey and subsequently refined by Lanning in his own consulting work. Andrew helped knock some corners off the concepts when he was in McKinsey and gave me a first-hand insight into the power of the method.

(Incidentally, the term “value proposition” in marketing comes from this Value Delivery System but is used today with a meaning that is less than that which Lanning first promoted it.)

Key to the Value Delivery System method that Lanning developed is the idea of the Key Resulting Outcome that the customer wishes to have. Once that is identified, the organisation can determine how to deliver that Key Resulting outcome using their products and services. In his book, Lanning cites the development of the Polaroid Instamatic camera as a good example of a Key Resulting Outcome triggering innovation. The inventor, Mr Land, was taking photographs at his daughter’s birthday. She apparently had a tantrum when he told her she couldn’t “see the photographs now!!”, which sparked the development of a technology that shook up photography and related industries (like pharmacies and camera shops) for nearly five decades.

I often work back from what a company is delivering through or with data to identify the Key Resulting Outcomes they are giving their customers – as a way of triggering debate about Information Strategy (a cheeky adaptation of Lanning’s method). Applying that approach to Lego’s #NewLegoforGirls I have determined that Lego believes that Parents and Children:

  1. Want imaginations constrained with pre-formed Anglo-European/Anglo-American gender roles and lifestyle expectations. Girls shouldn’t worry about being astronauts because they can own a cake shop instead.
  2. Want clear demarcation in play and interaction between children of different genders. After all, Astronauts don’t get their hair done at the salon and don’t go for cakes at the coffee shop. They’re too busy fighting aliens and fixing satellites.
  3. Want girls to identify from an early age with female body shape identity and “gender appropriate”clothing and colours (like pinks). So the “Lego Friends” figures have curves and bumps and boobs and long hair, while the traditional Lego MiniFigures have comical faces painted on, but remain blocky and androgynous apart from that (yes.. I know the minifigures have ‘wigs’ with long hair and can have bodies made with painted on dresses as much as painted on uniforms but…they’re not as ‘in your face’ about it).

Frankly, the Key Resulting Outcomes I actually want from toys for my daughter are:

  1. Stimulate imagination and creativity
  2. Promote group play and interaction, so that skills of cooperation and planning can be developed
  3. Allow her freedom to imagine herself in any role/job/scenario she may want, whether that’s cake shop owner or astronaut
  4. Provide a format and system within which the gender biases and cultural short-hand of the marketing departments of other lazy toymakers can be set aside and open explorative play and imagination can be developed.

Like in the old days. The way Lego used to be. Right now I fear Lego may be facing a “New Coke” moment. Parents (and dare I say it, grandparents who fought the feminist battles of the 1970s and 1980s) are sick of society and toy makers being lazy and putting the imaginations of children into boxes that are shaped by relatively recent colour charts (1940s) and ridiculously inane and sexist stereotypes of gender roles and possibilities.

Lego should be about possibility, not pink. That is the Value that the Lego System should be delivering.

When my daughter plays with Lego, I want her to feel free and encouraged to imagine the day she opens her Beauty Parlour/Cake Shop.

On Mars.

After she’s led the first successful manned mission there.

As an Astronaut.

5 thoughts on “Lego System and the Value Delivery System”

  1. I remember growing up planing the drums being required to wear a dress for performances. Playing the drum set wearing a dress required some creativity on my part. If I wanted to do something I loved, I had to conform. Luckily no one has required me to wear a dress while riding my motorcycle! I believe we should provide all conceivable possibilities and options for our children and let them choose who and what they want to be without diminishing their creativity or intellect. Where would we be without women who broke the gender barrier – women like Amilia Earhart, Louisa May Alcott, Madame Curie, and many, many others?

  2. Agree entirely and, like you, pink Lego is banned in my house. It was perfectly fine as it was. My daughter loves playing with her Lego hospital, fire engine and good knows what else we’ve forked out on…she doesn’t need the bloody awful pink stuff. What gives me hope is that whatever shop I go in, the pink Lego seems barely touched, whilst other Lego flies off the shelves. I’d like to think armies of parents are boycotting the abomination. I truly hope so.

  3. Lego aimed at girls is not a new concept. There was a set called Lego Belville back in the ’90s which was coloured all in pastels with no strong hues, revolving mostly around horse-riding and cafes. The figures were not traditional mini-figures but articulated two and a half inch high characters with ‘bumps’ and skin tones as referred to above! Even back then I thought it was weird, as did my sister.

    Although I’m sure a pink brick is a valuable asset for ‘serious’ hobby builders, (remember how we craved green lego bricks back in the days of five basic colours?) marketing a notably unisex toy towards girls seems rather pointless. Lego is all about the freedom to build ANYTHING you can imagine; not very likely if the sets are so specifically marketed!

  4. I’m a dad, I have a 4 year old daughter, I grew up on “30 litre white bucket of lego” too.

    She and I have been building up her collection of Lego. Some days when we go into the store I put my foot down and pick for her. Other days she picks.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the Friends lego. I expected to not like it (and I still dislike the advertising and some of the sets.) It’s better than the Dino Lego though. It’s better than Ninjago, Hero Factory and Harry Potter Lego. Those series are so full of custom pieces they do not play nice with other Lego, which is pretty much the point of Lego in the first place. Make the set once then pour it into your big box of Lego to be reimagined as something else.

    Friends lego plays nice with Creator, City, Technics and even bog standard Lego sets.

    It also had a little dog which for a kid is nice to have. Not the K9 police unit dogs from City, but a nice pet dog piece. It had the pieces for an electric car charger. Lots of semi-transparent pieces and glass panel pieces, more trees and flowers which may not grow on Mars but there is nothing wrong with trees and flowers. Or cup cakes for that matter.

    I’d rather my kids (I have a 9 month old son too) grow up making cup cakes than blasting aliens. Being an astronaut isn’t automatically better either. Plenty of jocks as astronauts. If they want to stay on Earth and engage with the community then go for it.

    I’m learning fast that as a father I must not impose what was stamped on me as a boy growing up on my own kids. Astronauts, engineers, sportsmen, firemen and policemen, leaders and being president. Many of those have been deeply disappointing role models of late.

    There is a lot wrong with Friends and Lego at the moment but don’t say blasting off into space on big ass rockets is superior to the community leader baking cup cakes and providing emotional support. As boys we are blind to the importance of less grandiose roles in life.

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