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« Cluetrain Revisited: Doc Searls, still radical 10 years later (liveblogged) | Main | Sloan Management Review: How the groundswell makes your company customer-centric »

February 13, 2008

Cluetrain Revisited: Jake McKee, Lego hero (liveblogged)

by Josh Bernoff

Jake offered a paean to Cluetrain. Read my description -- see how many Cluetrain ideas you can see.

Jake McKee told us the incredible story of what Lego was like before engaging with AFOLs (adult fans of Lego), and how it changed as a result of his introduction of those fans to the company.

Jake explained that when he started there, Lego tried not to listen to its consumers: "we don't accept unsolicited ideas".

But an engaged kid spends about $25 per year. AFOLs spend on average $2000. Fans are weird. But their events attract lots of kids, and even media.

So, time for a culture shift. Jake began to evangelize the idea that "Lego is a creative medium" -- the AFOL's central idea.

First step: don't respect the hierarchy.

Second: use tenacity and get air cover (he got that from Tormod Askildsen, who's in our book).

Third: get the company to come down from its ivory tower. He proved that the fans new more about Lego than the people at the company. He invited fans in to look at a set of new products (Lego trains) -- which they rejected. Result: the designers redesigned the sets based on the fans' feedback.

Fourth: there are no secrets. Jake released information about bricks for the fans, which created an internal uproar -- until he proved that the "secret" wasn't much of a secret. And Jake repeats (and I agree) -- skip the NDA. NDAs inhibit conversation. (For the record, I respect NDAs, but I find them frustrating.) Lawyers want to reduce risk to zero -- but that is not what business is about.

Fifth: don't hold your breath.  Change takes time. "A big part of my job was to get people out of the office to visit" events -- see what's happening out there. Jake tells an incredible story of how after exposing some marketing people to a Lego event, he had to explain why people engage in hobbies.

Sixth: the answers are not within the company. AFOLs had built their own tools where they shared everything from the contents of Lego sets to photo sharing. "There were so many tools, I didn't have to build anything." Lesson here: don't build tools if your community already has them.

Summation: "Success by 1000 paper cuts." Don't start with a huge program, build small piece by small piece. "Your company has a fan club" -- go for it.

Listening to Jake's story, I heard a lot of echoes of themes we talk about in the book -- getting cover, starting small, reaching out to customers, letting them take charge. If Lego can do it, so can you!


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Jake McKee

Thanks for the kind words and the live blogging. I really wish I could have stuck around to see you speak. The early trip back couldn't be rescheduled unfortunately.

Looking forward to reading the book!


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