Editor’s Notes: The LEGO Solution: Who Will Be Agile Enough to Master the New Environment?

Jan. 29, 2015
What the executives at LEGO did when they found their computers had been hacked speaks to strategic agility in healthcare—yes, really

I’ve been reading the recently published book by Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and several other books on success, personal development, and business management. The 2011 book, The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems, focuses strongly on cooperation and conflict resolution.

One section, “Teaming Without Frontiers,” in the chapter, “The 3rd Alternative at Work,” particularly caught my attention. Covey writes, “One of the great things about our high-tech century is that complementary teams know no boundaries. Groups can synergize in ways undreamed of only a few years ago… A wonderful example is LEGO, the Danish toymaker that is often called the most trusted company in the world. LEGO counts its millions of customers as an active part of a complementary team.  How would you react if customers secretly began hacking into your company’s computers?” Covey asks. “Call the police, right? When this happened to LEGO, they reacted with dismay, just as anyone would. But then they asked themselves, ‘Why would customers do this?’ And being the LEGO company, they became fascinated with the question and tried Talking Stick communication with the culprits.”

As Covey further writes, “When they talked to the hackers, they found they were LEGO fans who wanted to build their own creations. The hackers had broken in so they could go around the company’s inventory system and order individual parts that normally came packaged with other parts.”

As a result, LEGO’s director of community development, Tormod Askildsen, led a change process that led to a new policy and process that allowed LEGO fans to create new LEGO designs and to share those designs with other customers, ultimately creating “hundreds of thousands of ideas for new products that the LEGO firm never has to develop.” Askildsen calls it a “platform for LEGO in the twenty-first century.”

In other words, once LEGO executives figured out what had happened, they developed a process-based solution that addressed the real needs of the company and its customers. As Covey puts it with regard to what barriers in today’s global business environment, “The only walls standing in our way are cultural walls, and some great organizations are working hard to raze those walls as well.”

The idea that cultural change remains one of the core obstacles to process transformation in business organizations is particularly tantalizing when one applies such questions to healthcare. As many know, the healthcare industry, after decades of being a laggard compared to other industries, is now in the midst of transformative change. Yet cultural obstacles to change—including old medieval guild-like notions of how clinicians and other healthcare professionals should interact, old forms of departmental and institutional territoriality, and above all, simple inertia—remain in healthcare organizations nationwide.

Fortunately, the trendlines towards change are clear everywhere. It has been exciting for us editors at Healthcare Informatics to bring you our Top Ten Tech Trends for 2015 over the past week. In order to research and report those trends, we spoke with true industry leaders, and carefully sifted through a plethora of shifting landscapes and influences.

The question, for the leaders of hospitals, medical groups, integrated health systems, accountable care organizations, health plans, health information exchanges, and public health agencies, remains clear: will the leaders of healthcare organizations be able to overcome old patterns and cultural inertia, and move into the future of healthcare? Let’s hope the answer is yes—not only for healthcare organizations themselves, but especially for patients and communities.

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