Branding Life et al Value for Value

The Lego Epiphany

I’ve heard old timers talk about how when they were kids they didn’t have TV to deaden their imaginations. They had radio, and their minds needed to fill in the spaces between the words with a world of their own imagining.

I could never really understand their objections. After all, I had TV, but I also had books, shelves upon shelves of books, and I was used to filling in the spaces.

But I finally have my own “when I was knee high to a grasshopper, things were different” speech. Which is good, because I was worried I wasn’t going to turn out to be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but now I can rest easy.

When I was young, we had this toy called Lego. Now before you rush in to say, “We’ve got that now” I’m gonna stop you right there. The Lego you’ve got isn’t the same Lego we had. You’ve got prefabricated, pre-digested, specially formulated snap together reusable plastic model kits.

Now I’m not knocking plastic kits. I built more than my share. When I wanted to build a Boeing B-17G or a ’57 Chevy Bel Air, I bought a model of it. But when I wanted to let my imagination soar, I reached for my Legos and built whatever I could dream up. My “men” were the little single peg pieces, and we didn’t get that many of them. In terms of purpose-built pieces, my Lego had ‘em, too: wheels, with removable tires so the wheels could be pulleys. And none of that stopped me from building space ships and airplanes and bridges and buildings.

Please don’t get me wrong: I would have sold my sister or my dog to get one of the Death Star or Millennium Falcon Lego sets they make now, or the Lego people with arms that move and hands that can hold things. But I couldn’t possibly have realized then what I’ve long since come to understand: give a kid a set of instructions and he learns to assemble, but force a kid to imagine and he learns to create.

And the thing I am most passionately proud of about myself is my ability to create.

Can someone please explain to me what we are teaching our children when all their toys are branded, with back stories and personalities, when we’ve replaced their imaginary landscapes with realistic fantasies played out in pixels on ever-present screens, and when even their Lego comes with instructions and pieces that can only ever fit in one, rather limited, way?

By jlsimons

I’m a storyteller who has spent my life focused on the things people do for fun, from games and hobbies to comic books and podcasts. I love building and managing teams of incredible people and empowering them to do the best, most fun and fulfilling work of their careers. I am also a senior level marketing executive with a unique blend of over 34 years of podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, advertising, interactive, branding, marketing, paid and organic search, direct response, analytics, and game design. Along the way, I've built a leading podcast brand and a million-plus-subscriber YouTube channel, created multinational promotions for global brands, and co-desiged critically acclaimed collectible card and role-playing games.
Oh yeah, and I write science fiction.

Specialties: Podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, integrated marketing, social media, strategic marketing, alternate channels, direct response, corporate marketing, copywriting, advergaming, game design and development, financial advertising

10 replies on “The Lego Epiphany”

“Make-Believe” and “Dress-Up” were the cornerstones of indoor play decades ago for a girl child growing up in the 1950’s. Outdoor play was based on tree-climbing, jump-rope and potsy/hopscotch. Of course coloring, reading, dolls and T.V. also anchored a female’s free-time on a winter days. Our children utilized all these options and more including tons of Legos. Even today our 25 year old son adorns his iPhone with legos and his storage bins are filled with them. Creativity is at the heart of child development. Creative play is how you get to know yourself as a child. Jeff, if Lego, whom we all loved as parents for the very reason that it stimulated in our children creative focused time consuming attention, has moved off of “free-play” of the mind, all I can say is, “Oh No!”

I remember climbing trees, Jill. How many parents today would let their kids (and I include myself a bit here) do the dangerous things they did themselves as kids. In terms of Lego and free play, my daughter signed up for a Lego activity as part of her after school programs last year. Not only were they all ninja oriented lego (not that every 8 year old girl on the planed shouldn’t be into robed, death dealing stealthy Lego fighters), but it’s kind of hard to turn Ninjago into a pony. Also, surprise surprise, it turns out there’s a Ninjago cartoon. Free play? Hardly. That said, I have no problem if my daughter wants to dress up as a ninja, or play ninja make believe. But it should be her choice, not the unannounced focus of a play-for-pay after school activity.

I don’t think I’m violating privacy by observing that your 7-yr old daughter has been feeding her own imagination with your same set since she was a toddler. Another creative mind in the making.

Great post.

Great piece Jeff.
I agree completely.
We have bins and bins of Lego at Almost Home and the kids create their own worlds. The only thing I believe the “sets” are good for is the skill it takes to follow the directions. They are complicated, but once completed, it is on the to the next one. Lego has to have a reason for it’s customers to buy more lego, so there is goes!

The only toys I have saved for “grandchildren” someday, it two big bins of lego’s and a crate of wooden blocks. Some paper and crayons, and it’s all a child needs!

Wooden blocks. What a visceral memory I just got reading those words. The thrill of victory when you used every single block in a tower reaching skywards. The agony of defeat when they fell. Hold on to those blocks, Jen. Someday, wood may be worth its weight in gold.

My 13-year-old son has a “bucket” of legos along with several of these sets. He uses them all together. Usually he will sketch out what he wants to build first!

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