Lego’s Lost It

Iknow, I know, this has nothing to do with EU policies. But this week means Autumn (Fall) break in large parts of Europe, including here in Belgium. In short, that means that my two sons, four and six years old, are spending the week at home. The weather is as grey as you would have guessed, and consequently, they are already climbing the walls.

It is on those occasions that you have ample opportunity to ponder the quality of toys, which in their case happens to be a Lego car each, brought home from Luxemburg as a consolation by their Daddy for being away for two full days, talking fisheries and other EU Agricultural policies. Ample, I’d say, because of the tears and frustration Lego brings to today’s kids.

When I grew up, Lego was a set of pretty anonymous little plastic bricks with only two defining characteristics:

1) They hurt the living daylights out of our parents when they stepped on them bare-footed on their way to the bathroom at night.

2) You could build ANYTHING with them.

Today’s Lego bricks also have two defining characteristics:

1) They are so small and tiny that they either vanish or get sucked into the hoover by mistake before anyone gets to step on them by night.

2) Every piece is so specialised that you can’t build ANYTHING with them.

Including the one toy you are supposed to build with each kit, that is. The instructions for a tiny fire engine or police car are commonly two pages long, and so complicated that even Daddy would have had problems with it unless he’d spent the last decade assembling IKEA furniture every few months. Four-year-olds rarely have that experience. Consequently, they’re in tears after the first few moments.

Then comes the hard part. Today’s Lego toys are so aggressively poorly constructed that they fall apart by themselves before you can say Ole Kirk Christiansen. To be technical about it, they’re usually so scaled down that each joint is only held together by one single… what do they call those little round bumps? One and none more it is, anyway. Thus defying the laws of nature, there can only be one logical result: the toys come apart. Straight away.

The consequence of this is that today’s children learn about Lego toys falling apart, before they learn about Lego being something fun to build together. It used to be the other way around. Their only point of reference to Lego is that the Lego toys look and perform like some fifth-grade imitation of Playmobil.

And that’s probably the clue. Lego seems to have completely lost faith in its own business model, and decided to try to take ground from rival Playmobil. Problem is, they will never be able to make something designed to look and behave like one thing look and behave like something else. And judging from the heavy losses the Lego Group has been making during the last few years, the consumers have discovered, too, that Lego is basically making an utter fool of itself abandoning such a genial formula it once was in order to become a simple copy of something else it can never live up to.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us: Stay who you are… don’t become a bleak copy of someone else. You are unique; dare to trust being yourself.

I only wish I could explain that to the kiddies, though.

12 Responses to “Lego’s Lost It”

  1. Phil Dufault Says:

    Cheers to that — I can’t believe how stupid lego is presently — my joy when I was younger was building lego structures that I could DROP, and subsequently, see how to make them stronger.

  2. Chinedu Says:

    I really miss the generic Lego bricks.. you know, those ones that came in packs of thousands, with a handful of unique pieces like wings, wheels, doors, or little people. As an adult, I strongly believe that my powerful imagination and creativity was a direct result of building things with Lego bricks. I also believe that Lego’s kit/brick redesign is pandering to the Instant Gratification generation. They are probably trying to be “modern”, but that isn’t necesarily a good thing.

  3. Eddie Ramos Says:

    I must cheer you on that as well.

    Lego’s were the best thing in the world when i was a kid and I’m only 18 now, and I still have this giant tub that i play with my best friends kids and they love the old block that are like 20 years old. Its time that they stopped making packages that tell you how to build tie fighter from star wars or things form other movie or TV series and went back to making blocks that could be anything because children now are stating to think that everything has only one purpose if this keeps up creativity will be dead

    LEGO save the children

  4. jonathan Says:

    Phil: You could BOMB some of the structures you ended up making. Which is basically the amount of violence a child will typically inflict on his or her toys.
    Chinedu: I loved developing my creativity with Lego’s help – it made me a producer, not merely a consumer. That’s exactly what’s been lost here.
    Eddie Ramos: That’s exactly my point.

  5. truthseeker1234 Says:

    What I find curious is Lego’s economic turnaround I hear is due to these newer uncreative sets. Thus it’s not lego making bad sets which in turn are making dumb children but the fact that today’s children will only buy lego sets which have a specified purpose.

    This trend disturbs me as a creative thinker and lover of old legos. Why are children’s imaginations being nullified in this day and age. Is there something in the food and/or water? Does mass media encourage herd mentality over individual expression? What ever happened to being human – a miniature god capable of using the mind to create without boundaries? When did we start putting limits on ourselves? We only fail when we put boundaries on ourself. Our personal failures in turn create a stagnating world. Are we responsible for this stagnating world as today’s adult generation paves the world for our children to live in? Is it we who have the our children’s cords?

  6. jonathan Says:

    truthseeker1234: To begin with, the reason why today’s children will only buy lego sets which have a specified purpose is that there ARE no other sets to buy.

    Secondly, I don’t think the problem is food, water, media or any other basic necessity that’s gone sour. I think the problem is spelled o-v-e-r-p-a-m-p-e-r-i-n-g.

    We as adults in general and parents in particular are so scared of our children being bored or unhappy that we follow our instinct and duty to give them the very best – beyond where it’s good and necessary, and right up unto the point where it becomes ridiculous.

    As a parent, I wrestle with that dilemma every day. I have a right obligation to do everything for my kids, but if I yield to that without reservation, they end up being used to having everything served on a silver tray.

    They become incapable of creating something new simply beause there are no blanks left to fill in.

    I am recently discovering this when writing music, too. Some of the best stuff I’ve written was done with very little access to other music, in the days when the songs that didn’t happen to be on my thin collection of vinyl records or quickly deteriorating stack of noisy audio tapes was out of reach, period. It was written almost out of necessity to fill the aching void of musical dearth. Whereas nowadays, when I can dial up any music I like on iTunes within seconds, I find it much more difficult to muster that particular hunger that will eventually hound down greatness and chase it out of its hiding place.

  7. truthseeker1234 Says:

    I’m not a parent myself so I find your perspective on the matter very interesting. Overpampering is a hard to overcome aspect of today’s world. In my case internet access is my overpampering. These days I can pretty much look up anything I want on Google and Wikipedia with ease. I remember back in my childhood when I actually had a huge collection of hardcover encyclopedias which had to be kept around and research was a drag. Today’s generation of youth have become copy/paste report writers for school projects. Thus I agree that this complacency renders creativity impotent. Why think when you can just have something instantly? Why write things in your own words when you can copy and paste someone else’s in about 10 seconds?

    I’m starting to think now the whole complacency issue and “instant gratification” generation springing up is due mostly to the internet. As someone who’s seen both sides of the coin growing up without the internet then subsequently growing up with it I am always continually amazed how much easier it is to have what your heart desires instantly. When I was younger we played with legos because that was basically the only thing around before video games hit the market. Now just a little over a decade later I see today’s children totally immersed in persistent 3-D worlds that act as a proxy for real life. Anyway thanks for your perspective on this matter. Lately I’ve had a hard time remembering myself that sometimes a little work results in a much better payoff in the long run than just being complacent.

  8. BookMama Says:

    Interesting thoughts. I agree with everyone’s comments about the specialized pieces – what good are all those little short gray pieces with only one “peg” on them once the instructions for that specialized piece are lost and the pieces have been mixed in with the other sets?

    I have tried to buy my son primarily the large tubs of plain bricks but there are still too many “special” ones, and not enough of the bigger bricks and basic things like doors and windows. I actually bought a set that was just stuff like windows, doors, slanted roof pieces, flowers, etc. Now we have a great selection!

  9. jonathan Says:

    BookMama: Good on ya, ma.

    I sat with my two kids at their cousins’ house some time ago, where I found a few tubs of generic Lego bricks, a few windows, and little else. (They bore every mark of being something my brother-in-law had kept from when he was a child.)

    I started building a few Lego houses according to how I used to do it when I was a kid – from scratch. After a while, I could sense some lights going on in my kiddies’ heads. “Aha… is THAT what you can do?” kind of, even if they didn’t spell it out. Sadly, we had to quit before they enjoyed the full scope of the epiphany. But I could tell that they wern’t used to thinking in that way – to create something from scratch without instructions. Indeed, that scares me.

  10. Julie Says:

    I just went to the lego website to try to find the “old school” legos and it took a while to find the area of the site called “creative”. Was it? NO! It was a few legos and then a bunch of tolls and toys to stick on their to create doll houses and such. I’m going on craigslist to find some old school legos. Meanwhile, if you are interested in encouraging creativity, I highly recommend the book “Child of Wonder”.

  11. jonathan Says:

    Julie: I think we have to simply reinvent creativity. Dream it all up again.

  12. Games Products Says:

    You made the right points there. I did pc hardware training on the topic and found most people will agree with the blog.

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