Should New Brunswick become Legoland?


My grandsons are hopelessly, faithfully, determinedly in love with a little Danish block that appeared almost a century ago in the workshop of Ole Kirk Khristiansen.

As the story goes, faithfully recounted by Wikipedia (surely, by now, we may trust the source), “in 1916, Khristiansen purchased a woodworking shop in Billund which had been in business since 1895. The shop mostly helped construct houses and furniture, and had a small staff of apprentices.”

Naturally, of course, “the workshop burned down in 1924 when a fire ignited some wood shavings” – the kind of misadventure that literally prescribed the fortunes of post-industrial, small-time manufacturing operations the world over at that time.

But good old Ole Kirk was made of stern stuff. First, he built “a larger workshop, and worked towards expanding his business.” Then, when the ‘Dirty Thirties’ settled in, he decided to “focus on smaller projects (and) began producing miniature versions of his products as design aids. It was these miniature models of stepladders and ironing boards that inspired him to begin producing toys.”

And, so, Lego was born.

These days, thanks to my grandsons and millions of other grandsons and granddaughters (and parents and uncles and aunts and, yes, grandparents), the brand is riding high on a global marketing tidal wave.

This is from reporter Katie Hope, writing for the other day:

“Lego yesterday laid out its plans to dominate the world toy market after revealing sales for last year that trumped the general market. The Danish maker of colourful toy bricks, already the world’s second largest toymaker after barbie-maker Mattel, said it expected to continue to grab market share. The popularity of its city range, which features police and firemen as well as its China toy tribe of animal warriors, helped to drive sales up 11 per cent in 2013, outperforming the global toy market which fell slightly in value.

“Net profit at the firm rose nine per cent to 6.1bn (£673m) kroner from 5.6bn in 2012. . .Revenues rose 10 per cent to 25.4bn kroner. . .It said it now employed 180 designers across 24 different countries as the group’s ‘creative core’, charged with creating new products. Lego’s popularity means that on average each person on Earth owns around 86 of its bricks.”

Actually, I own about 450 pieces from the 1960s. I won’t hazard a formal inventory of my nephew’s horde, but I imagine his collection now tops 10,000. My legacy boys, Euan and James, are beneficiaries of the extended family’s generosity.

But I wonder whether there’s a broader benefit to be extracted from all of this – an example that Denmark sets for debt and deficit-laden New Brunswick. Indeed, is there one for all of Atlantic Canada?

To what depth of ingenuity – apart from the technology required to exploit our natural resources – have we in this region of Canada plumbed to invigorate our entrepreneurial class of decidedly home-grown producers and job-generators?

It’s true, we have the great family firms who employ thousands of people. In the Maritimes, alone, the names Irving, McCain, Sobeys, Bragg and Jodrey lay testament to   a vigorous form of private enterprise that stands the test of time.

Still, what of the future? Where are the new brands consecrated by, even reconstituted from, the old ones?

Lego has effectively reinvented itself at its birthplace in northern Europe. It continues to provide jobs there as it expands, like a juggernaut, everywhere else. Its secret is simple, or so it says for itself on its website:

“Curiosity asks, ‘Why?’ and imagines explanations or possibilities. . .Playfulness asks ‘What if?’ and imagines how the ordinary becomes extraordinary, fantasy or fiction. Dreaming it is a first step towards doing it. Free play is how children develop their imagination – the foundation for creativity. . .Creativity is the ability to come up with ideas and things that are new, surprising and valuable.”

Dreaming it is a first step towards doing it? Creativity is the ability to come up with ideas and things that are new, surprising and valuable?

Yes, that’s what my grandsons will say as they build their plastic spires into the imaginary sky.

Shall we ask any less of ourselves in the world we call real?

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