How Lego Survived Against All Odds–And You Can, Too

Survival in life or in business has always been about the human journey. Find out how Lego and its founder Ole Kirk Christiansen found the strength to rebuild over and over again with persistence, purpose, and reinvention.

How Lego Survived Against All Odds–And You Can, Too
[Image: Flickr user Brian.Neudorff]

LEGO has just become the biggest toy company in the world–but it hasn’t always been that successful. Throughout the years, it has survived and thrived against all odds, repeatedly.


LEGO’s story of survival begins with its founder Ole Kirk Christiansen.

“Life is a gift, but it’s more than just that. Life is a challenge.”

Christiansen had to deal with repeated setbacks. He lost his job during the Great Depression era. Soon after, he was left to raise four sons upon the death of his wife.

Shortly after he started Lego, a fire broke out at the workshop, destroying all their drawings and models. Two more major workshop fires followed. As a result, revenue was scarce for many years.

Only a decade ago, LEGO was on the verge of destruction. But they turned things around when they reinvented themselves through digital transformation.

In spite of repeated setbacks, LEGO still found the strength to rebuild over and over again. If they gave up, the world would have missed out on one of the greatest sources of imagination, inspiration, and impact on children and adults alike.



Christiansen’s story clearly demonstrates the power of persistence. As Calvin Coolidge once said:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

I believe positive thinking primarily drives the power of persistence. It is the ability to see the glass as half full vs. half empty.

Psychologist Martin Seligman explains that positive people tend to see negative events as temporary and atypical. Albert Bandura, one of the founding fathers of scientific psychology, discovered that the best predictor of an individual’s success is whether or not they believe they will succeed.

But there is a difference between being a realistic optimist and an unrealistic optimist. Realistic optimism comes from having inner and outer awareness of the situation.

If we analyze Lego’s story, we can see how they recognized the need for giving serious thought to how they would deal with obstacles. This preparation only increased their confidence in their own ability to get things done.



Like many others before and after him, Christiansen and Lego had to create a purpose that would inspires them and others.

Christiansen adopted the name LEGO in 1934. He formed the name from the Danish words “Leg Godt,” which mean “play well.” In Latin “lego” also means “I study” or “I put together.”

In order to succeed Lego had to repeatedly go back to that purpose and build a global ecosystem around that singular focus.

This method applies to individuals and organizations alike. An authentic and inspiring purpose allows for:

  • Reminder of the focus
  • Emotional engagement with ourselves and others
  • Pragmatic innovation for growth


LEGO’s reinvention process began almost the day they started. They had to do so first and foremost to survive.


Christiansen, a master carpenter and joiner, founded his carpentry business in the village of Billund, Denmark, to make stepladders, ironing boards, and wooden toys. The wooden toys became Ole’s most successful product.

In 1947, LEGO was the first company in Denmark to buy a plastic injection molding machine for making toys.

A forerunner of the plastic Lego bricks was Christiansen’s Automatic Binding Bricks, created in 1949. They were sold only in Denmark.

In 1954, the bricks were renamed “Lego Mursten” or “Lego Bricks.” And only a decade ago they integrated their offerings with the digital world to reinvent themselves to be relevant for this generation.

Reinvention does not stop and change– it is inevitable. To quote the great poet Rumi:


“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

If you haven’t seen Lego’s video on their history, take a more in depth look at their success story:

Adapted from Everything Connects: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation And Sustainability (McGraw Hill, 2014) by Faisal Hoque with Drake Baer. Copyright (c) 2014 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.


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