The Value of Ideas Over Pieces
As a child, LEGO had broad themes that built on aspirations of the imagination. I could journey into space, build myself a castle, or run my own bustling metropolis. While sets served as the initial blueprints for construction, they were merely a jumping-off point. The real fun came with the act of recreation, when you had a floor full of blocks in front of you and started to explore what you could create brick by brick.
I always joke when people are looking at my LEGO set collections that they don’t need to treat them gingerly because you can’t break a LEGO set, you can only break it apart. While this my be a line I use in jest, it does speak to the intrinsic brilliance of interlocking blocks: it is about the output and not the components.
The LEGO Group was not always the juggernaut it is today. The company was nearly insolvent in 2003, but managed to turn itself around. My favorite part of their comeback story is that LEGO actually reduced the number of bricks it offered to its designers. This not only simplified costs and the supply chain, but stimulated creativity through scarcity. When the capacity for designers to have custom pieces fabricated and instead had to work with more common blocks, it sparked ingenuity through scarcity.
This notion of finding inspiration in limitation has always been at the heart of building with LEGO bricks. We all haven’t had the luxury of official designers with every part at their disposal, but instead had to find a way to create something new from our personal stud-laden wreckage. Many of us who grew up playing in front of a minefield of pieces have kept their love interlocking bricks as they’ve grown. For some, it may be carry a minifig keychain while for others it might be picking an Architecture set. Yet for a select, dedicated few, they grow up into AFOL’s (Adult Fans of LEGO’s).
This vibrant, global group of creators has been thriving through meet-ups, LEGO User Groups (LUGs), message boards, conventions, and more. An entire cottage industry has grown, which has spawned trading sites like BrickLink, set guides such as Brickset, and a bevy of blogs including The Brothers Brick and my own site, Brickd. Builders share their MOC’s (My Own Creation)on Flickr, MOCpages, and more.
As the community has grown, so too has its exposure. Now we have world-renowned artists like Nathan Sawaya, exhibits at major galleries, and commissioned works hanging in offices for companies like Google. The LEGO Group certainly hasn’t been unaware of the public’s increasing interest in MOC’s, and has launched its own crowdsourcing platform: LEGO Ideas.
Despite all of the attention that bricks are getting these days, anyone walking down the building play sets aisle of their local toy store will notice that the themes now focus on licensed properties or unique IP with TV tie-ins, and other means of making interlocking bricks just another way to lock consumers into a marketing machine.
However, while this may be discouraging to many who yearn for the nostalgia of their youth, you don’t need to look further than the meteoric rise and ubiquity of Minecraft to see where the spirit of freeform building has gone. The success of the biggest Swedish sensation since Abba not only led to a $2.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft but also speaks to intense demand for open-ended creative play.
The lesson I take away from witnessing Minecraft’s age-defying ubiquity is that the ability to turn a thought into an object, be it virtual or tangible, is the true joy of building. We’ve reached a point where the physical plastic piece no longer is the valuable commodity. Instead, it is the idea itself that has proven to be the most powerful asset.
Now that technology has empowered us to transact in ideas as opposed to being limited to goods, a whole new world of play, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and peer-to-peer marketplaces is unfolding. For the brick builders out there, there is an opportunity for a new type of community to thrive that believes that MOC’s can be art, that creations are more powerful that what they are created from, and that everyone should have the chance to share what they build to inspire others. brickly is built upon these principles, and we’re excited to be taking this journey together.