The Lego Ideas Conference: Playing, leapfrogging and scaling

by | May 24, 2018 | Blog

Over 400 thought leaders from around the world – including academics, practitioners, innovators, educators, government officials and social entrepreneurs – converged in Billund, Denmark for the 2018 Lego Idea Conference.

The annual conference aimed to further the Lego Foundation’s goal, which is to re-define play and re-imagine learning in order to empower children for the future.

This year’s theme, Empowering Children to Shape Tomorrow, was a direct response to the global learning crisis the world is facing.  During his talk at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, John Goodwin, CEO of the Lego Foundation, summarised the following:

‘The world is facing a global learning crisis. Out of the 650 million children at primary school age globally, 250 million are not learning basic literacy or numeracy, let alone the breadth of skills needed to navigate a rapidly changing and increasingly fractured world. Education systems need to be redesigned to match the emerging 21st-century reality. Play is an opportunity that taps into the most natural and engaging way for a child to learn is often overlooked.’  

With this challenge standing front and center, participants were taken on an experimental 3-day journey which included talks, panel discussions, immersive activations and lots of play-time. The following themes stood out for me:

Being brave enough to fail

For an A-personality type like me, this event is both exciting and daunting as it is all about the ‘journey’ and allowing your inner creativity to emerge. ‘Tinkering’ sessions are weaved throughout the course of the event, encouraging adults to enter the imaginary world of play, and to experiment without fear of failure. Getting something wrong is not a sign of failure, but rather a sign of learning. This is very much in line with the approach Innovation Edge adopts for itself and our investees. Paul Iske from the Institute of Brilliant Failures thinks of failure as part of the fibre of brilliant entrepreneurs. He goes on to say “A brilliant failure is a well-prepared opportunity with a different outcome than planned and a learning effect.

The Institute has great resources and tools unpacking the science of failure. Have a look at the failure matrix analysis and failure archetypes, which includes ‘The Black Swan’, ‘The Farmer Girl and ‘The Addiction’.

Leapfrogging Innovation

For the first time I learnt about the term Leapfrog Innovation and how, according to Rebecca Winthrop, Director at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute, adopting this acceleration technique can change the face of global education and is the only way to respond to the global crisis at hand. The concept of leapfrogging was adopted from the domains of economics and business, and the main idea is that small, incremental and radical innovations surpass dominant robust operations, allowing a new paradigm to come into being. In an article titled ‘Can education innovation help us leapfrog progress, Brookings elaborates on this concept.

Achieving impact at scale

At Innovation Edge, as our investments move from proof of concept to begin transitioning to scale, breaking the secret code of “impact at scale” seems to be ever illusive and judging by the conversations at the conference is what everyone else is trying to find the answer to as well.  In a session titled, Innovation at Scale, Lucy Lake, CEO of Camfed, Sharath Jeevan of STIR, Saku Tuominen from HundrED and Executive Chairman of LEGO Brand Group Jørgen Vig Knudstorp –  shared the lessons they have learned on the path to scale. Listen to what was discussed during the plenary here.  Learn more about Innovation Edge’s approach to scale by listening to this talk delivered by our Executive Director, Sonja Giese, at Think Future last November.  For tools and tips on scaling innovations check out the Center of Education Innovations (CEI), an initiative of Results for Development (R4D) Early Learning Toolkit.

Three things stood out for me from this session.

  • Fertile soil is needed to allow seeds to grow, or in ‘scale talk’, the ecosystem needs to be ready to absorb and nurture innovations, this involves aligning the motivation of teachers and addressing issues of governance.
  • The second is that it is not about reaching numbers, but ultimately about furthering learning outcomes. Technology as a means for scale allows us to reach large numbers, however, the power of accelerating technology should not let us lose sight of what it is we are ultimately wanting to achieve.
  • And finally for social innovations to scale, simplicity and platform thinking is needed. This is very much a focus area for Innovation Edge or what we refer to as a key lever for change. We are constantly exploring innovative ways to pivoting and leveraging existing business process, products and platforms for social impact.  More information on our strategy to reaching impact at scale by 2020 can be found in the IE 2018-2020 Strategy.

As the conference drew to a close, collective commitments were made to continue driving change for children in the year to come. Each participant also received a small Art Machine set from the Head of Experiences, Soren Holm, inviting us to continue to learn through play – both adult and child.

I left the conference feeling inspired by the expertise and innovations out there that can be harnessed to respond to the global learning crisis, yet simultaneously acutely aware that it will take a collaborative and coordinated effort to balance the simplicity and complexity that will be required.

About the Author

Erika Wiese is Head of Portfolio Management at Innovation Edge. Her role involves managing the overall portfolio pipeline; identifying and sourcing investment opportunities, managing deal flow to match impact targets and providing incubation and acceleration support to enable growth and scale.

Erika has more than 10 years of experience working in the management consulting industry across multiple sectors. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and a Psychology Honours from the University of Stellenbosch, a Masters in Financial Management from Nyenrode University in the Netherlands and an Executive Coaching Diploma from the University of Cape Town.