My friend and fellow LEGO fan, Tim Courtney had a great write-up about his memories of the community team’s entrance into the fan community. It’s a unique perspective from “the other side”.
Right about the time some people were stocking up for Y2K, Brad Justus announced LEGO Direct, the new direct-to-consumer division at LEGO, by posting to the LEGO fan site LUGNET. This was a big deal. Until that time, the only LEGO employees who had “acknowledged” us adult fans were lawyers. Brad’s announcement was the first ray of light that our beloved company would talk to us.
Trust was a factor in the early days. Many of us were hopeful, but just didn’t buy the idea that the skies had parted and all would be right in the world. LEGO’s early communications to us were mostly announcements. Brad’s Q&A sessions at conventions like BrickFest overflowed with passionate fans questioning company decisions as LEGO was over-simplifying their product line. These same people expressed their enthusiasm for the product by demanding access to purchase greater varieties of parts in bulk quantities. Brad’s terse answers in these were so seen as PR speak that they even inspired this hilarious comic by Brendan Powell Smith, the artist behind illustrated LEGO Bible “The Brick Testament.”
Brad was one of my bosses at LEGO and an absolute genius. I was always very impressed with how well he understood the community, but also how effectively he could push projects through the company that delivered great things for that community. But it was tough in the early days to deliver the “reality” without push back.
Tim correctly recalls the overall vibe about Brad’s (and my own) communication in those early days, but there’s more to that story. As effective as we were in pushing things through the business, we could only change so much, so fast. The hardest thing about community engagement at the time when the “Brad Justice” comic was created was that we were stuck between two extremes. On one hand, we’d be engaging the adult community long enough that they saw that we could make change happen. At the same time, the company beyond Brad’s direct sphere of influence wasn’t ready yet to see real change happen.
Obviously this created an odd dynamic that generated both cheers and jeers (some of which were comic style). How did we solve this? We powered through it and just kept chipping away until we succeeded. Brad didn’t throw his hands up when he saw this comic, he laughed it off and understood it as a great indicator to the community’s feelings.
Someone once told me that the hardest part of psychological counseling was the time period in the middle of your treatment. It’s easy to get things off your chest, and it’s easy to work on implementing the change you know you need to make. But getting through the painful middle section is by far the most difficult part. LIke therapy patients, many companies drop out of the community engagement in the middle part because it’s all doom and gloom.
Power through it and you’ll end up somewhere positive.