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Discussion With LEGO’s Community Strategist, Yun Mi Antorini

20 September 2014

Yun Mi Antorini

LEGO, one of the most creative and loved brands in the world, attributes a big part of its success to its thriving fan community. Almost 10 million Facebook fans, over 180,000 Twitter followers or a 10,000+ member LEGO Ideas community show that the brand and its product have huge traction among kids and adults alike (watch this TED talk to have a short impression of the phenomenon). The company has not only recognized the power of this fanbase, realized how valuable it is, but they actively encourage its development and look for its well-being – from a passive observer to an active promoter.

I’ve already blogged about community management in a crowdsourcing setting, now here’s an interview of LEGO’s “Community Strategist,” Yun Mi Antorini, whose job is – basically- to make that community happy (how cool is that?).

lego sculpture denmark

Yun Mi Antorini is a community strategist at the LEGO Group. Her work focuses on creating systematic and effective ways for the firm and the user community to interact with the purpose of sharing and co-creating new use-related experiences of LEGO products.

Prior to her work at the LEGO Group, she was an assistant professor at Aarhus Business School in Denmark. Antorini received her BS, MS, and PhD from the Copenhagen Business School (her dissertation, which she defended in 2007, was centered on user innovation in the context of the Adult Fans of LEGO community).

Hello Yun Mi, what is your background?

I have a Master of Science and a PhD degree, I worked seven years in the advertising industry, seven years in academia and seven years for the LEGO Group. My father is an engineer and my mother was a clothing designer and artist. They must have done a pretty good job in communicating their work to us because I have always been fascinated with topics that combines both these sides. When the notion of user communities and user innovation emerged in academic fields I was instantly attracted and through my dissertation work I wanted to see if I could combine these two fields and use it as a framework for exploring an emerging phenomenon that had caught my attention too: the community of adult LEGO users.

When the notion of user communities and user innovation emerged in academic fields I was instantly attracted by them

During my dissertation work, I had a two month stay at the MIT Media Lab. By coincidence, another Dane, Professor Lars Bo Jeppesen, was visiting MIT too. He wrote to me asking if I wanted to participate in a workshop at MIT. Jeppesen introduced me to Professor of Technological Innovation in the MIT Sloan School of Management, Eric von Hippel, and his groundbreaking work.  I knew that I had found a fascinating stream of literature to base my work on and it’s a great joy to witness how the user innovation literature has continued to expand into new and exciting areas.

What was your “elevator dissertation summary?”

Well, I usually start by saying: Do you know that adults play with LEGO too? Do you know that there are over 250.000 registered members of LEGO User Groups throughout the world? And do you know that six out of ten has been active with LEGO elements for over 16 years? Then I say, “let me show you a few of the things they have created over the years.” The photos I show are a few examples of the breathtakingly beautiful and ingenious things Adult Fans Of Lego (AFOLs) have created. By now, I usually have peoples’ attention, they get it, they are excited. And then I deliver the elevator pitch.
After showing people the things that AFOLs create, I usually have their attention. Then I deliver the “elevator pitch”
Click to access articles tagged "LEGO" on MIT Sloan Management Review

Click to access articles tagged “LEGO” on MIT Sloan Management Review

Companies traditionally look inside or to their business partners when developing new products or services. This might have been a good idea back in the days when companies had the upper hand regarding technologies, capabilities, information, production, product testing etc. But today, with the lowering costs of information and the increased access to production technologies and facilities, the easier and more direct access to market, people and education, it makes good sense to think of users not only as consumers, but as potential capabilities with unique and deep insights about own needs and solutions that may work.

My dissertation provides insights into the communities users form and the innovations users create, on their own and through collaborating with one another. Two later papers I wrote together with DePaul University professor Albert M. Muniz, jr. and LEGO Group Senior Director Tormod Askildsen talk about the way companies can collaborate with users and communities and the costs that may be involved in doing so.  

What is the daily work of a “community strategist” at LEGO?

The past days I have been working on several things. I have read a couple of papers on open innovation business models. I have been looking at data from the LEGO Ideas platform and I have been preparing for the LEGO Fan Weekend where hundreds of adult LEGO users come together to share their work and where I will run a workshop to learn more about their LEGO journey. Some colleagues and I have been meeting with our community manager colleagues who are based in the product groups to align practices and share insights.

A colleague and I are very excited about soon launching the next version of the LEGO User Group Ambassador Network and we have been testing the new platform that we will be using to interact and work together. Finally, I have been working on our strategy for 2015 and onwards. All great stuff, and as you see my job is very varied. In essence I get to explore many different aspects that are related to creating value with users.

In essence, my job allows me to explore many different aspects related to creating value with users

Click to see LEGO's announcement

Click to see LEGO’s announcement

How is it to be on the border of academia and corporate life?

The value is that I get to do both, business and academic stuff! I recall a discussion I had years ago with a psychologist about what would be the best position for someone like me who thrives in a business setting but who also firmly believe in the scientific approach to things. In today’s fast-paced business environment, you simply can’t spend two years pondering whether this is the best method to inquire something or whether this statement can be said to be “true”, etc. If you bring that kind of attitude to a business environment, you won’t last long. You need to be able to contribute value to the business from day 1.

In today’s business environment, if you spend two years working through a narrow problem – like an academic does – you won’t last long. You need to contribute from day 1.

Luckily, I have a great boss who possesses both of Daniel Kahneman’s thinking systems, the fast and the slow. He prides himself in needing to see the logic in things before he makes decisions. Together we have formed my position in a way that allows to contribute to the fast-paced business world while keeping my feet firmly in the academic tradition. The drawbacks of being on the border of business and a corporation such as the LEGO Group are…. none!

Where is LEGO’s community heading?

You say “LEGO’s community”, but we, the LEGO Group, don’t have a community. The adult LEGO communities that exist online and offline are purely driven and owned by users themselves. Thus, it’s a self-organized, self-owned community.

The adult LEGO communities that exist are self-organized, self-owned communities

What I can tell, however, is that LEGO will keep supporting the many online forums and sites, the LEGO User Groups and the many events that users organize and manage. With the introduction of the new LEGO User Group Ambassador Network, we are probably going to see deeper and more recurring interactions with users related to more aspects of the LEGO value chain. Through the LEGO Ideas platform we will keep inviting users to upload their LEGO product ideas and we will keep co-creating selected ideas so that they can enter the LEGO product assortment and be enjoyed by LEGO users all over the world.

With the new LEGO User Group Ambassador Network, we are probably going to see deeper and more recurring interactions throughout the LEGO value chain

Click to access LEGO Ideas

Click to access LEGO Ideas

Thank you Yun Mi!

Thank you, Yannig, for providing me with this opportunity to talk about my work.

You can read more from Yun Mi in the following publications:

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