Lego’s chief product and marketing officer believes in the power of play. When Julia Goldin returned to the Signal stage in 2022, she talked about what Lego sees as the most powerful force in the world today: children. Goldin notes that 60 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have jobs we’ve yet to invent. That’s why playing with toys not only drives their imagination – it helps to shape the future of a world not yet seen.

“Creativity is the essential 21st century skill,” says Goldin. “We all need it.”

Hear more from Goldin or read more from her Signal talk  in this lightly-edited transcript.


John Battelle
So we’re going to hear from Julia Goldin, who is an alum of Signal and is back, the Chief Product and Marketing Officer of the Lego Group. Welcome Julia.

Julia Goldin
I’m sure that many of you probably were here in 2018. When I was here, it was a highlight for me to come and be able to speak with you. I’m super happy to be able to do it again.

One thing I am going to talk about is that’s very different from everything that I heard just now. And you know, we had great sessions. But we talked a lot about digital things, and I’m going to talk to you about something very physical, but something very important. This year is very special year for us. It’s our 90th anniversary. The Lego Group is 90 years old. The Lego Group started with the same idea that still drives us today, which is the idea of play and the importance of play. I love the fact that your conference is about learning and building and leading, and about creativity, because that’s really what play unlocks. Ole Christiansen, you see him here, I work right next door to where he actually started the company. He was a carpenter, and after World War One, when Denmark was in deep depression, he felt that it was really important that all children have access to play. So he started to create toys. And that’s still very much what drives us today, building creativity through play. A lot of things have happened in the last four years, and I wanted to just give you a bit of a snippet of what we have been up to.

[Video plays]

We’ve been up to a lot, and we’re still very much focused on children, they’re our number one priority. The kids world has changed significantly also in last four years. They’re truly living in a world that’s unpredictable, it’s vulnerable. But what’s different today, versus I think any other generation of children, is that kids are really engaged in shaping the world. And they are engaged because they know that they’re going to have to solve the problems of tomorrow.

We know that 60% of kids today in Kindergarten will have jobs that don’t exist today. So we need to prepare them for that future. I will tell you that one of the key things that they need in their lives is play. Another thing that they really need in their lives is to learn through play, and learn to be creative. I’m gonna talk a little bit more about creativity.

The Lego Group just to give you a little bit of where we are, we started in 1932. I don’t know how many of you know this, but “LEg GOdt’ is actually play well [in Danish]. That’s where it all started. Now we are in 120 plus countries, we have 24,000 colleagues around the world. We are the number one toy company. As the number one brand for children, we really believe that we carry responsibility to ensure that they have a better future and that we prepare them for it. I just wanted to say a little bit about the theme of the presentation that I want to share with you here, which is that they are truly leading with purpose. If you actually look at our highlights of 21, this is the type of growth that we have experienced in terms of revenue and in terms of profit. [Ed Note: The Lego Group reported a 27% increase in revenue and 32% increase in operating profit for 2021.]

This is not a one off. It’s actually a sustainable path that we have been on for quite a few years. But what’s interesting is that we have a long-term vision in mind. We’re looking to 2032 to where we want to be a global force for learning through play. That’s why we have a lot of the work to do. Despite the fact that you see this high operating profit, it is actually reinvesting in the future, whether it’s about innovating retail, and opening our own stores, and creating better experiences for all of our consumers, whether it’s about investment in innovation of play, in investment in digitalization and sustainability, but also very importantly, investment in our colleagues, investment in our people. So we are truly driven by our purpose.

In today’s world, and the future world, this is super important. Because consumers increasingly expect more from brands. They don’t just want great quality, service and product. They want products and services and brands that actually create better value and create a better world. So being driven by purpose is not something that sits on the side. It’s actually something that drives growth, and creates value. We have a very clear purpose, our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.

There’s three things I want to highlight about how we lead with purpose. Building creative resilience and creating relevance to people around the world, innovating play, and driving growth and being a force for good. Let’s talk a little bit about building creative resilience. Why is that so important? In 2019, we launched our first global brand campaign, believe it or not: ‘Rebuild the World.’ The first time ever. A lot of people ask, ‘Well, why do you need to do a brand campaign for the Lego brand, everybody knows Lego.’ But we thought it was really important to give a very important message about the importance of play and the importance of creativity to people around the world, particularly parents, but not just parents, also our key stakeholders. People around the world. Why? Creativity is the essential 21st century skill. We all need it. We need to be creative problem solvers. Creativity is not just being able to think divergently. It’s not just something that is only for the elite of artistic kind of talents. It’s actually for everybody, to be able to creatively problem solve, to be able to come up with solutions, to be able to have creative resilience and work through issues. That’s really important. It’s not just important for children. It’s also very important for adults, and it’s very important for us. So the whole point of rebuild the world is to help the world understand the importance of creativity.

The other key area of focus for us is very much about creating relevance, communicating these messages in a way that really inspires and motivates and brings different creators into the cultural conversation. I’ll just give you a few examples. So they work with creators like Alicia Keys, and she really inspires not just with her sheer musical talent, but also the way that she talks about creative problem solving. Ekow Nimako, you see here, he is the creator who creates everything just out of black pieces of Lego to really send a message about diversity and inclusivity. Or working with sports brands like Adidas. It’s really an opportunity for us to engage the world in this conversation and has been really working well, especially because there’s so many people around the world that actually don’t necessarily appreciate the importance of creativity and the importance of play in the lives of their children.

The second area is around innovating play. Here we have a very clear purpose-driven approach. We know that kids learn when they play. But we also know that they spend a lot of time in digital spaces. We could look at different studies, some say over 60%, some say more than they are in school. But we know that over 60% of parents think their kids are on digital platforms too much. But at the same time, they also feel that these digital platforms could be beneficial for them. We’ve done a few things in the last few years to actually tackle this space. One is we’re bringing technology to integrate into physical play, because the bricks are still really important in the physical experience of building and rebuilding is still really essential. So Lego Super Mario is a great example. It’s one of the most successful launches we’ve ever had, where you could play a physical game. But your Mario character comes to live collects points, same with Luigi, and it’s an opportunity for kids to compete in real life and build their own challenges.

We also focus on creating completely new play patterns with physical bricks. That is a great example where we tap into the passion point of arts and crafts and give a different way for kids to build. But you have Matthew Henick here talking about Epic Games, and I just want to say a few words about what we are doing with respect to the Metaverse.

We actually did put a stake in the ground, and we actually did go into it full force. We committed to it and why is that so important? It is because the web as it exists today, let’s call it Web2.0 was not designed with children in mind. And where kids are today, one doesn’t give them the meaningful experiences that they need. Second, it doesn’t really do it in a way that is safe for them. What we have taken on as our mission is to create a partnership with Epic Games where we are actually going to be focused on building amazing experiences for kids to protect their right to play, to protect their rights, to connect with other kids to build friendships and communities, but do it in a way that is safe from design. This is a really important way in which we can innovate and play in a way that’s purposeful, but also in a way that’s fun. Because at the end of the day, play has to be fun.

The second area that hopefully some of you have noticed is the fact that we’ve become a lot more purposeful about engaging adults. So in our portfolio, we have really focused on expanding our adult base. How many of you build with Lego bricks? I see a lot of hands going up now. I’m sure that you have favorites. Adults have always been a huge part of the Lego brand. But they are particular adult fans of Lego who like to build and rebuild and create their own things. Four years ago, we made a decision to be much more purposeful, because we recognize that there’s a lot more adults out there who would love to have a mindful focus moment with Lego bricks, but just really didn’t know the product exists for them or where to find them.

One of the things that we did was really to understand the passion points that adults had, which helped us to kind of really expand our portfolio. Just to give you an interesting fact of how this has manifested itself, you can imagine that we sell a lot of products to adults. The number one product last year that was sold was Lamborghini. So it’s a big technical Lamborghini car. How many of you have know it or have built it? Some of you have seen it. But it retails for over £300 pounds or US dollars. They’re almost the same now, but let’s not talk about that. It’s an expensive product, you can imagine, that was number one in value. What was the number two product in value? Well, you actually see it here. It’s the flower bouquet, which retails for about $60. So much lower in value. And that was number one also in terms of units. You can imagine that’s a very different audience you’re bringing in that we never expected. There’s a lot of women, there’s a lot of gift giving going on. That is actually an enormously important way for us not just to build this community that we have of adult fans of Lego. but we know that every adult that builds with Lego bricks is a more active inspirer of children around them, especially women. I’ll come to talk about why that’s so important in a minute but women that build are also more prone to give Lego sets to the girls in their lives. That’s very important because we want to ensure that we’re bringing more girls into into the Lego brand.

The final thing that we did was actually continued to build their communities. And so we acquired BrickLink, which is a company that’s actually particularly focused on adult fans with a marketplace but also opportunity for them to showcase their creations. What that allows us to do is to become a real force for driving good in the world, not only in driving growth and investing in the future, but also being able to do more for the world. Twenty-five percent of everything we make goes to Lego Foundation, and with that investment coming in has been able to create more opportunities for kids around the world. So just to give you a few examples of things, we just announced very recently, we pledged $15 million to kids in Ukraine, this is a second pledge already. We pledged $20 million to focus on kids who are neurodiverse, and to help create innovation that will help neurodiverse kids to succeed in their lives and to succeed in the world.

We partnered with Lego Foundation to create Braille bricks and audio building instructions, so we can now welcome a lot of blind kids into the Lego brand. And we also invest in sustainability, to drive both neutrality in our operations to create completely carbon-neutral factories, we’ve just announced two of them that we’re building. By 2025, all of our packaging will go be packed inside the inside the boxes will go to paper, and we are continuously working on discovering new sustainable materials.

An another really big area of focus for us when it comes to being a force for good has been diversity and inclusivity. One of the key things that I want to mention here is gender diversity and breaking gender stereotypes. I mentioned it to you not only because it’s a huge initiative for us, because as the number one toy brand in the world, we feel it’s our obligation to do so, but also because you have so many opportunities to do the same. Just to give you an example, we did a really big study with Geena Davis Institute last year. And we actually know that girls, more so than boys, believe that they can do anything. But society feels very differently.

Parents are six times more likely to think of their sons as being athletes, or being scientists, and eight times more likely to think of their science as being engineers, which are probably some of the most broad roles that will be available for kids of the future. So there’s a really big job to do, to break the gender stereotypes and ensure that girls believe that they can do anything. And Lego bricks have a big role to play.We have a really big focus with Ready for Girls campaign.

We’ve also done a big piece of research with the Geena Davis Institute and made all of our marketing and all of our platforms completely inclusive. As a matter of fact, if you go on, you cannot search by gender, you can only search by passion points, and the age of the child. We also support the LGBTQIA+ community, you see the set here. I don’t know how many of you have built it or seen it. But this set just won a big award, the LGBTQIA+ Award in Britain, and we’re very proud of it. But the other big thing that we’ve also focused on is actually launching a campaign that we did this year, where every day we’re encouraging LGBTQIA+ families, in particular, to build something that connects to a letter in the alphabet. So it’s an A to Z campaign. The reason for that is because there’s not a language that exists to actually talk about some of the issues or challenges or even define things. This is a great opportunity to educate kids in the very relatable way. So these are just some examples of the kinds of areas that we’re focused on, including ensuring that we’re now including a lot more kids with different abilities, to just make sure that we’re introducing all kinds of different communities and driving inclusivity.

Leading with purpose actually delivers value, we can talk about some of these things be part of our core part of our values, and they’re the right things to do for society. But diversity, and embracing a lot of the areas that I talked about drives growth, and driving growth and creating value allows us to give back. One thing just to mention, given that I’m talking to all of you and you are an amazing and very inspiring and creative community.

One Team is a super important concept that we try driving the Lego Group and they actually put kids as a role models at the center. Play is at the core of how we think about our work, really. Just to make it a point. Every year we get together for a playdate, you just have examples here of the one that we just did, where all 24,000+ colleagues spend a full day playing together. That also helps us to drive inclusive culture. If we were to ask anyone in our company what is the number one KPI [key performance index] that they have? Which KPI are the most proud about? It will be this one, being the world’s most loved brand, especially for children. If you ask me whether it’s really as fun to work at the Lego Group as you think, yes it is. Thank you very much.