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Lego Thinking: Key to Futureproofing?

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The key to futureproofing is creating a brand that fulfills your customer's higher order needs. Things like meaning, authenticity, self-fulfillment and all those other wonderful aspirations at the top of Maslow's pyramid.

But what if your consumer finds him-or-herself in flux, discovering a purchase that felt meaningful a short time ago suddenly seems, well, less so today? How can you keep up with this sort of rapidly evolving 'higher order' demand?

With Lego thinking.

I didn't invent this great metaphor, but I do believe I've found a new twist to it. It isn't simply recombining existing ideas like Lego bricks, but also swapping out old bricks for new to create entirely new meaning.

That's exactly what companies like Ford are doing.

Lego Powerplants

I spoke with John Viera, Ford's Global Director of Sustainability as part of my interview series for Sustainable Brands 2013. We started by catching up on what's new in green vehicles, prior to getting into John's topic for his SB '13 panel (more on that in a moment).

I asked John about the uptake of electric Fords, versus their hybrid or gas powerplant counterparts. He told me that while pure electrics were still catching on, hybrids were going great guns. That said, he expected electric demand to swing as the platform gained more consumer trust.

So how does Ford keep up with this rapidly fluctuating demand, retooling production lines to accommodate the rising eco-consciousness of consumers? They build cars with Lego powerplants, that's how.

"We've engineered key vehicle production, making it efficient to exchange powerplants." said Viera. "That way we don't have to rely on guesstimates to predict what people will be buying. Instead we can ramp up or down, following the sliding scale of demand."

This approach reflects back on faster and faster shifts in consumer demand. Even if a hybrid fulfills my green needs today, in a year it will be old hat, and my need will be met by a pure electric. This rapid transition hasn't been lost on Ford, or other car manufacturers who are moving away from 'unique' hybrids to a more Lego powerplant approach.

Lego Living

After our chat on interchangeable powerplants, we turned to Viera's panel discussion at this year's Sustainable Brands conference.

The panel will focus on Ford's 'MyEnergi Lifestyle' partnership with companies like Whirlpool, Sunpower Solar, Eaton and Nest Thermostats - Lego blocks that up to now simply didn't seem to fit together.

"What we realized was that we needed to address issues bigger than simply driving efficiently." said Viera. "The US uses twice as much electricity as Europe, and over three times as much as China. To bring this down, we needed to think how our electric cars could become part of a bigger solution."

That solution, described eloquently in this video ties together electric vehicle charging, smart appliances and thermostats, and solar power generation. In effect, your vehicle becomes part of a larger, energy-efficient whole.

This is the first such foray by Ford. But it makes sense, and I don't find it a stretch to see the concept expands.

Again, this modular approach enables companies to keep up to (and even ahead of) consumer demand for greater green fulfillment.

A promising step toward futureproofing, by all means.