Inside the 'Cranium' of a human game boy

An interview with Richard Tait, co-founder, CEO, Cranium

By Jeremy Mero, Fortune reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- With his quirky attitude and unconventional management style, Richard Tait, a former Microsoft executive, has shaken up the once-sleepy board-game industry with Cranium, his clever line of products and activities for kids and adults.

The Seattle company has sold over 22 million games, toys, and books since it launched in 1998. In less than a decade Cranium has won more than 130 awards, including Toy of the Year - the equivalent of an industry Oscar - five out of the past six years. Tait, 43, who continues to expand his toy and game empire, shared his work strategy with Fortune's Jenny Mero.

Take the product to the customer
An avid toy collector, CEO Tait (a.k.a the Grand Poo Bah) goes on anthropological trips to other corporate offices to find new ideas for his company.

We seek out unique ways to reach our customers that allow them to experience our products. Cranium started by exclusively selling games at Starbucks (Charts), because we knew that's where our core customer base was. And we sold our first million games by word-of-mouth.

Design a decision-making space

While fun is always at the core of our culture, there are times management needs to buckle down and focus on critical issues. I wanted a room specifically for these important discussions, and that became the Red Dot room. Calling it a War Room didn't fit our culture. Red Dot conveys a sense of focus, which is exactly what we do in these meetings. There are no seats - we all stand - and there are red dots on the carpet to remind us of our focus.

Smell the competition

I go on anthropological visits to check out other companies and see what I can bring back. John Lasseter's office [at Pixar] is the only office I've seen that has more toys than me. I have to catch up. But these visits help us. Earlier I had to choose among 12 scents for our clay in the original Cranium game. We picked lemon, because we noticed that it's what P&G used to launch new products.

Make titles meaningful

People get to choose their own title. When Whit Alexander and I first created Cranium, we wanted to make sure everything about our company was fun, so we decided to give ourselves creative job titles - I am the Grand Poo Bah, and he's the Chief Noodler. Now all new employees we hire are empowered to develop their own special title. Our CFO is Professor Profit, and our head of the toy business is the Viceroy of Toy.

Add color to the workplace

I find it very frustrating when I go to the offices of other toymakers, and I see they've chosen to paint their walls beige. It costs the same to paint them red. It's perplexing to me. You have to create an environment for people to be creative and innovative. My office has a glass wall, and I'm right near the front door, so I'm the official greeter. The walls are brightly colored, and we have music playing everywhere. Even the way the offices are arranged is incredibly collaborative - there's no sense of departments.

Listen to your kids

These days playing games has become everything in life for me. It's part of who I am and how I live. As Grand Poo Bah, I participate in game play at Cranium Central, as we develop new products and test them. Then I go home to my "real" job - father of three - where I infuse game play into our time together. We don't just pull out our Cranium games. I find myself creating new ones with my kids. In fact, just last week I created a game with my son while we were at the gas station, of all places!


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