by Jill Waller | 09 Aug 2022
Industry Commentary, Op-Ed
Many of you have likely heard by now the sad news of the passing of Richard Tait, Co-Founder, CEO and Grand Poobah of Cranium.
Richard was a singular light in this world, a true creative leader and inspirational force. If you were lucky enough to cross paths with him at the Cranium offices, in the halls of Javits (or the old Toy Building!), at the TOTY awards, or elsewhere, you probably know personally the uniquely intense and positive energy that Richard embodied.
On my first day of work at Cranium in 2001, he took me to pitch for a partnership deal with Getty Images for the photos in the Cranium Hoopla game. I thought I was going to a business meeting, but as I told my friends later, it felt like I was “sittin’ in church.” That day I realized I had gone to work for the most amazing evangelist of the human spirit. From day one it was so clear.
This sad news stirs deep feelings of gratitude and love for Richard, for Richard and Whit’s Cranium adventure, and for all the people I continue to share the Cranium journey with and am connected to because of Richard and Whit. I feel lucky and grateful to be a part of this club.
Working at Cranium was absolutely a seminal experience for me. Truth be told, I had a fun, meaningful job in the industry prior to Cranium. The difference at Cranium was that it was a seminal LIFE experience. It absolutely changed who I am as a person. Richard’s example taught me to cherish moments, meaning, joy, and connection. With the Cranium mission, and in his day-to-day presence, Richard set out to “give everyone a chance to shine”… and succeeded, through the joy and connection the Cranium game provided to millions, as well as the laser-focused attention that he generously gave to those in his orbit.
For my fellow People of Play, here is a glimpse into how Richard's Everyone Shines philosophy was deeply embedded in Cranium games--it's surely an incomplete list, but hopefully it sparks some inspiration for you.
Structure for Creativity: Early in the development of Cranium, we noticed that if you handed players a tub of clay, they froze and said they didn't know what to make. But when you handed them a tub of clay and asked them to sculpt a taco, or a belly button, or a flip-flop, their creativity was unlocked. Adding just the right amount of structure helps players get started, but still allows them to put their own stamp on things and feel creative.
Touchstones: We infused all of the Cranium content with touchstones, those shared cultural moments that people have a strong shared reaction to. And then, when we created localized versions, we didn’t just translate the content, because those touchstones wouldn’t necessarily resonate. We hired in-country content developers to make sure they were using the touchstones that would be most powerful in each market. So players might be asked to impersonate Elvis in the US, or Johnny Hallyday in France; to sculpt a taco in the US, beans on toast in the UK, and poutine in Canada.
Positive Play: Cranium games were focused on positive play rather than fierce competition. This doesn't mean everyone wins, or Cranium isn't competitive; it just means that the experience of playing should be more fun and memorable than winning. Some positive play techniques include keeping the focus on connections over competition, keeping the focus on win moments rather than lose moments, working in “mini wins” so all players experience success, emphasizing the positive and downplaying the negative, and being sure there are ways to catch up from behind throughout the game.
These are just a few examples of how Cranium games and the culture of the place were carefully curated to Richard's ambitious and optimistic vision. Here's hoping we can all carry on a spark of Richard's legacy, which was so much more than an outrageously fun brand or some cool games—it was a mission to lift the human spirit. Everyone Shines--indeed.
Post Script: Last week I wore my OG Cranium ‘Play with your Brain’ t-shirt to honor Richard quietly and keep him close to my heart. The first Zoom call I got on, my colleague said- “You made my day! I see you’re wearing a t-shirt of my favorite game! Cranium got me through law school; it was the one bright spot each week where I’d get together with friends for Cranium and Cuervo. We have so many memories from that time, it was so special during a challenging time in my life…” followed by 2 more Zoom calls where independently my colleagues remarked on my t-shirt, telling me Cranium was their favorite game. The spirit of Everyone Shines is alive and well.
Shine on, Richard. <3
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