Changing the World, One Toy at a Time

Winning awards wasn’t the goal when we launched Playper, but I have to say we feel pretty good about this one!

Playper is a mission-driven company with a larger reason for existing than merely making money. We’re interested in changing the world one toy at a time. A bit lofty, I know; but I’ve always admired those who think big and that is what we’re striving to do here. So I have to say, the recognition is rewarding. From the World Changing Ideas website:

Every year, Fast Company’s World-Changing Ideas Awards honor the innovative ways businesses and organizations are tackling the biggest challenges of our time. Amid the seemingly endless stream of disastrous news, these awards provide more than 1,000 reasons to feel some hope. This year’s honorees are a reminder that, every single day, countless indefatigable problem solvers are addressing the world’s most urgent challenges.

Playper is in swimming with the big dogs here as we’re listed right alongside companies that are decarbonizing urban buildings, revolutionizing solar panels, and powering electronic devices with seawater. It all might beg the question – does a toy belong on this list?

My answer: absolutely!

“It Began with a Toy”

I recently ran across something in the Daily Dad newsletter, written by Ryan Holiday, a bestselling author, that really resonated with me. Here’s a section:

Orville and Wilbur Wright didn’t go to college. They were bicycle salesmen from Ohio. They weren’t engineers, they didn’t have any technical training, they didn’t have much money, they didn’t know anyone who could help them financially or intellectually with their pursuit of becoming the first to fly. Meanwhile, there were teams of engineers from the top universities working on the same problem. One was funded by a grant from the U.S. War Department. One had some seventy times the personal finances the Wright brothers had.
How could they have possibly become the inventors and pioneers they became?
“It began for them with a toy,” David McCullough writes in The Wright Brothers, “a small helicopter brought home by their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a great believer in the educational value of toys…it was little more than a stick with twin propellers and twisted rubber bands, and probably cost 50 cents.”

 

I think we can all agree that 50 cents turned out to be quite the investment. But more importantly, toys can change a child’s life – and in turn, change the course of history! The best ones offer opportunities to expand imaginations, discover new worlds, and develop problem-solving skills. Of course, not all toys – just the good ones!

What makes a toy good may be a bit subjective, but with my own kids, I can’t help but appreciate that the toys that educate in a fun way and encourage action make a bigger impression than those that are reactive and passive. Also, despite all the advancements and technology, it’s heartening to witness that often it’s the simpler toys that have the greatest effect. Sometimes I see toys where it seems the makers overthought it all. There’s an initial attraction to the “bells and whistles,” but once the toy is at home, disinterest grows quickly because ultimately complex toys can box in a child’s imagination, leaving it nowhere to go.

I’m reminded of the movie ‘Big’ starring Tom Hanks where a boy turns into man, and thus becomes a boy in a man’s body. This “boy” and ends up working at a big toy company. In a scene where some executive is presenting a transformer-like derivative toy that turns from a building into a robot, Hanks’ character, says: “I don’t get it.” The toy executive again presents all this marketing data and projected profits, but the “kid” in the room is the one pointing out that the toy is “no fun.” Luckily for us at Playper, we have a “big kid” in the room with cofounder Michael Bruza who has a long track record of success with toys and digital activities that fire up imaginations.

Second only to providing for their health and safety, we at Playper view exposing our kids to ideas and opportunities to explore concepts on their own as a priority. And to quote Daily Dad again, “Let’s add that it’s also our job to bring home cool toys. Toys that get them interested in flight or science or math or history or technology. It can be made of sticks and rubber bands.”

Or paper!

So, on behalf of myself, Michael, our third co-founder Susy Christiansen, all our contractors, our incredibly talented and knowledgeable board of directors and advisors, and all the parents who weighed in with thoughtful comments and suggestions on how to improve Curious Kingdom from its early versions, I am pleased to have been honored with this World Changing Ideas award.

But what we really want is to inspire kids and change the world, one toy at a time. Who knows – maybe one of the kids who plays with Curious Kingdom will be inspired to come up with some amazing invention or technology or idea that makes the world a better place. And that thought makes me beam with pride. Happy playing – and remember, toys are important, and play is the work of childhood.

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