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Interview with Serial Entrepreneur, Reyn Guyer

Reyn Guyer, developer of the Twister game and the Nerf line, just finished a book entitled Right Brain Red: 7 Ideas for Creative Success, which he wrote with author and game designer, Tim Walsh. Tim sat down and spoke to Reyn about his 50+ years in toys, his other wildly successful ventures and why, at the ripe age of 80, he decided to write a book.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

I spent more time playing sports outdoors as a kid. Hockey all winter. Golf and sailing all summer and then Football in the fall. I didn’t spend a lot of time inside playing games. When we did, Monopoly was the thing. I remember that fondly.

How did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

I was working with my father in our point-of-purchase display and marketing company in the mid 1960s when an idea I had for a back-to-school shoe polish promotion led to the game that would eventually become Twister. That was our first foray into toys and a pretty successful one at that. This year is Twister’s 50th anniversary. That’s hard to believe. It’s still going strong. 50 years of Twister.

What does that mean to you?

I means that I’m old! Just the other day, my wife and I saw a sign on the side of company’s building. It read, “Established since 1986.” That’s a pretty long time and Twister is 20 years older than that! This longevity means that we were lucky enough to find something that has brought a lot of fun to people. It’s rewarding in that sense but also in a monetary sense. Twister has been very good to us.

What trends do you see in toys or games today?

I would not consider myself to be someone who's got his finger on the pulse of toy industry. From an octogenarian point of view, I think digital gaming will continue to flourish, but I also think traditional board games will always be around. Look at records. Everyone thought vinyl was dead, but they don’t think that any more.

Speaking of records, you are very successful in two fields outside of the toy world. Can you tell us briefly about your other pursuits?

I’ve always loved music and have been writing my own songs since I was a teenager. I’ve even written some musicals. In the mid 1980s my daughter Ree and I formed a music publishing company in Nashville called Wrensong Music. It was a tough business to get into and it wasn’t easy, as some of the stories in Right Brain Red, will attest. Today our company has multiple gold record awards, a Grammy award, two CMA song of the year awards and 46 hits on the pop and country music charts.

My son Tom and daughter Cindy run our educational company. It’s called Winsor Learning and it produces a tutoring system that allows anyone to successfully tutor struggling readers. We launched this company because my wife Mary and I, and all 5 of our kids, have dyslexia in varying degrees . We wanted to try and help others who were going through what we all went through. We developed the Sonday System in the mid 1990s and today it is in 1,800 schools across the US.

Why do you think play is important?

Play is an essential ingredient in making life workable and enjoyable. It is not the frosting on the cake, it’s the cake! Everyone wants to play. Even in the military, they call it “war games.” I think humans are just competitive by nature. In games, we find a way to turn our innate need for competition into a fun enterprise. It’s the key to enjoying our lives.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was 15, I got a job in a lumber yard that was a part of a cheap furniture company. My friend and I had to unload box cars full of poor grade lumber that used by this low grade furniture company and there was a lot of splinters in hands and legs. It was hot and really hot in those box cars. My friend didn’t care too much if he had the job or not because he didn’t need it. He was often taking a nap and I was often left to do the work. It was a lousy job, but it taught me the importance of being on a good team and what it was like when you didn’t have a really good teammate. Mostly I learned to get a better job!

What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?

Whether or not they have a sense of humor.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by fun. I look for ways to help others can have fun. I am inspired by creating new things, when I see something that could be new or useful, I get excited.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

I have made plenty of mistakes. I have negotiated contracts with large corporations that can out spend me, and I learned that I should have, in several instances, stepped up and fought back. I have given away things that I shouldn’t have. In those instance I left a lot of money on the table. However, that being said, I do not live regretting. I made the decisions based on the situations at the time: Kids in private schools, the older kids off at college, and I had to weigh all options. So, no regrets.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

I walk away. I wrote about this in the book. I put the pot on the back burner, turn the stove to simmer and leave, because I know my subconscious will be working on it for me while I’m gone. More times than not, when I do that, I’ll come back to the problem and amazingly, a helpful clue and, sometimes, a whole answer is there.

When is the last time you laughed out loud and what caused it?

I laugh out loud every day. Yesterday I bought a new home on a lake in northern Wisconsin. With the purchase I acquired a boat lift with a cover on it. Well right after we closed on the property we had straight-line winds go through the lake and I was told that the lift disappeared. I hired a guy to see if he could find it and he did… 300 yards down the lake. The cover had acted like a parachute and the winds took it up and away. Can you imagine seeing that?! The thoug

ht of that made me laugh out loud.

Why did you write this book, Right Brain Red and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

Well it started with my friend Daly Walker who’s a writer. He keep bugging me to write a memoir. I kept telling him “I don’t write memoirs. I wouldn’t know where to start. But he kept on me and that’s when I called you. We worked on it for a while, and you help me boil down the ideas that led to some of the successes I’ve had. I enjoyed those early drafts, and the organization you gave to our project. Finally, I discovered that when I added my own voice to the facts and research you were so good at putting together, the book seemed to come together. I hope that Right Brain Red can inspire people. It seems to be appealing to young people, or at least it appeals to older people who want to buy it for their young family and friends. Friends of mine who are grandparents, immediately say, “Gee I think my kids or my grandkids should read this. They’d love it!” I hope that’s the case

How was it to work with (the literary genius) Tim Walsh on the book?

The proof of the pleasure I had is that we are still good friends and enjoy each other and that says a lot. I discovered it was not so easy to write a book. But we got it done and I think I speak for both of us when I say we’re both very proud of it. We inspire each other.

What’s next?

I have a couple of ideas for games that are quite spectacular. They are being reviewed and we are very hopeful that they will come to fruition. Who knows? Maybe we have the next Twister or Nerf?!

Reyn and Tim will be presenting the closing keynote on Thursday November 17th during Chicago Toy & Game Week at Navy Pier.

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