Cranium Wisdom from Richard Tait

Attended Stanford’s EDAY over the weekend, and had my hat knocked in the creek by the event’s final speaker, the Grand Poo-Bah of Cranium, Richard Tait.  The theme of EDAY was “the power of play,” so who better than a gaming company Grand Poo-Bah to tie a bow around things? 

Tait’s spiel focused on his own version of the 4 P’s: Passion, Productivity, Profitability, and Play.  Some particularly chewy nuggets:


  • Lighten & Enlighten: that’s Cranium’s passion, and as a mission it infuses all their daily activities.
  • Invest time and energy in your culture: Cranium holds periodic “rodeos” where the group gets together to discuss cultural issues.  What’s going wrong and how can we improve things?
  • Encourage each member of your org to come to work each day with a point of view about what they bring to the party: Tait’s daily POV centers on passion, speed & urgency, and discovery.


  • Focus on innovation and marketing (metacool editorial: if you do them right, they’re one and the same): Everything else can and should be outsourced.  Drucker agrees, by the way.
  • When hiring for jobs that create value in the marketplace, hire for how people think and not for what they know:  Hiring for smarts, and renting experience when needed, is a great way to find (and retain) those knowledge workers capable of creating remarkable products.  To his credit, Tait acknowledged that for routine work (a concept I borrow from Bob Sutton, another EDAY speaker) like day-to day accounting, finance, and operations, you should go for experience.  Just make sure those folks are a cultural fit.  Actively shun the fun sponges who take delight in the creation of bureaucratic hairballs.


  • Operational rigor can empower, rather than distract, a creative organization:  Encouraging your entire workforce to actually understand EBITDA (as Cranium does) is impressive.  Setting that EBITDA reporting to a Bee Gees soundtrack takes things to setting eleven.  Creative people are adults, too, and they’re usually pretty smart.  They can understand EBITDA.
  • Never forget that customers are your best (and FREE) sales force:  Cranium made its limited marketing dollars work as hard as they could.  In fact, it sold its first million units without a dime of outbound marketing spend.  And people at Cranium do seemingly crazy things to win and retain passionate customers.  For example, Tait once delivered Cranium games on Christmas Day to customers on a shipping waitlist. 


  • Use the spirit of play to guide your product development process:  Cranium went from concept to reality in just six months using a philosophy of rapid prototyping (print out game boards drawn in PowerPoint) and fluid iteration (hold four user playtests a night, and modify the prototype between each one).
  • See the world with the mind of a child:  What is interesting?  What works particularly well?  What tastes and feels good?  Case in point, the Cranium color palette – which now informs the entire Cranium brand – was lifted from a roll of Lifesavers.  Classic.  Tasty.  Effective.
  • Enjoy yourself in the workplace, and enjoy what you do:  Tait clearly does, and his enthusiasm is infectious.  And he digs old 911’s, which is worth 50 bonus points.

Speaking of bonus items, here’s a charming PDF by Tait which nicely summarizes his thoughts on culture, meaning and innovation.  I’m still looking for my hat…

Download CraniumSecretSauce.pdf