Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: Chris Byrne, The Toy Guy®
April 19, 2021 | Chris Byrne, known for decades as The Toy Guy®, is an independent toy analyst, researcher, and consultant. Most recently, Byrne has spent the past year talking with industry experts alongside co-host Richard Gottlieb on their new podcast, The Playground, discussing everything from retail, licensing, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the toy industry, and more with a variety of guests. Toy News Tuesday editors spoke with Byrne about his passion for play and his new role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative.
TNT: How did you get your start in the toy industry and what you are doing now?
CB: My very first toy industry job was as junior copywriter for CBS Toys, where I named products, wrote instructions, and was generally the person people were cursing out at 12:15 a.m. on December 25 after indulging in the eggnog. (Actually, that was back when no instructions were finalized until they were repeatedly tested with consumers.) I stayed with CBS for several years and by the end of my tenure, I was a senior member of the division’s PR staff. I went on to work in PR and marketing. I spent 18 months launching the game Pictionary and have written for all the major toy trade magazines. Today, I’m an independent analyst, consultant, and author, known as The Toy Guy®. I regularly talk about toys and play at conferences and on a variety of TV shows and media outlets, and I’m co-creator and co-host of The Playground Podcast.
TNT: Why was it important to you to become a Genius of Play Ambassador and what does play mean to you?
CB: Play is essential to healthy development for children. At times, I think our current culture doesn’t sufficiently value the role of play in fostering intellectual curiosity, emotional development, and identity. Play is so much more than a recreational or leisure activity for children, it’s how they discover themselves and their worlds and prepare to enter it as young people and adults. Helping people understand what play can do for a developing mind (physically and cognitively) is very important—as is having some fun along the way.
TNT: Play benefits our emotional and physical well-being at any age, so what steps have you taken to make play a part of your daily routine both in and outside of work?
CB: Through meditation, physical activity, and connection with other people, we should be constantly playing. By that, I mean being open to new possibilities and new ways of encountering the world and looking beyond the conventional for problem-solving. I don’t really see a separation from work and life, so every day I try to do one thing that pushes me in some way, whether intellectually of physically (even if it’s outside my comfort zone). When I talk to students, I always say the one sentence that has guided my career is, “Sure, I’ll try that."
TNT: How do you think we as a society can better incorporate play into our lives?
CB: We need to be open to new ways to approach the world. We need to be more like children approaching a problem where any possibility is worth considering. Play is, in part, the act of asking “What if…?” It’s freeing ourselves to do that and to look for different ways of approaching life’s challenges. It opens the door to innovation—and it makes life an adventure.
TNT: What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?
CB: Thanks to my parents being teachers, I had an incredibly free and imaginative childhood. I have many happy memories of play with my brothers and friends. We had a constant sense of possibility as we went out to play each day. As for favorites, well, we had way too much access to explosives, but we were endlessly intrigued by blowing things up, though we were never vandals or destroyed property.
I remember building a mound of dirt in our backyard in which we buried cherry bombs and one M-80 (one-eighth stick of dynamite). We built an elaborate diorama of toy soldiers on top of it, poured gasoline into a trench around it, lit the fuses and stood back. It made a magnificent explosion. My mother yelled out the backdoor, “Is everyone all right?” We shouted back, “Yes!” And we went on to whatever caught our attention next.
As for toys, I always loved my Matchbox Cars because they were great for collecting, racing, playing, and especially with the Models of Yesteryear, inspired a love of history.
Chris Byrne, better known as The Toy Guy®, is an independent analyst, consultant, and author. He regularly talks about toys and play at conferences and across a variety of TV shows and media outlets. Byrne is the co-creator and co-host of The Playground Podcast.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play Ambassadors program, who serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks as well as key supporters and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.