Mary Couzin, Founder and CEO, People of Play (POP)

Toy Tales talks with Mary Couzin about the recent rebranding of her organization, ChiTAG, to People of Play and what sets today’s young inventors apart from their predecessors.

The organization you founded, Chicago Toy & Game Group (ChiTAG), recently rebranded to People of Play. What inspired that change?

We have hosted events in Barcelona, Amsterdam, London, Tel Aviv, and from coast to coast in the United States. People from over 25 countries come to our annual event in Chicago, and our website is visited by people in over 154 countries. Having “Chicago” in the organization’s name is limiting. Of course, the Chicago Toy & Game Fair will always be “Chicago” but rebranding as People of Play really fits us much better.

The Friday Five

Tell us about the Toy & Game International Innovation Summit coming up in November 2020.

It’s a virtual event. It takes place Monday, November 16 to Friday, November 20. We haven’t released details yet but what I can say is that over the five days we have panels, workshops, and conferences. Our Leaders & Legends keynote series includes Mattel President & COO Richard Dickson, former Mattel CEO Jill Barad, inventor Eddy Goldfarb, Tom Kalinske formerly of Sega and LeapFrog, the three founders of Spin Master – Ronnen Harray, Anton Rabie, and Ben Veradi, and so many others. An educational series will offer insight into licensing toys and games, marketing, the future of toy fairs, and public relations — we hit all the hot topics. Our TAGIES award show is back and we have a new Friday-evening event this year, POP’s Got Talent.

The Friday Five

The Young Inventor Challenge at the Summit showcases youth toy and game developers. Have you seen a change in how youth approach the development of their ideas?

I think they are more sophisticated. Youth are very comfortable on video; they’ve grown up with FaceTime and are comfortable in their skins. They have access to information online that previous generations never had. They can search, “how do I make a prototype” and find the answer. I had one young inventor state, “Well, I’ve been an inventor all my life but I got involved in the toy industry at 11.” They’re just more confident.

The Friday Five

Why is play important?

In today’s world, play is more important than ever. People find a common ground in play, it breaks down barriers, socializes us, and raises our IQ. You can also find out a lot about people’s thought processes – if they are risk-takers, if they are cheats. A school principal in Los Angeles created a program called From Gangsters to Gamesters. She showed that by bringing together people from different gangs and playing games, acts of violence could be reduced. It showed the kids they were more alike than not. She brought them together in a non-threatening way – in play. I found that fascinating. What Plato said is true: you can discover more in an hour of play than a year of conversation.

The Friday Five

How can people incorporate more play into their day-to-day lives?

I always keep a game on my kitchen table and another on the cocktail table. I kept an unfinished puzzle on my kitchen island before I had cats. People would visit and no one could resist placing a piece. I have dice in a leather cup on a bookshelf and tiny McDonaldland toys on a bookshelf; kids and adults can’t help themselves. Small games can be carried in a purse or backpack; tiny mazes are great for hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

Keep games and toys out in sight – don’t hide them where they can’t be seen.

The Friday Five

Learn more about the upcoming virtual event Toy & Game International Innovation Summit and People of Play.