Brent! Thanks so much for making time. I’ve got to ask about your surname: do you know its meaning?
All I know is it’s German! I’m not sure of the actual meaning. I do know my first name means “from the hills” and, interestingly enough, the city I now live in – Cerritos – means “little hills” in Spanish… So it’s all coming together!
There we go; it’s fate! Now, if I understand correctly, you had a skateboard company when you were younger – and you invented a range of puppets? Tell me about those…
When I was in high school, I was an avid skateboarder. My dad was an excellent woodworker, so he had tons of tools laying around the garage. One day, I bought a blank skateboard, cut out a shape, and made my own graphics. My friends all thought it was super cool, so I ended up making boards for them and that’s how it all started. I never got rich off skateboards, but it was a fun hobby nonetheless.
Still, it suggests you have a creative streak. And the puppets?
Puppet-on-a-Stick was an invention that came about from my love of doing puppet shows for my sons when they were young. All kids love puppet shows, so I thought there was an opportunity for a product. At the time, Educational Insights didn’t have any puppets in their line. So I set out to create an easy to use, durable and slightly wacky puppet line for preschoolers.
I see! And did you have to go through the process? Did you have to pitch?
To some extent! On paper it was difficult to explain my idea to the team, so I made a working prototype. I got some wood, clay and PVC, and hunkered down in my garage for several days. After a few iterations, I created a working puppet and brought it to the team. They loved it so much that my manager said, “Make two more and we’ll launch a line.” Ultimately, we even got a U.S.patent for the design!
You’ve now been at Educational Insights for over ten years. Congratulations! But how did you come to be working there?
During the crash of 2008, I was laid off from my marketing job at a housewares company, so I signed up with a recruiting agency to find a new job. I did odd jobs for about seven months, before I got a call for a product-manager’s assistant job at Educational Insights.
Good Lord! As simple as that?
Not quite! I worked one month – then my contract ended. After that one month of helping to develop toys, I knew I’d finally found my perfect job. About three months later, a permanent position opened up for a product manager. I applied, interviewed, and here I am today.
Ten years on. Amazing! It does beg the question: if you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
I’d probably own a cat-adoption agency in Hawaii.
Not an answer I was expecting! Alright… So, you’re now the Senior Product Manager at Educational Insights. Presumably, you see a lot of inventors and inventions… What is it you look for in an idea?
I look for novelty, simplicity, and something that’s manufacturable. I also try to envision what kind of packaging each concept would need, where it could be sold, how we’d approach marketing, and consider whether it’s something our sales team could easily pitch to a buyer. On top of everything, I always consider how a child would interact and respond to the concept once it is on the shelf.
And in that respect, how important is it to balance fun and education in the pitches you see?
It’s always easier to add some educational value to a fun concept than vice versa. I’ve seen a lot of very educational concepts that looked tired and uninspiring. If a child doesn’t think a toy or game is fun, they won’t play with it – and consequently lose out on the learning.
Great answer! Thank you. On a personal level, what keeps you creative? Where do you look for ideas?
I think nature provides endless fascination. I love watching documentaries on deep-sea discovery, insects and how they adapt to their environments, or even cat videos. Wow, I’m getting personal here! I love taking walks on the beach, as I find that a great way to recharge. I also enjoy reading about new inventions – whether it be in the medical field, tech, food industry, or wherever new things are being created. Overall, staying curious throughout your life is crucial to creativity.
Beyond that, I also get a lot of inspiration from all the amazing inventors I work with. I meet with inventors from all over the world, from all walks of life. Inventors are a fascinating, passionate group of super talented individuals so it’s a big honour to be a part of that community.
I’m curious: what do you do to bring out the best in inventors?
I try to be as casual and friendly as possible. If time allows, I love to find out some personal details before the pitch gets started. I have a genuine interest in people and their stories, so it’s always nice to get acquainted first before we “get down business.” I also want to establish open lines of communication so that even though I don’t accept a concept today, the door is open for tomorrow.
And if you’re really up against it, what’s the one creative tool you can’t live without?
Lately, I’ve developed a new habit in the realm of mindfulness. I sit silently in my backyard and just literally try to clear my mind and allow thoughts to arise as they may. In this modern information age, there’s so much noise and distraction. The opportunity for silence in our lives isn’t easy to come by, but it’s worth making time for.
Love it! Great answer. Brent, this has been fascinating; I really appreciate the insight. Thank you. Final question then: what’s the most interesting thing in your office?
My tiki collection. I love all things Hawaiian, so naturally I’ve decked out my office with a small entourage of tikis.
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