Toying with Innovation


M. Eric Johnson, the Benjamin Ames Kimball Professor of the Science of Administration and director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, is trying hard to come up with a serious justification for his annual list of top tech toys. The project, which Johnson runs every year with a dozen MBA students, is so entertaining that the business school lessons tend to take a back seat.

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The Top Tech Toys list for 2011 was researched and developed by Tuck students under the direction of Professor M. Eric Johnson, who follows the toy industry. (photo courtesy Tuck School of Business)

While he’s thinking, a rubbery purple robotic alien comes to life and blares, “You are awesome!” That’s Fijit, a Mattel toy that received some of the highest ratings in this year’s test. It speaks in an Auto-Tune staccato and responds to certain spoken commands. Tell it to dance, and it will gladly oblige.

Somehow, instead of distracting him, Fijit allows Johnson to gather his thoughts. “I see toys as the fruit flies of business,” he says. “They use fruit flies in scientific experiments because they multiply so quickly. Toys are kind of that way.”

Case in point: 80 percent of toys released for the holiday shopping season are new products. They try desperately to ride fads, create buzz, and inject more technology in smaller packages for lower prices. But the reality is, most toys are failures. And it is this clockwork-like process of striving that makes toys such good teaching tools. “In a very short period of time—a few weeks over the fall—you can see product launch, roll-out, marketing, customer reaction, and what happens in January when it’s all liquidated,” Johnson explains. “From a student’s perspective, it’s hard to beat that.”

Read the full story at Tuck news.

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