“Holy cow! Could it be me?” Hasbro’s Tanya Thompson discusses winning the I.D.I.O.T. Award

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Tanya, you’re no stranger to Mojo Nation readers! Even if you were, they can see where Billy and I have interviewed you about your background and work here and here… However, in January of this year, you won an I.D.I.O.T. Award. For the uninitiated, how would you describe that?
Oh, my goodness. You know, that’s such a good place to start! It stands for International Designer/Innovator Of Toys… Although what the acronym means I don’t always remember under pressure! In fact, when I first got it, Chris Cocks said, “Congratulations on the I.D.I.O.T. Award! … What IS the I.D.I.O.T. Award?”

Ha! I can imagine! So what did you say?
I explained that it’s an award given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the toy industry, and that I was so honoured because of the legends who already won in the past.

So it was on your radar? You knew about the award?
Oh, absolutely. I remember Mary Couzin getting it. I also remember hearing about it from Mike Gray and Mike Hirtle – also recipients –years before… They were friends of mine well before I started working for Hasbro. Anyway, for me this award – which is proudly on display here in my office – means so much to me! It’s an important award, and it’s been going a long time…

Yes, we’re heading towards the 40th one; that’s in 2025…
Wow! Yes, I’ll never forget, years ago, when I first heard about the award, I’d always hoped that – someday – I might get an award like that because it’s recognition for the work you care so much about. I take my Inventor Relations work very seriously; not only trying to get the company the best ideas, but also taking care of our inventors.

Because you’re representing Hasbro to inventors, and inventors to Hasbro?
Yes, exactly that. It’s a fine line we walk in Inventor Relations. My barometer is always to step back and say, “What’s fair in this situation?” And sometimes it may lean towards the company and sometimes it may lean towards the inventor. It’s important to me that I represent both well. So the I.D.I.O.T. meant a lot to me because it felt as though I was being seen in that light.

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Definitely. And when we’ve discussed this in the past, I’ve said before that this really comes over… You have great reverence for ideas, and ideators; you really respect the creator. That comes across.
Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

You also speak highly of other I.D.I.O.T. Award winners: Mike Myers, Mike Hirtle, Mike Gray. They’re all called Mike… Mike Lyden, Mike Bucher, Mike Moody! You may not know this; it used to be a prerequisite of winning: Mike Setteducati, Mike Danby, Sir Michael Norman!

I know you reach out to some of these people. When you do that, is it in reverence? Or are you thinking, “Well, gosh, I could really learn something from these people…”
Well, both. I respect what others have done before me and I believe I can learn from them. I was a teacher before I came into the industry through ThinkFun. We spoke about this before, how Bill Richie hired me at ThinkFun; on a more educational initiative. Then I transitioned to inventor relations… So when I suddenly got to start meeting the people who created the toys and games I loved, I was so excited.

So there’s a real fandom there?
Oh yes; there’s always a bit of a fan girl in me when I meet people behind great ideas! But when I came into the industry, honestly, I was so green! I didn’t come in with a business degree or anything like that. I was a teacher, and I was travelling to conferences, and speaking about things I was passionate about doing in the classroom; trying to make a difference and I wanted to share it with others. But I came into the toy industry not really knowing anything about the industry. And I was very honest about that!

In what way “honest about it”? You just came right out and said, “Listen, I’m new to this…”?
Right. I was honest about what I knew and what I didn’t, and I was very eager to learn. I wasn’t like, “Hey, I know a lot about business. Leave it to me!” I was very frank. And thankfully, Bill and Andrea, the cofounders of ThinkFun, were phenomenal. Bill had been out there looking for ThinkFun products for 25 years when I started. He was looking to pass the reins of scouting for new ideas to someone else and people said, “Well, Tanya loves meeting the inventors. She’d be good at that.” So that’s when I became inventor relations, not really knowing it was an actual role in the industry. That’s how green I was!

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Wow. When did that change, Tanya? At what point, did you think, “Oh! I’m not alone!”
It was one of my first toy fairs. I was in a meeting with Mike Hirtle who was there on behalf of Hasbro. At the beginning of the meeting Mike reached over the table to introduce himself, saying, “I do what you do for ThinkFun – but I do it for Hasbro.” And he gave me his business card and suggested that, if ever I had any questions, then I should reach out. And I treasured that business card like it was gold. When I did reach out to him, he took my call. He was a great person for me to know coming into that role. Same with Mike Gray – and there have been other people on that list.

The list of people that it did you good to know?
Right. Another person is Mary Couzin and what she does with People of Play… I started going early on because I really wanted to meet inventors. So that was great in terms of the early networking. I would meet other inventor relations people, as well as the inventors. It really helped me expand my network.

And Mary has won her own I.D.I.O.T. Award, of course! We’ve lined up an interview on that; I’m very excited! My next question, I suppose, is going to be: what advice would Today’s Tanya give – to use your word – Green Tanya? What’s the best advice when starting in the industry?
Network, be curious, have reverence and follow your passion! Get to know as many people as you can and be curious to learn from everybody that you meet – regardless of their title or experience. If it’s a brand-new inventor, listen to them… long-established professional? Listen to them…

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Everybody has something to teach you. I remember watching a documentary about an inventor. It taught me to appreciate the work that inventors do to get into that chair across from me. It’s incredible… Whether they’re the most famous inventor or whether they’re completely unknown… You must respect the person and their work. And follow your passions. Both when I was a teacher and, in this industry, I’ve been lucky enough to have my work be about things I am passionate about.

Great! That’s a great answer and a very encouraging one. Now, on the night you were given your I.D.I.O.T., Dougal Grimes presented it following a self-penned poem… I was hugely curious, as he read that out, at what point you thought, “Well… He could only be talking about me!”
Good question! Okay, so… Bit of backstory: before the awards, I had gone downstairs. As I was returning to the room, they were starting the awards. All the previous winners were standing up with their medals on, and the audience was applauding them. And I thought, “Well, I’m not going to walk across the room to my seat NOW because I don’t want people to think I’m standing up as a previous winner.”

Ha! Yes! “Where do you get off, Thompson? Standing up like you’re a bloody winner?!”
So I wait it out… Then, when everybody sits down, I make a dash for it trying to be inconspicuous. I’m only half aware of what was being said but I know that they’re calling Dougal up on stage. So I was like, “Oh, Dougal won! Great! That’s amazing!”

Ha! You really thought he’d won?
I did, and I was so pleased for him! When he started talking, he’s so creative, he started reading out a poem. Then it dawned on me that the poem wasn’t his acceptance speech; that he’s presenting the award to someone else.

This is brilliant! You arrived at the room just when it started, then you were embarrassed to be standing; you rush to your seat – then you think someone else has won… And even when he’s reading a poem about you, you don’t realise it’s about you?
Ha! Right! And that’s despite one of the first things he said being something, I think, about being a teacher. That should have been, like, ‘Ding, ding, ding!’ But it wasn’t… I thought that there are other people who were teachers. But then he started talking about puzzles, I was like, “Holy cow, could this be me?”

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Oh, wow. I love this.
Well, eventually – when he started talking about Hasbro – I thought, wow, I can’t believe this. I was just blown away that I’d been chosen. And the fact that Dougal was presenting it meant the world to me because he’s such a dear friend. And he wrote a poem! Amazing.

This is such fun! So you got up on stage, stunned; you’re in a state of shock and disbelief… You can’t believe it’s you. Once it sank in, how did you feel?
Oh, I was over the moon. Over the moon because the caliber people that have won the award before me is… Well. You know! And having been, years ago, in some dungeon, thinking it would be amazing if I could get an award like that someday… And then suddenly that day was there.

This dungeon was the venue for your first Inventor Dinner, presumably? It’s not where the committee meets?
Ha! Yes, my first one was in a dungeon.

Just checking. I know when that Inventor Dinner committee meets, it’s pretty clandestine; it’s like a scene from The Traitors. But it meant a lot…
Yes. That feeling – that I was ‘there’ – I couldn’t help but get emotional. It meant a lot because I knew it was people respecting the work I do in the industry, and how I do it. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

Oh, wow. Great… I’m getting quite moved, Tanya. But the I.D.I.O.T. isn’t the only award you’ve picked up recently… You had a Mojo Nation award a few months before, and a Wonder Woman award recently.
That’s exactly right. It’s been an unbelievable year for me. Someone joked to me recently that it’s like I’ve just done the E.G.O.T.; won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony! Ha! And with the Wonder Woman Award… I didn’t think that I was going to win. It wasn’t inventor relations related: it was people from different companies doing different roles, voting on it… People who might not know about inventor relations. So I just didn’t think that I was going to win.

I guess the variety of those awards shows the reverence and respect for what you do, and how people in the industry feel about you. I think it comes back to you; that it’s a reflection of your reputation. But here’s an obvious question I’ve neglected to ask you… Why have you never invented a game yourself, Tanya?
Ha! Everybody always asks me that, yes! But that’s not what I love about the process… I love seeing new ideas. I love meeting with inventors. I love figuring out how different things fit together. It’s like solving the puzzle: ‘I have this information, and I have that information and how do I get this all to fit together?’

Oh, nice analogy…
So I’ve never had any desire to invent a game myself. I can give advice to other people who DO like to do that, because I have a lot of expertise and experience in what makes a good game. But I’ve never really been interested in coming up with new ideas myself.

Well, I find that fantastically interesting – but, actually, I understand exactly what you mean… One can get tremendous creative satisfaction from joining the dots; not everyone wants to put the dots down in the first place.
And it’s important to say how much I love doing just that! For many years I’ve been doing inventor relations for games; nearly seven at Hasbro. I love it. And so to be recognised for doing something I love is unbelievable… The Mojo Nation Inventor Relations Exec Award was amazing; then the I.D.I.O.T. Award was – oh my gosh: I can’t even… It’s unbelievable. It just means a lot that people recognise the work that I do, and the last year has been a phenomenal thing because I want to do this role for a very long time.

And is there anything you’ve accomplished in your career so far that you’re particularly proud of?
Oh yes, one of the hardest and definitely one of the best things I’ve done thus far is to create Hasbro’s Women Innovators of Play – or WIoP. In 2022, I pitched the idea to some very supportive leaders at Hasbro and it was approved to move forward for 2023. The goal was to connect Hasbro with more women innovators…

Tanya Thompson, Hasbro, I.D.I.O.T. Award

I lead a committee of 15 of the most passionate Hasbro people and we built a website, hosted a virtual event that was attended by about 1000 people. There was an incredible program from some notable speakers, and we held a WIoP Challenge where women submitted their ideas. The three winners of the Challenge were Ellie Dix, Mandy Goddard and Sandra Harewood. I’m so thankful to everyone who helped to make this happen and to all the people who participated from around the word.

Knockout! Great stuff, Tanya. Let’s wrap it up there – oh! Not quite… Let’s you and I wrap it up there, but I’ll end the article with Dougal’s poem! I’ll ask him to send me that and I’ll pop it down the bottom here. In the meanwhile, thank you, Tanya; just a joy to chat with you, as it always is.
Thank you, Deej!


Tanya Thompson I.D.I.O.T. Award Introduction
By Dougal Grimes

I met this person on the dance floor,
Of New York Toy Fair 2013,
And every year since,
What an inspiration they have been!

From their beginnings as a teacher,
Where puzzled pupils’ brows would be furled,
They joined the toy industry,
And rose to the biggest games company in the world.

Whether it’s talented newcomers,
Or seasoned pros,
Selflessly, their hopes and dreams,
They always nurture and grow…

Their crowing achievements are far and wide,
And have been very far from shit,
Gravity Maze, Wordle, Connect 4 Spin,
And lest we forget forget – Don’t Step In It,

If you haven’t got a CLUE,
Who is the winner of this year’d I.D.I.O.T. Award,
I’m SORRY but this isn’t aboot you,
She’s the BOARDWALK of the Games Board.

So here’s to you, the maestro of games,
You’re the best of the best and then some,
You’re a dancing queen and legend,
This award is for you… TANYA THOMPSON.

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