Coffee Break Survey: Executive Toys

VIDEO: Gal at ComicCon, the place where toy lovers collide



VIDEO: Gal at ComicCon, the place where toy lovers collide

Thank Buddha it’s Friday. A playful day, when meetings should be light ‘n’ easy, decisions fully reversible Monday and it’s okay to occasionally flip back and forth between spreadsheet and Ebay window displaying the next thing you don’t need. Plus, you’ve dutifully scanned at least three “Top n Things You Must Know Now or Die” lists on FastCompany, so you’re ahead of the game for next week. Time for a break and a chill blog post about the seemingly inconsequential executive toy.

What’s hidden under your stack of manila folders? Is there such a toy – flocked and nodding or otherwise? Or were such frivolities jettisoned with the last round of staff cuts?


A past Forbes survey on executive toys among top brass turned out to be a boy’s own catalog of what I’d call “hard tech gadgets”. You know the kind. Boooooo! Boring! What happened to Russian dolls, drinking ibises and that icon of the excessive eighties: Newton’s cradle? And is there any correlation between the cartouche on the door and the toy on the desk?

lazy Friday, I randomly popped the question to my LinkedIn
e-quaintances at around Clif Bar time, EST. Here’s what rolled in:

With the most pragmatic toy of all, James Bupp, who “works with engineers” has the kind of gadget on his desk that keeps Brookstone in business:


“I have this ball, with a transparent top hemisphere that projects a floating message within the globe. I have it display time, date, and custom messages. As I work with engineers it gets a lot of attention. It was sold by Brookstone to display caller id.”

Karl Greenberg, automotive writer, makes sure his boss doesn’t suspect that he actually prefers bicycles:


“I have a left-handed boxing glove on my desk, because I like boxing, two scale-model collectible Corvettes, and two BMW mini collectibles – because of what I write about.”

Also in the traditional boy toy department, Middle East expert Martin Thomas romanticizes the “Scalextric set with Rally and F1 cars we played with a lot,” but balanced the testosterone with “magnetic poetry, specifically, haiku“.

Executive Creative Director Matt McGregor-Mento demonstrated the “beauty in small things” sensibility of a creative mind:


“My old desk had a bullet I found a block away on the ground in the Meat Packing District and a tiny, made in China, super cheap metal toy throwing knife, also picked up off the ground found in the Village. They both had a wonderful, worn, forgotten metal look. One, a silly toy that reminds me of my teenage ninja dreams; the other, potentially evidence in some unknown crime. Right now, I have a plan for a beautiful little planted fish tank with bright red shrimp. I bought it but I still haven’t set it up.”

PR pro Fred Iannotti sent this generous, if somewhat unappetizing shot:



“The only toy I have on my desk is this Eggsersizer hand-strengthening rubber squeeze ball, shaped like an egg. Yes, PR is fun, but it can be stressful.” (As an aside, I stumbled across this ironic yoga stress doll, for when yoga fails to de-stress).

Kimberley C. loves that loveable Staples EASY button we all bought but rarely press after the novelty wears off (about 2 days).

Staples Easy button


“I also have a tiny wooden gavel – a promotional item from a publishing company. Someone once used it to assault the angel I have on my desk. She had to wear a bandage on her head for several weeks while she recovered from her concussion.” I’d love to work for Kimberley —

Slander Snake

— she wouldn’t laugh at the stomach contents of my Slander Snake from the exuberant Tenacious Toys.


And how does a someone with a no-nonsense title like “Partner/VP strategic Solutions” for a Boston company let off steam between strategic insights? By thinking even more:

Gina A., who must have a pretty big desk, says, “I have this magnetic puzzle“. You can make different “sculptures” with it by pulling around on the pieces. It helps me think. I also have a couple of those stress balls and a little rubber duckie. And one of those little sand/rock garden things where you can push the sand around the small rocks with a tiny rake. Again … I use it while I’m thinking.”

zen garden


Jeanine V., a systems analyst in the auto industry, is as delightfully nuts about miniatures as her kids: “My toys include: a Fiona mini, a Rumplestiltskin mini, and a dragon mini (not the one from Shrek).”

Fiona mini

For those who’ve never gotten past the plush at ToysRUs, minis aren’t skirts but small action figurines. But it’s not all fun and games at Jeanine’s ranch:


“Our workplace is going through a 5S craze so such “frivolities” are discouraged. Part of the reason I keep toys on my desk is to rebel. I look at it this way: I spend more waking hours at work than I do at home. Make it fun! And if you have visitors while you are away from your desk, it gives them something to do while they wait.”

flipping bird finger

Clearly warming to her subject, Jeanine opened her executive drawer: “I do keep a wooden birdie finger locked away, and I’ve thought about breaking that out for special occasions. [Like the 5S graduation party, Jeanine?] The middle finger insult has been around for a couple thousand years – known to the Romans as the “impudent” finger. I would only display that toy for those who share my sense of humor …”. Jeanine, you rock, gal. If cars start coming with a built-in nodding pitbull on the dash, I’ll know you had something to do with it.


Miki, a pharmaceutical executive in Japan, had a fairly common item on her desk: A Maneki Neko cat.

Manekoneki cat

“The cat’s origins come from a temple close to where I live, in Gotojuki, a few train stops from Shinjuku, Tokyo. Legend has it that a priest was sheltering under a tree near the temple, and a cat came along and pointed. Sensing it was a sign, he moved away form the tree, which was immediately struck by lightening. The cat saved the day!”


You often see this cat in Asian stores with only one arm up, but apparently, that’s missing out on a vital wealth opportunity. “One arm up attracts customers, the other attracts money. So with both arms up, you get both!”


This cat actually rolls over to become a useful cup for your sencha break.

Maneko Neki cat cup

Next to report in was Anthony Yeznach, “Engineering Research Scientist, High Performance Polymers/Printer Development, Wilsonville, Oregon”, with a decidedly Zen toy to balance out polymer performance anxiety:

rubber band ball

I have a ball of rubber bands on my desk. It reminds me to keep things simple; it helps me think a bit more – I bounce it while I’m thinking.” But he’s none too Zen: “In a pinch, I can throw it at visitors I want to be rid of.”

And so can Dipayan R, from his lofty HR perch in a big UK company: “A sponge ball – great for throwing around during boring online
conferences, a monkey to remind me of the fun side of things and loads
of Dilbert clippings to keep things in perspective.

Dave Maskin is one of the lucky 50% of Americans still married, and displays “The only thing that matters, a picture of my wife and kids” – and their names in wire.


And finally, on the desk of Tom Eads, a Regional Manager in South Dakota, we come full circle to hard tech: “A Droid X. Also an Ibuprofen dispenser shaped like a Ferrari.” Tom, I couldn’t find the Ferrari pill box anywhere on the Web, so you better hang onto it – one day it could be worth a mint on Antiques Road Show.


What do I have on my desk?

A small, unobtrusive character called Mr TTT, one of a family of toys breezily called WishComeTrue and available from Tenacious Toys. Shaped like a large bean that fits comfortably in the palm, Mr TTT is the perfect why-worry bead:

Mt TTT in hand

He makes a pleasant jingly sound when you shake it. The rainbow around his girth reminds you to keep things light and bright, and there might even be a pot of gold at the other end (which is, by the way, a cerise pink).

Mr TTT rear

Mr TTT top

His gaze is calm and devoid of passive aggression or hidden agendas. After a heavy meeting, he’s just who you need to not talk to. At a princely 7 bucks, I propose it as the ultimate recession-suppression executive toy for 2010.

Mr TTT ad Malfi

Mr TTT didn’t just come down in the last Made in China vinyl shower. Acclaimed Miami-based design house Friends With You, who make a range of surreal toys, have an agenda: “Since 2002, [we] have single-handedly been changing the face of designer toys with [our] original life-enhancing characters.”

Anything that contributes to work/life balance deserves a corner of your desk. Thanks for playing along and, as we say Downunder: avagoodweekend!

The Galfromdownunder feels that all 5S and no play leads to secret Ebay surfing on the clock. Here’s how Lean Manufacturing (an efficiency methodology) and levity jive together at a small, Oregon company called Bike Friday–MOVIE: Lean Manufacturing: To the Batbelt!


About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press