The Elusive In Factor

Charles SharmanOctober 6, 2017

In late 2014, I took buckets of Crossbeams pieces and a steering-enhanced advanced Crossbeams Road Grader to a friend's New Year's party. The adults were impressed; I remember hearing “That's the longest drive train I've seen in a building toy,” and “I have to get this for my [college-age] engineering son.” Likewise, the younger children ran their fingers along the arc3x3 wheels, pivoted the grader's blade, opened its doors, and turned the steering wheel, watching the many gears in the long drive train finally pivot the front wheels.

One group, however, stood noticeably aloof: teens. After the initial excitement and some building, we broke from the Crossbeams table, and played board games, chatted, and ate good food. Later in the evening, I glanced at the Crossbeams table and was pleased to see four teens gathered there alone building with Crossbeams.

My observation at the New Year's party has played out again-and-again. At shows, when 8-10 year olds or 30+ year-olds crowd the table, teens are noticeably absent. When the table's vacant, and a courageous teen or two tries Crossbeams, more teens come and build. It even plays out in my own family. My 16 year-old thinks he's beyond Crossbeams, but as our new Tyrannosaurus Rex nears completion, he grabs pieces and helps redesign the forward-and-backward linkage-based head into a swiveling, jaw-opening, true-to-life head.

Crossbeams was made for teens, for those who graduate from younger-age building toys, seeking more challenging building options, but mechanical construction is simply not in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics' American Time Use Survey, the average 14-18 year-old spends 2.9 hours per day with media and communications (cell phones, social-media, etc.). There's not even a category for building, creating, or composing. Perhaps they fall under hobbies, which only occupy 0.1 hours per day.

Yet, we were designed to create. And, as long as no one's noticing, teens want to create. How do we bring this out? How do we help them do what they naturally want to do? How do we make building in?

Unfortunately, it remains as elusive to me now as it did in late 2014, when I first marketed Crossbeams. Do you have any ideas? I'd love to hear them.