About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name
ISBN: 9781608320028

This book was not what I thought it was.

I thought it was about how Jenga was marketed. Game development, Business strategy — that sort of stuff.

But to my pleasant surprise, it’s an autobiographical account by the creator of Jenga. From deciding to make and sell Jenga, to learning about the toy trade, to publishing a gift catalogue magazine (and learning about the magazine trade), to being a game designer.

Reading the initial chapters, it seemed that her life was a series of convenient coincidences. E.g. Ending up with friends, and one of them introducing her to her first corporate job, which she credits as giving her the marketing and business background.

Essentially, she convinced herself one day to produced a few sets of a game she named Jenga. Then started promoting them to friends and contacts, some of whomever were interested enough to act as her agents (by helping distribute/ sell through their contacts or existing businesses).

In the end, my take on the book is that it’s as much about the story of Jenga and also about Leslie Scott, the person who invented Jenga.

And that success in any endeavour is about skill, luck, opportunity, taking chances, making mistakes and surviving them, family and friends, and having fun.

Like playing a good game.

P17. Author isn’t quite sure but the possible origin of her playing the equivalent of Jenga was in her childhood, where their family placed stacks of wooden blocks (Takoradi Bricks) and invented the rules.

P35. Importance of communication. She related her story of how she told someone her company, Intel, made microchips. Her office, in 1975, was in the building of the Potato Marketing Board in Oxford, UK. That person brought in a sack of small potatoes and asked for them to be tested.

P37. While working with Intel as a marketing communications executive, she decided to devise games for sales teams as a training/ comms tools.

P43. As part of planning a festival/ carnival-themed fund-raiser dinner, she provided several of her blocks for others to play. After witnessing how many people enjoyed playing it, she decided the next day that she should try to bring the game to market.

P49. Mentions Anthroposophy.

P53. How the name Jenga was decided. They were trying to name a dog. Then hit upon the idea of using a name from the Swahili language (she grew up in Africa). Then it occurred to her to use a Swahili term for her game. Decided on “Build”, which was “Jenga” in KiSwahili.

Next chapter discusses on why some invented words/ names stick (like Jenga) while some don’t.

Chpt 6. Her consultation with a Patent lawyer, advice received (i.e. possible to patent but maintaining the patent license in various jurisdictions and financial ability to take legal action were separate matters). Advised to trademark the name as well.

Chpt 7. She discusses her thoughts/ experiences and readings on issue of intellectual property. Cites Lawrence Lessig (but Creative Commons not explicitly mentioned). Mentions Lessig’s work and issue of Disney taking ideas from Grimm Brothers and then lobbying for a prolonged copyright regime. Cites her experiences in seeking copyright permissions from authors (in developing a game, Ex Libris, for the Bodleian and British Library).

P101. Mentions how she failed to “watch her step” and “allowed the rights and ownership of Jenga to slip away” from her.

P106. She belatedly realised she signed away all her rights for very little in return (trademark, ownership, how-how rights) to a distant family relative.

P111. Mentions how games like Yahtzee and Scrabble were published.
P113 – 114. Signed away worldwide rights for 22% of royalties, but there was an unspecified amount for administrative fees to be deducted. She “came to regret” her decision in agreeing to those rights after she realised she wasn’t getting what the game creator traditionally would have been compensated.

P116. “hard but useful lessons learned”: “obviously, if anyone presents you with a contract — however close your relationship — consult your own lawyer before you sign.”

P140. “in my general ignorance of the toy business, I had believed that all I had to do with Jenga was to package it well and to introduce people to this marvelous game and orders would come flooding in.”

P141 – 144. The realities of the Toy market. About costs and advertising budgets before the game itself.

P149. Sat Dec 17, IRA bomb attack on Harrods (1983?) where she was slated to conduct demos for Jenga, sold at the store.

Chpt 10. Her experience in a joint publishing venture.

P157. She cautions against seeking/ relying on friends and family for financial investment in one’s business; that should the business fail, relationships inevitably gets strained.
P160. If one has to rely on friends/ family for financial support, she advises that a business plan is drawn up and to get a 3rd party to speak to the friend/ family member to understand expectations.

P175. Mentions how in 1982 when Trivial Pursuit was introduced at the Toronto Toy Fair, it was considered as antiquated (compared to video games) but its success took people by surprise.

Last few chapters on branding, Jenga being used/ mentioned in science articles as metaphor, inspiration for “Jenga chips”, art, fiction and assorted mainstream works.