I’d never dreamed of setting a world record. But when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t refuse.

It happened last week at the amusement industry’s annual convention in Orlando. I go each year, eager to learn about new trends, technology and products that Children’s Fairyland might benefit from.

This year the keynote speaker for the General Managers and Owners’ Breakfast was Jim Patterson, Jr., chairman and CEO of the company that owns Ripley Entertainment, which operates 95 attractions under a dozen brands worldwide. Among them are San Francisco’s 10,000-square-foot Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! “Odditorium” and the Guinness World Records museums. The company welcomes some 13 million guests annually, has 39,000 employees, and takes in $8.4 billion in sales each year.

Placed around the ballroom were delightful oddities from the weird world of Ripley’s. On each of our tables was a box sealed with stickers saying “do not open.”

It’s been 96 years since Robert Ripley, a man fascinated by primitive cultures and artifacts, published his first “Believe It or Not!” newspaper cartoon. By 1933, the cartoon was read daily by millions of people; it was translated into 17 languages and published in 300 newspapers around the globe. Today it’s the longest-running comic strip in the world.

Pattison began his presentation with a humorous account of his life as a high school and college dropout and workplace washout – he was fired from his first job as delivery-truck driver. He was going to tell us about his company, he said, and its wonderfully quirky “Ripley Way,” but first he invited us to reveal the mystery of the boxes.

Each one contained a number of model glider airplanes made of balsa wood.

They were there for a reason, Pattison told us. We were going to attempt a world record: “The most people launching handheld model gliders simultaneously.” To underscore the seriousness of the effort, Pattison introduced a British-accented representative from Guinness World Records, who was there to officially verify our effort.

After receiving our instructions we got the 3-2-1 countdown, and then hundreds of guests threw their model gliders into the air in unison. While the numbers were tabulated, Pattison continued with his keynote talk.

Pattison described Ripley’s as being a “functionally dysfunctional” company, thanks in large part to the Ripley Way. Here are its components:

–Management by chaos is not all bad (be flexible)

–If it’s not broken, mess with it (continue to improve)

–Fight turf and bureaucracy (keep focus on the customer)

–Embrace technology

–Reduce debt quickly

–Think big, act small, do more with less (“we have some tickets priced at $10”)

–Disruptors: Always be aware (our competition is people’s time)

–Force change (most people dislike it anyway)

–It’s okay to fail; fix it and move on

–Due diligence (do your homework)

–Opportunity doesn’t make a reservation (go for it when it makes sense)

–Team equals chemistry (you don’t have to like each other to be successful)

–Never lose touch with your customer (get out from behind your desk).

The Guinness official then returned with the results of our effort. Thirteen people were disqualified for non-participation, one for pretending to be a plane, and another for launching the plane in the wrong direction. But the 647 people who simultaneously launched our handheld gliders succeeded in smashing the previous world record of 250.

Each participant was presented with an official certificate commemorating the event. If we want a personalized certificate, we can go to the Guinness website, where Pattison assured us we’d be given a 50 percent discount. “Hey, we’re entrepreneurial,” he laughed.

Then he announced that, in honor of our new record, his company was making a $10,000 donation to Give Kids the World, an industry-funded resort and theme park in Florida for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.


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