Professional Unfulfillment

I’m just trying to sort through some feelings. I don’t mean for this to come off as a humblebrag or anything else. I’m just trying to work through things, so I’ll be talking about how I feel about things. If you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, skip this post. I’m probably going to sound like a jackass.

Over the last fifteen years, I think it’d be very difficult for me to make a serious argument that things haven’t gone well. I assumed it would take years to get a game design position, much less a position where I’d do anything other than execute on whatever someone else told me. Instead, I made quick career progress, got to work on a wide variety of fun stuff with a decent hitrate for success, I founded a company (mostly) that did *extremely* well, we made a number of things all of which I’m quite proud of, and yet, I find myself feeling like basically my professional life isn’t even close to being a success. In many ways, it feels like a total failure.

I think the problem is that we achieved a certain level of monetary success that allows us to be comfortable, but not to have *control* over our lives – that is, we don’t have enough that we can essentially not work for the indefinite future & do crazy shit like travel the world. Well, I mean, we certainly could in the short term, but my worry is that unfortunately, both of our careers have “short fuses”, where if you’re out of the industry for a few years, getting back into it is not all that different than starting completely over. So I don’t feel like we can fully take a break and not suffer the consequences of that in the longer term.

And the frustrating thing about that is essentially the result we got was the *best* we could. We made what has been at times the #1 grossing app in the App Store, and over its lifespan, one of the most financially successful games on iOS, period. And you’d think that might be enough to retire on, but due to the circumstances of how it was started, and how it all ended, nope. And I’m realistic – we’ll certainly try to make something great again, but hitting that sort of financial jackpot is *always* a huge roll of the dice, even if you’ve done the best work you can. No one can predict with any degree of serious accuracy what will succeed. So we’ll give it our best shot, and see what happens.

But that’s not really what it is. Because I don’t really care about the money. I mean, I care, sure, but it’s not like I set out to make $. I set out to try and build an amazing team that could make amazing games. And I *did* succeed at that. Much, much better than I would have hoped. For a while, it was *exactly* what I wanted. And maybe that’s part of the problem. I know it’s possible. Or at least, I know it *was* possible. And as much as I want it to be possible again, I don’t know how it’ll work out. Sometimes, I just want to work with the same folks again, and try to recapture that magic. But time has passed. Everyone’s at a different phase in their lives now. I constantly worry that one day, when we can secure funding, or whenever it makes sense to hire someone, that we’ll hang our shingle out there… and no one will show up.

That *constantly* terrifies me, and I feel like the fact that it does is a fundamental indicator that things aren’t right.

All I want is to love what I’m working on, and work with people that I care deeply about, who are also passionate, and driven, and creative, and crazy. I want for us all to work in service of the same cause – to make something awesome that no one’s seen before, that people *love* to play. And for all that to happen so many things need to line up just right. Because what it comes down to is that at this point in my life, I don’t *want* to start over. I don’t *want* to start with a team of strangers, even though many of the strangers that we hired in the past are now close friends. I want us to start this thing with people we care about, because the *reason* we’re starting this thing is to make something better, not just for players, but for the team. Even before, the driving force was always to try and make a company that treated its employees extraordinarily. Not just with perk-related bullshit, but by actually caring about people, and building a real team. And right now, we’re not there.

I feel like for a while, even though he has *no idea who I am*, Stewart Butterfield & I lived in semi-parallel worlds. He was running Tiny Speck, which made Glitch, and we were building Fleck. Two games that some folks put in the same pool, and we had such similar arcs to the games, from smallness to a passionate userbase that never grew to ultimate failure. And Tiny Speck continues on into Slack, where they’ve now achieved the double-whammy – tremendous financial success *because* they’ve built something people absolutely love. I’m jealous. Honestly. I don’t mean that in a mean way, I don’t wish them ill. I’m just jealous.

I guess it took him from Flickr to Tiny Speck to Slack, and for me, I’m maybe in the middle phase – the entire arc of the previous company was the first act, and the third act is where it comes together. Maybe I just need to be patient, work out where the funding comes from, and just keep cranking away at things until we crack that nut. Maybe I’m just insecure, and I think the team I wanted to work with doesn’t want to work with me anymore. I don’t know.

So much is going so well, and that one thing eats at me constantly, because if it’s true, it means everything I thought I’d succeeded in over the last six years wasn’t actually a success. And even dealing with that potential is a frustrating, strange, and bitter pill to swallow.

Last Day

Tomorrow morning I head to the airport, to home, to the family.

Tonight, I try to sleep.

The last few nights, I’ve had a persistent cough, the kind that keeps waking you up every 30 minutes. I think I finally went to bed at about 11:30 last night, and I got up at 4:11 and then read all the Ferguson stuff, and couldn’t get back to sleep. So that’s two days in a row with about 4 hours of cough-interrupted sleep.

I was more or less fine until I got back to the hotel, and then felt like someone dropped a sack of bricks on me. My eyes are stinging from tiredness, my whole body’s just sort of spent. I ended up getting dinner at the hotel, because the nearest place is about half a mile away by foot. Had some schnitzel & fries – the schnitzel was delicious, but the fries were too salty. Ah, well.

Work went well. Very productive, I think. So, yeah – back in East Berlin. Got a 30 minute ride to the airport tomorrow for a 9:15 flight, so that probably means I’m leaving here around 7:45ish. Getting home at something like 2pm PST, but there’s 12 hours between those two points, somehow. 12 hours of misery, if the way here was any indication. Whee. :)

Szczecin

Fun day today, but mostly work. Got up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep (which meant about 4 hours of cough-interrupted sleep, total). Headed to the breakfast buffet at the hotel which was shockingly good. Really high-quality food – meats, cheeses, pastries, fruit, all delicious. I was feeling lazy & so I didn’t want to go far, but on Wednesday morning, I know where I’m getting breakfast. Weird.

We took a car to go from Berlin to Szczecin, and it didn’t occur to me until we were going 115 that this was an autobahn. The car ride was about 2 hours, even still, but we made it, and I got to meet the team I’d be working with. Solid folks, honestly. They all spoke English, which was… super useful, as if it was gonna be Polish, I’d be pretty well useless. (I have literally *zero* Polish vocabulary, and even looking things up, I can’t figure out how they’re pronounced. I only got “Szczecin” by getting Google to say it for me a few times (Stet’zin, sort of)).

We spent the day working, and I feel like things went quite well.

It’s funny, though – I am *very* confident at this point that I know how to run a team. I know how to run a very *specific kind* of team, and it’s weird realizing how much of what I know works works because of some fundamental assumptions you make about who you hire, why you hire them, and what you expect them to do, and if you’re in a different context, *everything* has to change again. So a lot of today was trying to reframe some of my assumptions about what would work in a different context, where the variables both on the team and what they’re building and who they’re building it for are all quite different than my natural assumptions. But again, it was really good stuff, and it’s neat to see a bunch of smart people working in their native environment. Can’t say any more than that, of course, but it’s been a good experience.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant (whose name again I couldn’t possibly remember, and even now, can’t figure out how to look up). I had a traditional Polish “sour soup” and it was delicious. I just had that and a small dessert, because my body clearly thinks that it’s some other time than what it actually is here, and everything’s a mess.

I’ve been trying to kick this cough, and it’s frustrating, because I can be lying down and totally fine, as long as I’m not trying to sleep, but the moment I *try* to sleep, I start wheezing, and am then unable to actually get to sleep. So that kind of sucks, given that this is a week where I have a legit opportunity to actually *catch up* on sleep. Argh.

Still, another day of solid work tomorrow, we drive back to Berlin in the evening, and then I fly out Wednesday morning. I can’t wait to get home – I miss the kids (and Ei-Nyung) a LOT. Mobi, too. :D

But the little I’ve seen of Poland has been beautiful. Parts of Szczecin feel like Berlin, parts feel like Osaka, and then parts of it are, “Oh, of COURSE that’s what Poland looks like.” Hard to describe, but when you see it, it’s obviously “correct”.

That’s it for today. Time to try to get some sort of sleep. Whee.

East Berlin

A few years ago, I started having some trouble with my tailbone. Apparently started around the time that J was born, when we spent a lot of time bouncing him on a yoga ball, but basically when I have to sit on a chair for hours at a stretch, my tailbone starts to hurt, and the longer I sit, the worse it gets. So 10 hours on a plane isn’t my idea of fun. After about six hours, it’s just basically agony.

I also had to sprint to make my connection, hustling quickly through customs in Frankfurt. Was told the wrong gate by the agent, so I ran halfway through the terminal, then had to run back the other way to just barely make my connection.

All in all, things were sort of as good as they could be, but I wouldn’t want to have to make this trip particularly often. :P

Arrived midday yesterday, but the hotel room wasn’t ready, so I called up the guy I’m visiting (consulting for his company over the next few days) and we went to get coffee. Walked through East Berlin – it’s a very Oakland-like place, where the transitions between “nice” and “not nice” are abrupt – and got the best latte I’d ever had at a place called “No Fire No Glory”.

After coffee, I went back to the hotel and zonked out for a few hours. First time I’d slept in about 35 hours at that point, and I don’t have any idea how some people work shifts this long in any situation without fairly rapidly losing their minds. Had dinner at a place called “Umami”, which is weird because it was fairly obviously a Vietnamese place. Good, not spectacular. Walked over to a club made up of shipping containers, where we got a drink, talked a bit more, listened to some music. Lots of people smoking here, which I’d almost forgotten is still a thing people do.

Went back to the hotel, got to sleep around midnight, and woke up at 4. Was fully awake for about 2 hours, then back to sleep, woke up again at 11.

Headed over to Mauerpark, where there was a big park, a flea market, some food. Got a bratwurst, which got currywursted, ’cause I think the guy didn’t understand what I was saying. Which was fine – it was tasty, just not what I tried to order. Also got some fresh-squeezed orange juice, which was nice. Stopped off in the park and listened to a pair of drummers that were really good – had a very odd bass drum setup – sort of like a marching band drum mounted sideways, and the pedal was attached to the frame & hit the drum from the bottom-up. Guy had his pedal hooked up with something like the 2nd pedal in a double-bass setup. Weird. But it was neat – one drummer played sitting down (with the bass drum), had a snare, a weird stand w/ 6 cymbals on it, and a bunch of differently-pitched cowbells on the other, and a snare. The other guy played the *top* of the bass drum, what looked like 4 bongo drum heads without any kind of bodies, and two other low toms.

They made a lot of noise, and it was a lot of fun to watch. I tossed a couple Euro into their collection jar (an overturned djembe), and then decided to walk back to the hotel. Which was a bit of a dumb idea, because I didn’t actually know how to get back, other than a quick glance at a map before I’d left. I also knew that I was staying at the Leonardo, but there are apparently *two* Leonardo hotels in Berlin, and I didn’t know how to describe to someone where the one I was was vs. the other. But I knew the general direction I was going, and I knew where the giant radio tower was relative to the hotel, and figured I’d seen a few landmarks the day before so maybe I could find my way around.

If I had cell phone/data, it’d be no problem, but I’d forgotten what it was like trying to navigate around a new space without that as a crutch. Took about 40 minutes, but I made it back. It was nice to walk around and just see what the city is like. There’s a lot of graffiti – some of it is good – high quality art that people have invested a lot of time into, but a lot of it is just shitty vandalism that really brings down the atmosphere and makes things feel junky.

There are also a lot of interesting parks for kids. Stuff that wouldn’t fly in the much-too-coddled US environment. Stuff where concrete sections have built-in trampolines. Yeah, if you do something dumb, you’ll break a leg. If you *don’t* do something dumb, you’ll have a blast. Tons of families out and about. Made me miss my family, even though it’s only been a day and a half. This will be the longest I’ve been away from them in a long time, and the longest I’ve ever been away from K.

After Mauerpark, went back to the hotel, and met up with Anton. We went on a boat tour of the Spree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spree), and got to see a bunch of buildings from the river, basically a lot of juxaposition of old & new, which in East Germany is a lot weirder than in many places, I think. After that, cabbed over to Checkpoint Charlie (the touristiest of the places I’ve been so far), then over a bit more to get a kebab & some coffee. Walked back to the hotel, and here I am.

I’ve got an awful cough, which is kind of suck. Will be meeting up with Anton and Wibe, who’s coming in to town, for dinner. Strange – I met up with Wibe for coffee a few months ago in Oakland, and met Anton for the first time a month and a half ago, and now we’re all in Berlin having dinner. Also had a number of “small world” moments talking with Anton, just because since he’s a Finn, he knows a lot of the Finns in the mobile game scene. I don’t know many of them directly, but there were a lot of second-hand connections.

Tomorrow, we head over to Szczecin for a couple of days, then back here Tuesday night, and heading back home Wednesday morning. Can’t wait to get back to the family, but it’s been an interesting trip so far to be sure. Will post some pics when I get them off my phone (something weird is happening w/ iCloud ATM).

Chugging Along

IMG_5666Life is good.

K’s been finally able to get to sleep quickly. The routine has gone from lasting about 1:30 (that’s one HOUR and a half) to about 5 minutes, which is fantastic. Well, that’s about 30 minutes of “prep” – washing, brushing teeth, reading, etc., but that was always on top of the previous 1:30 as well.

He’s completely obsessed with the Frozen soundtrack, which would be worse except I actually like most of the songs, so it’s been at least mostly tolerable, and it’s what he wants to listen to when going to sleep. Put ANYTHING else on, or sing anything else, and he says, “Go! Go! Go!” until you switch to the Frozen soundtrack. So well played, Disney.

The kids are still enjoying time at the pool on days when it’s warm (which are starting to get less frequent). J’s kind of swimming – it’s clear that it’ll be time to get him some sort of lessons, as I think it can be a lot easier to learn from someone else. While J still needs his goggles and gets upset if water gets in his eyes, K doesn’t care AT ALL about getting water in his eyes, or going underwater. He’s just like, “Yeah, whatever, let’s go again!”

Work’s been interesting – we’ve been basically working full-time on Wonderspark, which is fun – the idea’s really fleshed out over the last few weeks, and though there are still some handwavey bits, for sure, there is a really solid core game that we can build even if none of the handwavey bits work out at all. So that’s pretty sweet.

It’s still just the two of us, and so progress goes in fits and starts. It’s mostly chronicled here.

This week is all “people”. Monday we’re doing a bunch of user interviews, which is a strongly encouraged part of the Lean Startup process. So we’re basically trying to ensure that we’re ‘filling a need’ or ‘solving a problem’. It’s not about asking people what they think of our solution (the specific game we’re making), but more trying to make sure that there is space for it in their lives, and that it’s solving a need that they have that they’re likely to pay for. The process is usually for more “blank slate” startups, and so translating that process into something like “games” where the need is known but the *specific answer* is not may be a little strange, but we’re gonna give it a shot & see. I suspect that our first interviews will be a bit of a clusterfuck, but that’s what learning is for. :)

Later in the week, I’m spending almost every lunch meeting up with other entrepreneurs, including someone I’d worked with very briefly at Big Fish who left a while before I did, but was one of the people I respected most at the company. I’d been thinking about reaching out to him when he unexpectedly reached out to me, and it’s always nice to have people that you liked & respected reaching out to you – I think it’s a sign you did something right. Rather, I think it’s the sign you did the *most important* things right, that people want to work with you again, or at least maintain that relationship over time.

We’ve also spent a lot of time organizing things around the house. Since we’ve got more time, and finally some things have “finalized” about where stuff goes, I’d started moving things around in the downstairs, throwing out/donating stuff that we’re not using anymore, and finally uncluttering large sections of stuff that have been sitting around for far too long without proper attention.

IMG_8405So, for instance, this “alcove” in the downstairs always ended up full of random things, because it’s one of the least-used spaces in the house. But since I’d moved the desk out of that space & over into the downstairs bedroom, which is now our full-time office, I had a chance to pick up a little piece of furniture to properly organize the music equipment, and set up a “station” to house it all in a usable way, which is cool.

Aside from the easel, which gets regular use from the kids, the entire bookshelf is accessible without digging through stuff, which is probably the first time that’s been true since we put the bookshelves in a few years ago.

The rest of the downstairs is finally similarly uncluttered (for us, I know other people have a much more stringent definition of “uncluttered”). But it’s nice to feel like we’re winning the battle instead of constantly drifting further into entropy.

J these days is back into dinosaurs, which is kinda cool, because we’re now building on some already-established knowledge. He went through a probably-induced-mostly-by-me LEGO phase, and while he still makes cars and stuff, the dinosaur toys he got last year around Christmas are back in full rotation again. We’ve been hiding and finding them in the backyard, which is great until one of us forgets where we put one of ‘em. I’m sure years from now we’ll find random dinosaurs in trees.

The backyard is probably the source of biggest potential for improvement. One of these days we’ll need to just go in there and basically wipe it all out & restart from nearly scratch. There are still bits of retaining wall that are under the hill that need to get dug out & disposed of, and then just coming up with an actual plan of what to do (and how to do it). Because it’d be easy to spend $100K to redo the entire backyard, which is insane. But at the same time, looking at our neighbor’s yard, it makes the space so much more useful that I can’t say spending some money wouldn’t be well spent when the kids are still small & can run around like a pair of goons out there.

IMG_8341Still doing trackdays, which are fun, but a little less frequently (since with no income, they’re a pretty big expense). Going back to Sonoma on 10/9, which is still my favorite track. Haven’t done the extended Thunderhill, but that may have potential to unseat Sonoma, I dunno. Every time I go I feel like I learn a lot, so that element of it is always really exciting.

It’s nice to have a group of friends to go with, as well – it makes it a way more social experience. It does seem like “trackday” is the new “kitesurfing” is the new “golf”. The thing business people do when businessing. I ended up at a happy hour for Shasta Ventures, through a friend, and talked to one of the partners there, and he’s a trackday guy as well. So there’s a nonzero chance that someday, instead of getting funding by going somewhere & giving a pitch, it’ll happen through some random discussion of the best line through Turn 2 at Sonoma. Who knows.

Anyway – other than that, not a lot going on. Kids, work, more kids, more work. Been trying to get out of the house for lunch to meet up with people, just because it’s nice to talk to other folks every once in a while. But so far, things are going super well. Project’s exciting, life outside of work is fun & fulfilling, kids are doing well, levels of sleep are slowly increasing. If we can get K to skip waking up at 5:30 and sleep, as he sometimes (rarely) does until 7, I think we’d be firmly lodged in the “life is fucking awesome” camp. As is, hell, we’re there anyway.

Unemployed but Busy

IMG_5691

Ei-Nyung and I have decided to start a new company.

This feels like a really bizarre thing to say. Let’s put the obvious thing up front. It’s risky. Starting up a company has a very high likelihood of putting a lot of stress on our relationship. The plus side is that we’ve worked with each other for five years already, so hopefully this won’t be too different than how that went, except for the intensity of it. Which is obviously a thing.

Still, I’m excited.

We both have really strong ideas about how a team should be run – I think that, more than anything else, is the big drive here. Neither of us feels like we’re likely to find a “real” job that is going to be a place where we’re as happy with how the team is run than if we do it ourselves. Which is odd, maybe a little egotistical to say, but after the experience of running Self Aware for the last few years, and seeing how other people do this kind of thing, I’m just not interested in working for someone who does this worse than I do.

Which means that now we’re in an interesting situation. We’ve got enough to self-fund a minimal team if we have to, and we’re definitely starting the process spending a whopping $0 (or as close as we can get) until we’re confident we’re heading in the right direction and need to hire someone else. But at the same time, given Self Aware’s success, I’m hoping I can find someone willing to invest in the potential and help us ramp things up a bit quicker, and provide a sufficient marketing budget to get whatever we’re doing off the ground. So far, I’ve had the chance to meet with a handful of folks, and some things are still in process. We’ll see how all that shakes out in the next few weeks.

But in that time, one of the interesting things is that it’s become pretty clear what initial direction we want to take. We started with two concepts, and while one is familiar, and likely to get to revenue quickly, the problem is that it’s an incredibly crowded market, and if we can’t get that off the ground, there’s no useful “Plan B”. On the other hand, the second concept is much more out there, and full of more unknowns, but at the same time, it’s a bigger idea, so it’s got a lot more ways to approach it while still adhering to the big idea. That’s the direction we’re leaning at this point, but all that really means is that it’s the first thing we’re trying to test the concept for.

At Self Aware, we’d almost accidentally ended up implementing a really raggedy version of the Lean Startup – Ei-Nyung had seen Eric Ries talk way back when at GDC about his experience at IMVU, and we took that talk and ran with it, not realizing that there was a whole movement starting up around it. But last year, Ei-Nyung found out about Lean, and we’ve jumped in to learning what else was going on while we were trying to derive the process from first principles. Funnily enough, we’re both now signed up to be mentors at a conference in October, and I’ll be giving a talk in December at the Lean Conference. :O That’ll be exciting. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try to get some sort of speaking gig somewhere, to see if I could give a compelling talk to someone other than a captive audience. So I’ll get that chance, it seems. Pumped up for it, but the catch is that you can’t use anything you haven’t properly licensed, which puts a weird spin on my process, because I tend to use a lot of pop-culture imagery in my presentations because they work well to reinforce ideas in a (hopefully) memorable way. Something recognizable also is a shorthand, because you bring a lot of context with a single image. So trying to structure a presentation without that will be new for me. Still. Psyched.

Also been working on a handful of other projects, most of which have (thankfully) wrapped up (or wrapped up to the point where my time is minimal on them). Lots of fun stuff – diverse, for sure. Just wish any of it had paid reasonably, but I suppose the problem is that I tend to get excited about doing stuff, and I hate negotiating compensation. So whatever – either it’ll work out in the end, and the people I’ll have done this for will square up eventually, or I’ll learn a lesson about stuff. I’d much rather trust people & believe they have good intentions & get screwed than be paranoid all the time. Of course, I recently managed to learn both sides of that lesson the hard way. *shrugs*

The end of the year’s gonna be interesting. Potentially lots of stuff happening between here & 2015. Scratch that – lots of stuff is happening between now and 2015. The interesting thing will be to see exactly how it happens, because I think we’ve got a good idea of what we’re intending to do.

Failure and Repetition

Photo on 6-26-14 at 4.14 PM #2

 

I’ve been trying to paint the helmet that I use for trackdays for a while. A few months ago, I painted it with some Plastidip, and mocked up what it ought to look like with vinyl tape. But the tape kept shrinking, and so it looks terrible. What it convinced me of is that I wanted to actually *paint* the helmet correctly.

A few options existed. I could just grab a bunch of rattlecans, mask things off & paint the sucker, and that’d probably have been fine – the “right” way to do things for the level of time investment I was willing to spend.

But there was another way, which was to use the “quality” paints, where you can get a bunch of better finishes, and even some better “effects” – pearlized finishes, metallic stuff, etc. And the paint would be higher quality, and more durable. I figured, “Why not?” I had a compressor and an airbrush already.

So I set about trying to learn how to do this, and I learned. A lot. And it was all trial and error. First, an airbrush is too small to cover a whole helmet. It’s for detail work. So I got a paint sprayer. Much more effective. Second, different types of paint don’t play well together. A water-based and something-toxic-based paint can’t be painted in multiple coats, or the toxic paint destroys the water-based one. So pick one & go with it and don’t mix the two. Third, prep matters. I’m not sure exactly where I screwed up some of the things, but some other of the things were clear. Around edges, don’t wrap the tape over anything that changes height, or it’ll peel away and you’ll get overspray. On complicated surfaces… don’t mask straight lines. At least, not as a n00b. Don’t let your trim tape sit for more than a few hours or on a hot day it’ll shrink, and all your edges will get screwed up. Sand everything smooth. Any imperfections are emphasized 10fold in the final finish, because it’ll screw up any lines you need straight, and since everything else will look good, anything that looks bad looks much, much worse. Get something to keep particles from settling in the paint (ie: don’t paint outside on a dusty day).

In the end, I took the helmet (above) where I learned all those lessons, and sanded it all the way down to the original bare primer, because this time I’m going to be painting it with a different kind of paint, where I’ll need to learn how that paint works *first* before going and screwing up the helmet I actually like.

All told, this was a week+ worth of work, and if cost efficiency and result quality were my goal, I should have just paid a professional painter. But for whatever reason, this is a skill I wanted to learn, and though frustrating to fail, the failure and education were highly pleasurable, because I feel like I’m learning a rare skill that I’ll be able to use more of in the future. (If the helmet turns out well, I’m going to paint the plastics on my scooter.)

So it’s been fun, even though it sounds frustrating. It was a project that was basically utterly useless, to do something only I was ever going to care about, tremendously difficult, and yet somehow… hugely enjoyable and fulfilling. Even in (so far) failure.

Creativity, Inc.

I’d suggest that reading Creativity, Inc. is mandatory for anyone who’s managing anyone in videogames. Again, just to make sure this is clear, I’m in no way equating myself with Ed Catmull. But Catmull’s approach, ultimately, is *very* similar to what almost all of my major priorities at Self Aware were. He had more time, and has WAY more experience, but the approaches were similar.

Most of what I learned, I learned from working under terrible managers, even extraordinarily recently. People who had to “message” the truth. People who claimed to want creativity and initiative, but really just wanted everything to be “right” and someone to blame when it wasn’t. People who didn’t give a shit about the people on the team, but did things like hang “Open 7 Days” signs above the engineering pit (yeah, that’s awfully specific). People who had brilliant, creative, hard-working and dedicated people who only wanted the best for the team that they were working on, but then couldn’t let their ego actually *listen* to them, give them any freedom, or do anything other than 100% what they wanted to do.

And as I write all that, almost every sentence in there (save one) is applicable to *multiple* people I worked under. So if you think, “Ah, I know THAT GUY,” THAT GUY is multiple guys, because this kind of shitty management is so prevalent in the industry that it’s the rule, not the exception.

But it can be done better. You can have autonomy. You can work towards mastery. You don’t have to just have a job, you can have a *purpose* (via Daniel Pink). You don’t have to be stuck with someone telling you how to do everything you’re supposed to do, you can be told *why* you’re supposed to do something and then actually have the room to exercise your expertise. You can be tactical AND strategic, because your team is made up of extraordinary people that you’ve grown to trust – because you didn’t work insane hours, because you had the time and space to bond as *people* and not just as co-workers, and because everyone, up and down the chain, had to trust in your judgment for the process to work.

There is a LOT in Creativity, Inc. that I feel like I can learn from in a new venture when given the space to try it out. There’s a lot I *didn’t* learn about how to deal with a larger-but-still-small team. How to deal with the culture as it starts to unravel, and how to deal with new people who’ve only worked at a successful company, and who didn’t go through the process of wondering exactly when you were going to have to pack it in and find different jobs.

But mostly, it’s affirmation that what I believed would work *can* work – it wasn’t just a fluke that Self Aware was what it was. It *has* happened in other places, and even larger places – the kinds of places where bullshit is “inevitable”. So, I’m inspired to push forward, to try to do this *again*, because it is not just possible, it is the *only thing worth aspiring to*.

Porygon!

I got an article published in Polygon a while back! posting a link here just in case I ever need to find it again: http://www.polygon.com/2014/1/22/5330576/apples-ios-controller-api-isnt-solving-a-problem-its-opening-a-door