Month: July 2014

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*.