Archive for category: Inspiration

The Latest…General Excitement About My New Job!

Hello folks – I apologize for my absence over the last couple of months — I was in South Africa for a few weeks and then recently started a new job, both of which have been amazingly exciting time vortexes.

The biggest news of the two: I have officially abandoned consulting for a proper job, a very exciting proper job. In fact, probably the most exciting opportunity I’ve had to date (no offense to former employers, but none of you offered a life-sized Spiderman outside of my office).

As of February 20th, I am the first Director for Working Examples, a online community/social media project funded by the MacArthur and Gates foundations. We are creating an online space for people who research, design and create digital media that impacts education (think video games that teach). It will be a place where people can unpack their ideas, push them around, find collaborators and ultimately help this emerging field move forward.

Over the next couple of years, my team and I will be blending strategy, user engagement, design and technology to create a thriving community. Luckily my team is awesome!

In addition to this being a fantastic job, we are housed in Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (the video game design program). The ETC is a truly magical place, demonstrated when you step off the elevator onto the bridge of a spaceship, complete with talking robot. The program is the brainchild of Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch, whose Last Lecture first introduced me to Carnegie Mellon, and is a place full of possibilities, artists, programmers, gaming paraphernalia, comic book art and oddball people who always seem to be thinking about interesting things.

It’s the dream job that I never knew I was dreaming about.

I plan to continue to update this blog with my thoughts on managing design, building online communities, user experience and whatever else comes to pass. I’m at SXSW Interactive this weekend and look forward to collecting a lot inspiration and knowledge while here. More to come, I’m sure…

My best to you all…Anna

IGDA Food For Thought

My favorite talk from the  IGDA Leadership Forum I attended back in October was Jesse Schell’s keynote, “Information Flow: The Secret to Studio Structure” (you can watch it here)

He covers ant colonies and acupuncture, email etiquette and lovable fools – (humorously) tying everything to the impact of information and communcation in our offices. It’s an hour long, but it’s a slow holiday week, right? Watch it and charge the time to professional development.

ETC | Training Ground for Interdisciplinary Design

How do you get techies, project managers and artists to play nice? You teach them that’s the way it’s done, from the beginning.

Welcome to the ETC, the brain child of Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch. As Randy said in his now famous ‘Last Lecture‘,
” the ETC is to ‘masters degrees’ as Cirque Du Soleil is to circus” — it’s a whole different world. Truly. And not just because on the fifth floor the elevator doors open to the interior of a spaceship.

Drew Davidson, Director for the Pittsburgh campus, filled me in on their ‘break the mold’ approach to preparing students for the world of design:

Collaborative Interdisciplinary Teams

The ETC’s classes, faculty and projects all evangelize teams that:

  • collaborate to support and communicate the project’s ‘narrative’
  • build on each other’s ideas
  • take risks, explore and play together
  • support each other: listen, observe and give honest feedback

Their students drink the kool-aid.

Collective Ownership

The entire team owns every project and they’re all responsible for its success. The team is evaluated collectively on both design and production deliverables, making everyone responsible for content quality and staying on schedule.

Lesson: when everyone is responsible for everything, it becomes everyone’s job to solve problems.

Lots of Feedback

Students learn how to better support each other and communicate through regular feedback. Advisers and students meet throughout the semester to discuss their work and team member reviews.

Drew compared it to something Randy’s mentor once told him:
“Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re able to accomplish in life.”

Integrated Education

I’d love to see more design industries adopt these practices, in our firms and in graduate education. Why aren’t architecture and engineering programs more integrated? Advertising and communications programs? I mean, you’ll be collaborating for the rest of your career…

IGDA Recap | Meeting, Hearing, Learning, Talking, Confirming

It took me a moment, but I’ve finally caught up after the IGDA’s Leadership shindig. The conference was amazing! It drew people from across the globe and I walked away with new perspectives and renewed enthusiasm. My personal highlights were:

  • Meeting lots of interesting, friendly people who made me feel very welcome. My lack of video game knowledge meant I talked to anyone and everyone, ignorant of any cool kid status.
  • Hearing from firm and team leaders that are experimenting with how they structure work, manage teams and train their leaders.
  • Learning about video game design and comparing their creative processes with other design industries.
  • Talking with people that place such a high value on developing their ability to manage people. Clearly this industry has found the value in developing leadership skills, in part because project teams are so large and complex.
  • Confirming that creative management ideas translate across creative industries by participating in conversations about team and firm management.

The most valuable part of the conference was certainly how much it expanded my network of creatives. I’m excited about the people I met and am looking forward to bringing their perspective  into this conversation about managing creative work .


Fear and the Art of Creation

I’ve talked before about the importance of failure in our creative processes. But knowing that failure can be good is one thing; practicing it is something else entirely. Taking big risks promises uncertainty, judgement (of ourselves and from others) and the possibility that we might just look stupid. Anyone involved with creativity or innovation deals with these fears, myself included.

Today I came across this illustration from a talk that Chris Guillebeau and Jonathan Fields did on fear in the midst of creation:

Fear and the Art of Creation: SXSW 2011

It points at all the voices in our heads that keep us from taking risks; they can be paralyzing. But life without creativity is boring. Sitting still, waiting for things to happen, being certain — boring.

So in response, today I gave myself permission to leap. I decided to apply to two conferences, speaking about managing creativity in your company. (p.s. public speaking scares me to no end.) In the process, one of my mentors invited me to speak with him about working in teams at another conference in October. Ack! (Let’s say that’s an excited ‘ack’.) And so I have taken some baby step towards expanding this conversation about managing creativity.

What is your fear keeping you from doing? What could you do to ‘act in the face of uncertainty’? Give yourself permission, take your first baby step…

Chuck Hoover | Schell Games

Earlier this week I chatted with Chuck Hoover, Studio Production Director at Schell Games. Schell is truly a experience creator – building interactive worlds in games, theme parks and toys. Doesn’t sound like a bad gig, huh? A friend of mine who works there has raved about the reasonable hours, great project management and supportive culture — I wanted to see for myself.

Enter Chuck

Chuck studied architecture at Virginia Tech, before being lured into game design and receiving a graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). There he discovered his natural proclivity for organizing people, a perfect fit for a producer. In game design, producers are more than just logistical pros, they are also responsible for managing the dynamics and culture of their team — an insanely diverse group made up of artists, designers, engineers and programmers all working under one roof. In other words, they deserve a medal.

I was struck immediately by how reflective and thoughtful Chuck (in his own work) and the management of Schell have been in creating and reinforcing their culture. They have established the hierarchy needed to run a mid-sized firm, while also tearing down hierarchy in day-to-day studio life. They are aware of how their actions affect their staff, even down to what time they decide to leave for the day. It was inspiring to see the elements of creative management I advocate for being put to work so well.

Thoughts: game design vs. other creative industries

While I want to certainly give huge kudos to Jesse Schell (CEO) and his management staff for the culture they’ve created, I wonder if the industry itself doesn’t play a part. According to Chuck the team management role of the producer is typical across the industry. Their job is make sure cross-disciplinary work is happening smoothly, that people are working together effectively. Here lies a stark difference between game design and other creative industries, whose factions of workers (creatives/suits, designers/account managers, architects/ engineers) work relatively independently and often with somewhat contentious relationships.

Does game design have a leg up because it is a relatively young industry where older management models don’t define how people think about work? With no one telling them how it ‘should’ be done, have they figured out how to work in ways that other design industries say is impossible?

The Value of Design | Architecture in Britain

The value of design is a subject long argued — an ongoing push-pull between designers and those that pay the bills. Today’s Monocolumn (a favorite daily of mine) discusses just that, the value of architectural design in schools being built under the British government’s Building Schools for the Future program.

Having spent years working in architecture, I understand the implicit benefits of well-designed buildings, whether that is worker productivity, students’ attention span or the long-run cost of utilities and upkeep. However, translating that to clients who must answer to today’s budget restrictions is often difficult. Many architects believe that design has been devalued, and thus is ‘value-engineered’ out of many projects. My fear is the long-term cost of that devaluation to our society and/or industries.

I’m sure architecture is not the only creative industry facing this obstacle. What does this challenge look like in your industry? What ideas do you have for conveying the benefits of good design to clients?

Question Your Elders

The world is moving fast, as we all know. How we work is changing; how our organizations will be structured is going to have to change too – how is another post for another day. Many business leaders plan based on past successes, but our uncertain world does not promise future success based on the past. New ideas about how we run our businesses are uncomfortable, I know.

Courtesy of

When I talk with Gen X and Gen Y about future changes to management style and firm structure, people start nodding their heads and smiling. Talking with many of  ‘my elders’ in creative industries, I get blank stares, brush offs or a nice pat on the head. Part of this reaction is that change is hard and without a proper sense of urgency few people want to tackle it. But I think it’s also that I look younger than I am, so they think I’m just an eager youngster that doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

I recently read this article on 99% about the age-old debate between youth and wisdom. I think it weighs a little heavily in the other direction (i.e. devaluing age and experience), but it does a nice job of pointing out the need for balance.

Considering we’re supposed to be the drivers of new ideas, how can creatives of the future meld best-practices and unorthodox thinking in business (not just design)?

Give Them What They Want: Ices!

I spent this weekend visiting a friend in New York. While walking around Brooklyn on a hot Thursday afternoon we happened across a couple of guys pushing an ice cream cart. Much to our delight they offered us free ices. It turns out they worked in the local Prudential office, but there was no big sales push in exchange for our tasty treats – just an offer of a business card.

After spending over 10 years in marketing, I’m a big believer in connecting with your client/customer in authentic, not pushy, ways. I thought this was a really creative way to get in front of people, smile, chat it up and then send them on their way feeling good about you. Hopefully they’ll get some follow-ups in exchange for their effort!

Call It An Education: Product and Service Innovation

This summer I am playing guest contributor to an e-MBA course at Portland State University. The course is called Product and Service Innovation for Shared Value and is taught by Dr. Jeanne Enders (a management professor specializing in social and organizational psychology) and Albrecht Enders (an innovation consultant with 23 years of product innovation experience).

We will be helping students reinvent their firms’ value propositions through product/service innovation. Specifically, the class advocates for innovation that is broad reaching –  considering customer, social, and long-term goals for sustainable profitability.

I’m honored to be a part of this class and look forward to offering my passion for and knowledge of the creative process and change management. I plan to learn as much from our students as they may from me, and I’m sure our discussion topics will make their way into this blog.

Our first week of reading has included Roger Martin’s “The Design of Business” and an article on ‘blue ocean strategy‘. Some interesting discussion has resulted around the idea of the art and business of the music industry. Creative industries face similar dichotomies – artists at heart that must create something for a client’s or consumers’ specifications.  What do you think? Is there a way to successfully do both; to address the business and artistic possibilities in creative projects?