Monday – mon Dieu!

Monday – my god, it’s Monday again! Where did the weekend go? No point in mourning the passing of days, I guess, so let’s leave what was lost and look to the days that lie ahead.

My average week is not exactly shock full of cultural experiences, but this week will be a bit different from most. 2012’s edition of the Uppsala Short Film Festival started today, and will show great short films in several of the city’s cinemas throughout the week. I intend to see a bunch of them, and the one I look forward to the most is one I have already seen – The Fisherman.

“Following the death of Pake Walker, his son Pat climbs the high hill of Bull Na Mor, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, to honour his father’s memory and to contemplate a life spent at sea.”

It’s impossible to not empathize with Pat, but more than anything I was taken by the short film’s charged atmosphere. It’s a powerful experience. Simply amazing photography – which I very much look forward to seeing on the big screen – in dark blues and greys and silver, coupled with the sounds of the raging sea and an almost hypnotic voice-over by Pat himself as he talks about his life. You are invited to share Pat’s relationship with the raw, intense, yet somehow soothing ocean for 22 minutes.

Lena has been part of the group selecting short films for the festival’s programme, and I’ve happily ignored most of the DVD’s she’s brought home to watch. But after a few frames of The Fisherman I woke up from my iPad induced couch slumber, and sat up. The first thought that crossed my mind as the short ended was “I want to see that again“. On Thursday I will.

To answer this blog post’s first question; the weekend was sacrificed to the game Dishonored, which I finished yesterday. I have plenty to say about the game, and plan to do so in several blog posts, but for now I’ll just say “play it, dammit“. If you at all care about gaming, you need to play Dishonored.

On another note, I need to buy and play Xcom. Obviously.

Why ownership matters

There’s one concept of creative leadership that can make or break a team. It can make production slow and quality low, or it can bring out the very best in people. The concept of ownership is undoubtely one of the most important aspects of leading creative people – at least if you want quality, if you want efficiency and if you want to keep your staff.

Ownership, of course, is the sense of responsibility over a specific part of the project. Hopefully you desire to make the piece you own as good as you possibly can so that you can take pride in it.

If what this post has to say is obvious and selv-evident to you, congratulations! There are a lot of people that don’t either get it or believe in it. They ultimately pay the price, unfortunately without ever knowing it. Now, let’s dissect the concept and poke at its guts to see why ownership matters for people and projects.

Motivation

Very few people are happy to just be a cog in the great machine, just churning out whatever the next task asks for. It can be a very demotivating experience, because no matter how challening that task might be, you are still building someone else’s machine.

From Chaplin's Modern Times

We want to be involved. We want some level of control. We want to feel that we own a part of the project, even if its just a small splinter of it. Why? When you feel ownership, you feel it because you have invested some of yourself in the project. Suddenly it becomes very important.

Allotting ownership of different parts of the project to team members is a great motivational tool. It creates internal motivation and self-powered individuals, and can inject energy and passion into the veins of your team.

Efficiency

Ownership is efficient.

Picture this. TeamMember1 has produced ContentX. Some issues have been found with ContentX, but TeamMember1 is busy right now so TeamMember2 is asked to fix it. However, ContentX is complicated and TeamMember2 is forced to spend time understanding how it works before he can start weeding out the issues it has. In the end TeamMember2 ends up asking TeamMember1 how details of ContentX works.

The manager who has “optimized” the workload might think this is efficient, but is it really?

  • TeamMember2 had to spend time analyzing how ContentX worked before he could even start seeking solutions to its issues.
  • TeamMember1 had to spend time communicating the inner workings of his creation.
  • Afterwards TeamMember1 had to spend time to understand the changes TeamMember2‘s fixes brought.

Your average mad scientist

Here are two simple truths about production:

The person who has the best knowledge of a specific area is the person who has worked the most extensively on it.

Any project that requires a team is complex enough that communication poses a challenge. One goal to handle the challenge should be to minimze the amount of communication that is necessary.

If management had respected ownership of ContentX, the situation would have been different. The person who owned it could simply have fixed it and then moved on.

This of course demands good planning from management. The owner should have time allocated to fix his own material. If issues appear late in a milestone and there is no time for the owner to fix them, they should be postponed to the next milestone unless they are critical. Critical issues should not come as a surprise to management near the end of a milestone.

This is indeed a best case scenario and will not always be possible – especially nearing the end of a project when postponing anything is impossible. But the goal should be to respect ownership whenever possible for the sake of efficiency.

Responsibility

Simply put, if someone feels ownership over an area, that person will feel responsible for it and is likely to ensure that it is developed to be the best it can be. In the same way, if no one feels ownership over it, it will be neglected. And if something is neglected, management is required to take responsibility, and will end up micromanaging it. In turn, micromanagement decreases the individual’s feeling of ownership further. A vicious circle that can be difficult to escape.

Another threat towards ownership and personal responsibility is when others are tasked with important work within an area you “own”, like in the ContentX example above. Be careful. It doesn’t take much micromanagement, or seeing your tasks being redistributed to others, before the feeling of ownership diminishes.

Micromanagement and task redistribution kills individuals’ sense of responsibility while ownership builds it. Management can use this knowledge as a tool to decentralize responsibility over production and quality. Empower your employees with ownership and they will take much more responsibility.

The right stuff?

What all this means is that ownership is not just a need creative employees have – it’s a powerful tool to lead them. But do you have what it takes to utilize it? What kind of leader are you? Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I trust my team’s ability and knowledge?

Do I have the guts and confidence to take a step back for others to take a step forward?

Do I own the skills to effectively communicate the direction and vision of the project?

Do I plan ahead with realistic estimates and time buffers, instead of continously reacting to circumstances?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, then you have work to do.

Postcards from Guild Wars 2, batch #1

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

Games are worlds to me, more than anything. I think they always have been. Even the simple platform games I played on the NES as a kid were places I visited, not puzzles or challenges to overcome. Sure, those elements gave the experience a much needed conflict, but they were first and foremost worlds that I could step into and experience. The TV screen became a portal that allowed me to escape a reality I wasn’t very keen on.

This is also how I as a child started dreaming about designing games. I thought and fantasized about those worlds, those spaces, and I wanted to make my own. Never did I dare to dream about making games for a living. I’m a lucky bastard to have ended up doing just that.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

When I started playing PC games, the games that appealed the most to me were the point & click adventure games, because they had their focus on the places they portrayed rather than the constant physical conflict of most other genres. The adventure genre was probably the first where I felt I could really explore in a game. The (then) rather unusual importance of story and characters and dialog was also something that appealed to me. These aspects are just as important to me today as they were then, although I couldn’t articulate why I enjoyed it so much all those years ago.

I left the point & click games behind a long time ago. There’s simply much better realized game worlds in other places today, like RPGs and other open world genres.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

I’ve written about how I enjoyed the world of Skyrim before, and there is no doubt why I gave it 90 hours of my life. It sure as hell wasn’t the combat mechanics. It wasn’t the quests or the RPG systems. Those rarely impressed me. Skyrim hooked me because of the very strong sense of precense I had in its world, and how much I enjoyed exploring it, affecting it and taking part in it.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

A couple of weeks ago I started playing Guild Wars 2. I enjoy the gameplay a whole lot, but the most important aspect of it is simply being there, discovering, uncovering, conquering, tinkering. There’s a lot to be said about the world of Guild Wars 2 (and not all of it is positive), but that’s for a later post. For now I’ll just say that Guild Wars 2 is far away from the ideals I wish the MMORPG genre would strive towards, but I’m having a lot of fun playing it anyway!

Until that future post, please enjoy some of my photographs from the journey I’ve had to level 20.

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

Guild Wars 2 screenshot

More to come, stick around!