The Next Thing Part 2: A Gamer is Born

Game Collection and Foam Squares

Game Collection and Foam Squares

My daughter has been making games for as long as I can remember. While I think most kids at one point or another have made up a ‘game’ or two that they then force their parents to play with them, my daugher has done so many, many times. It probably didn’t help that she found my dice collection when she was very young, so she was always asking to borrow a couple for some new game she was designing. Still, I think the first time I really took note that this might be something other than the norm, was the day she recreated Candy Land using the house hallways, rooms, and interlocking foam squares as a life-size game board.

As soon as she had learned to speak, I began playing games with her. One of the earliest games I played with her was a very simplified game of Uno. We also had a number of classis, such as Candy Land, Monopoly Junior and Othello. Then, of course, there’s always the standby card games, Old Maid, War, Go Fish and the like. By the time she headed off for Kindergarten she had long been kicking my butt at normal Uno. By 3rd grade she was easily a match for me at Cribbage. I could go on, but I’m hoping you get my point. Games, especially casual games, are something that we play a lot of, and that she’s pretty good at.

While I haven’t brought any longer-format gaming systems into the home, such as role playing or extended card games, such as Pokemon, I’ve certainly continued to bring in more games overall. From card deck versions of games such as Sorry, Monopoly and Life, to more board games (Blokus and Yahtzee come to mind), we continue to expand the collection. Dominos, dice, whatever, we’ve played a lot. And as she has gotten older and the games we play have gotten more sophisticated, so have the games she has designed. Still, she was always MacGyvering the pieces from paper, cardboard, or pieces from other games we owned.

Why am I telling you this? Give me another week, and I’ll get to the point. I’m excited, she’s excited, and I hope you will be, too.

The Faintest Ink…

Have you ever heard a story about how some great invention, technological breakthrough or business started out on the back of a cocktail napkin? There are a bunch of them. Try searching the net for “Famous Napkin Sketches” and see what pops up. You know why it started out on the back of a napkin? The romantic storyteller will tell you that its because inspiration can strike anytime, and the napkin was the only thing available. However, the real reason is because they had a great idea that they didn’t want to lose and they didn’t have a sketchbook or notebook handy.

Its true. If they’d had a sketchbook or notebook, they would have written the idea down in it and it would have been safe in amongst all other other great ideas that came before and would come after. No wondering how to file it. No accidentally tossing it later. And more importantly, its easier to find, because it will be where you ALWAYS put your ideas. Ever lost an idea because you couldn’t find a notebook (or napkin)? I have. Its a bummer.

If you haven’t tried keeping a notebook with you constantly, I recommend it. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens.

Some folks use their iPads or iPhone for this purpose. I think those can work OK, and if you find they work great for you, go for it. I use my iPhone at least for lists and written notes, but personally, nothing helps me capture ideas and designs better than a pencil and paper.

I tend to do a lot of sketching in my notes, so I prefer blank-page notebooks. For work, I am currently using a spiral-bound 5.5in x 12in sketchpad (to the right). It folds all the way around and lays flat, so it sits unobtrusively on any conference table. And it goes with me to all of my meetings. I also have found that I like smaller moleskin sketchbooks for personal projects.

If you prefer writing, and unlike me, actually care if your lines are straight, you can always go with a simple composition notebook, journal or something similar.

If you like both (or can’t decide), I have a colleague that uses a notebook that has dots laid out in a grid on the pages. Then, he can use them to line up writing, or ignore them and draw. Another colleague of mine has a journal that has blank pages on one site, and ruled lines on the other.

Whichever style you like, give it a shot. Make it compact enough for you to have with you wherever you go, but large enough to actually be useful. Because remember, as the old chinese proverb goes, “The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory”, and you’re not guaranteed to find a napkin.

Yes, if…

An idea I came across recently in the book The Imagineering Workout comes from Martin Sklar, the Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Exec at WD Imagineering.

He brought out that Buzz Price began a practice when answering questions and reporting findings to Walt himself, and that was to start with “Yes, if…” rather than No, because…”

“No, because…” is a deal breaker. It says “there’s a brick wall that we can’t go thru, over, under or around.” Move along, there’s nothing to see here. This idea is DOA, and if it is to survive, then it must be resuscitated by someone with greater vision and/or authority. “No, because…” is negative in perspective, boxing in ideas before they’ve had a chance to run free to see what other places they may lead us. An idea that isn’t free to run cannot lead us to other ideas that we haven’t considered yet. “No, because…” feels to your team like an idea has been rejected.

“Yes, if…” is the language of possibility. It doesn’t promise the world, but it does do a good job of laying out the landscape and highlighting the obstacles that must be overcome in order to achieve the desired outcome. Once the “if…” is laid out, the entire team has the ability to visualize the challenges and begin to formulate solutions to defeat them. Costs can be calculated, risks can be assessed, and THEN decisions can be made. “Yes, if…” can lead to new avenues of thought that can not only help you reach that goal, but completely redefine and improve the entire project. I’ve personally seen a number of cases where “yes, if…” has not only lead to a good solution to the current project, but the solution has in turn benefited other projects simply because the answer improved upon a product, service or process that these other systems depend on.

And the fact is, the more creative your team is, the more they will thrive on answers that start with “yes, if…”

“Yes, if…” won’t guarantee that an action is taken or that a goal is planned, but an idea is more likely to be fully explored than if it had been delivered with a “no, because…”.

The Imagineering Workout can be found here.

This is NOT an affiliate link, because I live in the state of CT, who have made the very questionable move to charge full sales tax on all affiliate programs, and so Amazon and a whole slew of other online businesses have pulled their affiliate programs from this state.

Haven’t Seen Avatar

Update: On February, 14, a full 8 weekends into its run, I took my wife to see Avatar, hoping it would be a nice diversion from the recent death of her mother and shooting of her sister. It worked just fine. To make sure that we would NOT miss it again, I bought tickets online. Though it felt overly cautious to do so, I just didn’t want to take the chance. I’m glad I did, because once again, the movie was sold out. When was the last time YOU saw a movie sell out in its 8th weekend?

I haven’t seen Avatar yet. I can hardly believe it myself. I wanted to go opening weekend, but my wife who had recently had surgery wasn’t feeling up to it Christmas, and I really want to go with her. We tried the next day, and it was sold out. We tried again two weekends later, and again it was sold out. Why didn’t I buy tickets online, you ask? Because it was the third weekend out, and in this day and age, who expects a movie to sell out in its third weekend? Its rare enough to get a sell out on opening weekend, certainly not 3 weekends into the run. We had made further plans which have been thwarted for the past month due to family circumstances. We’re making plans for this weekend. Let’s hope.

Anyway, I’d intended to write this post after that third weekend sellout. As bummed as I was that I didn’t get in, I was also happy. You see, if you catch what I’m getting at, this is a big deal for the movie theater industry. You’d probably agree that its almost unheard of for a movie to sell out after opening weekend, and this movie was a prime example of someone trying something and doing it right. Movie theaters have been trying new things for decades; contending with home videos since the very early 80s, shorter and shorter time spans between the theatre and home video releases, and contending with home theater systems and direct download movies. Instead of doing nothing new, theaters, as well as movie studios who enjoy the double income from both box office sales and home video sales, have come together to produce ever better viewing experiences. They are constantly looking for new ways to deliver unique and better experiences.

This stands in stark contrast to the book store industry who seems to be doing not much. Last year, J.C. Hutchins teamed up with viral game designer Jordan Weisman and they created the novel, Personal Effects: Dark Art. I say created rather than written because even though it’s sold in book stores and the main component is the stand alone novel, there is much much more to it. Each book ships with a number of artifacts, all with clues so that you can follow along and try to work out the story as you go. Phone numbers in the story and on the artifacts work, as do website addresses. You can even google the characters and find sites for them. Its a bold new experiment for sure, but more than that, its the kind of idea that could help keep printed media relevant. You simply can’t get these artifacts on a Kindle.

What’s my point? Its that the movie theater industry has been trying lots of new things, from IMAX to 3D to unparalleled audio to pre-roll advertising. Not everything they try sticks, but at least they’re experimenting. Book stores on the other hand don’t seem to try so hard. J.C.’s book should have been front and center in EVERY book store in the country, just to SEE if it was an idea that could take off. The stores, if they were interested at all in finding new ways to stay relevant, should have embraced the effort. Instead, either not wanting to take a chance on a new author, a new idea, or simply because they didn’t understand the concept, they pretty much ignored it. Its too bad, too, because I love book stores and would like to see them remain relevant (see previous post for more on that).

What does this mean for you? Well, what’s going on in your industry? If things are changing, especially if those changes are starting to make you irrelevant, it might be time to start trying something new. Pay attention to what others are doing differently as well, and take note of what seems to be working. Do a bunch of things differently. If an idea comes along, just try it. If it fails, fine, but at least you know what doesn’t work, and its harder to weed through the bad ideas and find the good ones if you’re not producing any ideas at all.

Sharpening the Saw: Mental

About mid January most of my team at work took a 2 day course on the principles from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 7th habit, Sharpening the Saw, refers to the process of scheduling time for personal growth, relaxation, health and exploration. He breaks the areas we need to focus on into 4 groups, Physical, Social/Emotional, Mental and Spiritual.

When we got to the 7th Habit, we broke the room into 4 groups and each group had to come up with ideas on how or where we could find ways to continue to progress in our area. My group, of course, had Mental as our topic. This is the list of ideas we came up with. After class, I wrote them up and emailed them to the entire group so that the others could follow up on them if they wanted to.

Going through my inbox today, I realized that some of you might benefit from this list as well, since having a sharp, fresh mind is one way to really keep us creative and alert to possibilities.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading
These talks were all recorded from TED conferences from around the world. The topics cover all areas of human life, from Technology and Science to Entertainment, Art and Design to Business and Global Issues. These talks are given by people you know and have great reputations in their fields. Politicians, authors, scientists, CEOs, and the like. Most of these talks are NOT industry or vocational in nature; they generally take high-level thinking from their field and apply its impact to the world scene and our every day lives. I don’t believe I’ve heard a ‘bad’ TED talk yet (or maybe the bad ones never make it to their website :). Many of these videos are posted on their site. There are also several iPhone apps that will allow you to stream content directly to your iPhone.

Big Ideas Video
Big Ideas Video Feed –
Like TED, this video series features a number of talks on various topics from many different speakers, each a recognized leader in their field, and making application to current or future trends.

Seth Godin’s Blog
Seth (who is also a TED speaker) is the author of a number of bestselling books about critical thinking. Because he tends to apply these thoughts to marketing and business, this is where you will generally find them in the book store, but in reality, the principles in many of his books can be applied to everyone’s every day lives. His blog offers a daily thought of the kind that keeps you thinking far outside of the box. Jim and I highly recommend it.

If you’re like me and enjoy (and are able) to listen to audio while you work or exercise, I recommend trying audio podcasts. There are video podcasts as well, but unless they are really good, like the TED talks, I generally don’t have time for watching.

There are podcasts that cover just about every topic. Some are amateur (like mine), some are VERY amateur (ouch), and some of professional (even Disney & ESPN release both recycled and original content in podcast format). Podcasts can be downloaded to your MP3 player of choice or listened to directly from your computer. To see what is out there, I recommend using the iTunes application which has an extensive directory as well as offers ease of use.

If you just want to start with fan-voted best of the best, check out the winners from this year at:

Other directories can be found online and include:

Linchpin: Are You Indespensable?

I’ve recently started reading a preview copy of Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? I’m hoping to make a few updates between now and finishing it, but I wanted to just drop a quick post and let you know that this book is really resonating with me.

See, I stopped freelancing almost 4 years ago because I realized my business wasn’t going in a direction that made me happy, and reading Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited, had pretty much showed me why (I swear that book was written just for me). The E-Myth also laid out a very solid foundation for designing and starting your own business. I just needed some time to think and regroup, so I shut down my time-sucking (60+ hours per week) ‘business’ and took a ‘day job’, where I could show up from 8-5 and then go home and think about and build whatever I wanted, NOT worry about clients.

Now, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but from my cubicle over the past 4 years, I’ve watched the entire world change. There have been hints and foreshadowing for decades, what with outsourcing of first menial, and then later, highly sophisticated tech jobs; with factories in industrialized nations closing and new ones opening in developing nations; with “health” vacations to India and Thailand becoming more and more common; yes, hints and foreshadowing that much of what we had built, systematized, and standardized was now going to someone other than ourselves. This factory-based system that worked for so long just seems to have stopped working for any but the most rich and the most poor. The rest of us in the middle have been forgotten.

Its not that the systems from Michael Gerber’s E-Myth in and of themselves aren’t a good idea (in fact, I regularly create systems for lots of things, including my personal life, to help smooth things along), but the entire world has been so systematized and outsourced, that our ability to actually participate in these systems seems to be disappearing at a rapid rate.

This seems to be where Seth’s book steps in. Where Gerber’s book looks at the world from an old-system business owner who seeks to standardize the entire business and where the workers in a business are all interchangeable, Seth’s book is looking at our emerging era where the owners (us) actually own our own factories ($500 for a new PC, or $2000 for a new Mac?!?). Where we stop fitting ourselves into the standardized cogs of old-style business and start recreating ourselves as unique, indispensable artists.

The thing we need to realize is that we can’t afford to be compliant laborers anymore, because companies can no longer afford to hire employees who are simply good at their jobs. As Seth writes in his book, “The compliant masses don’t help so much when you don’t know what to do next.” Companies have no idea where to go from here, and a worker who simply shows up is becoming a waste of space. The world we all operated in 10, even 5 years ago is disappearing rapidly, and what we all need are thinkers and creative problem solvers to help find a new direction. And smart companies will pay for it, whether as an employee or a consultant.

I believe that this book will speak directly to most of the listeners of Creative Independence simply because doing things on our own is in our very nature; its in our core. This book is written in such a way to speak to those of us who are part of a new, emerging class of people; those who both own and are the key employees of our own businesses. Check it out when you get a chance. I’ll update more as I finish up this book.

You can pre-order your copy from Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link): Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Brain Power

This is a silly one suitable for this time of year while many of us are on vacation. You might have already gotten this in your email; apparently its been kicking around the intertubes for a while. If not, enjoy. I’ve found it a very interesting example of not just the power of our brains, but also the idea that things don’t have to fit into the nice little rules we live by to actually work. Sometimes its worth experimenting.

Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deo’snt mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

If you can raed tihs psas it on.

Its OK to Fail. Maybe…

Is it OK to fail?

Wise men will tell you that it is OK to fail. That you will learn a lot from failure. That you can grow from failure.

Realists will tell you that failure will cost you, sometimes dearly.

Everyone will tell you that failure is inevitable.

Who’s right?

They all are. So, what do you do about it? Embrace the fact that failure is inevitable by preparing for it. Understanding that failure usually happens when you are trying new things, pushing the envelope, stretching your wings, you can decide when its appropriate to try something new, and when its time to stick with what you know. A rush deadline is a horrible time to experiment, because if you fail and have no time to recover, you fail utterly, cost yourself and your client, and run the risk of being branded someone who can’t deliver.

When you have 6 months to complete a 4 month project on the other hand, you can easily use that time to push in a new direction, working to deliver something new and unique, and possibly to gain notoriety and fame. And if you fail, you’ve still learned some valuable lessons and still have 2 months to either keep toying with it, or fall back on what you know.

The hardest part may be learning to make the mental leap that its actually OK for you and your people to fail when trying something new. Penalizing your people, or beating yourself up, because something didn’t work is not only non-productive, it is downright debilitating. It builds a culture of non-growth through the promotion of a ‘cover my OWN butt’ mentality. When people are scared to fail, they fall back on what they know they can deliver.

Failing WITHOUT room for recovery can destroy your reputation, lose you your clients, and perhaps destroy your business.

Failing WITH room for recovery can build your reputation, win you new clients and grow your business.