[In his new Gamasutra column, following his ruminations on resumes, Reset Generation/Pocket Kingdom co-creator Scott Foe examines the complexity of human relations in the developer's workplace, and recalls the lessons of former Sega exec Gerard Wiener to light the way.]
"Gerard Wiener is PR person of the show. There was something very human about how he talked. He had nice blue eyes that pierced right through Josh, Brandon, and myself when we were chuckling it up at the Rifts trailer. (Okay, so we were more like laughing our asses off.)
He was wearing a white shirt a size too big, and when he took the mic, Brandon and I - vegetarians who know much of skinny arms - figured out why: his arm inflated like a suddenly-stuffed football. The man was ripped. He had guns. I christen them the biggest guns of E3, even bigger than those in Halo 2.
I beheld those guns, and I spoke: 'That's the most Gerard Wiener I've ever seen!'"
That was the write-up from Insert Credit's Tim Rogers at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2004. I was there, at that press event, and I can confirm from my own memory that it was indeed the most Gerard Wiener that anybody had ever seen.
In 2004, Gerard Wiener was the number-one ranked squash player in Northern California. I don't know why they call the game "squash," because a game of squash is more physically demanding than menage a seven, and playing squash results in the bodily opposite of "squashing."
I first met Gerard Wiener long before Escapist Magazine described him as "Harvard-trained lawyer turned operations wizard," long before he was awarded, "the biggest guns of E3." He was a Vice President of Business Development at Sega, and, at that time, our group was looking for ways to monetize Sega's back-catalog of games.
It was decided that if we had a Genesis (Megadrive, for you Euro-spenders) emulator, we could sell some of our old content on Windows personal computers. Requests-for-proposals were written and development studios were interviewed, the lowest bid coming in at an astoundingly scant sum - less than it would have cost us in-house for a San Francisco-man-year of engineering time.
Even at the bargain price, there was a voice in my head, nagging that we were not on the correct course. You have two choices when confronted with a voice in your head, and I wasn't about to audition for reality television.
Gerard was clear-eyed and relaxingly postured, with an air of royalty about him - an air of royalty heightened by the elegant, painted Japanese screen that lined the back wall of his top-floor office. It was intimidating, sitting there in my 40-inch JNCO's - you remember rave pants -- nervously twisting at the temples of my dyed-blue hair, at audience with a man who could use his index finger to snap my career, my neck, or both, in either order.
"Why pay somebody to write emulator code when we can just pay hackers for their emulators, get the hackers' emulators right now, emulators that have seen a lot of use and have the bugs worked out?"
"This is good," Gerard smiled. "Make it happen." I had always joked that Gerard Wiener has a "love ray" that, if weaponized, would secure America's military superiority for now and in the future - he is so genuine and so deep that you cannot help but want to be friends with the man.
There I was, man-crush-in-bloom, consumed in the full brunt of the love ray, not the least bit expecting or prepared for what happened next, once I had contacted and opened negotiations with the college student who had written the emulator that we ended up acquiring: "We're going to let this kid keep the rights to his emulator code-base; we're only going to take this release. There's no need to be greedy."
The Mental Anguish Of Business-Humans
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, wrote that, when it comes to organizations, "The tree rots from the top down." Well, I've heard it estimated that 70% of workers around the globe hate their bosses, and, if that's the case, that's a lot of rot.
I'm going to go out on an organizational tree-limb and say that that's a quantity of hate that, if left unchecked, could someday rival the world's racial, religious, or sexual prejudices. The only difference being that, in a lot of cases, this boss-hate should not be considered criminal.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put forth the notion that we humans are consigned to suffer mental anguish due to the fact that we are attracted to our mates based on who will yield the biologically best children, not mates who will be the most satisfying intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually for ourselves.
In much the same way, business-humans are consigned to suffer mental anguish in that we are biased toward promoting managers based on who is most apparently effective, not managers who are actually effective.
The Dark Side of Charisma, by Robert Hogan, Robert Raskin, and Dan Fazzini, is a psychology treatise that posits the over-representation of three very flawed personality types climbing the trunks and swinging from the branches of organizational trees the world-over.
The Narcissist: "It's not my fault, unless it's awesome: Then it's my fault." Narcissists are everywhere, quietly shifting the blame and loudly hogging the credit. Brimming with "you don't know what I know"-confidence, Narcissists are natural leaders, because that's what Narcissists say they are.
Homme de Ressentiment: Fancy European talk for "The Man who Hates," the Homme de Ressentiment is oozing with charm and smiles on the outside, but at the Tootsie-Roll-center of his being, there is nothing but ashen hatred. It's fair to note that while over-represented in corporate management, the Homme de Ressentiment is still quite rare. It's best to lure a suspected Homme de Ressentiment over by the water cooler to see if it boils before pointing one's finger and accusing.
The High Likability Floater: If this were Super Mario's Management Parable, the High Likability Floater would be the Shy Guy, wearing his expressionless mask, floating high into the organization by not betraying opinion. The High Likability Floater is a guy who never puts his pecker under the hammer: He never disagrees with anybody, and avoids real decision making in an attempt to never cause friction. We tend to like and appreciate people who tend to like and appreciate us.
As if the malignance of these three personality types is not enough to drive your average cube-dweller into Salem-like state of paranoia, there are also The Peter Principle and The Aura of Competence of which to take note.
The Peter Principle, so named for Dr. Laurence Peter, states that every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence - just because somebody makes a great tester does not mean that that same somebody will make a great test manager. The Aura of Competence, a phrase conceived by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his should-be-book-of-the-decade, Fooled by Randomness, warns of the illusion of competence: It is possible to guess a coin-flip correctly ten times in a row, giving you the appearance of one who is psychic - even though you really just got lucky.
Scrum And General Patton
There was a stuffed monkey sitting on Gerard Wiener's desk, and when you pressed a button on the monkey's hand, you were assaulted with apish sounds, "Oh! Oh! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!" Whenever one of our co-workers was misbehaving (a lot of times, me), Gerard would squeeze the monkey's hand and then flail his arms about his head, grinning, "Oh! Oh! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!"
There is an intense empathy to the man, like he can see into your belly, see both your passion for your mission and the ugliness of your half-digested breakfast. He knows people, knows that something a little-bit-monkey rests inside all of us, knows that monkeys will throw their own scat as unabashedly as major league pitchers throw baseballs.
The agile production methodology Scrum, and production methodologies like it, have been the talk of the games industry for the last few years. Scrum eliminates the need for heavy management, in essence allowing the implementing team to become the manager, and producing a transparency that not only shows what work got done, but which also makes each individual team member feel truly responsible for his/her contribution to the work.
Scrum is lauded and applauded for its management of complexity in workflow, its leveraging of the Surowieckian Wisdom of Crowds to result in better decision making. But where the hammer really meets the nail is that Scrum does a lot to trivialize the flawed monkey in all of us.
Well, what's good for the developer is also good for the publisher. How many times have you heard of a project put at risk because, "Our publisher wanted us to switch to an engine that didn't suit our purposes mid-project." Or, "Our publisher insisted that we stop everything to add a certain feature." The stories are litany. And in the end of the stories, it's usually the developer and/or the consumer who have suffered the most, which is probably why publishing organizations look today a lot like they looked yesterday: No pain, no change.
Also litany are the incessant comparisons of "business," to "warfare." General George S. Patton knew a lot about warfare, was considered one of the greatest battlefield commanders in history. In the movies, General Patton can be seen rallying his men, "When you stick your hand into a pile of goo that used to be your best friend's face, you'll know what to do!"
The movies have done the world a disservice: General Patton's greatest quote is, "Don't tell people how to do something: Tell them what you want and let them surprise you."
I'm by no means suggesting that we crash Amazon.com with the world's largest order for books about Scrum, but wouldn't it be great if more organizations ran by not telling how but by telling what? Wouldn't we achieve more great things more often if organizations observed the military doctrine of Commander's Intent?
Wouldn't it be great if we could all be Wieners?
Hitch Your Wagon To A Star
I'm sure that somebody is expecting a twist-ending; I'm sure that somebody is expecting that Gerard Wiener showed his teeth while eating my lunch. I'm sorry to disappoint somebody. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you hitch your wagon to a star - find yourself an industry mentor who knows enough of the ropes to show you how to climb the tree, one who likes you well enough not to tie a noose for you.
For years, the very best years of my career to date, Gerard Wiener was my boss, nonpareil - patient, brilliant, and kind - yes, to be clear, we're talking here about both the vice president and then the general manager of a publisher.
At the dusty and decrepit age of thirty-five, Gerard retired to travel the world. But he left me with something indelible, pieces of him to manage by, pieces which I now proudly share with you. (He also left me his stuffed monkey.)
The 12 Laws of Wiener
1. Be Part of the Solution, Never a Part of the Problem.
Quite simply, it's much easier to be critical than it is to be correct. If you can't to help solve problems, then leave so quickly that there is nothing left but a you-shaped hole in the wall.
2. First, Do No Harm.
You have to treat each decision as if you are a physician: First, do no harm. Make sure that while you're being part of the solution, you're not causing other problems as a side-effect.
3. It's the People, not the Products.
Intellectual Property and hard assets are nice, but talent is the most valuable part of your organization - and talent should be treated as such. Ten smart people in an empty room can do more and better than a hundred dumb people charged with the care of a great product.
4. Align Utilities
To get the best from people (and, to wit, the best from other organizations), their utilities must be aligned with your own. Create win/win situations and you will win, win, win some more.
5. There are No Laurels
What you did yesterday doesn't entitle you to bad office coffee: It's what you are doing tomorrow that makes all difference to the team.
6. Execution, Execution, Execution
The road to hell is paved with pretty PowerPoint slides. You have to be honest in your ability to execute on a strategy, and then you have to execute on that strategy and then execute some more.
7. Remove Obstacles
A manager is there to remove obstacles to execution: Let other people run with the ball while you block for them.
8. You'll Have to get Blood on Your Hands.
If an obstacle to organizational execution is a member of the organization, you're going to have to get blood on your hands - you're going to have to remove or reposition that person, even if doing so causes immediate pain.
9. One-on-One Gets it Done.
The best way to make a decision is to poll individuals in one-on-one conversations - where individuals are more likely to give you the straight beef. Speak to as many people as is possible, synthesize, and react.
10. Do the Due.
Preparation, preparation, preparation - do your due diligence. Know what you're talking about: If you've been asked for a meeting concerning a topic about which you know nothing, it's time to hit the books like the books owe you money.
11. C.Y.A. Saves the Day.
Always cover your ass - know who your attackers will be and what weapons they will use against you. Have your shields ready. My favorite corollary to this is the evidentiary hearing: Never make one complaint. If you are going to complain about something, be ready to lay down a stack of evidence supporting your concerns.
12. Mea Culpa.
The three sweetest words in the English language are not, "I love you," but, "it's my fault." If you've screwed things up, you have to bite the bullet, bite it in half.
[Scott Foe was creator/producer of Nokia’s critically acclaimed cross-platform game Reset Generation, and has worked on titles including Sega’s Pocket Kingdom: Own the World, the first global, massively multiplayer mobile game. Foe began his decade-long industry career as a member of the Dreamcast product development team at Sega. Foe also tries hard to be a Wiener.