Time to start a new tradition.

What I’m reading now: Ten Day MBA: A Step-By-step Guide To Mastering The Skills Taught In America’s Top Business Schools

Excellent read so far. Up to the chapter on Accounting. The first feature that really struck me about this book is that it focuses on direct application of knowledge instead of theory like everything else I read.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a healthy respect for theory and high-level concepts. I’ve just read so damn many books like that and while I’ve still learned a lot about that very fine slice of knowledge, I don’t always know how to apply it to my situation.

Thinking further, many of the business books I’ve read — particularly the books on marketing — are tailored toward the extreme newbie beginning idiot. Again, this is fine, but I feel like I’m ready to move on, and for a long time, despite all I’ve read, I’ve still felt unsure on how to actually APPLY said knowledge.

I did manage to apply what I learned about marketing when I was the marketing guy at Liquid Development, but that really ranks somewhere between the logical result of months of preparation and simply ‘tarding my way into success. Put simpler, two parts preparation, one part dumb luck. Or is that how it normally goes? 🙂 In any case, I still felt like I was flying blind and that the books I’d been using as my guide were only telling me part of the story.

But Ten Day MBA is different.

I’ve read a good deal of books on marketing. In fact, I spent about eight months solid where that was all I read. But until I got to the chapter on marketing in Ten Day MBA, I didn’t know how it all fit together. And now I do. It’s like a breath of fresh air. FINALLY, all the high level concepts, theory and different pieces are drawn together into one large, beautiful, coherent picture. The author, Steven Silbiger, just whips out Da Knowledge, rattles off a beginning-to-end step by step walkthrough of marketing as a clearly defined PROCESS. Everything I had learned to date suddenly fit together with this vital, beautiful piece of information.

I GET IT! I really get it!

I knew from the first ten pages that this book was going to be a winner. See, part of my process of reading and learning involves extensive note-taking. I don’t always trust my retention of information, especially when I’m reading as much as I do, so I have to — you guessed it — brutalize the information into my brain! For this reason, I never read a book I want to learn something from without a pen and a Post-It notepad at my side.

  • First I read everything very carefully, very critically, making sure I grasp each concept as it’s presented to me individually, and then again in relation to the whole.
  • Next, when I encounter information that I know I want to retain, I get my Post-It notepad, write down in my words what I just learned and why I find it significant, then I peel off that Post-It and stick it to the page and move on. I repeat as necessary.
  • Finally, when I finish a book, I open it up again and go through each note one by one and transcribe what I wrote and what the passage in the book was, except organized in a way that makes sense to me. I use a program called Mindjet’s Mindmanager which is a mind-blowingly terrific program for organizing and creating a branching hierarchy of data.

    What this means to me is that I can organize the book into different topics and subtopics and organize the information in a very clear-cut and precise way that’s meaningful to me. If the book lists, say, ten principles of branding a product, I’ll want to create a new subtopic called “Ten Principles of Branding” and transcribe and summarize each of the ten principles into one neatly indented and numbered list.

    Once I transcribe all my notes and re-write everything into text that means the most to me, that I understand, I’ve actually read the important parts of the book at least three times over.

    And not only that but I also have an extremely well-organized and custom Cliff’s Notes of all the books I’ve read that I can refer to at any time and even share with friends. Writing it down is the MOST important part of the process to me because, in my opinion, it doesn’t exist unless it’s written down.

    THAT, my friends, is how I retain knowledge.

    And back to my original point: I knew Ten Day MBA was going to be a terrific book because I stuck a note on at least every other page for the first 75 pages of the book. When I read a book of about 250 pages, even if it’s an excellent book, it will have perhaps 30 or 40 notes in total. Ten Day MBA is destroying that record easily, and it’s such rich reading that I have to break my reading time up into smaller segments just so I can properly absorb it all.

    I’ve always wanted a book like this that’ll give me an all-around overview of managing a business. The main subjects the author touches on is condensed knowledge from the MBA course he took at a top business school (he won’t say which), and that subject breakdown is this: Marketing, Ethics, Accounting, Organizational Behavior, Quantitative Analysis, Finance, Operations, Economics and Strategy.

    So far, it’s all information I can learn AND use. There’s so much here. I’m having a freakin field day with this book. If this subject is up your alley, GET IT!

    That’s all for now. It is late and time for bed.

  • Time Management

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is time management. I had to learn how to manage mine carefully when I was looking for a new job. Liquid Development needed me back in production to help meet milestones on a project, so they took marketing away from me permanently, and that was something I wouldn’t do. I was forced into working on art from 9 to 6, then coming home and working on art tests from 6 to 3am. That got me thinking, what can I do to manage my time more efficiently?

    The first place to start was to find out what I was spending most of my time on at work. My morning routine is usually to come in at 9, fire up ICQ (for friends), Yahoo (for work) and MSN (for Dea). Then I’ll drink my coffee and browse the news for about 15 to 30 minutes, then begin working. I began paying attention to every distraction around me and was stunned to realize how much time was spent on non-work.

    These are the biggest culprits I’ve found:

    1. IM applications. I get messages from people constantly and that distracts me from my work. And it’s SO easy to think “Hey, I wonder how X is doing” and just send him a message.
    2. Web browsing. I use Opera, and I can have as many windows open at once as I want without cluttering the taskbar. Nice feature, but makes it way too easy to get distracted browsing something.
    3. Music. Fiddling with my playlist or trying to find the right album to play gets in the way.

    The worst part of these distractions is that they not only occupy my attention, they occupy my mind and kick me out of the flow of working. Since I needed to reach a new level of productivity so I could focus on each task one by one and bust it all out like a machine. The more I considered it the more I realized that the tasks I had before me were almost entirely mechanical work. I was spending most of my time texturing characters, and I’ve reached the point where that’s a simple mechanical process. There are small elements of design in it, but almost without exception it’s something I can look at, know what I need to do to do it and just do it. Fatigue isn’t a factor.

    So I worked up a plan to solve all these time management problems and worked up a few other little schemes to increase my productivity. This is what I came up with:

    1. Close all Instant Messaging apps while I work. There’s no reason not to. I know it’s a distraction and I get amazing amounts of work done simply from doing this.
    2. Close email apps and web browser. These are undeniably distracting, and made a huge difference in my output.
    3. Turn off music and listen to audio books. I do like music, and it helps me concentrate sometimes, but playlist shuffling and switching songs doesn’t occupy my brain like it should and my mind wanders and I become tempted to use IM or web browse. It ties into the mechanical process I mentioned earlier… my mind doesn’t need to be completely focused on my task because I know instinctively what needs to be done and how. So a large part of my mind is left dormant. If I put on an audio book, that part of my mind is fully occupied and I can work freely and without distraction, and literally lose myself in my work. It also removes the need for playlist shuffling. This is the biggest productivity boost I’ve found.
    4. Turn the TV off if I’m at home. I’m in a 1bed apartment now, and I have a TV four feet on my right. Dea almost always has it on and I fucking hate it because it’s so distracting. If I can help it, I tell her to listen to music instead of TV and I turn it off and can focus.
    5. Use a stopwatch to time my tasks. This not only helps me achieve better productivity but it’s also a way to measure my progress. Since the tasks I have are mechanical processes, the variables of time are minimized and I can quickly and reliably estimate how long X or Y will take. It’s extremely interesting to measure my performance at a certain task, both for comparing my time to previous tasks and for seeing how accurate my internal sense of time is. I’ve begun pondering how far I can take this concept, and try and set performance records for myself like athletes do.
    6. Drink coffee, avoid alcohol. I get a wicked head-buzz from coffee that makes me feel like I can do anything and conquer the world. I do my best reading and thinking when I’m buzzed. Conversely, alcohol destroys that part of my brain, and even if I have a single drink at 7pm one night, sometimes my concentration is shot for half the day the next day. It’s sad, but I know that’s the cause now, so I can act accordingly.

    I’ve done all these things and watched my productivity increase dramatically. When I’m in that flow I can bust out a full character every two days, which feels pretty awesome. I also had some other ideas that I’m going to experiment with when I start at Ready At Dawn. It’s near-Draconian discipline, I know, but since I’m starting fresh in a new environment, why not experiment and see what works?

    1. Only ONE Instant Messaging client, for work colleagues only. Not even Dea gets this one. I know the people I’m working with will be busting ass as hard as I am and won’t bother me with trivial BS.
    2. Only ONE email account, for work mail only. I won’t have my GMail tray notification open, which is another distraction.
    3. No web browser bookmarks. I’m tempted to go through the full cycle, and if I keep no bookmarks at all (except for work-related bookmarks), I’m less likely to be distracted.
    4. Time blocks. I’m going to try setting hourly goals for myself and push my performance forward with the stopwatch like an athlete does.
    5. No disruptive music. Stuff like Mindless Self Indulgence, Slipknot, Atari Teenage Riot and GWAR really break my concentration and makes it hard to work. If I’m listening to any music I need to make it softer more concentration-conducive music like Mozart, Crystal Method or Frontline Assembly.

    I’m wondering how much of those I’ll keep doing after I start. Since I haven’t made any memory associations with RAD yet, I think if I start out feeling like it’s a place to work and NOT fuck around, I’ll be able to maintain productivity long term. It’s too easy to get distracted at Liquid Development, and I’m so used to fucking around there that it’s really hard to change those habits.

    That’s all I’ve got for now. Going to read a few books on the subject and see what else I learn. In reading Sam “Wal-Mart” Walton’s quasi-autobiography, I read about an efficiency consultant that Japanese companies have utilized heavily in maintaining insane levels of structure and productivity, and I found that interesting. I’ve packed that book away and the bookmark that I wrote that consultant’s name on is inside it, but as soon as I get to CA I’m going to dig it out find out who it is and start absorbing his wisdom.

    Thanks for reading!

    Take notes, improve your brain!

    Haven’t updated lately. Been busy. Took over duties as a marketing director for my company and still keeping up with sales and reading.

    Finished lots of books lately. Wrapped up the 48 Laws of Power, Patton on Leadership, How to Be a Rainmaker, How to Be a Marketing Superstar, and What Were They Thinking? Basically just leadership, sales and marketing.

    I’ve always had trouble remembering details of what I read shortly after I read it, so I decided that I’ll use Post-Its to use as bookmarks and to write notes on as I read a book, and then go back later and transcribe and edit down the bits of book that I liked and found immediately applicable. My knowledge retention has skyrocketed since I started doing this.

    It’s terrific. I end up reading the books two or three times, and I get to 1) remember more, 2) have a short, personalized summary of the book so I don’t have to buy it (unless it’s ALL good, like Patton and 48 Laws), and 3) I can share it easily with my close friends.

    There’s so damn much going on in my head since I started doing this that I’ve started having dreams about sales and marketing and what I’m going to do when I go back to work on Monday. I seem to have trouble finding time to absorb all the information I require these days.

    Another note: If you’re in sales in any company, sign up on www.linkedin.com immediately. It’s basically Friendster for business except immensely useful. Network like crazy and start getting everyone you know on your connections list, and then start using it for sales. It’s incredible, even simply for getting a name for making phone calls. I can’t imagine operating without it.

    It’s interesting finding out in so short a time how often I engaged in losing strategies like not socializing with people, closing myself off from the world and not being bold and proactive. Most people wouldn’t recognize me anymore. 🙂

    That’s all for now, getting back to transcribing Patton on Leadership.

    Promoted!

    Well, I found out yesterday that due to my success at GDC and my knowledge of the game industry, I’m being promoted to an Accounts Manager Sales Representative. Since the company I work for, Liquid Development, is an art contractor and sales are very important, this is a pretty cool deal. I’d never imagined that being a geek and learning about video games could be good for my career. haha

    It looks like I’m going to be voluntarily devoting slavish amounts of time to books on sales, marketing (yay!), communication and psychology. I find it interesting that after only having been here 5 months that I’m already apparently on the management fast-track or however that goes. I’m still not sure if I’m even gong to be doing art anymore!

    Six months ago, if you’d have told me I was going to be where I am now, I’d have laughed and called you crazy. And yet, here I am. How improbable, and how promising. 🙂

    My only real concern is that if I ever go to another company and want to simply be an artist, that my quasi-managerial experience will make me appear overqualified. I suppose that’s not something I need to worry about for now, though. Right now my only concern is that I may not be learning fast enough or kicking enough ass.

    I’m REALLY excited about finally being in a position where my mind will be fully engaged! I’ve been on such a reading kick lately that I’ve actually been passing up drinking in favor of reading. Now, I enjoy my alkymahol, but reading is my lifeblood.

    In the past, I’ve only felt productive when I’m working on something artistic. I’ve always been driven to feel productive to the point that I feel a little guilty when I’m doing something else. Lately, though, I’ve made a transition so that I only really feel like I’m making progress if I’m reading a book and learning something new.

    That’s been a strange adjustment because I’ve always resisted forms of work or effort that don’t show tangible results. Even in school, I HATED studying because I felt like it was wasting time since I wasn’t writing out the answers and actually finishing my work. I’m not sure what changed in me, but I think I like it.

    It seems that every time I’m about to make a change in my life – a mental or attitude change – my mind automatically and seamlessly makes the transition with little or no effort. If I’m not ready to do something, it’s a massive struggle, but when I finally am, it’s simple. It’s odd, as if there was some sort of set pattern in my life unlocking new features as I progress.

    It was like that when I learned to walk, and then when I learned to speak, then when I started texturing, then when I moved out on my own, and now again when my brain feels like it’s ready to absorb information as fast as my mind can process it. I’ve never understood how or why that happens, but it seems that there’s fuck-all I can do about it, so I may as well get used to it. 😉

    Funny thing of the day: I’m paying my parents back gradually for old cel phone bills and such, and in the first check I sent to my mom, who’s a fanatic Christian psycho, in the Memo field I wrote the check as being for “Greased Spikes and Suckling Pigs for SATAN WORSHIP.” She emailed me back saying how hurt she was that I would do that and how it was disturbing that I thought that was funny and all that. I think it’s funny that she didn’t realize that her response made it THAT much funnier. 🙂

    That’s all for now.

    Game Developer’s Conference 2004 breakdown, and a little introspection.

    Time for another long-overdue update.

    Since I last posted I’ve worked on eight more titles for Liquid. Starting in mid-February, I’ve been contracted out to work inhouse with another local Portland company called ResponDesign. They’re working on Yourself Fitness, an X-Box fitness game meant to be an interactive personal trainer. I’ve been designing the interface for the game among other small ingame models. It’s not the most glamorous work, but it’s interesting to work at another company and get to make actual design decisions for once!

    Two weeks ago, as Liquid was preparing for the Game Developer’s Conference, they told me that the guy that was going to go was too busy art directing one of our projects, and that they’d like me to do it since I showed an interest in business and marketing. I responded with an immediate “YES!#!@$&!@*$” and got to work with planning it. My job was to carry out the marketingadvertising plan they’d already set up and hire a dozen people to execute the plan.

    Liquid is notorious for having a strong, loud, and somewhat annoying presence outside of GDC. Last year we picketed against bad art and held a protest, waving homemade signs about and chanting. The year before we hired a bad preacher to preach against the evils of bad art. This year we had a bit of a problem organizing the event due to the distance, since we used to be based in San Jose and now we’re not.

    The plan this year was to hire twelve people to dress up in black military boots, black pants, a Liquid t-shirt and a red beret, imitating Guardian Angels, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping keep city streets and subways safe. While they were dressed up, they were going to do the S1W dance from Public Enemy’s music videos, just because that’s damned funny. Their primary mission, however, was to hand out our Liquid fliers advertising our services.

    I hired six men and six women that responded to my job posting on Craigslist.com and met them all outside the Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose on Thursday morning. I gave them all their shirts, their berets, the fliers, their marching orders, the songs I’d had written for them, and we set out to work.

    We all had a blast. The weather was light and cool for the first half of the day, and everyone was in high spirits. I bought them all water and Gatorade to start, and in the first hour I held an impromptu meeting with a potential client and was photographed and interviewed briefly for Animation Magazine. Lots of people wanted to take pictures with us and gladly accepted our fliers.

    For lunch, one of the people I hired had found a local Mexican food place with a burrito lunch special, and we walked over there and ordered $100 worth of burritos and drinks. We got lost on the way back and had to hitch a ride with a complete stranger in the most disgusting vehicle I’ve ever seen in my life, but we got back to the convention center without incident. I got everyone free candy and cookies and answered all their questions about my job, the conference, the game industry and all that.

    After the lunchtime rush, we’d passed out about 3,500 of the 5,000 fliers we had. Things were going well, and then it started raining. We floundered about for a bit but quickly developed a strategy to keep people out of the rain and near areas of heavy traffic. I got everyone hot chocolate and coffee and candy to keep warm and sugared up, and spirits were still soaring.

    I sent one of our people into the conference itself with a spare badge we had for one of our team members that couldn’t make the trip, and I had her spent two hours loading up on all the free shit everyone had inside the conference. We managed to move the last 1,500 fliers before the self-imposed cutoff time of 5pm, and then we filed into the San Jose Marriott and divvied out all the free stuff between us. Everyone got a t-shirt or candy or some other fun little novelty, and everyone was happy. After that, everyone dispersed and I went and crashed in the hotel room for a bit.

    Later that night I went out to dinner with two of my bosses from Liquid. We were eating with the president of the FASA Studios of Mechwarrior fame, and had a great meal in a nice Italian place. Afterward, we went over to Microsoft’s X-Box party and he managed to get us in without an invitation (since half the conference wanted in but had no such invitation) and we had a fucking BLAST.

    The theme of the party was “1950’s risque” so the place was adorned with all manner of 1950’s furniture and drapes, all the video screens were playing film noir style video of 3D characters, and all the event staff was dressed up to fit the era. There was a cigar bar where you could get free hand-rolled cigars, there were about six open bars with tons of drinks, there was a lounge converted into a “Bank vault,” there was a casino with fake money being handed out to play to win X-Box t-shirts, there was a massage parlor upstairs, a balcony with a view of the dance floor, and there were two live DJ’s playing badass techno music with several video monitors playing clips from famous 1950’s film noir movies synced perfectly to the music. The production value of everything was absolutely terrific, I had a great time and so did the other 200+ people that were there.

    On Friday, I finally got to go into the convention itself and mill about finding things to do. I met up with some people I knew from various game industry messageboards and killed time most of the day. In the evening, I met up with another friend and his friends, and we all drove up to Electronic Arts in Redwood City to meet yet another friend and take a tour. We went out to eat at a nice Chinese place first and then took the grand tour. I got to see some of the preproduction art for the Godfather game (which looks terrific), the character art from 007: Everything or Nothing (also terrific), and, most importantly, the actual models from the Lord of the Rings movies. They are, as expected, FUCKING AWESOME. It was quite a treat to get to see them all. 😀

    That was all I did there, really. Since I got back I’ve been working on more interface crap for Yourself Fitness and working on a character model for fun in my spare time. Also been doing a lot of reading. I’m finishing up Influence (a really interesting book on psychology), Patton on Leadership (a terrific book on business management), and A Short History of Nearly Everything (a fantastic book on the history of science). It’s keeping me pretty busy and thinking of everything…

    I’ve realized now that eventually, sooner than later, I’d like to run a business. Liquid’s giving me an opportunity to learn more about business and act in more of a business capacity, which is fantastic, but I want to run a game company someday. I’ve spent the last few months reading books on business and marketing and advertising, and that’s stoking the fire.

    Reading has also gotten me to thinking about the way I present myself and deal with people. I realized that being shy, passive and too normal are all losing strategies, so I’m working on breaking myself of those habits and being more interesting. I want people to remember me and my name, and I’ll never accomplish that if I’m ordinary. It would seem that my goal, then, is to be remarkable. At GDC, I sequentially broke every last social hangup I had, about being shy and passive and all that, and really got out of my shell and started kicking ass, and I loved it.

    Lately I’ve also realized what a handicap it’s been for me not to be more social. I make a point to participate more on message boards, talk to my friends and family more, and to try and go out and meet new people. I can establish a large network of contacts very quickly and easily, and have fun learning new things and enjoying talking to people. It’s really invigorating, and I’m irritated that I didn’t start doing this sooner. At least I woke up and realized what was happening, and now it’s one more losing strategy I’m destroying.

    Another thing I’ve come to realize is how VITALLY important good communication skills are. I’ve been reading books on learning to write and how to communicate effectively, and I’m going to be moving on to reading books on sales soon as well, since that’s good, persuasive communication in action. I think I’ll post in my blog more to assist in my writing ability. I kind of crapped out this entire post here, but I’ll be refining everything more later.

    It’s remarkable how unsuccessful I used to be. I was shy, self-conscious, quiet, unassuming and unwilling to take risks… how great the benefits of boldness and being confident and outspoken are! If I could go back in time, I’d kick the shit out of myself and teach me the right way to do things. I’d be a lot farther along than I am now… not that I’m doing that badly now, I suppose.

    I also started working out again, which is helping boost my energy level and self-confidence. I used to be really into working out before I moved to Portland, but I had to stop for a while since I didn’t have enough equipment or money to keep me fed all the time like I needed. I’m still nowhere near where I was before, but I’m working my way back up quickly, and I’m feeling great while I do it. More people should exercise. 🙂

    Something else I’ve decided to try and do is learn everything I can about the game industry as a whole. I’m collecting various news sources to be able to build a large picture of what’s going on in the industry, who’s where, what’s what, why things are the way they are and where it’s all going. I figure it’ll come in handy someday.

    I’m also going to spend a month or two going back over the last 20 years of video games and playing all of the great classics I missed out on my whole life. Should also give me some great ideas for the games I’ll be making eventually. All the better to dominate the world.

    Incidentally, Gevalia (www.gevalia.com) makes some fucking kick ass coffee. For some reason, whenever I drink it, my mind kicks into overdrive and I feel as if I actually could take over the world if I wanted. They must lace it with crack, or something. Whatever it is, I’m hooked, and won’t touch Folgers again.

    Holy shit, I just wrote a goddamn novel, didn’t I? Well, that’s all for now.

    Art outsourcing and production for the game industry