• #SXSWi — Hardcore vs. Casual games and gamers

    I’m in an interesting talk at South by Southwest Interactive (2012) put on by Jack Buser and Scott Rohde (from PlayStation).

    I figure it makes sense to write a few live thoughts as I’m listening since it’s turning into a pretty lively discussion. This may be the only way that I’ll be able to keep up with the rapid-fire conversation.

    Some interesting threads of conversation that I’m hearing so far:

    • (Hard)core games — these games seem to be well characterized by having a high-degree of ‘gaming literacy’ in order to enjoy the experience.  They are also often characterized by some significant learning-curve, complex interactions, and a high degree of engagement.
    • Casual games — these games typically don’t require high gaming literacy to play.  Players can simply ‘walk up’ and get started playing, figuring out the game mechanics quickly.  Also, these games are often characterized by short play sessions.
    • The need for play is a fundamental part of humanity.  In ancient societies, games were a big part of life.  Even before the complex systems that enable ‘virtual worlds’ that exist today, people had this fundamental need for play.  Why?
    • There are some people that gravitate toward social games over solo games.  Does the classic introvert vs. extrovert personality archetype apply?

    Another interesting thread of conversation is about ‘social games’ (mostly built on facebook).  The core question: are they really social?  Hrm.  My answer: not really.  The games have a viral acquisition model.  But these people are not really playing together.  Their worlds don’t intertwine any more than the game requires them to ask eachother for help to get more resources and points.

    (A mild critique: the way these slides are written is such that we keep debating the semantics of what these game types are.  But that’s less important to me, and less interesting in general.  What’s really interesting is the ‘WHY.’  Why are people different kind of gamers?  What makes them tick?  Which one segment is growing faster?)

    It seem that a proposed answer to bridging the gap between core and casual: free-to-play.  Casual gamers can jump in for free.  Hardcore gamers can get ‘more out of the experience’ by paying for extras.  Interesting.

    What hasn’t been addressed yet that really has me thinking: what makes a gamer more of a ‘core gamer’ vs. a ‘casual gamer?’  What is it inside of us that makes some people get DEEP into a gaming experience as compared to others who get bored after a couple minutes of a gaming experience?  Is it socialized behavior (Nature)?  Or is it just born-in personality traits (Nurture)?

    The big question I’m left with; which segment is winning?  There has been remarkable growth in the casual gaming world (particularly in mobile).  The big thing I’m wrestling with is: what does that mean?  Are casual games going to take over, or will they be the gateway drug that eventually creates more hardcore gamers worldwide?


  • The solution to premature commitment bias starts with a K

    As you may have noticed, I have recently found myself consumed by the problems facing technology entrepreneurship today.  In particular, it’s the amount of sheer waste that gets to me.  As I’ve mentioned before, the real tragedy here is all of the time that is wasted by really talented entrepreneurs and early employees.  Unlike money, time is non-renewable.  You don’t know how much you actually have, and you can’t make any more of it when you run out.

    As an entrepreneur about to embark on my next journey, this is something I think a lot about.  I want to avoid premature commitment bias like its a plague (which, by the way, it is.)   And I want to find myself on the right side of the disequilibrium of success!  I don’t want to bust my ass for 2-5 years just to chase a mediocre dream.  Not worth it.

    So here’s what I’m going to do

    I’ve decided that it’s time to take a new approach to building companies.  That approach involves assembling a team of the most talented people in the world.   Then we’re going to unearth really hard problems and solve them.

    Companies will be formed.

    Fun will be had.

    What about all the details?

    I don’t know them yet.  It makes sense to figure out the details of how this thing works after the right people are on the team.   Here’s what I do know, though: we’ll be calling ourselves the Kemists.

    And we’ll have a website that looks like this, and a logo that looks like this:

    Kemists Logo

    If you know remarkably talented people who like building companies, or are one yourself, send them to (or go to) the site and apply.

  • How to know what is worth fighting for

    Effectively managing conflict in the workplace has been a topic on my mind for some time now.   Having a new topic on your mind is kind of like buying a new car; you start to notice it everywhere.  Now that I am thinking about effectively managing conflict, I am starting to see conflict or opportunities for healthy conflict everywhere.  One of the most challenging things for one to think through as they try to create a healthy conflict culture is figuring out exactly what is worth ‘fighting over’ and what isn’t.

    One has to be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, and turn everything into a ‘fighting moment.’  It’s very easy to get ‘caught up’ in disagreements about all sorts of details that aren’t worth the time.  That’s not the kind of culture anyone wants to create.  Healthy conflict has to be effectively separated from petty conflict.

    Three tests to figure out what topics are worth fighting for

    So far, based on my reading and studying of the subject, there are three tests that a topic can pass to be worth engaging in healthy debate and conflict over:

    • Does a successful outcome create value for the organization?
    • Is the nature of the problem multi-dimensional, and not simply a matter of expertise/lack-of-information?
    • Will driving to a decision with multiple perspectives at the table create lasting change?

    Three types of thinking

    The second bullet is perhaps the hardest one to figure out.  I think that Dr. Saj-nicole Joni describes the concept pretty well in her book titled “The Third Opinion.”  She describes three types of thinking:

    • Application thinking: This is basic thinking that involves known problems and solutions.  Imagine reading a how-to manual to solve a printer problem.
    • Expert thinking: This is more complex specialized thinking that requires expert help.  Perhaps the printer has a broken part that needs repaired.
    • Exponential thinking: This is for complex problems that don’t necessarily have simple right answers.  Typically, multiple perspectives will help create a better answer.  Perhaps our goal is now to design a better printer.

    The key to finding the right problems lays in exponential thinking.  The first two types of problems are typically too simple to try and bring multiple perspectives to the table on.  Also, there is likely to be one right answer that is simply a matter of knowledge or expertise.

    It all takes energy

    The key takeaway for me here is that conflict takes energy and time.  For most of us (especially me) it has a sapping effect.  I don’t necessarily love conflict, and I suspect that I am not alone.  So it’s important to find the right balance of it, and it’s even more important to do it for the right reasons.  While no acid test is perfect, the one above has been pretty effective for me so far!

  • Product Management vs Interaction Design

    One of the questions that gets escalated to me most often these days is some permutation of, “What is the difference between product management and interaction design?”   It is particularly hard to answer questions like “where does one end and the other begin?”  These are not simple questions to answer because the roles do have some overlap and it is important that both of these roles collaborate closely in any organization.

    Before I answer the question, I should say two quick things:

    • My goal, as a leader, is two-fold when it comes to defining roles.  First, I aim to preserve a sense of ownership between the various members of the team developing a new product.  Second, I want to ensure that there is a clear system for collaboration among the team.
    • It’s important to note that my answer to this tough question is a work in progress.  I am trying to figure it all out as I go, so bear with me.

    What is product management all about?

    To me, product management is really about two things:  1) defining and assessing the market opportunity.  2) working with the cross-functional product development team to discover a solution.  Here are some of the core activities that come to mind:

    • Assessment: Whatever product you are working on, you are typically addressing some sort of gap or market opportunity.  In this case, the first goal is to figure out if the project is even worth pursuing.  It needs to be quantified and thought through, along with the overarching product strategy, to see if it is a good fit.
    • Stakeholder management: There are a variety of stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization, that should be brought to the table when working on a product.  The PM is responsible for bringing these stakeholders to the table and understand what a successful product really is from their perspective.  Another part of stakeholder management is keeping folks up-to-date with the evolution of the product, since it may effect them.
    • Building requirements: As the product is being discovered by the PM, and potential solutions present themselves, requirements need to be built.  The PM is the driver of this process.  Good requirements outline the core opportunity, and what a success looks like for addressing the opportunity.
    • Validating solutions: As solutions get designed and built, the PM should be validating those solutions against the initial opportunity assessment and the product requirements.

    Of course, the job of a PM on a good product team becomes very iterative.  Few, if any, good products are developed linearly.  Instead, new information and insight is yielded throughout the process, which drives updated requirements and solution-validations.

    What is interaction design all about?

    Interaction design (IXD) is a partner organization to the product organization, much like engineering is.  (More on this later…)  An IXD’s goal is to build something that is usable and valuable for the end-user.  A good IXD gets at this goal in two ways: 1) getting to know and understand the user 2) thinking through (in detail) and ideating potential experiences for the user.  Some of the core activities that come to mind:

    • Understanding the user. The IXD has many stakeholders to think about, but none is more important than the user herself.  This can be done many ways, but typically takes the form of surveys, focus groups, and competitive analysis.  Often times, these activities are taken on by a peer to the IXD known as the user experience researcher (UXR).  More on this later, also.
    • Thinking through the details. The Product Requirements map out high-level definitions of the problem landscape and what success looks like.  The IXD is taking this to the next level of detail, where many unanswered questions still exist.  The IXD is the person driving these answers.
    • Conceptualize solutions. While high-level requirements can typically be written out in sentences in something like a product requirements document (PRD), more detailed solutions need more than just words.  The IXD is the person who is conceptualizing detailed solutions in a higher fidelity way that can be used to gather feedback from stakeholders and users alike.  Typically, these take the form of storyboards, screen flows, wireframes, and prototypes.

    The interaction designer has a lot of work cut out for herself.  The key to doing a solid job is to have the time needed to do the right kinds of discovery as well as being iterative in conceptualizing solutions.  Again, learning about the customer is not a linear process.  Often times, new information and insight is brought to light in the middle of the design cycle.  This is why being agile and iterating on design is so important.

    Both IXDs and PMs have to collaborate to make it work

    It doesn’t matter how detailed we are about dividing up roles and responsibilities between IXDs and PMs.  At the end of the day, they both have a lot of shared responsibilities.  They both need to be connected to customers and stakeholders.  They both need to be iterative and work with end-users to understand if needs are actually being met.  They both need to be willing to change their deliverables (whether they are product requirements or prototypes) based on new insights that are brought to light.

    Product management and interaction design is a close collaboration no matter how you slice it.  I view PM as a bit higher-altitude when it comes to defining a solution.  IXD is closer to the ground, and has much more of a hand in defining how the experience comes together.  While both groups need to work to respect boundaries and allow the other group to do its job, they both need to work hard to be on the same page.  If PM and IXD cannot work together in harmony, then you are destined to have a product that just doesn’t feel right.

  • How to successfully integrate into a new company

    New team-members are not created equal

    I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate and hire around thirty very talented people in the last few months, and it has been a pretty eye-opening experience for a lot of reasons.  Perhaps the most interesting reason is the varying outcomes I have seen from all these new employees.  I have seen some new employees do a fantastic job of integrating themselves with the culture and the team, and I’ve seen others crash and burn.

    It got me to thinking, “what is it that makes certain new people successful in an organization and others not-so-successful?”  If there are certain attitudes and behaviors that drive good outcomes for a new team-member, I’d like to know what they are.  This is especially interesting because I find that some team members who I am excited about during hiring/evaluation process actually don’t do so well in their first 30-90 days.

    So, I’d like to better understand what works and what doesn’t.  That way, I can try to help coach new employees in that direction.   I’ll establish a working list here, and try to add to it as I learn more.

    Things you should do when you join a new organization

    • Respect how the organization got to where it is. The most successful employee don’t just walk in guns ‘ablazing.  Instead, they seek to understand how the organization got to where it is now, and what things have been successful or not-so-successful in the past.
    • Assume that past decisions were made for a good reason. I’ve seen a few new team-members actually disclaim that they ‘they are not here to question past decisions.’  They assume that people made the best decisions they could with the information they had.  This is a great way to start off on the right foot with a new team.  Of course, no organization is perfect, and all of them have skeletons in the closet.  But you are better served focusing on the future rather than the past.
    • Recognize that some of your great new ideas were probably discussed before. This is one of the most common mis-steps.  I see a lot of new people come to the table with ‘great new ideas’ that they assume no one has thought of before.  It’s great to be forward-thinking and to have new ideas, but it makes a lot more sense to first ask if folks have talked about things like this in the past, and what has been done until now.  (Most companies are not short on ideas… they are short on execution!)  If you don’t ask these questions, you look ignorant about the history of the organization and you look like you are trying to take the credit for ideas that people have already had for a long time.
    • Get to know people both personally and professionally. You cannot underestimate the importance of close personal connections in the workplace.  You don’t have to be best friends with your co-workers, but you should make an effort to get to know them and what motivates them.  The more comfortable people are with you, the more likely they are to come to you when they need something.
    • Ask questions… rather than giving answers. This is more of a meta-point that covers a lot of the other points above.  But it’s a great rule to live by.  If you find yourself providing more answers than questions in your first month, you are almost certainly doing something wrong.  You have to seek to understand before you seek to be understood.  (Take it from Covey!)
    • Seek out a mentor. There is almost certainly someone in the organization who knows more about the brand and the culture than you do.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength.

    This topic is not only timely for me, I think its hugely important in any rapidly growing organization.  There are lots of new faces and there is a lot of uncertainty.  What I have found is that some of the brightest people have the least organizational savvy.  So if you think this advice doesn’t apply to you because you ‘smarter than that,’ I encourage you to think again.  No matter how smart you are, you are not going to be effective in an organization where you haven’t built trust and don’t have the ability to gain buy-in.

    Joining a new organization can be harder than most people think.  Hopefully some of this advice helps people on their way…

  • A culture of innovation

    I’ve thought a lot lately about innovation and creation.  There are lots of ways that we can try to improve our total creative quality and output as an organization.  The first, and most obvious choice, is to try and find and surround ourselves with innovative people.   We’ve gone from a group of four very talented folks in our office to over fifty in the last four months.  Check.  Now what?

    Now we have to think about fostering an environment that enables people to be creative and innovative.  What I have come to find is that talking about culture is really easy.  But, doing anything about culture is MUCH harder.  Actually trying to drive cultural change or evolution can be very trying work, and it often doesn’t feel like any progress is being made.

    So I have done some research and thinking about the best way to create a culture of innovation, and here’s what I’ve got so far.  You have to:

    1. Meet people’s needs: People can’t actually start thinking about creating great stuff if they are distracted with basic needs.  I think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a great place to start.  Some times their needs are easier to meet than you think.  Try asking them what they need to perform their best.
    2. Teach people how to be creative and rigorous: Creativity isn’t just about sitting in a room and coming up with great ideas.  One must validate her ideas with real users, and actually be willing to disprove her own hypotheses.  People need to be taught how to combine creativity and rigor.  Not sure the best way to teach this yet, but Steve Blank’s Customer Development is a good start.
    3. Allow people to be passionate: Don’t deploy people against boring stuff if they are known to be passionate about something else.  People who are encouraged to follow whatever they are passionate almost always produce better results.  If what they are passionate about is not relevant to where you are going, consider that before you bring them on board!
    4. Bring meaning to the work: This is related to item #1, but is important to mention in it’s own right.  “Differentiating on meaning” is the way of the future.  Smart people can make money anywhere.  You have to be sure that the problem you are solving actually creates meaning for people, and somehow makes the world a better place.  Without an impetus for innovation, why would anyone care?   Bo Peabody describes this best when he says that you should build an organization that is “fundamentally innovative, morally compelling, and philosophically positive.”
    5. Provide the time: Great innovation doesn’t come easily or quickly.  You have to give folks the time to explore and discover the creative context for why they are doing what they are doing.  They also need the time to come up with multiple approaches to the problem, so they can validate and understand which parts of each solution are best.
    6. Let people recharge: If people don’t have time to ‘get away’ from the problem for a while, they’ll never effectively hit the ‘incubation’ stage of the creative process.  This doesn’t have to come at the expense of being agile about the approach.  A person or group can still be high velocity and drive incremental value, but you can’t expect their product to start getting good immediately.

    So, why does this matter?  Well, simply put: people are hard enough to manage when you are not expecting them to innovate or be creative.  Adding this (very high) expectation to the mix is no small matter.  Doing so without creating the right environment for success is a recipe for disappointment.

    Also, take it from someone who is learning the hard way: focus on the culture early, before it gets too far ahead of you.  It’s a lot harder to play catch-up and drive cultural change than it is to be thoughtful about it from day one!

  • The five stages of creativity are not just for writers…

    I said in my recent post that creativity an innovation are the key factors of success for entrepreneurial businesses, going forward.  I still mean that.  And the more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that it’s actually true.  If you want to succeed in the incredibly tough marketplace of high-growth technology start-ups, you have to out-innovate your competition.

    Since I have come to this realization, I have been hunting for ways to get better at being creative.  Creativity is a fuzzy concept that is easy to talk about, but harder to define (and succeed at) in practice.  Also, not all of us are born with that ‘creative flare’ that so many innovators are known for.

    As I read and research more about the topic, I find myself surprised at how much is written about creativity and the ‘creative process.’  Perhaps my most interesting recent discovery is about the stages of creative thinking.  There are generally accepted stages of creativity that most writers seem to know (but that I have never heard of until now!)

    After discovering these five stages of creativity, I find myself impressed by how intuitive they seem, and by how broad reaching they are. I suspect that these phases of creative thinking are not only applicable to writers, but are probably useful to many entrepreneurs and innovators as well.

    Without further ado, here they are:

    1. First Insight — This is the act of finding or formulating the initial problem or topic that you are interested in.  This in itself is challenging.  Einstein put it better than I ever could:

    “To raise new questions, new possiblities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imaginiation and marke the real advances in science.”

    Too true.  I find that often times, good business ideas come from being stuck on ‘your own problem.’  A lot of innovators end up ‘scratching their own itch’ because no one else had done so already.
    2. Saturation — After this problem area has been discovered, the goal is to get as much data as you possibly can from a variety of sources.  This aligns very well with the kind of market and product research I have done in the past.  It’s about talking to real users, customers, and even people ancillary to the space you are thinking about.

    The secret here is to discover without an agenda.  You want the ideas to roll around in your head in the beginning.  You don’t want to be trying to find an answer too soon.

    3. Incubation — This part may be counter-intuitive to some, but the idea is that you want to let your subconscious mind start attacking the problem.  The secret here is to get away from the problem.  How you do this is non-trivial.  Each person is different, so you have to find the way that’s best for you.

    4. Illumination — This is the eureka moment.  Basically, as your subconscious mind attacks the problem from all angles, it will eventually find a solution that excites you.  You’ll know it when you feel it!

    5. Verification
    — Now you have to vet out the idea.  This is likely to be the part that takes the most effort.  Further, this is the part where I am guessing most entrepreneurs fall by the way-side.  They either don’t have the time, energy, or follow-through to actually see this phase through.  But those of us who actually succeed in building something find that the ‘journey of creation’ actually teaches us a lot.

    So there you have it!  Hopefully you find the five phases of creativity to be just as interesting as I do.  You might be asking yourself, “So why does this matter?”  Well, the stages of creativity matter because the ‘the battle of creativity’ is where the war of entrepreneurship is won or lost.   We entrepreneurs would be well-served by taking a page out of the book of innovative writers.

  • Design thinking

    Designers don’t just ‘throw sparkles.’

    In the last post, we explored some of the differences between entrepreneurship today and ten or so years ago.  As I think about how creativity and innovation seem underrated, it gets me to thinking about the way that design is perceived in most organizations.
    When most people think or talk about design, it seems that they think about the classic definition that was popular many years ago.  To me, this definition is more or less “the art of making things look pretty.”  Or, as one of my favorite colleagues likes to say, “throwing sparkles at things.”
    But, to me, design is no longer simply the art of making something look ‘pretty’ or ‘sparkly.’  It’s less about putting a good looking wrapper around something that already exists, and more about coming up with interfaces or products that solve new problems in a meaningful way.  In other words, I don’t think of designers as people who simply come into the picture after all of the innovation is done.  I think that designers are the very people who drive the innovation in the first place.

    What is design thinking?

    One of the exciting new topics I have begun to read about is called ‘design thinking.’  I recently read an article in the June 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review by the CEO and President of Ideo, Tim Brown. It was a fantastic outline of what design thinking is all about.  Here’s what I learned:
    You don’t have to be a designer to employ design thinking.  It’s just a structured approach to creating innovative and effective solutions to problems.  In this way, anyone can be a designer of new products or services.

    The Characteristics of a Design thinker

    Most effective design thinkers who have pioneered the creation of new products and services seem to exhibit some core characteristics:
    • Empathy: This is about taking a people-first approach.  You must work to put yourself in the shoes of others.  You have to think through solutions from multiple perspectives, and be willing to observe the world in minute detail.
    • Integrative thinking: This is about avoiding the very typical “either or” thinking of tradeoffs in design problems.  You want to embrace the contradictory aspects of a challenging problem.  The secret is to try to eliminate tradeoffs by achieving a solution that tackles “both A and B” as opposed to “either A or B.”
    • Optimism: Most worthy design problems are really hard to solve.  You have to assume that a ‘best approach’ really does exist, no matter how hard it might be to find.
    • Experimentalism: You have to be willing to explore constraints creatively, and to push boundaries as necessary.  Instead of just trying to speculate your way into the best answer, you’ll want to try multiple options (perhaps all at once) to figure out what really works.
    • Collaboration: Most great products are not the brainchild of a lone creative genius.  Instead, they are born through the clash of perspectives of people who come from different disciplines.  You have to be willing to seek out and embrace that kind of conflict.

    Why should you care about design thinking?

    Both my intuition and my experience seem to confirm that there really is something to this whole notion of ‘design thinking.’  It’s this kind of thinking that yields great outcomes.  Anyone who wants to create really great solutions to problems should try to embrace it.  Most importantly, you shouldn’t think of this kind of disciplined ‘innovation-focused’ thinking as something relegated only to designers in the back room.  It’s something that should be embraced from the CEO all the way down to the individual contributors who are building a product.
  • The new critical success factors: Creativity and Innovation

    The world of entrepreneurship today is very different than it was in 1999.  The cost and time related to developing web applications are both much lower today than they were years ago.  That’s not to mention that entrepreneurship has grown considerably in popularity.  Starting a company now is a lot cooler than it used to be.  And people are getting involved at much younger ages.

    The net effect of all this is that the world of entrepreneurship is much more competitive than it used to be.  So the natural question is: how can you be successful in such a tough competitive environment?  Let’s examine some of the differences between critical success factors ten years ago and today.

    Ten years ago, succeeding in entrepreneurship was about:
    • Executing on the business plan you laid out.
    • Getting to a product before you ran out of money. (This sounds funny, but it really is true.  The amount of time and money it took to get to a 1.0 ten years ago was non-trivial.  A lot of companies never made it out of product development.)
    • Getting on the radar of an interesting acquirer (before or after you have earned revenue/profit)
    Today, success is about:
    • Solving a problem that people actually care about.
    • Winning the war of adoption (which in strong part is driven by usability).
    • Adopting a business model that makes sense.  (Acquirers care about the fundamentals of businesses more today than in the past.)

    Of course, the above is an over-simplification.  But the core observations still make intuitive sense.  Getting a 1.0 product out the door is not the differentiator anymore.  There is a lot of competition on the internet today.  Getting a product out the door without a business or distribution model is about as good as not having built one in the first place.

    So the more experience I have in building a company in today’s world, the more firmly I believe that creativity and innovation are really the core competencies required to build a successful business.  It’s about building something novel and valuable.  And doing so in a way that is delightful and easy to use.  There are choices for nearly every kind of web application today.  Being the easiest to use and to share with other users is critical to success.

    But I don’t feel like most companies take this as seriously as they need to.  More to come on this soon…
  • Creative and engineering .. how different are they?

    I often hear practitioners in creative fields (such as photography, design, and writing) and engineering fields (such as development, QA, systems, infrastructure) talk about how different they are from the other group.  This is sometimes in reference to processes from the other camp that ‘won’t work here’ or in reference to a frustrating experience that leaves people wondering how they could be so different from one another.

    In either case, this is a topic that I’ve noticed people get pretty impassioned about.  It’s an interesting topic to me because creative and engineering practice areas are so critical to success in the my world of entrepreneurship and technology.  So I think it would be fun to explore (out loud) some of the similiarities and differences between to the folks in either practice areas.

    I have to warn, of course, that this based on anecdotal evidence only and is in terms of my experiences.  I know there is a bigger world out there, and I am not trying to make sweeping generalizations here.  Anyway, here goes:

    How are engineering and creative different?

    It’s obvious that people in engineering and people in creative are different.  But people often draw this conclusion only by outward appearances, which I think is misleading.  So let’s dig deeper into the real ways in which the two archetypes are different from one another:

    • They often work in different cycle times.  I have seen good engineering work and creative work happen iteratively.  But what I have come to notice is that the right cycle time for each type of work is often different.  Creative work generally operates on shorter cycles (1-day to a week) whereas engineering work often spins in longer cycles (1 week to a month).
    • The way the teams collaborate is different.  Because of the cycle time of much of our creative work, one person can often own a task from start to finish without creating a reasonable burden of time.  (A great example of this in our organization is the creative writing team, where each writer can often take full ownership of writing a piece.)  Whereas in engineering, because of longer cycle times, usually a small team will take on a task, collaborating just to get to a 1.0 version.
    • They talk differently.  Each group has their own set of acronyms and buzzwords.
    • Their work has a different level of visibility to the user.  Basically everything that is done in creative is a direct touchpoint to the user.  While many technical tasks share this trait, there is a whole category of technical tasks that are completely under-the-hood.
    • Non-practitioners shy away from one rather than the other.   Almost everyone in the organization has an opinion on creative, whether the have a depth of expertise in the practice area or not.  Engineering, on the other hand, is something that folks rarely comment on.  This likely has to do with the visibility point mentioned above.
    • The skill it takes to do each kind of work is different.  This is obvious, but it’s worth noting.  There are people who ‘bridge the gap’ of skills between engineering and creative very well, but in my experience, those folks are few and far between.

    How are creative and engineering the same?

    Surprisingly, I think that there are quite a few similarities between folks in engineering and in creative.  Here are a few:

    • They both require a strong attention to detail.  Whether you are 1 pixel off or you are missing a semi-colon, the tiniest things can throw a huge wrench in your day.
    • They both collaborate to get meaningful stuff done.  I mentioned above that these teams often collaborate differently, which is true.  But collaboration in and of itself is critical to people in these practice areas getting quality work done that is consistent in architecture and/or style.
    • The number of ways to do any one thing approaches infinity.  There are a million ways to design, photograph, or write something.  Similarly, when it comes to solving a technical challenge, there are a million ways the solution can manifest itself (even down to difference in technology choices!)
    • Having ownership of a problem is critical.  Folks from either group hate it when solutions are prescribed to them.  The reason they are in their field of work is because they want to solve interesting problems and they want a sense of ownership of those tasks and initiatives.  Neither group wants to feel like drones that are simply doing monotonous tasks.
    • User feedback drives their worlds.  Neither group can create terrific results without being plugged into the user community that actually touches their deliverables.  If either group operates in a vacuum, their likelihood of greatness hinges mostly on luck.
    • Perfectionism comes stock.  In either group, skilled practitioners have a hard time ‘letting imperfection slide.’  If something doesn’t seem right, its going to gnaw away at them forever until they fix it.  Also, because there are a million ways to do something, the natural tendency is to try a number of possibilities.  (If we didn’t have a strong sense of urgency from the business side, most of us would just ‘geek out’ with the possibilities, in either camp!)

    Conclusions and other thoughts

    After exploring this a little bit more, it has become clear to me that these groups are not as different as everyone builds them up to be.  The similarities are more striking to me than the differences, at least to me.  At the end of the day, good practitioners in either category are committed to building great stuff.  In the end, I suppose thats what matters.

    Most businesses seem to lean one way or the other when it comes to these archetypes.  That generally has to do with the founders coming from one background or the other.  This is something that I think it is very important to avoid.  Being out of balance in the direction of creative or engineering often causes more harm then good.  I think the degree to which these groups can collaborate together effectively is has a huge impact on the success of your business.