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Why I moved into the Creative Pit March 11, 2010

Posted by schlanghole in company culture, Work.
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I started a company called Digital Effects (DFX) in 1995. In 2000 I merged my company with four other agencies in California, Washington, and Idaho to create Wirestone where I currently work. As we’ve grown over the years my Boise office has moved four different times. However, regardless of the location, what’s always been consistent is an area within the office that we call the “Creative Pit”. Currently this is one large room with no walls or cubicles where 14 of our art directors, animators, illustrators, writers, and motion designers all reside. I’m a big believer in creating environments that are conducive to creativity and collaboration and our Creative Pit is an example of that.

For a majority of the past 15 years I’ve sat in the Creative Pit. I’ve thrived in the Pit. However, three or four years ago some co-workers convinced me that with my growing responsibilities and a greater need for privacy, I should move out of the pit and into an office. So I did.

Ugly sweater party in the Founders Lounge.

For a while I ran solo in a private office but felt so isolated and alone that I convinced my best bud and partner Brad Mitchell to move in with me. It’s been great. Absolutely no complaints. Our office, which we branded the Founders Lounge, is pretty rad. It is complete with refrigerator, bar, walls and shelves for all my Red Sox crap, a beautiful view of the Boise River and plenty of cushy seating for guests. We’ve even hosted little parties in the Founders Lounge. It’s been good to me but still … something was missing.

A portion of the Creative Pit.

A peek into the Creative Pit.

Now, honestly I am the very furthest thing from being a micro-manager but, I had become too removed from what was going on day-to-day at a project level. Too removed from what everyone was creating each day. I was removed from the action. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was a couple versions behind in Photoshop/Illustrator and any interactive programming skills I had prior was completely gone. I understand the other areas of our business that I’m responsible for are important and I take that very seriously but it’s come at a cost. I’ve all but stopped doing what made me the happiest at work … being involved in the creative and collaborative process. Another unforeseen side effect is that the Creative Pit had also transformed and morphed into something different. It reminded me of a library. Everyone wears their headphones and quietly goes about their day. Granted, they’re all creating cool shit … but maybe it could be even cooler.

A little over two weeks ago I told Brad that I was moving back into the pit and he agreed to come with me.

My new spot in the back corner of the Creative Pit.

The first thing I did was gather the Creative Pit team together. I reminded those who lived in the Pit-of-old and educated those who didn’t know better, the purpose of the Creative Pit. I explained I was moving in for the next 30+ days and asked that they be patient with me as I introduce some new guidelines. I told them that headphones were no longer cool. I suggested we instead play music for all to hear (and take turns each day sharing our tunes). I asked if they have a conference call or client call, to take it in one of the six meeting rooms we’ve provided. There was to be no more shushing each other in the Pit. I warned them that I was going to be loud and fairly obnoxious and ask lots of questions all the time. I asked that they try this with me. I asked that they trust me for the next 30+ days after which I promised we would reevaluate.

The 30 day count down.

We are now into our second full week and I cannot speak for everyone else but I know that I feel reenergized. I am collaborating on projects again and I am witnessing some positive interactions occurring between others, even when they’re not assigned to the same project. Hell … I even caught Brad designing yesterday!

Our creative team is incredibly talented and over the next month I plan to learn from them, share successes and frustrations with them, and continue to collaborate with them as much as I possibly can. I am confident that with their help I can get to a happier place, we will rebuild the vibe in the Creative Pit and who knows, maybe they’ll even invite me to stay.


The No Prick Rule March 4, 2010

Posted by schlanghole in company culture, Work.
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There is a long established rule at my company that I’ve coined the “No Prick Rule”. I have been committed to this unofficial guideline for 15+ years and think it has served me pretty well. It’s not a very complicated concept nor do I think it’s unique but some have asked me to elaborate. So, I thought I’d bang out a few paragraphs explaining some of the highlights and specifically how I interpret this rule.

Basically it comes down to this one sentence. “Hire the good, humble, kind human being first … skill-set second.” It seems to me that too many companies hire candidates based solely on their resume, education and experience regardless of the kind of person they are. This is my point and the rest of my rambling below merely attempts to define it further (so you can stop reading now if you get it).

Certainly, hiring people who are skilled in their craft is important to any company regardless of the industry. But, I think our business is somewhat unique given the massive amount of collaboration and dependency we have on each other when creating a successful campaign, launch, product or customer experience. I’ve chosen to make my living in a deadline driven industry and it is critical that I am able to trust, learn and move quickly with those I am in the trenches with.

Being killer at what you DO is not enough. It does not matter if you’re the greatest art director, animator, writer, programmer, analyst, or account manager on the planet if you also think you’re better than everyone else, don’t value other opinions or ideas, talk behind peoples back, keep crucial information to yourself, maintain a hidden agenda, are in it for the paycheck, are unwilling to do whatever it takes, or think certain tasks are below you. These types of people will no doubt excel in certain companies but they are not a good fit for us and our environment is not the right fit for them. Period.

The result? A healthy environment that is conducive to creativity and collaboration. An environment, by the way, that ends up attracting some of the very best talent this country has to offer. This ultimately allows us to produce what IMHO are some of the most innovative, immersive and effective customer experiences possible for our clients. It enhances our ability to create cool shit all while growing professionally and personally as individuals. Another bonus? I think our clients like and respect us too.

No one person is more important than any other person where I work. I truly believe this. Everyone plays their individual role every day to ensure our projects our company and our clients succeed. I believe people work here because they WANT to not but because they HAVE to and, unfortunately, there are always going to be pricks out there in the world. My preference is not to work with any of them.

Tuestone Tuesday March 2, 2010

Posted by schlanghole in company culture, Work.
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2009 was a bitch for a lot of us and I was not immune. There were a lot of changes in my behavior both personally and professionally. Some were perhaps necessary, some were a departure from the kind of person I am. One that was most alarming was how I had lost touch with what’s going on in my co-workers personal lives.

To help rectify, at the beginning of the year (with the help of my friend and partner Brad Mitchell) I started what we’ve branded Tuestone Tuesday. One day a week where we schedule ONE person at work to hang out with us socially. We’ve done pretty good about committing to this schedule and have met with five people so far. Some of the gatherings last a couple hours and some end late into the evening (Wendy!). The common theme however is reconnecting with each other. Reminding each other why we choose to work together and why we choose to work where we do.

A typical Tuesday finds us leaving the office around 4:20 starting at my favorite watering hole, The Modern Hotel (they’ve started reserving us the same table each week). It usually takes a few drinks before it becomes clear to our guest that this is not a “review” or even about work. It’s about each of them. It’s about their family, their dreams, their aspirations … whatever is on their mind. Naturally, work topics do come up which is of course encouraged and have proven enlightening and even actionable. Occasionally some of our friends (most in the biz, some not) drop by our table to say hi and the conversation expands to include every topic you can imagine. Depending on our guests schedule, the gathering might move to dinner, music, etc.

We have a rule at Wirestone labeled the “No Prick Rule” (future post). For me, Tuestone Tuesday validates we’ve surrounded ourselves with those who believe and live by this rule every day. These evenings have been truly inspiring, energizing and therapeutic. I hope those we have met and will meet with in the future get out of it as much as I do.