On Accountable Leaders

It’s hard being boss. © 2013 – Max Shields

Accountability is a vital part of anyone’s character. Responsibility for one’s actions, and those of one’s team is critical to ensuring peak performance.

Read the full article over at Coded Gamer.

“You did such a great job! What an inspired workout.” Who are these workout videos really kidding?

My wife occasionally uses workout videos to help her train. The continuous flow of pseudoscience and hilarious motivational speaking have both of us in stitches.

Here’s a short sample of what we’ve heard over the past couple days:

1. Thighs are small muscles. No. Not really. They just don’t get worked out a lot.

2. These exercises will lengthen your body parts. Wow. If we work out enough, we’ll be as tall as Shaq then? Or perhaps only our arms will stretch out, allowing us to drag our knuckles along the ground. Not quite my objective, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

3. If you make noise you are not using your muscles. Say what? Ever hear of the karate shout “kiai” that is used to harden your entire body and transmit maximal force to the point of strike? Perhaps the grunts and groans of pro tennis players are simply because they are slacking on the court. I guess if you’re wearing spandex on TV, you must know what you’re doing.

4. You’re doing awesome! I’m so proud of you. Really? You recorded this stupid show five years ago and somehow are peering through my TV to remotely critique my technique and effort? That’s not motivating. It’s creepy. Big Brother is watching isn’t going to get me to pump that last pushup out or straighten my back that little bit more during a squat. Nor is it going to keep me from squealing like a little girl when I get up from my twentieth burpie (please refer to point 3 above.)

5. It’s okay to shake. Don’t use that as a distraction. We’ve noticed that you’re shaking, too. It’s easy to pick out now that we’re both sitting on the couch munching on some popcorn and laughing our butts off. Laughter is good exercise, you know.

Time to high five the TV and strip out of these sweaty tights. I’m awesome. The recording said so.

On teamwork – Give me plumbers that work together rather than individualistic rock stars

A tight knit team.

A tightly-knit team can accomplish amazing things.

Over the last two days, we held a workplace hockey tournament. It is a longstanding tradition, and typically leads to cutthroat competitiveness on the ice. Bosses have the feeling that their careers can be made or broken with a puck’s resonant ping against the goalpost. The pressure downwards on the worker bees that make up the bulk of the team can be tremendous.

Many moons ago, our team was composed of valiant skaters, many of which had played at very respectable levels of amateur and university hockey. They showered our organization in glory. This year was not the case. Our best players would probably have been benched on the teams of yore. We even run the risk of making plumber leagues look like Gods of Ice. Overall, our prospects going into the tournament were pretty grim. Not nearly as skilled as the other teams going in, and without the numerous spares and extra shifts the other teams could bring to the rink, it was widely expected that we would be unable to win a single game.

Our traditional method of training for the event usually involved waking up ridiculously early, showing up to the ice, tossing a few pucks onto the ice and taking some potshots at the goalie as a warmup for ten minutes before immediately launching into a vigorous hour-long scrimmage. The new guys would try to survive learning to skate while the old pros would skate circles around them, scoring countless end-to-end goals, basking in the joy of believing they had something of the Great One coursing through their veins. Most of us eventually became pretty good at shooting a puck really hard from a relatively static position, but ran into problems when trying to combine skating with puck control and any sort of shooting. Skating backwards for defense? For most, it was a black art.

Then, some time earlier this year, one of our senior players decided to try something new. He flipped the paradigm on its head. We spent forty five minutes practicing, working on basic skills and drills. Then, we spent the last fifteen to twenty minutes scrimmaging, specifically trying to put into application what we had learned. New players were taken aside and taught to skate. It was all about fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.

This approach certainly was not as fun as going all out against each other for an hour. In fact, it even got a little repetitive for the more experienced players.

But you know what? We won every single game in that tournament. We even won the finals. We won them even if the other teams had even taken the time to phone up top notch players that had moved on to other jobs, and therefore technically weren’t supposed to be playing. We won them even after the other side started playing dirty. Why did we win? Because all of our plumbers were working together, as a team. The one or two rock star players on the opposing teams just didn’t jive with their compatriots. It just didn’t click. It also didn’t matter if the top players could do all kinds of fancy tricks with the puck, because the others just weren’t able to support them to finish the plays.

This serves to confirm a few invaluable lessons which have been voiced previously by far greater sports minds than mine:

1. Average Joes working as a team will almost always beat stars playing as individuals. That’s why teamwork is so important. A team full of star players that work together will be unstoppable.

2. If you don’t master the fundamentals, it doesn’t matter how much fancy stuff you know. If a strong foundation is not in place to support your fancy tricks, got back to the fundamentals. Otherwise, everything comes crashing down, and you’re not going to perform.

3. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

4. Even if you have the basics mastered, and you’re a pro of the fancy stuff, if your fundamentals start suffering, drop the high level training. Get back to the foundation, and work at it until you’ve got it squared away. Then you can worry about being fancy again.

5. Even your weakest player can turn into an unexpected play maker or game winner. Don’t exclude anyone from contributing. They may win the game for you.

6. A good coach can make all the difference in the world.

7. Despite your unbelievable victory, stay polite and display unwavering sportsmanship. This will ensure that you truly reap all the rewards.

Commander Hadfield – A source of good news and inspiration

War, death, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It seems these days that the media, ever busy trying to rack up the most ratings possible through fear-mongering, shocking, or otherwise ‘edgy’ journalism, if it can be called that, is busily spewing out a stream of information that I cannot help but find paint a depressing view of the world. Certainly, war in Syria, Iranian and North Korean saber rattling, and nuclear ambitions, global terrorism, corruption, scandals, climate change, the dangers of sugar, salt, and everything in between warrant interest.

Indeed, ignorance of theses issues can lead us to make profoundly mistaken decisions about any number of things on the global stage or in our daily lives. However, the continuous drone and emphasis on the bad news tends to dampen its impact over time, desensitizing us to the information’s importance. It also leads the media to try to find yet another more dramatic, even more extreme story with which to catch our saturated attention. This will inevitably lead to a downwards tailspin of doom where the human mind will no longer be able to comprehend anything because we will be so desensitized to all the horror which reportedly occurs under our very noses every nanosecond. Eventually, I don’t think the news that a black hole forming on Broadway would get people to blink. It is New York after all.

This leads me to call for the media to change their tack once in a while. Take a hint from fine cuisine’s culinary playbook and use palate cleansers. They don’t need to be saccharine stories about kittens rolling balls of yarn, or inane stories of the latest winner of the local bingo tournament. Enough with worshiping people who rummage about in storage spaces, who make tons of money from fixing people’s houses, or who know nothing more than the gym, tanning, and laundry. There are plenty of people doing terrific work daily that bears mentioning. One such individual, whom I believe has done a fabulous job of connecting with the citizens of the world, is Commander Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station. The man is high up in orbit, and yet so down to Earth and personable that I think everyone would be happy to have him as a father/brother/uncle/friend. While he is busily zooming around the planet faster than a speeding bullet, he’s doing everything from cutting edge science, to making music, to giving us surfacelubbers a friendly tour of his blinged out space crib.

Cool.

For those of you who have no idea of who Chris Hadfield is or what the ISS is, here’s a recent news article that can help out: National Post: Queen, prime minister congratulate Chris Hadfield as he becomes first Canadian in command of space station

This makes me feel that the world can be a better place. This makes me feel that there must be others like him who live their lives to make a positive change on not just their own lives but those of countless others around them, many of whom they will never meet. Why don’t we spend more time getting some news about people like him? Some scientist is doing great work on the cure for cancer? Could be worth talking to her? Another one is about to crack the mystery of high temperature superconducting? Let’s go see what he has to say. Find teachers that have made a huge difference in their students’ lives, or talk to aid workers with the World Food Programme in Kyrgyzstan. You know, switch things up a little bit. That way, when you media types have something really scary to say and that we should really be paying attention to you, we won’t be hearing you cry wolf instead.

Meanwhile, I hope the likes of Commander Hadfield help inspire a new generation to take up the cause of making this little blue sphere in the sky a better place, and I hope the media makes a habit of keeping touch with him.

Carrara version 8.5 / 9 on their way?

Carrara news from http://www.jurn.org

If the tentative release for an update from Carrara 8 to 9 is accurate, then this is great news. I am a big fan. I find its interface simple and intuitive. The price point is a far less formidable barrier to entry for an amateur artist like myself than those represented by the likes of Maya, 3DS, Cinema 4D, and Modo. Although I use it mainly for hobby modelling, I have also used it to build concept models for a number of projects at work. This greatly increased my team’s ability to discuss the requirements and the vision for some pretty cutting-edge concepts, which incidentally were a lot of fun to come up with.

I’ve been a  Carrara user since version 5, and to date each update has been well worth the investment. I am looking forward to seeing what is in store in the coming months.

Finding inspiration for my illustrated book – It’s a process

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

When I set out to write my book, I had in mind a short picture book for kids to flip through and enjoy a fantasy encyclopedia of sorts. It was to have a dual purpose by providing sufficiently detailed illustrations to allow adults to flip through the pages and enjoy a rich visual story, perhaps drawing them back to time when life was simpler and they could take the time to let their minds wander through their imaginations.

My first step was to collate the various notes I’ve scribbled on notepads, notebooks, napkins, recorded in word processors, and other indescribable media over the years to pry out some useful ideas. A healthy dose of goofy imagery courtesy of the doodles I generate so that I can keep my ephemeral attention focused during long meetings helped crystallize a concept in my mind. I then mashed all of these together into a rough outline hitting the key characters I wanted to talk about in the story.

I had started collating some of my notes in a Word file many years ago, but had since migrated my computer to an Apple system. I’d never obtained Word for the Mac, since I had been using Apple’s “Pages” software for my shorter work projects. It’s a nice program, but does not handle large texts with numerous illustrations very well. At least, the version I bought back in 2007 with my computer does not like them at all. It isn’t very good at organizing information, either. I therefore searched the internet for a resource that would help me bring order to the chaos of my notes and help me visualize my story’s structure. I happened upon “Scrivener” a short while ago, and I must say that I am thankful for the way in which it allows me to coerce my information from a shapeless mass into a structured, if nascent, text.

I then built little blurbs for each of these characters and generated an art brief that I would be able to provide an illustrator to share my vision and inspire his or her work. These came together in the form of a project work description that I placed on Freelancer. I was surprised by the level of interest that the diverse community of artists that resides there showed for my project. In particular, a few artists rose above the crowd and became active participants in my writing efforts by coaching me through the Freelancer process and their perspectives on the nature of the work I was asking. In particular, Kenneth “Canifu”, and JJ Zhang were extremely helpful. I am humbled by their talent and their generous sharing of information. In the end, I settled with Art Corod because of the original vision he proposed and his inexhaustible enthusiasm. I may discuss my Freelancer experience and lessons learned in a later post.

After a short process of nailing down the visual style and going over specific project requirements, we set off on our grand adventure. The great thing about writing this book is that I am keeping my child in mind as the primary reader. Even though he probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for several more years, I show him Art’s preliminary work and ask him which he prefers. As it turns out, a toddler can be pretty opinionated. This particular one appears to have a certain sense of aesthetics which is useful to the book’s art direction as well.

Somewhere along the way, my wife looked at the text I’d put together so far and asked: “Is that it?”

I could have immediately felt crestfallen, but instead sought her insight. She correctly pointed out that a young reader in the range I was designing this book for would be seeking more than fifteen to twenty pages of a fantasy hinterland’s wilderness observer’s guide. They would be seeking a story. At about the same time we were having this discussion, my illustrator sent me a wonderful landscape. You can see a small crop of the image at the top of this post

Although the image was unfinished, the amount of detail was astounding. Within its lines, a wealth of potential adventures played out. A light bulb lit so brightly in my mind that my brain is still sunburned. I was going to use the illustrations that Art was providing me as the inspiration for each of the book’s chapters. Just as I had provided the visual artist with just enough of an impulse to generate these rich images, the illustrations were going to serve as the catalyst for my stories.

Our collaboration has now become even closer, as both writer and illustrator rely on each other to develop the next story thread. As I receive an image, I quickly hammer out the corresponding chapter and feed it back to Art so that he can see where the story is going. This helps him come up with new ideas with which to populate his images, which in turn inspire the details to subsequent chapters. The main plot line will be unlikely to change much, but the detail that makes a story live and breathe will get richer with each passing illustration.

I am looking forward to the next image!

On collaborating with artists

My first project is progressing despite some personal challenges which make the work more challenging than it otherwise would have been. I’ve collated the notes, passages, and drafts I’ve collected over the years and formed them into a somewhat cohesive plan. It is now time to flesh out the bones.

I’ve hired a wonderful artist, Arthur Corod, to help illustrate the cover as well as fifteen in-book images. You can see a small snippet of his talent in the entry above. I am truly blessed to have found him. He has a fantastic eye, an innovative vision, and loves to tell stories through his drawings. What’s more, though, he comes up with suggestions for the storyline. He has internalized the project, and believes in it. He’s providing suggestions on improving the story line, and even offering ideas to take it in new, totally exilerating directions.

These are the hallmarks of a strong team, one I am glad to be part of. It will be interesting to see where this adventure takes us.