AuthorRichard Atlas

Why Fixed Hours May Provide More Freedom Than “Free” Ones

At a game developer conference last month, one of the speakers talked about the work culture at the studio they founded, and it seemed great. Their philosophy boasted flexible work hours, a month of vacation, and good pay. Seems like the perfect setup right?

Not quite. Today I’m going to make an argument about why fixed work hours may provide more freedom than free hours, however counter-intuitive it may sound. When I say “fixed”, by the way, I imply set hours but respecting your employees such that if they have an emergency, they won’t be penalized for coming in late.

The studio head giving the talk went on to say how they have flexible work hours… but everyone works super late anyway. Oh and the month of vacation is an amazing employee benefit too… except no one actually takes it, he said. “They all love their work too much to go home early or take their full vacation time”.

Really? I mean this as no slight to the speaker, as they’re a great person who I respect and like quite a lot. But, really?

Social pressure doesn’t come from official documents, regimented structures or micro-managing bosses.

No, social pressure is something that can come from all sides and can come in many forms. Let’s take the theoretical stereotypical Silicon Valley tech startup. Company has some founders who work 80 hours per week, killing themselves to build and grow (this is bad too but I’ll save that for another time). They hire, and those employees see this behaviour. They have some interest in the company and its success, so they push themselves as well. All of the sudden, you’ve got a team of 50 people who are working hard… great. Except that it becomes competitive. Who’s the next head of department? Who’s going to be attending the next conference? It will likely be the hardest workers, or rather the employees who appear work the most. See where I’m going with this?

It can be hard to see how well someone is performing in a tech startup, so it’s extremely easy to believe fall into the trap that the people who are coming in early and leaving late are the ones producing the most. While you may have built a great company, along the way you’ve taught people that over-working is the way to succeed.

Not only is this bad because it promotes behaviour that’s unhealthy for the employees, but it’s also bad because it promotes behaviour that can be detrimental to your company’s success. The mentality of “I should stay at my desk for another 20 minutes because Jane left five minutes ago” is awful, and all too common. Often the issue isn’t even over-working (that is, actually working more), rather a feeling of pressure from other employees to show that they’re working harder.

So how do you solve this culture problem, and get people to enjoy their work without the pressure of feeling like they need to out-do or out-stay the person next to them? How do you create a meritocracy that’s actually based on merit and not on apparent dedication to the team?

So, here are my 4 arguments as to why working fixed hours actually results in a feeling of increased freedom:

No pressure to work overtime or skip vacation: This is essentially what I’ve talked about up to now in this article. If you know when you’re going home, you’re not being judged on some sort of potentially superficial quality like how long you stayed at the office.

Easier to separate work and life: If you can plan your life with a predictable schedule, you will have more time to do things like go on dates with your significant other, take your kids to a hockey game, or see friends regularly. You’re ‘on’ at work, and ‘off’ at home.

Forced vacation is good for the employees and the company: If you take vacation, it will give you time to recharge. The feeling of “oh I should really be working now”, when you’re unwrapping Christmas (or Hannukah!) presents with your family is something that should never exist, ever. It will exist if you feel beholden to your work, but forcing vacation time means that you couldn’t work even if you wanted to.

Everyone is at the office at the same time, and off at the same time: This one is definitely the most subjective, but I feel that knowing that your employees are either ‘on’ or ‘off’ at the same time as you can be empowering. Knowing that you’re not expected to respond to that email at 9pm feels better when you know that no one is responding to their email at 9pm.

But going too far in that direction can be detrimental as well. Being so rigid in your timing is detrimental to freedom because employees feel that they MUST be in the office by exactly X:00am, and that leads to stress. My proposal to solve this is the following:

Respect for your employees and for their lives leads to work hours that are flexible enough to reduce stress, but rigid enough to avoid unwanted social pressure.

Don’t penalize someone for coming in 10 minutes late, or leaving early for their daughter’s dentist appointment. But do create the expectation that an employee will be at work between the hours of X and Y, and that will avoid the social pressure I’ve been talking about.

So far, this is the kind of culture we’ve been building, and with the exception of emergencies (a server crashes, a horrible bug appears, etc.), we’ve managed to stick to it. My partners and I believe in respecting one another, respecting our employees, and respecting our own lives as they exist outside of work, and I think this mentality will lead to the continuation of a healthy work culture.

Cognitive Biases to Watch Out For When Running a Business

Cognitive biases are everywhere and affect our daily lives in a huge way. They affect the way we think, the way we act, and the way we interpret information. A cognitive bias is essentially when our brain slips up and uses some illogical reason to come to (sometimes harmful) conclusions. These slip-ups are so common and so predictable that we can actually quantify, categorize, and test for them.

Today, I wanted to talk about a few cognitive biases that can specifically relate to the workplace, and describe how we might be able to get around them to produce better results and happier people.

 

Survivorship Bias

I put this one at the top because I believe it’s the one that we’re most guilty of in the games industry. Survivorship bias is looking at the successes without acknowledging the failures, and it comes from the fact that most of the people we see are the ones who have succeeded. The companies that failed, well, they aren’t around to tell you about how they failed. This is clear in the games industry when we go to conferences, listen to speakers, meet people at networking events, and so on. The people that we meet are the ones who were at least successful enough to be at the event, and that’s already a big step up on the majority of start-up studios.

There has been a recent trend toward listening to people’s failures, which I think is a great thing. People are becoming more open about their failures, and we’re seeing things like “failure workshops” at the Game Developer Conference which is a series of talks about what went wrong and why.

My first tip to avoid survivorship bias is to start small and dig deep. It’s harder to find stories about failures because people are ashamed about it or these stories aren’t visible on the platforms you’re looking at. So start small, by looking at slight failures. In the case of games, this might be a game that appeared to have great hype but only sold 2,000 copies. Why didn’t it sell well? What went wrong? This should be easy enough to find by looking at public-facing information: trailers, reviews, etc. Then, try to go a little deeper. Find some games that look like they might have had a chance, but have no reviews and no public statistics. Sometimes, you might have to reach out to developers directly and ask them what went wrong, and usually (in our industry at least) they’ll be happy to tell you.

For an interesting resource about failure, autopsy.io has a list of failed startups and the reasons why they failed.

The second tip is to strip it down to its core. If you see something that worked, don’t focus on small details or hang on to gimmicks; the game didn’t sell because the main character had a hat, the game sold because the main character was relatable and their motivation was easily understood. This still falls into the trap of looking at successes, but it’s both less likely to lead you down a false path and more likely to allow for pattern recognition if you can strip it down to the basic building blocks of the success. Replace “the art style was pixel art with watercolour painted backgrounds” with “the game had a distinct, captivating art style”.

 

Conservatism Bias

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I’ve heard this a lot about companies; “stick to what you know, make small incremental improvements”, etc. Conservatism bias is rejecting new information and not being willing to venture into the new because the old way seems to work just fine.

I’d argue that this approach doesn’t work in any industry. I’d say toilet paper is probably one of the most basic products I can think of, where it hasn’t changed in years. But if you want to be competitive in the toilet paper industry, I would guess that you still can’t be afraid to push the technology, push the manufacturing techniques, or push the boundaries of marketing efforts.

In the games industry this is especially true. The technology is changing so quickly and the market is changing so quickly that we have to adapt with the times. Not only do we have to adapt in terms of the games we make, but we also have to adapt in terms of the way we manage our people, manage our workspace, and manage our lives.

There are two suggestions I have to help with this bias. The first is to keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t say no to ideas flat out, and listen to what other people are saying. The second suggestion would be to respect your peers. Your colleagues, partners, employees, and contacts often have more experience and knowledge in certain fields than you do. To step outside of the box, sometimes you need to trust in others.

 

Pro-Innovation Bias

This is the complete flipside of the previous point. Pro-innovation bias involves being overly excited about new technology or innovation without thinking logically about potential outcomes. A good (made up) example could be trying to make a game with photo-real 3D graphics for mobile using new technology that requires 8x more RAM than other games. While the technology might be cool, our phones aren’t ready for that kind of thing, and the idea might fall flat on its face… if it has a face.

This isn’t to say to avoid innovation… not at all. The key is thinking realistically and logically about the limitations and the potential of the new innovation and deciding whether or not it’s a path you want to go down.

The most important thing to do to avoid this bias is to do your research. Is the market ready? Is the technology there? Is there a demand? Can you create a demand? A cool idea is cool, but that’s not necessarily a good enough reason to commit significant time and money to it.

 

Outcome Bias

Survivorship bias and outcome bias can be closely linked in the field of video games. We often judge our decisions based on the outcome of the situation, even if it wasn’t necessarily the right decision. That’s the core of outcome bias, and it can be dangerous, especially when the sample size of your “experiments” are so small. For example, if you make a decision pertaining to one game and it works, you might be likely to think that that was the right decision simply because it worked. Another company may make exactly the same decision, and it doesn’t work out for them.  In fact, even your own choice that works once (yes, we definitely need a live-recorded trailer because we had one last game!) won’t necessarily work the second time around… you’re probably missing a piece of the puzzle.

I think that one way that we can try to avoid the bias is, as I said previously, do your research. If you can find cases where the same decision led to failure, while in your case that decision led to success, there’s probably another factor at work. Another important way to avoid this bias is to argue your decisions based on facts or logic. I mean, the whole point of avoiding these biases is that you make your decisions based on logic, but if you can defend your original decision based on logic and not based on evidence, you have a much stronger argument. That way, when you make the decision again, you won’t succumb to this bias.

These cognitive biases can be found in this neat little infographic (which has been re-posted everywhere). There really are a million of these, and we could talk about them for days… but here I chose to focus on a few specific ones. Another great resource is this talk from my friend Dan Menard from Double Stallion Games. Seriously, go watch it. But read the paragraph below first 🙂

An interesting little experiment to try involves going through a day questioning your own decisions and actions, and really trying to take a 3rd person observer seat of yourself to see what kind of biases affect your decisions. Everyone does it, but being aware of it will likely lead you to more logical decisions in the future. I hope this article helped in some way to open your eyes a bit to things to watch out for when in a leadership role, be it in game development or in any other field.

 

The Will and Desire of Corporations

It’s really easy to blame corporations. Corporations can be big, evil, and swallow up other companies in their wake. They can exploit, push down, discriminate, and do all of the things that we hate to see people or organizations doing. But why do they do it?

I’m of the belief that the majority of people aren’t evil, exploitative, discriminatory, or mean-spirited. I don’t even believe that the majority of people are greedy enough to manipulate people to get their way. So if people aren’t evil, and people make up corporations, how are corporations so evil?

AT A CERTAIN POINT, THE CORPORATIONS START RUNNING THE PEOPLE, AND THE PEOPLE STOP RUNNING THE CORPORATION.

Corporations have one goal: to make money. They will do everything they can to make money. They are not human, and they have no morals or feelings… all they have is numbers, productivity, efficiency, and profit. Is that bad though? Well, not necessarily.

This post was inspired by a cool game that I saw called paperclips. You can play it for free, online, here. The game is about making paperclips. First, you make one. Then you make more. Then you buy an auto-clipper, which makes paperclips for you automatically every second. Then more auto-clippers. Then you research to improve your auto-clipper efficiency. Then you research even more to make even more paperclips. I haven’t played a ton of the game, but suffice it to say that taking over the world isn’t even the end of the game.

The lesson learned from this game is that it’s not the people who are growing corporations to an insane degree, or being evil through their greedy business practices. At a certain point, a company becomes large enough that it has its own goals, and its own desires. As we can see from the paperclip game, the point where the spirit of the company moves from person to non-human entity can be pretty quick. The corporation then has the goal to make money, to grow, to take more market share (to make more money), to hire people, to fire people, to find cheap labour, to find new markets… it’s rare that all of these decisions are being made by one single person.

As early 20th century American writer Ambrose Bierce put it:

“CORPORATION: AN INGENIOUS DEVICE FOR OBTAINING PROFIT WITHOUT INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY.”

This isn’t to say that all of the people in corporations are wonderful and generous people, and it’s not to say that there aren’t some leaders of businesses who actually do evil things for their own benefit. But it is important to note that it’s easy, especially for groups, to make decisions “for the corporation” even if those decisions are not perfectly aligned with one’s own morals.

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As much as it’s easy to hide behind the guise of a corporation to make decisions that might be questionable, it also allows us to blame and hate corporations vehemently in an unreasonable fashion, and without feeling bad about it. It’s fairly well known that one of the easiest ways to justify feelings of hatred, anger or violence is by dehumanizing the person or thing that you’re mad at. People do this all of the time for corporations and might not hesitate to say that a corporation should be burned to the ground, destroyed, or dismantled without considering the human element. Dehumanization is a two-way street, and as much as you can hide behind the wall of anonymity in a large corporation, you can also hate unreasonably and without hesitation.

Companies, big and small, need to be mindful and careful to not get too carried away by the will of the corporation. Business owners, employees, and customers / uninvolved people need to be aware that this can happen, it can happen easily, and that it’s important for the people to keep control of the corporation. Our company is small, and doesn’t plan to become huge any time soon, but we aim to keep that human element and are always careful to be aware of it. If you stay human, the company will stay human, and people will recognize the corporation as having human values.

Cuphead Isn’t Ashamed of Being a Video Game

If you haven’t played the beautiful, 30’s era cartoon-inspired game Cuphead yet, then you should. It’s an extremely challenging platformer shooter made up of a slew of intense boss fights mixed with some run ‘n’ gun levels as well. You can check it out on Steam here, and I’ll put the trailer below for reference.

I’m not here to review games however, as there are a bajillion other people who can do that better than I can. What I wanted to talk about today was one of the many things that Cuphead does right, beyond its precision platforming, innovative art style and skill progression. One of the things that I noticed is that:

CUPHEAD ISN’T ASHAMED OF BEING A VIDEO GAME. THE GAME DOESN’T MAKE EXCUSES.

 

The game presents the player with an extremely clear, simple motivation right at the start and explains why you need to fight all of these bosses. Next, an elder (your grandfather, maybe? I don’t remember) tells you he can bestow upon you some super-power that makes you shoot from your hands. What?

The answer to that “What?” is that it doesn’t matter. At all. You know why you’ve bought this game and why you’re playing it. The developers know why you’ve bought this game and why you’re playing it. Why should the game need to go and make excuses about what it does and why? The game should also know that you’ve bought this game, and it should definitely know why you’re playing it.

An example of what might have been done in another game would be that you would be told some elaborate explanation of the lore and the justification behind these super-powers, or you might be sent on some sort of process to figure them out. Once you get this ability (to shoot), you’re sent to a tutorial, which pretty clearly states that it’s a tutorial. Again, no bullshit. You’re in a game, playing a tutorial. That’s it. You’re not playing through what is an obvious tutorial, while the game attempts to hide it by pretending it’s a a part of the story or making up another excuse as to why you can, for example, swing a sword at people infinitely but never die.

The final example of this is when an ability is unlocked or purchased. Forget the fact that you can buy new “weapons” even though it’s just your hands shooting stuff; it also tells you “Press Y to equip your new weapon” or something similar. Clearly, you’re in a video game and need to know how to play.

I won’t claim that all games should be this up-front about everything they do: motivation, control, tutorial, etc. Different strategies work for different games, and each game has their way of doing things. But it was a nice relief to see this kind of approach after playing many games which try to pretend that everything has to make sense within the world of the game, as opposed to admitting that they’re video games and that people need to understand how things work, even if it breaks the “immersion”.

Anyway, go check out the game. It’s doing amazingly well and with good reason, so give credit to the folks over at Studio MDHR.

Next Steps for the Subscription Model?

It’s no secret that a ton of services and software have moved to a subscription-based model and are having amazing success with it. A subscription-based model, when talking about products or services, basically means that you pay a subscription fee (monthly, usually) to access the product or the software you want to use. Traditionally, software was sold in a packaged bundle: pay $199.99 for this accounting software and have it forever. I’ll talk quickly about why the shift is happening, and then expand on some ideas of where I think it might go.

Why the shift away from the traditional model?

Updates

Back in the day (i.e. a few years ago), you had to buy a CD with a software on it, put it in your CD-ROM drive (ha!) and install the software. When an update came out, you had to buy the new version… Office 2003, Office 2005, etc. This made sense, because updates weren’t super quick, and it was like buying a new pair of shoes; you buy what you need now, and by the time you’re ready for a new pair, new technology has come out.

Nowadays, patches for software are coming out on an almost weekly basis, and new features are being added to existing products all the time. There’s no longer a need for CD-ROM drives as you can download the newest version from the web, and this means that companies can update their products quickly and efficiently. This can work with the traditional model; you buy a license key and then sign in to your account online to download the updates, but it comes with security risks and a logistical hassle when you need to manage users and keys.

 

Less Risk for the Buyer

For the customer, there’s less risk in trying out a product for $30 for a month as opposed to buying it for $720 and expecting to use it for two years. This is pretty obvious, and makes it easy for consumers to make an educated choice.

 

Increase in Product Quality

This isn’t an argument that directly helps the service providers or product creators, but I think it’s something that naturally evolved due to competition. You can no longer sell your product based on bullet point descriptions and images, because people get to try it without committing a huge amount of money. That means that the quality bar is raised, and now when people start using your program or software, they need to be presented with a fully functional, easy-to-use solution.

What’s Next?

We’ve already seen a ton of games move to a subscription model, as well as the online play portion of console games. Our accounting software that we use at Clever Endeavour Games (the games company where I work) is subscription based, as is our website hosting, email management (Google for business), the game engine we use, etc. Almost all of these things used to have a fixed price that you would pay at once, and they’re all moving away.

But what happens after this? What industries can you think about that are currently selling products in a traditional way, that might move to subscription models soon?

The first one I’m thinking of is transportation. There’s already a lease system, which is somewhere between rental / subscription and purchasing. But with things like Communauto (here in Montreal), people can register to the service for a monthly or yearly fee, and take a car wherever they want. They don’t own anything, just a license to take the car from point A to point B and forget about it. Imagine a world where you could take any kind of car you’d like, have it pick you up and drop you off where you’d like, and all it required was a monthly subscription… I think this is next once we have consistent self-driving cars.

Next thing is clothing. Wait what? Why would you want to wear clothes used by someone else? Well… you already do. People rent tuxedos for weddings, ball gowns, and elaborate Halloween costumes. If you’re looking for the perfect outfit for your night out, why be limited to the clothes you own? Imagine being able to pick up whatever you wanted from a huge catalog, and the clothes were clean every time you wanted to wear them? This wouldn’t be for every day of course, but I could definitely see its potential for special events in the future.

Flights might also be something that could be subscription based… if you’re someone who flies often or in some sort of consistent manner, it might be easier to simply pay a yearly or monthly fee and be free to fly wherever you want.

This all came up because I’m going to soon be starting to pay a subscription for a virtual instrument pack for music production, which costs $25/mo. This is instead of a software which costs around $900, and requires a $200 update every year. The goal of the subscription-based model is that they can update the instruments more often, and as long as you’re signed up, you can open projects which use those instruments. For me, I get to try it for $25 and see if I want to continue. For them, they can rope me in by offering me over $900 of value worth of instruments, and keep me longer term if I like it.

Anyway, just some food for thought. It’s incredible how obvious this kind of thing seems, but it took a while since the internet was a thing to actually start taking over. Let’s see what the future has in store for us!

Thoughts from my Peru Trip

I don’t want to make this a blog post like any old travel blog, because there are enough of those around, and there are people who have documented similar Peru trips with more eloquent writing and captivating tales. But I did jot down some of the things that struck me about my trip, some things that aren’t the usual “wow mountains are beautiful” thoughts. Below are some of my findings / thoughts about some things I noticed on my Peru trip. And here’s a llama.

The Rich and the Poor

The difference between the rich and the poor in the cities in Peru (Lima, Arequipa most noticeably) was massive. You can look at a beautiful house in the city with barbed wire and an electric fence surrounding it, with heavy gates and iron bars on the windows, then look across the street to where you see a shack made of scrap metal and a tarp. From Mercedes cars and brand name shoes to dirt floors and no running water, and you literally need only to look across the street. This might be the work of corruption in government, exploitation of the poor for work, or some other causes that I won’t claim to be able to explain. But it really puts in perspective the complaints about the discrepancy between rich and poor here in Canada, and the disappearance of the middle class. I don’t believe we have anything close to what they have in Peru, and I’m sure that we never will, because the government does a good job to try to protect and give opportunity to the middle class in my opinion.

Catholicism… but Why?

Peruvians are super Catholic. Most of South America is super Catholic in fact, which of course came from the Spanish when they invaded / colonized in the 13th and 14th centuries. My initial response to this was “Why?? Didn’t they come in and kill all of your people and destroy your religion? Why do you like them?” The answer is twofold. The first reason is time… it’s been many generations since the first conquistadores (conquerors) and people have learned over time to appreciate the Catholicism that was forced upon them before. The second reason, which I find way more interesting, was the way in which the Spanish convinced the native South Americans to follow them.

You’ll notice in the churches in Peru, that the vast majority are more focused on the Virgin Mary than they are on Jesus. This was odd to me, after having seen churches in Europe where there’s a huge focus on Jesus. What was explained to me is that the Spanish told the natives (Inca, mostly, in this case) was that their gods (Pachamama: Mother Earth, Inti: the sun god, etc.) were represented in Christianity, but represented differently. For example, the Virgin Mary was Mother Earth because she gave life, and this was one of the Inca’s most important gods. Instead of praying to Pachamama, they could now pray to the Virgin Mary and their prayers would still be heard. Another great example of this, which I find fascinating, is the link between the thunder god Illapa and the Catholic St. James. It’s said that during a battle, a certain Spanish conquistador riding a horse came through a city and killed hundreds of Incas. I asked how anyone could erect a statue or sanctify a man who slaughtered their people, and the answer was this: apparently, there was a great thunderstorm when the battle took place and the Incas believed / reasoned that this man was the image of Illapa, the thunder god, who punished the people for their wrongdoings.

I found this really interesting… I’m not sure if they had forced Catholic schools like the English set up in Canada and Australia, but this was some interesting knowledge to acquire.

The Indigenous People and Traditional Wares

There are indigenous people who still live in small villages in the mountains, and still keep their traditions and their clothing. It’s wonderful, and being able to see some of those people and how they go about their daily lives is great. But did I actually see that? I’d guess not. I’d guess that very few tourists have ever seen that. What we see is a dramatization, by people who might actually be authentic villagers, but they’re doing it mostly for tourist money. That’s not to say that the learning isn’t important, but we do have to consider that “authenticity” in these situations.

A good example of this is the markets. There are traditional markets in certain cities, and they’re full of stuff. Scarves, hats, gloves, paintings, everything you’d imagine seeing at a crafts market. One problem… they all have the same stuff. ALL OF THEM. The markets in Lima are the same as the ones in Cusco, which are the same as the ones in Arequipa. Same stuff, same “handmade, 100% alpaca wool” stuff. I learned from a Peruvian business owner there that they are indeed handmade, and they are indeed made in Peru, and that they’re definitely not alpaca. Well, not all of them are handmade… but when they are, it’s not in a small village in the mountains. It’s in a massive factory owned by one of two companies that share practically 100% of the market.

I think the trip helped make me aware of what’s true and not true, and that even if you speak Spanish, tourism makes a ton of money for the people and it doesn’t need to be authentic to make money. But there are two more important things that I realized. First,

EVEN IF THE MERCHANDISE IS NOT AUTHENTIC, BUYING IT STILL HELPS THE LOCALS LIVE, AND THE MEMORY OF THE COUNTRY WITH WHICH YOU’VE ASSOCIATED IT IS NO LESS MEANINGFUL.

Second, in most situations when a Canadian has the money to travel to Peru, the people selling the merchandise need the money more than you (we) do. That is to say, haggling to get something for $6 instead of $8 makes a much bigger difference in the lives of the merchant than it does to you, and it’s something to consider when shopping in those places. Of course if people are charging ridiculous prices there’s a point where it becomes unfair and exploitative, so you just need to know when you’re getting screwed vs. when you’re helping someone put food on their table.

Some Slightly More Random Thoughts

The roads in Peru… in fact the roads everywhere I’ve been, are still better than in Montreal. Basically, if a road in the world is paved, or has ever been paved, it’s better than Montreal roads. You’d think side-streets in a small town in Peru, or in Cambodia for that matter, would be bad. Nope. Montreal is still the worst.

Every city has sketchy areas, but it’s not a big deal! People warned me about the danger in Peru, and I can honestly say that at no point during my entire trip did I feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable or like I was in danger. Keep your wits about you, do some research, and you’ll know to avoid the dangerous places. It’s the same thing in any city… there are dangerous areas of Montreal too but no tourist would ever go there unless they’re clueless.

Stray dogs are super cute. Well all dogs are super cute, but the strays in Peru were super cute, and looked to be significantly healthier than some of the dogs I’ve seen on other travels. It made me think about the dog situation and whether it’s actually better to euthanize tons of animals every year to avoid the situation getting out of control. I’m kind of torn on the matter; having strays leads to more strays which leads to more strays and eventually areas of the city can become dangerous to walk your own, non-stray dog. It also means that disease can abound and can make its way to your dog, not to mention the fact that strays won’t be spayed or neutered and your dog could be at risk of getting pregnant. Still not sure where I stand, but personally I liked the fact that cute dogs roamed around all over the place and didn’t pose a threat to anyone (except for maybe eating their garbage).

 

That’s all for today! Hope you enjoyed 🙂

Virtue Theory, and my First Proper Philosophy Post

Today, I’d like to introduce something called virtue theory, which was on of Aristotle’s ways of saying that we should be good people and happiness will follow. More specifically, virtue theory is based on the idea that nature has built into us the desire to be virtuous, and just like the innate purpose of a flower is to grow and spread its pollen and reproduce, Aristotle believed that our innate purpose can be found through virtuosity.

But what does it mean to “be virtuous”?

Virtuosity, in this case, basically means doing the right thing at the right time, treating people the right way, and knowing how to handle yourself in situations through judgment and understanding. This is, obviously, quite vague.

Let’s dig into this a little bit though… what is the “right” way to handle yourself in all situations? You would think that this could be pretty subjective. But in Aristotle’s view, there was something he called the Golden Mean, which is the midpoint between two extremes; the common example used here is the virtue of courage. A virtuous person is courageous, but in virtue theory one must sit in-between the extremes of being not courageous enough (cowardly) and being too courageous (reckless). Another example might be the midpoint between stinginess (cheapness) and prodigality (excessive spending), the virtue one would call generosity. Making millions of dollars but not helping someone who is in dire need would be cheap and cruel, while spending all of your rent money buying rounds for random people at the bar would be idiotic and irrational. Somewhere in the middle one can find the “right” generosity, giving to those in need but not spending excessively on useless things. Not that beer is useless… but you know. Not if you’re spending rent money.

But where this golden mean lies could be different in everyone’s opinion. So how does this concept help anyone? Well, understanding the virtues in the situations presented to you and being able to identify where others lie on the scale will help you to develop habits that lead you to become a virtuous person. For example, you’re at a networking event (just drawing from my experience here…) and you’re in a conversation with two people who just met each other. One person starts divulging some information about their issues in their relationship with their mother, and the other person starts being visibly uncomfortable. You can learn from this: when meeting someone new for the first time, be careful when talking about highly personal things because it might not be the right time or place for it. Through life experience and by copying those who we respect and trust, we find where our golden mean is. Extrapolating a bit from this, you could say that the entire construction of your moral compass comes from watching your parents and other influences as you approach your golden mean.

And why would you want to become virtuous? What’s the point?

Eudaimonia: nope, it’s not a deadly disease. Eudaimonia is a state of being which could be seen as the ultimate state of happiness, and sometimes is translated from Greek as “human flourishing”. Living a eudaimonistic life means that you’ll be constantly improving yourself and your way of being, but means that you will also find true happiness, according to the theory.

And why would we want that? Isn’t it easier to just live life without thinking about all this stuff? Well, yes. But that kind of life could never reach the level of satisfaction of the life of someone who practices or is at least aware of these kinds of virtues and strives to improve upon them. Also, according to Aristotle, the kind of person who tries to achieve eudaimonia is the kind of person who will do good things, help people, and make others happy. Seems to me like it’s worth thinking about, which is why I’m sharing this knowledge today.

I’ve taken a great interest in philosophy and psychology recently, and I’d like to start writing more about them. I don’t have a degree in either of those fields, but I’ve read up a lot about it and I find it useful to talk about how that learning can affect the everyday life of someone who isn’t a scholar in those subjects.

More to come!

References:
Crash Course Philosophy: Virtue Theory
Eudaimonia - Philosophy Basics
Golden Mean - Wikipedia

If You Can’t Clean Your Room, Don’t Try to Change the World

“If you can’t clean your room, don’t try to change the world.” This quote is from the amazing Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and teacher of psychology at University of Toronto.

This quote comes from the idea that if you want to change the world, you have to start from yourself and work outward. It sounds airy and high-level, but it has examples in the real world. For example, many people try to solve problems that they know nothing about, unaware or not admitting that they can’t sort out their own shit and then trying to fix the world as an escape.

2017-05-27 Lake

I’m not suggesting that people should hold their thoughts inside and not talk about relevant issues, not at all. What I am saying however is that people should do two things: find ways to make the necessary changes within themselves, and be aware of what they know and understand.

Making the necessary changes within themselves implies being aware of their thoughts, opinions, and problems and where they stem from. It also implies trying to understand why they have such thoughts and opinions and trying to justify them, while trying to rectify problems so that they can influence people outside themselves in an epistemological way.

Being aware of what people know and understand is equally important in trying to enact change. I agree with Dr. Peterson when he says that an 18 year old with a half-finished college education in life sciences shouldn’t be trying to change the entire economic system (not verbatim). Furthermore, the way this seems to take place (especially in universities nowadays) is with picket signs, denial of free speech (in Peterson’s case), and unfounded pent-up hate for authority, which doesn’t help their cause in my opinion. I can’t say I have an academic source for this, but I rely on my experience and the knowledge of people smarter than me in saying: Many of the young people who are the most intense activists and try to “fix up other people” are the ones with the gravest internal problems and least clear ideologies, and this is something we (and they) should be aware of.

2017-05-27 Protest

A smart man that you may have heard of, Mahatma Gandhi, said something that I think can be interpreted similarly: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This implies that you must change yourself in order to influence the world around you. Peterson also references an old quote, this one from the bible (Matthew 7:3). Whether or not you’re a religious person, this idea has clearly been around for a while and is something that we should consider:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?

On a more personal level, what I realized this does is that it calls into question your own beliefs, and forces you to think about them and justify them, if only to yourself. Why do you think the way you do? Why do you act in a way contrary to what you consider your moral belief system, and why do you try to convince people of things you might not even know to be true? I won’t claim that I’m a perfect person or that every single thing I say is 100% proven to be true, but being aware of these things can go a long way toward getting there (or close, because really no one can ever be perfect).

2017-05-27 Problems

This could go on and on about accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions, determining your moral compass, learning and sharing information, etc. etc. but you’ll all fall asleep before it’s over, so I’ll stop this here. I don’t need to be “teaching a lesson” in this blog, but if you wanted something to take from it, I’d suggest this: figure out your own shit before you tell people how to live their lives or view the world.

Being Your Own Boss: Some Things I’ve Learned

In starting my game development studio with two partners, I’ve learned a lot of things. Today I wanted to talk about what I’ve learned while being my own boss (or at least being 1/3 my own boss).

Self-Motivate and Have Discipline

Last year I wrote about How to Not Explode When Working From Home, which was just one of the pieces of motivation and discipline needed when running your own show.

The first key to staying motivated is to set short-term and long-term goals, and to always keep them in mind (or better yet, written down somewhere). It’s extremely daunting to think about creating a whole project without seeing the steps along the way, and writing the steps (and organizing them well) means that the amount of motivation needed is only what’s needed to get to the next step.

2017-04-19 Mountain

The next important thing is staying disciplined. If seeing the short-term and long-term goals leads to motivation, the discipline to follow through with the steps consistently and without excuses is what actually moves the project along. I can’t say I have the secret to staying disciplined, but each person has their workflow that keeps them in line. Find your routine and the thing that keeps you working consistently and focused. For some people, working from home is too distracting. For others, skipping the gym in the morning means they won’t be focused. Especially when you’re not directly reporting to someone, it can be easy to let deadlines slip, to put work off till “later”, and to lose sight of goals both short-term and long-term.

Separate Work From Rest-Of-Life

I was able to do this fairly early on after starting our company; in less than a year or so, I managed to separate work from the rest of my life in a way that I feel has been successful and satisfactory (but maybe I should ask the people around me if that’s the case…). I see a lot of people, even people who aren’t their own bosses, bringing their work along with them everywhere. I was in the car with a friend on the way to an event on a Saturday night and they were on the phone talking about a business deal. No one should ever be expected to be doing business deals at 9pm on a Saturday night, and if you’re your own boss, you actually have a choice.

2017-04-19 LateWork

You can choose when you’re “on” and when you’re “off”, and no one is expecting you to answer them at that time, unless you get in that habit from the start. If, when starting your company, you get super excited about every opportunity (which you should) and answer emails at midnight on a weekend, so be it. But realize that if this becomes the norm, this will become expected of you by your business partners, employees, suppliers, etc.

To make sure that you maintain your relationships with friends and loved ones, you absolutely need to make sure that you’re making time for people that are important for you and that might mean giving yourself a hard limit of when you’re “on”. For me, I decided not to answer work emails after 7pm. I’ll check them sometimes, and if they’re extremely important, I can make exceptions, but for the most part if someone is waiting on an answer for something, they can wait until the next morning. It’s more important that I spend time with people who matter and don’t become one of those 80h/week startup people.

Set the Example

Realize that the people around you and eventually the people working for you are following your example in terms of how hard you’re working, how disciplined you are, your accountability, and how much you care about your work. This seems to happen more later in life (or as owners have had their companies for a long time), but the divide between employee and owner increases when the owners don’t show that they’re doing important work.

Ducks crossing road

I was working at a lighting firm doing engineering before getting into the games industry, and while the bosses weren’t making engineering drawings or cutting lenses for light fixtures, you could see them doing hard work. They were in meetings, they were on the floor talking to the assembly team, they were asking us if there was something they can do to make our lives easier, and they were generally showing (in one way or another) that the work they were doing was because they care. If employees feel like their bosses are using them as money-generation tools without contributing to the products or services themselves, it causes a divide which leads to resentment.

Treat Your Employees Like You Treat Yourself

This one is tied closely to the previous point; being your own boss means that you have certain privileges that most people don’t have. Be thankful for the advantages that you have, such as leaving early because you have a doctor appointment and not worrying about being looked down upon or judged. Being thankful for these kinds of things and being aware of how it feels will lead to the understanding of what it feels like on the other side, as an employee who might feel some unnecessary pressure. Not sure why this picture is relevant, but it looks like freedom and a cute puppy so I can’t not include it here.

2017-04-19 Freedom

If you treat your employees like you treat yourself (or as closely as possible), I think you’ll see an increase in respect from partners and employees alike, which will in turn lead to better work from those people. Reward them for doing good work, treat them as people who have responsibilities and problems outside of their work lives and not just as numbers or money-printing machines (unless they literally are money-printing machines), and I would bet that the net outcome is positive for you and your company.

This became much longer than anticipated. In short, being your own boss is awesome, and despite the lack of security and the pressure of knowing that if you screw up then you don’t eat, the success, accomplishment, money, etc. feels great knowing that the energy put in directly results in the rewards you receive.

Satisficing vs. Optimizing, and Understanding the Usefulness of Both

Hi friends!

Today I want to talk about satisficing vs. optimizing. Yes, satisficing is a word. Sort of.

This is a subject that was inspired by a talk I saw at GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) this year. The talk was by Tynan Syltvester, of RimWorld fame (pretty famous and successful indie game). One of the things he brings up in his conference talk, on the subject of task selection, is the idea of satisficing vs. optimizing.

2017-03-28 Balance

Satisficing means to choose the first acceptable choice which matches the criteria. The word combines “satisfying” with “sufficing”, in a tongue-twistery way that second-language English speakers would probably be unhappy with. The term was created by Herbert A. Simon, a psychologist, sociologist, computer scientist, and all-around genius in the cognitive psych world.

Optimizing, on the other hand, means choosing the best possible choice with respect to those criteria after looking at all of the options (within reason, usually). This word is less confusing sounding, and comes from the Latin word ‘optimus’, which means ‘best’.

Wordy trickery aside, in the task-selection world for work purposes, it’s important to be able to optimize. The idea is to be able to choose the best option when considering added value vs. cost vs. whatever else you need to keep in mind in your industry or for your product. But I want to talk a bit more about life and a bit less about business here.

2017-03-28 Decision

I’m an optimizer. This isn’t something I necessarily put a label on before hearing this talk, but it’s very true. I like to know that I’ve checked all of the possible options before making a decision. When it comes to important life decisions, I’m proud of this trait because it means I rarely make hasty decisions that I regret. On the other hand, when it comes to choosing a soup or salad with my meal, it’s unnecessarily stressful. I’ve always been bad a small, meaningless decisions because I always think about what I might miss out on.

What I’ve come to realize over the last few years, and this thought is being reinforced by the understanding of things like the comparison between satisficing and optimizing, is that sometimes it’s better to just choose the option that’s good enough for my needs and be happy with it, especially if it’s more or less inconsequential in the long run. If the T-shirt I want is overpriced by $3, or I didn’t check the reviews of the restaurant to make sure we’re going to the best one in a new area in town, the world won’t end. I don’t need to compare price-to-value for the $3 difference on a shirt, and I can be happy so long as the food I’ve gotten is good, regardless of whether or not there’s a better place for the same price nearby.

2017-03-28 Puppy

Another way that understanding this distinction in decision-making helps is in understanding why people choose the things they choose. A good personal example of this is the Apple vs. PC debate. Being a PC person, I could never understand why people would choose to buy Apple computers (or products in general). I just didn’t get it. I looked at the specs, looked at the price, looked at the performance. There’s no question that, looking at the components and functionality and price of a computer, one could rationalize getting a Mac over a PC.

But, before you start yelling at me, hear me out. I now understand the distinction between satisficing and optimizing, and the choice to go with “the thing that just works” is no longer such a mystery. Without labeling this, I’ve had these thoughts for many years. As a baseline, Mac computers just work. They do what you need them to do, they fit all of the criteria, and they can’t do more. PC computers, often, take more work before they do what you want them to do, but they have the potential to do much more for the same price. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people who took the time to research different PC specs and who purchased something with more potential don’t use all of the things they’ve optimized for. So depending on the type of person you are, you might simply choose the option that “works right out of the box” and that doesn’t make you have to think too much.

2017-03-28 Grandpa

This brings me to a major point, which is that I believe that the majority of people are satisficers. That doesn’t make them bad people, I just don’t think I’m one of them. For most people, they need the right thing for the right purpose, and beyond that it doesn’t really matter. They won’t spend as much time looking into details before making decisions about material things, and that might even extend to immaterial things too. What that leads to, I might hypothesize, is a simpler but more satisfied existence than someone who tries to optimize for everything and might not be able to appreciate the simple things without questioning the “what if”.

This is starting to ramble on and get introspective so I’ll cut it off here, but I think it’s useful to bring this distinction to the front of your mind once in a while to better understand why you make some of the decisions you make, and why other people might make decisions that you don’t understand.