Last week we talked about Achievements in a general sense. Today, let’s look at some ways you can improve your chance of achieving the results you desire. By the way, these tips apply to job hunting, school, and success at games and sports just as much as to entrepreneurship and work projects. Here’s a 7-point plan that can help you to achieve your goals:
- 1. Prepare the ground. Learn skills. Study, practice, learn some more.
- 2. Make friends and contacts.
- 3. Decide what you want to do and where you want to go… but stay flexible.
- 4. Keep your eyes open. Recognize opportunities when they arrive and GRAB them.
- 5. Whatever task you take on, commit yourself fully to doing it well. Put in the time, effort, and leadership to make it happen and make it great.
- 6. Help others to do great work as well. Be a mentor to those who need it.
- 7. Listen and learn from the people who can make you do better work. Don’t be arrogant.
Preparation Makes Perfect
Prepare the ground. Learn skills. Study, practice, learn some more.
Would you go into an exam without studying or even reading a book on the subject first? I’ve tried that; it didn’t work out. Achievements are far more likely if you prepare for them. I got into Sierra because I spent two years before that working on an Atari ST software project. That project failed, but the experience taught me what I needed to know to get a job at Sierra. In another sense, Lori and I spent our whole lives preparing to create Quest for Glory. We played games, studied writing and programming, learned animation, and picked up other skills and knowledge that let us design and create good games.
Win Friends and Influence People
Make friends and contacts.
Almost every great opportunity we’ve had has come about because we took the time to meet and get to know interesting people. We got the jobs at Sierra because we knew Carolly Hauksdottir – a free-lance animator who did work for Sierra – from science fiction conventions and filksinging. I got my first professional programming job because my father mentioned that I was studying programming to Gus German, head of Geac Computers.
Decisions are made by people, not computers. Get to know people and you will find opportunities opening for you. More importantly, you’ll find your life is richer for having friends and acquaintances who share some of your interests.
Have a Plan, but Not a Straightjacket
“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Decide what you want to do and where you want to go… but stay flexible.
It’s hard to hit the target if you don’t aim. One of the exercises we did in Lifespring training a few years ago was called, “What do you want?” It challenged us to examine our lives and goals and ask ourselves, “What do we really want?” Until you answer that question, any achievements you accomplish will be random ones. Make a plan; have a goal.
However, life isn’t static. Sometimes circumstances change, and sometimes you change. You should re-examine your goals every year. Ask yourself what progress you’ve made towards them. If you haven’t made any, ask yourself, “Why not?” Is it that you were never really committed to the goal? Do you really still believe in it? This isn’t a time to give up because your goal is too hard, but it is a time to “examine your premises.” You may find that your plan was really someone else’s. Or it could be the opposite – You might have been living your life by someone else’s standards instead of your own. Check your premises, but don’t use that as an excuse for giving up on something you really do care about.
Grab the Brass Ring
Keep your eyes open. Recognize opportunities when they arrive and GRAB them.
Way back when, there were places called “amusement parks.” They had rides such as ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds (aka carousels). You might still find them at County fairs. For young children and old people, a carousel was a nice calm ride around in a circle. But for more adventurous sorts, there was the Quest for the Brass Ring.
If you sat (or stood) on the outside and timed your leap just right, you could grab a ring from a dispenser outside the carousel. Most of the rings were iron, but one was made of brass. If you managed to grab the brass ring, you could turn it in for a free ride. Not much of a prize, perhaps, but definitely an Achievement.
Life is like a carousel ride. You can quietly ride along and take what comes to you, or you can reach out and try to grab the rings. It’s riskier; you might fall off and bruise your ego. But if you never take that risk, you’re unlikely to achieve a lot. And the more you try, the better chance you have of coming away with the Brass Ring, and that’s a real prize. I mentioned in the last article that Lori and I got the chance to make Quest for Glory only because we took the chance when it came to us. Our lives might have been more comfortable if we had stayed in San Jose, but they certainly wouldn’t have been as exciting!
If You Stop Swimming Halfway, You Drown
Whatever task you take on, commit yourself fully to doing it well. Put in the time, effort, and leadership to make it happen and make it great.
One of the things we noticed when we first started working in the game industry was that everyone has “great ideas” for games, but very few of them can actually take their ideas and make them into great games. Famous authors often hear fans say, “I have this great idea for a story and I want to collaborate on it with you. I’ll provide the ideas and you write the story.”
Guess what? Authors and game designers have ideas too. The difference is that they’re the ones pouring out the sweat and blood to turn them into stories and games. Finishing a game – or any big project – is far more difficult than starting it. That’s because to really be finished, all the i’s have to be dotted and all the t’s have to be crossed. You have to fix all the nagging bugs or sloppy writing, and that takes ten times as long as the initial writing.
This Isn’t All About You
Help others to do great work as well. Be a mentor to those who need it.
Games and other software products are made by increasingly-large teams for a reason. There are a lot of different responsibilities, and nobody can handle them all. If you are leading a team – or working on one – you need to respect the needs of everyone else on the team. If anyone on the team is having trouble, that’s trouble for the whole team. Take the time to make sure everyone has the tools and inspiration they need. Treat their problems as your own.
That doesn’t mean you have to do everybody else’s work. In fact, trying to do that is a recipe for an ulcer and shows a lack of respect for your teammates. What you can do is help make their jobs easier. When the programmers at my first job had to pull an all-nighter to make a deadline, the VP of Marketing went out to the army surplus store and came back with foam mattresses, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and clean socks. Midnight snacks were also involved. He took on a task most executives would consider “beneath them” in order to help the rest of the team do things that he could not do himself.
Look, Listen, and Learn
Listen and learn from the people who can make you do better work. Don’t be arrogant.
I’ve met two kinds of managers. One type says, in effect, “I am in charge. I have the authority. You do what I tell you.” The other type thinks differently, “I am a resource to help you do your jobs well. I make decisions because that’s efficient, but I make them based on your input.” Guess which type creates better products and has a happier, more productive team?
Lori and I knew where we wanted to go with Quest for Glory and Castle of Dr. Brain, but we also knew that the developers had a lot of expertise in many areas. Our artists and musicians knew how to make a game look and sound beautiful. They also knew a lot of tricks for working around the limitations of 16-color computer graphics and trying to fit everything on floppy disks. Our programmers had made other Sierra games before. They knew much more than we did about the processes for building games efficiently and the art of making them play smoothly.
We discussed our ideas with the team and worked out compromises that could actually be implemented. In the course of that, Lori and I learned a lot of techniques we were able to use in the later games. Even the feel of the games was as much from the developers who put them together with us as it was from the game designs. I don’t think I wrote the first pun in Quest for Glory 1. Bob Fischbach, one of the programmers, had that honor. Once Lori and I gave it our stamp of approval, we ran with it, and the game many of you played resulted from that collaboration.
The Magnificent Seven
These seven ideas are not the only approach to achievement and success, but we think they’re a good start. Give them a try and see what new achievements you can make in your life. Life is not an easy game, but it can be a fun one if you use the right strategies.