On creativity and working life

I watched most of the 20th anniversary Blizzard video, about the history of the company, and the story leading to them becoming the Blizzard of today. I enjoyed it.

I wonder what it’s like working for a creative company of that magnitude.

I recall fondly that 12 years ago I was the consulting lead for a small web development firm, nestled amidst a larger advertising firm. We had good-looking graphic designers, crusty creatives, coders who swore HTML should be edited by hand, sleazy sales reps and even a gorgeous latin-born rep who had an affair with the owner. I really enjoyed that work place. Being around creative people and the creative process is remarkably different to the environment of my current job in a staid but R&D-heavy IT vendor.

At least once a week, a designer or creative would want feedback on a layout, bottle label, ad campaign, script or web mockup. We’d chat about it. Talk about how our eye is drawn favourably or not across the design, the emotional response if we could name it, and so on. I enjoyed that.

Example. Look at this fantastic piece of art from Blizzard. If you’ve never had any training in the appreciation of creative works, let me point out just a few tiny elements. Look at the way motion is implied through wind, rather than action. What do you think when you notice her toes? It’s clever. Your response, that you have any kind of response, is part of the artist’s intent. The vulnerable toes are a masterful display of creativity.

I’ve been searching for a new role at work – one with a bigger team responsibility – for some time now. It’s a frustrating, slow, process. I’ve looked outside my company too, even though I’ve invested five years with them so far, on the hope it might save me another year of waiting and hoping for a good opportunity within.

Then today I had a call from a creative company. Still in IT. Still an absolutely massive multinational. I got through their first culling; my resume passed to a recruiter, who spent some time talking to me.

I’ve met and spoke to a lot of recruiters recently, but knowing this was for Google has excited me more than I’d anticipated. It’s the first time it’s been in my interest to tell a recruiter that I have a gamer website that gets 4M hits a year. I even told him I’d once been a professional musician and started paid programming when I was about 13.

Normally in IT professional services, that kind of detail would be a death knell, and kept a secret.

Even if I don’t progress much further through what must be one of the most competitive recruitment processes for geeks (who wouldn’t want to work at Google?), just this reminder has been valuable.

I really miss being in a truly innovative and creative company, and this time, it’s something I’m going to remember. By creative, I don’t mean in the simple dimension of art, of course, and by innovative I don’t mean they release new products. I mean they care about innovation from the ground up, they’re intolerant of stupid processes, they listen, are a learning organisation and appreciate systems thinking. Perhaps the term ‘thoughtful’ company is descriptive.

If it doesn’t work out with Google, I’ll still do OK. I’m secure and well paid where I am, plus there is a Australian outsourcer who are intending on interviewing me this week too, so in time, I’ll get an upgrade to my job slot.

During a recent 1:1 with my manager, I told him I’m extremely goal-driven. I’m an achiever. I get bored on holiday. I need to get things done to feel right about myself, explained to him I wasn’t busy enough, and asked for more projects.

Since I realistically have another 15 years of needing to work, to provide for my family, I want to move towards roles where I can be around creative people, in a culture of achievement and of intolerance of bad systems. No stupid people would be great too. In that kind of environment, mixing my interests, I think the years will roll by with more smiles, and less vendor trash.

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7 comments to On creativity and working life

  • Zao

    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Hopefully everything turns out well for you!
    I’ve got a friend who works for Google at Zurich and while he’s not allowed to talk about it much he says it’s awesome to work for them.
    I’m also kind of surprised that having an often visited website would be a bad thing. I would’ve thought it was something that would have a positive effect if anything.

  • Scarletsoul

    I almost shed a tear! this is very touching. HAIL BLIZZARD and good luck to you sir =) DK!!!!!! Let there be BLOOD!

  • BigKoala

    Some of my colleagues worked for Google here in the USA, they drifted to other companies (Facebook, Cisco and Apple) after having children.  One of those colleagues left for Google under circumstances that sound much like your own.  He went to our bosses and said, “Look, I was told when I was hired that I’d be doing challenging work.  And all I’m doing is fixing problems created by morons.”  He was patted on the head, nothing changed and he quit.  The R&D VP we worked for offered to double his salary if he stayed, to which he replied, “Did you even listen to a word I said in your office a month ago?”
    Unless you’re working for a creative dictator (such as Jobs), innovation is very difficult to maintain within a large corporation, or so I found at a Fortune 500 tech company run, ostensibly, by engineers.  Where I worked the executives at the top basically reported to stock analysts, attempting to maximize short term optimism in the stock.  The lower level managers were terrified of innovation (despite giving it lip service, of course) since innovation implies risk, and risk is anathema to corporate culture.  (Also, successful innovation leads to profit, and profit attracts people within a corporate hierarchy, people who want to jump on a successful bandwagon without having the skills to contribute, but possibly having the institutional power to obstruct success.)
    Google, at least, has tried to build firewalls against innovation stifling (such as a percentage of your work week being devoted to something not connected with your current assignment).  And, of course, by making it very easy for their employees to devote large percentages of their lives to their work.
    Good luck!

  • A.

    Nice article, I totally agree with you. And yes, I’m working for R&D you are describing with all the fear of innovation. As BigKoala wrote, innovation = risk for low lvl managers, top management = short range revenue, 100% truth. “You are not paid for thinking” @futurama ;-) .

  • nice story =] and thanks so much for mentioning that blizzard retrospective! i didnt know they had posted that, and I’m glad i saw it.. takes me back!

  • Fireal

    This is brilliant to hear Giri, good luck!
    Your story is really interesting and while I don’t want to assume your position (I believe you are a lot more driven than I am), I do want to say I understand the fondness of working in an environment that is vibrant, lively and mostly social – all whilst still getting the job done.  In April, I will have been with the same company for 5 years, a company which is solid but definitely doesn’t excite me like my first job in this industry did.
    I have family over in Sydney by the way, who work in the same field as us – I would have no problem putting you in touch with them.
    I wish we could be in contact more, Giri, keep well and love to your family.

  • Gravity
    Twitter: gravitydk

    Thanks everyone.

    The stark realisation of needing to work, to set up my family, for say the next 15 years is a big part of this personal story. I’d like to enjoy it a little more, I think.

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