Way back when I was the design manager at Factor 5, I'd started getting people books. At the time, it was Understanding Comics & The Design of Everyday Things, because I realized that while it formed a large part of my perspective on game design, not everyone had read it - so things I took for granted as being widely understood were not widely understood at all.
At Self Aware, by the time I'd gotten a new wave of books, it was really difficult to do anything widespread - but I knew that if I ever started another company, I'd make sure we all had some common background to work from. So this is the list:
- The Lean Startup: This book is a huge part of what formed our working philosophy at Self Aware. We'd been working in a Lean-style method due to two things, even before we'd read the book. First, Ei-Nyung had seen Eric Ries give a talk at GDC about his company, IMVU, and the things that became the foundation of Lean Startup way back in ... 2011? But also, even before then, when I was back at Factor 5, I'd been pushing for people to "answer the right question" in the fastest/cheapest possible way.
I actually can't remember what drove that perspective, and was surprised to find it in a presentation I'd given in mid-2008. But because of those two inputs, we ended up being strong proponents of Lean at SA. This time around, I don't want the idea of Lean to be something driven from the top. I want the whole team to fundamentally understand the process. We should all be advocates.
- UX For Lean Startups: Actually, I haven't read all of this yet. Ei-Nyung suggested this one, and has been hounding me for ages to read it. I'm not the only founder here, and it's not just my perspective that matters. I'm excited to learn new stuff.
- Start With Why: You may have seen Simon Sinek's incredibly compelling TED talk. The first time I saw it, I thought, "This seems like bullshit." But the more and more I talked to people, I realized that finding people who "believe what you believe" is much, much more powerful than telling people what you're doing. Not only is it a more effective way to communicate, but understanding why your company exists is a "why" question. If you can answer it in a clear, understandable way, it's an incredibly powerful experience - not just for you, who now has clarity, but for everyone else, because they can now understand in a much deeper way why you're doing what you're doing, which helps distribute authority because now everyone can act on the same values.
- Turn the Ship Around!: This is a really bizarre book about a submarine commander who took over one of the worst-performing subs in the fleet & turned it into one of the best. It completely upended my understanding of what leadership is, and made me redefine what success was. It made me realize that while I thought I'd succeeded as a leader at Self Aware, I'd instead almost completely failed. And it's a really worthwhile read, because it changes how you think about what you want to accomplish as a leader, how to structure things, how to empower - no, not empower - people, but to give people the power they should appropriately have, and to create a whole team of leaders. This is a must-read for absolutely anyone who is in any kind of management, but also for everyone who works with managers of any kind.
- Creativity, Inc.: Ed Catmull's book on how he's run Pixar is one of the best things I'd read in ages. It talks in depth about how collaborative creativity is a thing that requires a lot of thought & care to develop and maintain, and his discussions on how to manage creative people, how to structure feedback, and how to evolve over time... if you want to know why Pixar is better than almost any other creative company, I think this book is a must-read, and its lessons are tremendously applicable to game development.
One thing that we're doing that we haven't done at previous companies is that reading these books is part of your work. We're paying people to read them on during work hours. And it seems frivolous, but I'm 100% convinced it's not. The difference these books made in my personal perspective (and Ei-Nyung's), and the degree to which they've helped us succeed, is impossible to overstate. More people should have this knowledge, and the people I want most to have it are the people we're working with day in and day out. The folks I want second most to have it? You.
If you want a window into my brain re: how to run a business, how to think about leadership & management, start with these. I can't recommend them highly enough.