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About stonecutters and game developers January 16, 2010

Posted by Cesar in working me.
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When my parents came to visit us here in St. John’s, my father told me a very interesting parable Peter Drucker used in many of his seminars about management:

A traveler, walking down a road, came upon three stonecutters working in a quarry. Curious as to what those three men were working on, the traveler approached the first one and asked what he was doing. The stonecutter turned to him, sighed but smiled a little and then explained, “I am cutting stones trying to make enough money to support my family.” Feeling very little enlightened, the traveler walked to the second worker and asked the same question. The worker turned angrily, as if the answer was obvious, and replied full of pride: “I am a very skillful stonecutter and I am cutting the most beautiful, uniform and smooth stones in the whole country.” Still no wiser, the traveler made his way to the third worker and once again asked what he was doing. The worker turned to him with a smile and answered: “I am building a cathedral.”

The first one, just trying to earn a living, is the classic uninterested worker who does his hours but no more and performs his tasks at an ok quality never looking for improvement. You can count on his work, but when push comes to shove, that’s not someone you want to rely on to get the job done. The most dangerous kind is the second. These care a lot about quality but their priorities are all wrong, as he is only worried about his own work. Of course the ideal is the third worker. He thinks of the big picture, he understands his work is just a necessity to get the cathedral built. His work is not the final goal, the cathedral is.

I brought this up because we see the three kinds of stonecutters every day. But the second one is much more common in creative environments, where every task can be over thought, become more complicated than it should be. The games industry is one of these creative environments: it is easy to get carried away by the current algorithm or art asset you are working on and forget that’s just a small piece of the game. I think we all have days we work like each of the three stonecutters. Some days we just can’t focus, others we are consumed by our own stones and forget we are building cathedrals. It is not easy to see which one better defines us in everyday life. Nonetheless, it is still important to always try and be like the third worker. It is good for productivity and leads to personal improvement and to a far more pleasant work experience.

So… the Stonecutters in the video have very little to do with the parable (although it is a fantastic Simpsons episode and song! Check it out), but can you guess what kind of stonecutter Homer Simpson is? Not too hard, eh? Which stonecutter are you?

See you space cowboys…

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