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  • Writer's pictureLiam Wickham

1.4 The Mindset of Success: Be Positive and Accountable

Part 4 of the Production Leadership Series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

1. Harness Positivity

Let’s be honest – working in game production at any level is hard, because making a game is hard – there’s a lot of moving parts and possibly a lot of people. Even if it’s a tiny team, you are still feeling the stress of needing to meet expectations of family, friends, possibly pubishers and your adoring fans. Just watch a few docs about indie developers and you will see what I mean. Remaining positive amongst all this stress is vital.

It is a well understood fact that keeping positive will sustain you longer, add years to your life and grant you a happier and healthier life. Why then are so many of us miserable and stressed under the great pressure of game development, including production? Perhaps we need to follow some of the lessons and advice that Jo Owen was able to dissect from his interviews with 1000s of leaders over the years. If anything might help, that to me is a blessing.

Firstly, being positive is not just going to help you feel better about yourself and the world around you, it also directly makes you a better leader. How? Well if you are positive these things tend to follow:

  • We tend to more easily learn the habit of turning crises into opportunities, by focusing on the future rather than indulging in the past and our memory of negative experiences.

  • We more easily create belief in our team(s) and motivate them, by inspiring hope through our own attitudes and behaviours. Remember, we are the role model they look to.

  • We tend to create new and bigger opportunities for ourselves, through always being on the lookout and seizing our chances.

  • Through our positive outlook, we naturally attract support: those around us at all levels want positive, not negative leaders.

  • Positive people perform better: studies have shown that optimists outperform more-skilled pessimists! So, it really does pay to be positive and spread that optimism around the studio.

  • Through constantly looking out for ways to help, do better and spread positivity, we also tend to spot and follow up on more ‘fortunate’ events around us than if we keep our head down in a dark place.

Depression and Worry

So how do we gain this advantage? Firstly, realise that positivity and negativity happen up here in our heads, where we talk to ourselves. We have countless conversations with ourselves during the day (and night) and how we determine the outcomes of those chats determine our behaviour and the path our life takes. As someone who has suffered from severe depression in the past, I understand that conversations can follow very dark and bitter twisted paths that lead us to extremely dangerous conclusions. Positivity requires that we are aware of this and instead choose to control our self-talk and be open-eyed and committed to not falling into the trap of negativity.

Something that Jo Owen does not talk much about, but that I have come across in my life and in other research, is that there are some great ways of dealing with worry. Dale Carnegie suggests a few methods in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, which was written a long time before any of us were born. He argues that if you want to avoid worry, do what others have done - live in “day-tight compartments”. Don’t stew about the future. Just live each day until bedtime. When something happens that you would normally worry about:

  1. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can possibly happen if I can’t solve my problem?”

  2. Prepare yourself mentally to accept the worst - if necessary.

  3. Then calmly try to improve upon the worst which you have already mentally agreed to accept.

  4. Remind yourself of the exorbitant price you can pay for worry in terms of your health.

Another basic technique is to analyse your worry:

  1. Get the facts. Dean Hawkes of Columbia University said that “half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on what to base a decision.”

  2. After carefully weighing all the facts, come to a decision.

  3. Once a decision is carefully reached, act! Get busy carrying out your decision and dismiss all anxiety about the outcome.

A great piece of advice when faced with a few people panicking about a problem is to do this – and you are encouraged to write the questions and answers down as you go:

  • What is the problem?

  • What is the cause of the problem?

  • What are all possible solutions?

  • What is the best solution?

This works particularly well in meetings, where it forces people to stop talking, frame the problem and discuss solutions. It works even better if you ask the people involved to answer those four questions BEFORE you agree to a meeting. Often the solution appears, then the problem goes away.

Remember your support

Another piece of advice is from The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. One of the principles he recommends adopting is that of Social Investment, which he summarises as don’t let go of others when we are in trouble. Research shows that most of us, when faced with a negative event or mindset, will tend to shut down socially and isolate ourselves. This is the absolute opposite of what is best for us as humans. In fact, the strength of our social relationships has been equated to our level of personal happiness in many studies. To use American Football terms, Shawn suggests we need to pick our best friends and family and consider them our ‘Offensive Line’ – the people who will fight to protect us when we are in trouble.

The most lucid illustration of this metaphorically in action for me is Shawn’s story of how firefighters are trained and the final test where two of them are sent into a burning building:

“My partner and I entered the silo together. His job was to touch the wall at all times to avoid getting lost. Meanwhile, I held his hand and did sweeps with my other hand. As the flames blazed and the smoke grew thicker, our oxygen tank alarm bell went off early. We panicked. I let go of my partner, and he let go of the wall. The veteran firefighters had to rescue us. Once we were out, they keyed us in to a few things. First, the bell intentionally went off early as a false alarm. And second, we were the only dummies—the real test was whether we would surrender to the panic.

“I see this type of figurative panic happen frequently in the workplace. We’re swamped with work and instead of asking our co-workers for help, we flail and then fail. We think asking for help is a sign of weakness and that being self-reliant is the key to success. But the opposite is true: Realizing we cannot do something and need help shows both humility and strength. Relying on others can help us better reach our goals.

“Next time you’re afraid that you might not hit a goal, don’t let go. Instead reach out to your support network. Successful people know who they can rely on when it seems like the flames are engulfing them. Hold on to the greatest predictor not only of success but of happiness: other people.” Quote: Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

Shawn’s conclusion went further: DON’T LET GO OF OTHERS when you start to panic or feel overcome by stress or worry or depression. Instead of putting your head into the sand or hiding under the sheets, engage your Offensive Line and allow them to help remind you of who you are.

I can personally testify to the power of this message and lesson – even recently this has been a huge source of sustenance for me. Try it!

Finding Positivity

Back to Jo Owen and here are some tried and tested methods for training yourself out of a hole and into a happier place:

  • Recognise that you have a choice: how you feel and think is up to you and is your responsibility. If you find yourself falling into old thinking patterns, give yourself a firm talking to, engage your support network and choose differently

  • Challenge your thoughts: check every negative thought you have

  • Copy your role models: think and do as they do

  • Focus on the future: do not dwell on the past too much

  • Count our blessings: focus on the silver lining, not the cloud

  • Help others: encourage reciprocity and feel better about yourself

  • Drive to action: act on what you control, do not worry about what you cannot control

  • Take small steps: break daunting tasks into small steps, reward your progress

  • Relax and smile: find the method that works for you

Engage and embrace the Positive Mindset.

2. Accountability

If you are willing to be accountable, then you are stating the intention to control your own destiny and shape your world. Those who are accountable take responsibility for their actions, their feelings and the way they think and communicate. People with the Accountability mindset can be trusted more, as they are willing to stand up and make decisions, then be fully responsible for them.

As you can see from the summary above, the higher up you climb, the more the accountability shifts from being about you and your career and towards influencing others to be accountable. This is extremely important to a leader in production – you are going to be asked to make important decisions that will fundamentally alter the progress of the game you are making, as well as its future. You need to be able to handle that and do it well.

If you live life being accountable, it gives you integrity and leads to you being a role model for others. As Anthony Kyne put it in our podcast interview:

I think most of the people that I've ever worked with will always work for me again, and would always recommend me for jobs .. because I will always back them. I've never thrown anyone under the bus. You know, if I thought something wasn't going the right way, and they were making bad decisions, I would make sure that I got there first, to stop that from anyone else seeing it .. I come to a decision and make the decision off of the back of a conversation with everyone. Then, I'll live with that. I've made that decision and I'm going to be the person that lives or dies by that I think is one of the biggest parts of the job.”

To be accountable takes confidence and when you are looking to move up to the higher echelons, it helps for you to find a claim to fame that acts as your promo reel. Perhaps you volunteered to take on a big problem or a team that was underperforming and you showed the courage and resilience to turn things around. This is accountability – you wore the mask of leadership and showed cool, calm control amidst the fire-fighting and screaming. It helps to hold a firm positive mindset here – really hang onto that inner belief that you will succeed at the task, and at the very least learn from it and become stronger as a result.

Here’s some general advice on how to make yourself accountable:

  • Celebrate success and learn from it: always ask why things went well

  • Face brutal facts and learn from them: don't blame, see the world through others' eyes – by all means let off some steam, but study behaviours and work out what to do next time

  • Learn from others: borrow their experience, both good and bad

  • Look to the future: don't get sucked into the blame game – “win a friend, not an argument” is a saying to remember! Crises are times for you to step in and make a difference and shine, so do so

  • Learn, don't judge: avoid being too self-critical and knocking your confidence

  • Mind your language: challenge negative and absolute self-talk – remember to be positive and to focus on the ideal outcome and how to move towards it

  • Choose your reactions: know you have a choice and choose well – if you were a fly on the wall observing yourself, would you like what you were seeing? Take a deep breath, count to three, THEN reply. Spend some time deep breathing and relaxing.

In the next article we will cover the final three mindset attributes: Collaborative, Growth and Ruthless and talk a bit about the demons that might pop up.

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