I Opened an Atlanta VR Experience Center

My First VR Experience

I didn’t just jump straight to opening a VR Experience center in Atlanta, as with most stories there’s an origin that starts when I was younger.

I was in my early teens when I got my first taste of virtual reality thanks to a trip to the Calgary Stampede. My family went every year to walk the fairgrounds and look for things to do. One year I found something new: a Virtuality virtual reality installation.

My first VR Experience
My first experience with VR

It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I witnessed four players in standing VR stations, each playing what now feels like an ancient VR experience in the form of Dactyl Nightmare.

My first VR Experience
More like a framerate nightmare.

I begged my mother for $20 to enjoy three minutes of running around a maze trying to shoot the other players while not getting caught by the namesake pterodactyl. It was a difficult feat considering that the headsets weighed six pounds and had a resolution of 276×372 at 20 frames per second!

My Next VR Experience

It wouldn’t be until I had a 12-year-old of my own that the technology finally caught up with the vision of VR I had back in the ’90s. Consumer VR was finally realized through the introduction of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and with them came the first generation of VR Arcades.

Finding Something to Do with Teens

Three years ago my life with through a major series of changes and I found myself looking for something new to do with my teenage children. I wanted something different, something active, and something we could enjoy together. Movies were passive, jump parks had been overdone, and you can only play so much mini-golf.

That’s when I found my first VR arcade. VRKade had just opened its first location and it was just what I wanted, something the kids could enjoy, something that was a shared experience, something fun and active. Virtual Reality let us step away from the every day for an hour and immerse ourselves in something completely different.

That first visit turned into many more, as we made a habit out of enjoying our time at the VR Arcade.

Opening an Atlanta VR Arcade

Life would continue its twists and turns and eventually, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I fell in love, made new friends, and never forgot how much fun it was to experience VR as a family. With those friends I planned, developed, and eventually opened my own VR Experience Center: NexusVR.

NexusVR is an Atlanta VR Arcade in Duluth Georgia.
My VR Experience Center

A Different VR Experience

NexusVR would not be the first Atlanta VR Arcade, but I wanted it to be different. Throughout my research and preparation, I discovered that many VR Arcades were not family-friendly, because they were not developed by people with families. Too much focus was put on looking futuristic that there wasn’t a welcoming environment for the parents that often chose to wait while their children enjoyed Virtual Reality.

I not only found existing Atlanta VR Arcades to not be family-friendly, I also found that there was an Atlanta VR Bar. The idea of a VR Bar in Atlanta is odd to me: it’s not family-friendly, so you can’t have a VR birthday party there, and I don’t think alcohol and VR are a good mix.

What I wanted was the best VR experience possible, in an environment that is welcoming and comfortable for the whole family.

NexusVR, an Atlanta VR Arcade in Duluth, GA.
Good lighting and comfortable seating ensure the parents have as good an experience as their family members who are enjoying their VR experience.

I wanted to cater to every preference for a virtual reality experience, with something for every age and interest. We started with VR games, then added things like VR diving experiences, VR skydiving experiences, and even a VR Everest Experience.

I listened to our first customers and added VR horror experiences and 360 roller coaster VR experiences. I also found that a good percentage of our customers were fans of escape rooms in Atlanta, and so we added VR escape room experiences to the catalog and they were well received.

The Future of VR in Atlanta

Atlanta is not only home to a number of VR developers, there are also many locations where you can experience VR, from big-ticket experiences like the Void in The Battery, to smaller installations at the Georgia Aquarium and local family entertainment centers. Virtual Reality can be experienced at a downtown Atlanta VR Bar, to Duluth Virtual Reality arcades.

Of course, in my not-so humble opinion, the best place to have your first VR experience or a VR birthday party is at NexusVR, Suite 7 – 3547 Peachtree Industrial Blvd, Duluth, GA, 30096.

I hope to see you there!

The Joys of Yakiniku


Growing up I developed an interest early on in Japanese culture, thanks to my regular watching of Robotech as a child. I was fortunate to attend a high school that had a Japanese language program as one of its available courses and took three years of classes for a great teacher who immigrated from Japan and gave me a solid foundation in the language, but who also introduced us to Japanese culture and to Japanese food, eventually leading to my love of Yakiniku.

Over those years we’d make different dishes in class, including Japanese-style curryrice balls, and miso soup. To this day those dishes are among my favorites and I still make them from time to time.

Our teacher would also take us to a local Japanese restaurant, still operating to this day, and which became my first foray into Japanese dining. Our go-to was a combination with beef Teriyaki, chicken katsu, and yakisoba. In the ensuing years I’ve come to learn that the food they served wasn’t always that particularly authentic, but even though it doesn’t taste authentic, it still somehow tastes “right” to me.

That limited exposure gave me a love for Japanese food that would mature after high school when I spent two years in Japan and in the process got to discover the great variety of Japanese food that exists beyond the average “sushi and teriyaki” staples of a Japanese restaurant in the West.

The first word I learned in Japan was 食べ放題 (tabehoudai), Japanese for all-you-can-eat. It was my first night in Japan after a long journey to get there and my hosts knew well enough that the best thing for a starving 19 year-old would be somewhere that I (and my traveling companions) could get my fill.

The most common of the all-you-can-eat places in Japan in Yakiniku, or Japanese BBQ, and that first visit was the start of a life-long love of this style of dining. Yakiniku is eaten at a table with either a built-in or table-top smokeless grill, with the finer restaurants using live coals as a heat source, typical restaurants using gas grills, and some of the simpler establishments using electric heating elements.

Meat is prepared by slicing it very thin, typically around 5mm. Meat is generally selected for being well marbled and is sliced against the grain, resulting in a thin slice of meat that cooks fairly quickly when placed on the grill by the diner. When the meat is cooked it is removed from the grill, dipped in a Yakiniku Sauce, and eaten with rice.

Japanese BBQ differs from Korean BBQ in that meats are not pre-marinaded, but dipped in sauce after cooking. The vegetable accompaniments can differ as well, with Yakiniku typically coming with peppers, onions, mushrooms and yams. A typical all-you-can-eat Yakiniku menu can be seen here.

Thanks to how well it is marbled, and how thinly it is sliced, the Yakiniku meat is very tender, especially the higher grades of meat found at a non-all-you-can-eat restaurant. The vegetables are always fresh and the sauces compliment the meats perfectly. Best of all, Yakiniku makes for a great dinner out with friends, because of the active aspects of the meal: there’s always something to cook and everyone gets involved. Because the whole meal isn’t ready to eat when it hits the table, people have plenty of pauses in the meal to chat, often about the meal itself.

When I lived in Japan I was young and on a budget, but going to an all-you-can-eat yakiniku restaurant was a weekly tradition where we got our protein for the week. On special occasions friends would take us out for yakiniku at a non-AYCE place, and it was a rare treat to get the particularly marbled meats that would be served.

After I came home I was generally limited to making yakiniku at home, as yakiniku restaurants are not common in the west. Once I started traveling for business in North America I could find some good restaurants to get my fix in areas like LA, New York, and San Francisco, and introduced a number of my coworkers to the joys of yakiniku over the years, but there was always something lacking; either the flavours or cuts would be modified to western tastes, or the restaurants were run by staff that understood the principles of yakiniku, but not being from Japan they would lose some element of the experience along the way.

Finally I got back to Japan for work, going around the world to train and manage an international team of Sales Engineers, and I would find myself in Tokyo every few months staying at the Marriott Courtyard Ginza, a great hotel that was well located for food and transit. The first night back in Japan I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and immediately sought out the nearest yakiniku restaurant I could find, which fortunately for me turned out to be less than a block’s walk away, and right behind the hotel. It was there that I took this photo, that first night in Tokyo, re-introduced to the yakiniku I’d been looking for after all those years.

Heijouen became a regular stop almost every night I was in Tokyo, and I went so many times between 2013 and 2014 that the waitress actually started to recognize me. It was everything I remembered loving about Japanese BBQ, with amazing cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, a real coal-fired in-table grill, and excellent service (this location even had an English-language menu and a waitress who could speak passable English).

On each visit I had a system: because I had a per-diem I made a point of finding a low-cost breakfast and lunch, using up maybe 20% of my total allowance. The remainder I’d spend each night of my stay at Heijouen eating my favorite yakiniku dishes, usually some short-rib, pork jowel, onion and mushrooms. Short-rib was available in different grades of marbling, but even the base grade was good there. I’d usually get one order of the base grade, and one of the good Kobe beef (the first to fill you, the second to savor).

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Tokyo, and I hope to get there again someday. If I do, I know where I’ll be going first!

Review – AUKEY USB Charger (42W 3-Port QuickCharge 3)

Introducing the AUKEY USB Charger

I travel extensively, and while I have numerous power bricks and cables for my home office, I needed something that would be light and portable for the road, able to charge multiple devices, and support QuickCharge for the devices I carry that support it. My search lead me to the AUKEY USB Charger, formally known as the AUKEY 42W 3-Port USB Desktop Charging Station, found here on Amazon for $25.99.

The AUKEY USB Charger

Disclosure: This product was purchased with my own funds and was not provided by any manufacturer or vendor.

Initial Impressions

The AUKEY USB Charger is compact and relatively lightweight, but with enough heft to make it clear you’re getting something with the ability to properly charge multiple devices simultaneously. At 7*4.8*2.6cm / 2.76*1.89*1.02in (L*W*H) it’s not particularly large, and at 106g/3.7oz it’s not going to weigh down your kit, especially considering how many power bricks it can replace. The power prongs fold into the body of the device, keeping it nice and compact during travel.

I’ve paired this adapter with a short MicroUSB cable and a short USB-C cable for charging my Lumia 950XL and other devices and it makes for a nice compact kit for all my charging needs.

Charging Power

This adapter certain can handle plenty of power draw, especially when using the Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 port. I’ve tested it with a RAVPower 20100mAh Power Bank and found that it can bring the unit to a full charge from fully depleted a full third faster than a 3A USB-C charger, and it would certainly be even faster than a standard 2.4A MicroUSB charger. In real-world use that is a full charge in 5 hours instead of 7.5 hours. While I don’t have a QuickCharge 3 end device to test with, I’d have to say the results I’ve seen with be similar with QC3.0 smartphones.

The AUKEY USB Charger works well when charging multiple devices, and I didn’t see any impact on charge times when charging multiple devices.


The AUKEY USB Charger is not only a decent price for what it provides, but is good value for the money. It provides a nice portable and lightweight charging solution for the frequent traveler who carries multiple devices, and also has the internals to carry multiple devices at home.

Get it at Amazon.com.

Review – Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 (2016 Version)

Introducing the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2
Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2

The original Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter was released in 2014 and has been part of my travel kit for some time. It was compact, functional, and was usable with Continuum on my Lumia 950XL, at least most of the time.

In early March 2016, Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 (product page), a successor and improvement to their previous offering. With this revision Microsoft has made several improvements to the Wireless Display Adapter, both for Continuum and mobile users with other devices.

Disclosure: This product was purchased with my own funds and was not provided by any manufacturer or vendor.

Physical Updates

The first thing you notice when you compare the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 to its predecessor is the change in how the device is arranged:

Comparison of The Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V1 and V2

While the original V1 of the Wireless Display Adapter placed all the electronics in a single unit with a USB connector on a one foot wire, the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 has split the internals into two units and placed them on opposite ends of the wire.

The benefit to the new design is that it helps ensure the adapter can fit behind monitors and televisions that are mounted to the wall. Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 with Extension CableThe new adapter ends up being around one inch shorter than the V1 adapter, but that can be made up with the included extension cable.

The extension cable adds six inches to the adapter’s sixteen inch length, making it suitable for most TVs and monitors. Microsoft made an interesting choice with V2, providing a USB Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 connected to a hotel TV.extension cable instead of the HDMI extension cable provided previously. I’d say the choice was made because the larger size of the previous adapter required an HDMI extension for tight spaces behind TVs, where this one does not.


UI Updates

The previous version of the adapter would show a very basic screen:

Default Connect Screen

While this was enough to get going, the new UI really is a step up:

Start Screen for Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2

This new screen makes it very easy to see which adapter you are connecting to (useful if you have more than one adapter nearby), as well as clear instructions on how to connect to the adapter (assuming you’re using Windows 10).


One noticeable improvement (among several) with the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 is when using it with Continuum with a Windows 10 mobile Device, such as my Microsoft Lumia 950 XL.

My Windows 10 Continuum Workstation

The V2 adapter has less lag when working with a phone in Continuum mode than the previous V1 adapter. I find the V2 adapter doesn’t provide any noticeable lag in my use. It’s far closer to the dock experience even with video running through Microsoft Edge, using both Netflix and Youtube in my testing.

Using the V2 adapter, combined with my Microsoft Arc Mouse and Foldable Keyboard I have a very compact, lightweight workstation that can be attached to any HDMI display with a nearby USB port (and there’s always USB extension cables and Wall Chargers if you don’t have a port nearby).

Other Devices

I was also able to use the V2 adapter with my Windows 10 laptop to wireless project to my TV without lag or any other issues. Where previously I used a longer cable plugged directly between the laptop and TV to send watch streams and video, the wireless adapter proved to be a much better choice, and being able to run the wireless display as a second stream made things easier when I wanted to watch a stream and catch up on some email, all without lag!


Microsoft Wireless Adapter V2, Closed.The Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 is an incremental, but quite welcome upgrade to the previous V1 version. It eliminates the lag of its predecessor while assuming a form factor that is easier to use in cramped quarters like those found behind a wall-mounted screen.

If you are using the adapter for strict display mirroring to watch videos and display pictures, the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V1 is on sale for $29.99 (available here) and may be more economical, but if you are planning to use Continuum with a Windows Phone or mirror a display for gaming or more interactive use, you’re better off buying the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter V2 for $49.95 (available here).

Dig a Little Deeper!

I recently re-watched The Princess and the Frog and realized it could be interpreted on yet another level, as an allegory for how to be more successful as a Sales Engineer. For those who haven’t seen the film (and I recommend you do), you can catch up on the plot at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_princess_and_the_frog.

The film has a great villain in Doctor Facilier, a witch doctor who is well-written and expertly performed by Keith David, with a certain charm and a great motivation. Doctor Facilier is a great sales guy, he builds trust and gets right to giving the customer what he asked for.

Check out the following video for an example of how he works:

He really does a good job tailoring his message and taking control of the conversation. In four minutes he has their trust and buy-in, even though he’s selling to two different buyers at once.

At the end of the day Doctor Facilier gets what he wants, but he is lacking one thing that proper sales people need to be successful in the long term: repeat business.

When you give a customer what they “want” you risk selling something that doesn’t really fit their needs. They want feature X, thinking it will solve their problem, without realizing the true underlying issues at play. It’s important to give the customer what they want, but if you sell the sizzle when there’s no steak, they end up looking bad when everyone figures out just how much they spent on shelfware.

Now compare Doctor Facilier with Mama Odie, who quickly quashes the idea that “want” and “need” are the same thing:

Mama Odie looks deeper than the initial statements she hears and gets to the underlying issues, creating a proper, permanent solution. Like Doctor Facilier she certainly takes charge and manages the conversation, she talks to each member of her audience on their terms, but she also teaches them and, more importantly, she “digs a little deeper”.

It is so important when working with customers that you fight the urge to jump into selling mode when working with customers. They will inevitably talk about something they are looking for that you provide, and at that point it is incredibly tempting to start talking and expound on how your product does what they are asking for.

When you’re tempted to start talking, STOP. The most you should be saying at that point is “tell me more”. Every issue has multiple layers, and there’s always a number you need to discover. That number needs to either go up or go down, don’t rest till you find out what it is and what direction it needs to move. The further information you gather not only helps you find out the true challenge, it helps you make your case later.

Not only does “digging a little deeper” help improve your chance of closing, it greatly improves your chances of delivering an effective solution that addresses the customer’s needs (which is what they really want), which in turn means you get a satisfied repeat customer who refers others.

Pictures from Life as a Sales Engineer

There’s not many memes that I jump on the bandwagon for, but I’ve seen enough people having fun with this that I have to join in.

When my demo hits a snag…

When my Sales Exec calls to say the deal is closed…

When my Sales Exec says he wants to move forward after I tell him there’s red flags all over an opportunity…

When the SE Manager is looking for volunteers to work on an RFP…


What the Sales Exec expects me to do when he forgets to invite me to a meeting until the last minute…

My expression when the Sales Exec claims our product has a non-existent feature…

When the guy at the prospect (whose app has been called junk by everyone else) tells me things are fine, they don’t need my solution…

When the client asks me to click on an un-configured section of the demo…

When the client doesn’t ask about the un-configured section of the demo…

When the presentation goes off perfectly…

When I spend two days building a demo, only to find out the prospect wasn’t qualified after all…

What I want to do to the person who didn’t qualify the prospect…

When the Proof of Concept comes together perfectly…

When the customer asks me if it’s true that <insert wild claim made by Sales Exec>…

And now a small plug: I’m not the SE anymore, I’m the Manager, and at Message Systems I’m hiring multiple Senior SE’s right now (we call them Solution Consultants) in multiple regions! Head on over to our jobs page and check it out! I poked a little fun at the Sales Exec stereotype but we’ve got a great group to work with, a solid product and a great team. Join us, won’t you?

Disclosure: Borrowed and modified extensively from http://martinvalasek.com/blog/pictures-from-a-developers-life

Does Multiplayer Need to be so Massive?

I was watching a documentary on Mojang that is well done and very inspiring, I highly recommend it. It got me thinking about Minecraft.

There is no shortage of information on the Internet regarding what Minecraft is, how it works, and why it is appealing. I’d also refer you to the documentary itself for more insight into those topics. What struck me about Minecraft as I watched the documentary is the Multiplayer aspect of the game, and how its particular brand of Multiplayer reminded me of when I used to play games on BBS systems, particularly TradeWars, a space trading game that I found quite addictive back in my day. Games such as TradeWars provided a multiplayer, persistent world where players could either collaborate or compete as they saw fit, just like what we now get with multiplayer Minecraft.

These days, most of the multiplayer offerings available to casual gamers through Zynga and other Facebook game developers offer multiplayer, but only in the superficial sense: everyone is really playing a single-player game where their friends occasionally visit their instance of the game, or act as NPCs to compete against. There’s no going into another’s space to mess around, no depletion of resources by another player before you can get to them, or careful navigation in case you come across a stronger player.

Contrasted with MMO games such as World of Warcraft, you still often find yourself in a different kind of Multiplayer. There’s always going to be plenty of things to kill, everyone can complete a given quest, even the big bad guys will respawn shortly. Outside of a PVP server, the other players often feel like complex NPCs, with most of them just passing you by on a road here and there, and in a guild or on raids, you’re interacting with a limited number of players regularly. Most MMO games can certainly feel massive, and they are multiplayer, but for a number of reasons they are not truly “massively multiplayer” in the sense that hundreds or thousands of players would be interacting simultaneously.

In fact, the need for the world to persist prevents people from seriously impacting each other or the dynamics of the world. Imagine a massively multiplayer Minecraft for a moment; if there were thousands of people playing at once, you could never have a long-term persistent world because someone would TNT significant chunks of it in short order. Instead, most people are content to play on a smaller, more intimate server that may occasionally get recycled (or at the very least they can walk several KM away and start fresh). It was the same with TradeWars, you would play with at most a couple of dozen people, and when it looked like things were entering a static state, you would start over again.

I think there’s a potential future middle-ground market here for game companies: building and maintaining an MMO is an expensive proposition, but for a good number of players it may actually be overkill anyway. Instead look at building moderately-sized world (most likely procedurally generated) where players can interact, build, explore, grow, etc. Either host the games or allow for self-hosting, and allow for players to invite a relatively small circle of friends to play with (or against) eachother. It is significantly easier to host a large number of small instances than a small number of large instances, and I think most players would enjoy both equally well.

Personally I believe this is a direction that Facebook itself could benefit from pursuing. Currently a game developer needs to not only develop a game, but also build and support infrastructure for hosting the game itself, as Facebook provides only the page wrapper around the game, but no infrastructure resources. As a result, a lot of what we see on Facebook are simple Flash-based games that involve repetitive clicking, and no real multiplayer. These kind of games require fewer server resources and are therefore easier to build and support. If Facebook built out scalable multiplayer server resources it would lower the barrier to entry for a new generation of more truly multiplayer game experiences among a circle of friends. It would be much more interesting to get a notification that someone had invaded your territory than to find out they had completed a quest to click on 20 cows. Facebook could in return collect a larger percentage of the monetization from a game, with such games likely generating greater revenue in the first place thanks to their advanced nature.

Personally I would love to see the return of the small-scale persistent world multiplayer concept, somewhere that gets you logging in regularly to keep ahead of your friends and to make sure they haven’t gotten the drop on you since you last logged in. A multiplayer game concept that falls between the traditional MMO and the deathmatch game that only lasts as long you you’re all logged in and playing. An approach where someone can eventually pull well ahead of the others and in doing so affects the balance of the game, requiring either a restart or a combined effort by the remaining players. It was compelling back in the BBS games, it’s compelling in Minecraft (though the game’s mechanics don’t really support the idea of game inbalance), and I think it could be compelling in a number of genres today.

Why Your Email Marketing Sucks

There’s a great article over at Hubspot that talks about “16 Things People Really Hate About Your Email Marketing” and it’s a good read. I especially liked:

The content of your email — whether the copy itself or the offer you’re promoting — should be something the email recipient actually wants to receive. And you would know what they want to receive if you’ve spent time collecting lead intelligence, segmenting your email lists based on that intelligence, and mapping the appropriate content to each segment of your list.

What some email marketers do, however, is email blast a 10% off coupon for dog food when half of their email list only owns a cat. If the content you’re sending out won’t be helpful to everyone on your current list, slowly back away from the ‘Send’ button, and refine the list to which you’re sending your email.

If you want me to stay subscribed, keep it relevant to my interests!

Via: http://blog.wordtothewise.com/2012/06/things-people-hate-about-your-email-marketing/

More Wisdom From Ed Catmull

Another great video of Ed Catmull speaking at the 2012 General Commencement of the University of Utah:


Jump to 98:25 for the commencement address. What follows are my notes as I watch the video myself.

I love the importance he ascribes to creativity, even in industries that are not typically considered creative. He also had a good warning about the risk of creative people becoming un-creative: he warns that unseen corporate forces can be at work to send a successful company off the rails that management cannot even detect. He talks about finding the systemic and cultural forces that block creativity and how to eliminate them.

At 110:00 he speaks of the need for change and the fear of change, and provides great insight into one of the greatest risks to companies is a tendency to latch onto the familiar because of a fear of failure. He then relates a story that really struck me about the movie Bolt; how the hamster character was so complicated the movie could not be completed in the 8 months remaining. When asked about retooling the character, the management team was told it would take 6 months to retool the character, something that obviously would not work given the fixed deadline. Instead, a pair of animators managed to retool the character in four days, deciding it was better to seek forgiveness than permission. How did they manage to do in four days what others said would take six months? It turned out there was so much fear of error and fear of failure in the animation department that the whole creative process was wrapped in excess process and procedures to try and prevent errors.

One of the best insights that Ed Catmull brings in this speech is what I’d describe as being aware of your blind spots: he emphasizes the importance of being aware of what he cannot see, either because he cannot see it coming or because his position means that others act differently around him. It’s clear that Dr. Catmull focuses as much or even more on unseen threats as he does on those facing him directly.

“We should plan for the unseen, not try to prevent it.”

“We face the problems, we face the hard questions. The answers are the mere byproducts of addressing interesting questions. The questions are the doorway into the unknown.”

At 131:30 Ed gives a unique insight into Steve Jobs, and how he learned from failure and improved and grew as an individual. He also gives a new perspective on the concept of Job’s Reality Distortion Field:

“If you believe, as I do, that your actions make a difference, then this means that you do modify your reality, you do change the future.”

The more I learn of how Dr. Catmull built and leads Pixar, the more I want to find effective ways to emulate him.

Management Lessons From Phineas & Ferb

One of the best things about having small kids is they can be used as a cover for watching cartoons, and one of our favorites is Phineas & Ferb. For those unfamiliar with the show, here’s a sample:

This is a great show because it’s one of those shows that can entertain both adults and children and doesn’t dumb things down but instead respects kids and their ability to get things, while being entertaining for parents and not annoying them to the point of changing the channel like some shows for kids. And hey, it has some lessons for you managers out there:

You need a Phineas and a Ferb

A great team can get more done than a collection of individuals, and one of the key elements of a good team are individuals who bring different but complimentary skills to the larger group. Look at Phineas and you see someone who brings ideas to the table, evangelizes them to others and has enough technical know-how to support their implementation. In Ferb we see someone who has the deep knowledge & skills to make Phineas’ ideas a reality. A strong team is made of T-Shaped people, those with depth in a few key areas and breadth to allow them to collaborate across the team.

Dream Big, Don’t Apologize

Too often we impose limitations when we brainstorm new ideas, imposing the lens of “what is possible” on our discussion of “what is best”, which prevents us from coming up with some really great ideas. When you watch Phineas & Ferb you’ll see occasions when they call this kind of thinking out directly. In many episodes you’ll see a typical interaction of a character asking Phineas “Aren’t you a little young to <INSERT IMPRESSIVE ACTIVITY HERE>?” to which he generally replies “Yes, yes we are.” Phineas never apologizes for dreaming big, neither do successful organizations. This doesn’t mean that everything you dream up will be immediately possible; I’ve been reading some great books on the history of Pixar (see links at the bottom of this entry) and one aspect of Pixar’s history that I loved is they had a vision that served are their compass (of creating a movie in CGI), but which was not achieved for well over a decade.

Share Openly

There’s a real tendency in organizations to play things close to the chest, whether it’s companies staying in stealth mode as long as possible, or even individual departments keeping things to themselves in the interest of secrecy. When you watch an episode of Phineas and Ferb, you’ll see that the brothers are quick to share their work at all stages of development. The result of this is always positive, with others offering them assistance, ideas and materials. Another great example comes from my Pixar reading: at Pixar there is a requirement for each production team to show their work in progress on a weekly basis with the entire organization, sessions that are literally open to all employees in the company. This approach not only recognized that good ideas can come from anywhere (even the janitor), but also builds a community feeling among all employees and helps with morale. I like to support the startup community in my city by attending demo days and other events, and it’s great to see small startups share what they are doing rather than worry about someone stealing their ideas because it enables me to share ideas and experience to hopefully make them more successful.

Trust Your People, Don’t Worry About Being Surprised

If you’ve hired your team of Phineas and Ferb types, trained them well, and given them the resources they need to succeed, then the next thing to do is get out of their way! Here’s a quote I love from Ed Catmull, founder and CEO of Pixar and a man full of management wisdom:

…managers need to learn that they don’t always have to be the first to know about something going on in their realm, and it’s OK to walk into a meeting and be surprised.

For an example of this, just compare the responses of Ferb’s father, Lawrence Fletcher, to Phineas’ older sister Candace. Candace is focused on having authority, doesn’t trust her brothers, and spends the majority of most episodes trying to get in their way and prevent them from achieving their goals, all because they think outside the box she has mentally created for them. Lawrence shows a certain nonchalance about the boys’ activities, presumably because he’s aware of Ferb’s abilities and trusts him not to get into (serious) trouble.

Now of course one could argue that Lawrence is more oblivious than trusting, but the fact remains that you need to respect & trust those who you work with, and avoid micromanagement. Too many managers spend too much time managing, and too little time leading.

On that note I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite definitions of leadership, again from a book on Pixar (the Pixar Way) that I have been re-reading lately:

The ability to establish and maintain a creative climate in which individuals and teams are self-motivated to the successful achievement of long-term goals in an environment of mutual respect and trust.

Recommended Reading

Bonus Sample Episode