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Post #1341

Week 244

It’s Saturday and I’m at my kitchen table with a cup of tea. I enjoy working Saturdays so long as they’re optional. So far I’ve sketched the latest rev of an XML specification, drawn a cartoon of a workflow and written a commentary on it, replied to a few emails (though I’m still way behind), and checked the accounts.

My attention this week has been dominated by El Morro. It’s larger than we’re used to both technically and with regard to personnel, so the usual processes need to be re-invented. For instance, we need to be more formal with documenting issues, working decisions, and goals. In terms of people: Jack and Timo are in New York, and next week Jack and Matt J will be in San Francisco. Nick is wrapping Kendrick soon to move onto El Morro, Tom’s attention is going to be divided from Ashdown, and we’re extremely pleased to have two new team members for this project. James Darling starts Thursday, and Phil Gyford is with us again for the next two weeks to help springboard. As Campbell finishes with Service+, he’ll also join the team. And we’re still looking for an iPhone developer. We’re based in London, working alongside teams in Stockholm, San Francisco, and New York.

It’s complex. But we thought carefully and planned tightly before taking it on, so it’s doable. You have to trust your boots. It’s the possibility of collateral damage that I feel the need to de-risk.

For instance: Kendrick is drawing, beautifully, to a close (over the next month), and the last week has seen a new focus and a kind of “coming into focus” for Ashdown. Matt B, Tom and Nick have their hands full with both, but with the attention of principals so divided, I’m concerned that studio attention might drift too. So that’s a way that processes break during growth: our old ways of managing projects aren’t as effective anymore, and we need to find new methods. A kind of growing up. I’ve got a few ideas, but I plan to open the discussion with the team on Monday.

Hang on, let me get a glass of water.


It’s like the accounts. The shift to a new system and my financial projections worked for maybe two months, and now growth means they’re broken again. Jack asked me on Monday night last week some questions I couldn’t answer. So on Tuesday I put together new templates for analysing per-project profit and loss, and creating per-project budgets that feed into an overall studio budget. It’s finer grained than I had before, and it’ll create new jobs for Kari, but necessary and fascinating. Imagine building a boat while you’re standing on it. One minute you’re building fishing rods and oars, the next you’re creating a rota to monitor for driftwood, and the next month you’re figuring out how to feed the R&D group you’ve delegated to invent radar.

A minute only ever lasts a minute. Hard work and efficiency only gets you so far. What you put in the minute has to adapt.

Now my mind turns to what growth is for. That’s been the subject of several conversations recently because Scenario 4 is hard, and we all need to know it means something. Well we’ve always had a product business in mind: beautiful, inventive, popular products for the home, ones that make solid our design and technical beliefs, that make the everyday more joyful and humane. Products that couldn’t come from anyone but us. So there’s that. And previously I’d been focused on building the right team with the right expertise and capacities for such a moonshot. But we’re there almost there. The studio is a machine humming and waiting for just such a challenge to take on together. And so now my mind is turning to bootstrapping in a less abstract way, and using the time these current projects buy as the means to plan more direct steps.

Ha! I’m listening to iTunes on shuffle, and a track from A Momentary Lapse in Reason by Pink Floyd has come on. This was playing when I got my first modem in 1994, and went online from my own computer for the first time. That is half my life away.

Let me wrap up.

It’s a big moment for us when friends who have worked on a particular project decide to join us on an ongoing basis, whether it’s for a couple of months or for much longer. When somebody is part of the studio and contributing to any and all projects, that means they become part of the creative life of BERG. They contribute to – and have taken personal responsibility for – its culture, its creative direction, its work, and its instincts.

At the drinks we hosted on Wednesday, celebrating Deep Blue’s victory over Garry Kasparov in 1996, I didn’t do my usual “talk nonsense for 5 minutes,” but instead called out the people who make up BERG, here in Scenario 4 and week 244.

So I want to do the same right now, because it’s a huge deal that we’re all in the same room together, doing this thing together, and saying it out loud to you here is the best way I can think of to show how I feel that.

Jack Schulze! Matt Jones! Tom Armitage! Matt Brown! Nick Ludlam! Kari Stewart! Campbell Orme!

What a team!

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