Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wizards: Peter on the Cusp, Part Four

Lisa Stevens, game-company professional
Already by the Spring of 1990, to those familiar with his management style Peter had revealed one of the main ingredients of his later success. He welcomed the idea that others knew things he did not, that others possessed skills and expertise he did not, that he needed to identify the areas in which he was lacking and then find people competent to mentor him and lead those areas.

In Spring 1991 he followed Tom Dowd's advice from seven months before, which led to finding Lisa Stevens, the seasoned game-company pro who helped Wizards learn the RPG industry, sharpen its focus to a single opening product, and much more. Peter learned a tremendous amount from her about what game companies are like, and over the months and years ahead, she helped him transform Wizards into a more professionally structured and oriented company.

Likewise, he let Beverly guide him toward higher standards for the writing, which led him to focus on improving his own writing and to focus more on those of his friends who could produce more professional text, like Ken. That shift in focus, when it comes, can be a tough transition in new companies - when the executive realizes that he has to begin separating the original founders, many or most of whom are friends, into those who can do the work the company needs done and those who cannot or will not. It can lead to hurt feelings and can even break friendships. He chose well, here, though, because Ken helped Peter to become a better writer and Beverly helped ensure he was on the right track.

Rich Kaalaas, graphic designer & charisma man
As for Rich Kaalaas, his role was not to mentor Peter - after all, Peter was never going to learn to become a graphic designer - but Rich was great at his job and he was one of the special people a startup executive learns to cherish, one of those people who gets things done. Rich did graphic design for years at Wizards; he designed the original logo for Wizards of the Coast (the tower on the seashore). We'll spend more time exploring his story later, but for now it should be noted that one of his most important contributions to the history of Wizards of the Coast - bringing Lisa Stevens and Wizards together - is one of those "other duties as assigned." Companies that enforce division of labor with too much rigidity, who insist that people stick to their job description - and there are many organizations like that, especially large ones - never get the best out of their people. You never know when your graphic designer is going to change the course of history through his charisma rather than his art.
Then in March it came time to go to the GAMA trade show. We scraped together our pennies and came up with enough money for one person to go to part of the show. Instead of going myself, I sent a guy who was involved at that time, Rich Kaalaas. I sent Rich because he's very good looking, charismatic, and can socialize very well, where I'm short, a bit overweight, and quite shy around people I don't know. Rich went to the tradeshow and magical event #2 happened--he met Lisa Stevens who was at that time working for White Wolf. Well, Lisa was single, Rich was cute, and, well, suffice it to say that they spent a lot of time together at the con. Lisa gave Rich massive amounts of advice, and after Rich came back from GAMA Lisa continued to give us advice, both in the form of phone calls and eventually through the Internet since Ken McGlothlen, a networking god, was able to get her connected to our BBS with no long-distance charges.

So, after GAMA and lots of consulting with Lisa, we completely reorganized the company's focus. We shelved all three compendium projects (we may revive one or more of them as part of our upcoming Pandevelopment line some day), put TaoGM on indefinite standby (I'd really really love to see this published, if Ken ever finishes it--hint, hint, clue, clue Ken!), and focused our attention on The Primal Order, which Lisa thought was the only thing worthy of being an opening product line.

I also about this time made a decision to trust Beverly on the editing and try to match her standards for publishable writing. Even though I'd never written much, and had pretty much ignored creative writing in college, I stubbornly decided that I'd work on this thing with her and Ken (who writes amazingly well--I'd rather read his writing than any writing I've ever been exposed to) until I got it right. I spent much of April and May that year (1991) working on that every waking hour that I wasn't at Boeing. I spent three or four sessions a week at Ken's, often crashing on his floor, and by the end of May I had essentially passed a crash course in writing. I wasn't good, but I'd at least gotten to college level. And in these months we'd rewritten about half of the book.

In the meantime I was still communicating a lot with Lisa Stevens. The flame had died between her and Rich, but I'd gotten to be pretty close friends with her by this time. She came due for a vacation at White Wolf and decided it would be fun to come to Seattle and meet all the people she'd only talked to through the net. So, in June she came to visit, and we all got to meet in real life, and we had a ball.

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