Friday, June 3, 2016

The TLDR on Solo Queue vs Dynamic Queue

As usual with my blog entries, I'm starting to write this right in the wee hours of the morning and it's about to ding 5am PST. The inspiration and desire for me to blog usually comes when a thought is eating at me that something doesn't feel right or I need to get something off my chest. The thought that hasn't been sitting with me well today is about all of the back and forth & misunderstanding that has happened around solo queue vs. dynamic queue and the resulting player angst associated with the recent video where our tone was one of finality around putting the nail in solo queue's coffin.

I think there are two important things to get straight:

1. Some background on why we (Riot) are inconsistent with communication - some days we are awesome, connected and in touch, and other times we come across as tone deaf or are radio silent and how this ties to feelings of confusion, hurt and anger for some players

2. What our philosophy on ranked & team play actually is (and development philosophy in general)

So let's take some time to see if we can provide some additional perspective here.

First of all, as players have pointed out to me when I dove into the subject on Reddit a couple of days ago, apparently we said multiple times definitively that we are bringing solo queue back, other times we had said we are evaluating the situation, and recently we released the video mentioned above with the tone of finality saying it's gone permanently. Clearly, players who are confused or feel misled have very good reason to feel this way.

So how does it possibly make sense for us to be in a situation like this where we can say this stuff with a straight face?

The fundamental reason that this type of inconsistency happens in some external communications with players are twofold:

1) Riot structures our organization in an empowering way that enables teams that "own" different parts of the experience to make decisions.  We create frameworks and high level philosophical guidelines and empower our teams to go crush. Thus, many specific choices of how things will manifest are not "run up the flag pole".  New or controversial things tend to get more eyes on it rather than established pipelines (like champions), but once there is conceptual buy-in, teams move fast and don't often check in again with details.

2) Long ago, we made a decision at the company to encourage all Rioters to "be themselves" and "engage directly with the community" on forums and on social media.  Brandon (Ryze) and I largely credit Steve "Pendragon" Mescon for helping us realize the power of this idea and we love it when we see Rioters develop meaningful personal relationships with the community. We have great examples of this all over the world where this works out well and we think Rioters and players who connect really enjoy this.

But in other cases some Rioters end up getting harassment and death threats.  This stuff is pretty disgusting which makes us periodically waver in our commitment to this ideal and is likely the type of experience that has caused pretty much every other large game company to only communicate via very structured and formal announcements / dehumanized corporate speak.

Even with Riot, you can note the difference between formal things like the patch notes and polished videos we produce, with informal statements where an individual jumps on social media to chime in, which then gets picked up on Reddit and is perceived by players as being an "official" statement from Riot.

Riot is a large and diverse team of passionate gamers
Now, to really understand why Riot sometimes comes across as inconsistent or contradictory,  you need to understand the mindset of a Rioter and what our working environment is like.  First of all, we've grown relatively quickly, and as every single business person will tell you, it is hard to grow and it is incredibly hard to grow well and stay aligned.

Rioters are indoctrinated from day one to care about core gamers. If you don't, you are extremely unlikely to get hired and/or you will likely be managed out.  A lot of our negative glassdoor reviews are oriented around "feeling like an outsider" relating to lack of culture fit (most often meaning not being hardcore about games, even if they don't interpret it that way), or criticizing our relative lack of structure desiring more direction and being told what to do in a more prescriptive way.

Rioters are taught that we aspire to put players at the center of all of our decision making and always try to do right by our players. We believe this is one of the primary reasons many of the incredible men and women that work at the company choose to be a part of the team and is one of the core factors that makes Riot a great place to work. We think this intention has been incredibly important and has helped Riot make many unconventional decisions (for our industry and genre) and do things differently for players in the face of huge resistance. Some examples:

Industry-Related Decisions

  • Launching a free, multiplayer only game on the PC in 2009 when PC gaming was supposedly "dead"  according to industry conventional wisdom
  • Building our own publishing business (the company was originally just intended to be a developer) because after meeting with the publishers of that era, it became clear they didn't have any understanding or capability (at the time) of what it would really take to launch a successful online only game and build a healthy community
  • Bringing eSports in-house and leveling up the production values at a rate to a quality bar never seen before in the history of our industry

Genre & Game Development Decisions:

  • Demonstrating that MOBA's were more than just Dota with many controversial gameplay decisions such as:
    • Focusing the laning phase on fighting against another player by making big mana pools, lower cooldowns for "spammier abilities" and different resource types instead of passively "denying" minions in lane while just last hitting 
    • Trying to de-clutter the environment to focus on the relevant gameplay space by removing destructible terrain, day & night cycles, etc
    • Making the game more team oriented vs. hyper carry dominant with items, stats role and champ design
    • A full roster of completely unique characters
    • Adding summoner spells and some out of game progression to try to add interesting depth at the meta layer and out of game decision making / analysis
  • Releasing a patch every 2 weeks (much of our team thought this was an impossible and unreasonable goal originally)
  • Launching the game without ranked play and introducing it later via the Season One update
  • Focusing on core gamers only.  No single player.  No deep tutorial.  Very little hand holding. 
  • Constantly updating / tweaking the game (many said the game will never be able to be an eSport if the core game isn't static)

I could go on and on. Much of these may seem obvious in hindsight, but every single one of these were extremely contentious with investors, potential recruits, with early adopter players and potential international partners. We faced resistance every step of the way where very smart and rational people would dispute our plans with well-reasoned arguments.  We faced doubt and wavered on many decisions at times, but we learned over time to have a healthy amount of skepticism towards conventional wisdom and popular opinion.

If we didn't push, we'd never achieve
anything worthwhile & difficult
I would summarize to say that our history has taught our team to be open to different opinions and to listen deeply, but to be ultra focused on the player experience and not be too married to any preconceived notion for the "best way" to accomplish a particular thing.  Our mindset is one of trying to push hard beyond what is obvious or easy to try to deliver an incredible experience to players. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong.

That's a lot of background, but I think it may help everyone understand why Rioters come across the way that we do.

Do we always succeed at putting players first?  No. We have made many mistakes, but part of what we try to do is acknowledge those mistakes and fix them. One of my favorite examples is the story of our awards that we promised our Refer-A-Friend grand prize winners of having them come out and help design a champion with our team. To make a long story short, we didn't fully deliver this (at the time) to all of the winners due to dramatically underestimating the number of people who would hit 10,000+ referrals as well as the effort and feasibility of this. Years later, after the company became more stable, we reached out to the winners and tried to make up for failing to see our prize through by flying everyone out to work directly with the developers to prototype a champion.  This led to the decently well known story of  Total Biscuit donating his award to the make-a-wish.

Anyway, back to the core point.  We know that this can feel bad when you care deeply about the game, have a strongly held opinion about the direction it needs to go, want to help by offering suggestions and can't understand why we don't agree with something you are advocating for, why we wouldn't seem to listen, or why we would seemingly promise one thing and then do another.  We really do understand that you guys care.  The thing we'd like you to understand is that we DO listen, even if we don't agree or react immediately. Listening and respecting another persons beliefs does not mean that you will always agree.

Something that makes me incredibly proud though is that when issues pop up or disagreements happen, many Rioters feel hurt, sad, confused and motivated when they see players distraught and upset with the company over any issue. This has happened many times since the launch of League, and the comfort that Rioters feel to internally debate complex issues and iterate about "what is truly best for players" is actually the element that helps us keep improving over time and make up for our mistakes. The LCS contract leak overreach that initially had a clause banning pros from streaming other games was a great example.  Rioters internally were like WTF?  Which helped the team be like "oops" and switch course.  We perceive ourselves as not being overly proud or stubborn, except around our values where we are extremely stubborn.

Which brings me to the core point.

What is Riot's Philosophy on Ranked / Team Play?
I personally hate black licorice, but I love League
League of Legends is a competitive game focused on core gamers. Unless our Chinese overlords slay me and Ryze (or we leave), this will continue to be the case (and even then will still likely be the case - it is deeply ingrained).

It was designed since day one to be a competitive game. We have also made intentional decisions all along the way to not focus on a wider audience despite internal and external pressure to do so. "If we care about gamers, why not try to serve ALL gamers" goes the argument.

Our answer is because League is not designed for everyone.  To quote Ryze, "Riot & League of Legends are like Black Licorice. Some people love it, some people hate it.  We are not for everyone.  We will never be Vanilla, nor should we aspire to be."

Yes, League is the largest online game in the world. But that sure ain't because we tried to focus on "casual gamers" or "go broad".  League is hard to learn.  It takes years (literally) to understand much of the nuance of the game in the same way that it takes years to master a team sport like American Football, Soccer or Basketball.  

League went into beta in 2009 and here in 2016, we are bigger than ever and we keep growing.  The game has evolved a ton and will keep evolving.

Regarding Dynamic Queue vs. Solo queue, the bottom line is this: we believe we can create a competitive League of Legends experience where you can play with friends in ranked play and have deep ways to measure and compare individual skill on a relative basis with other players.  We know we haven't accomplished the individual skill part yet with the current implementation of Dynamic Queue. We are working on many different things to accomplish this, not simply trying to improve dynamic queue.  We think the real solution we are going for is far broader than that and requires multiple other systems. In other words, Dynamic Queue is a start, not the end state. This will take us some time to keep iterating through and developing all of the complimentary features, but we believe in the teams vision and capabilities to make this happen.

Some of you may wonder, "so why ship it if it isn't finished"?  Our answer there is nothing is ever finished in League. We make a call about when something is "good enough" and we get it out to the door and then we build from there.

Why has the team not stated their future plans concretely?  Because we know from past experience that a couple things will happen:

1. The internet will theory craft the heck out of the solution and rip apart every specific word with a very high probability of misinterpreting how it will actually manifest in reality

2.  If we pivot during the course of development the team doesn't want the response of "OMG you promised X, yet delivered Y!"  You learn a lot as you deeply dive into a feature or system and that learning may invalidate earlier assumptions that you had and communicated externally.  This isn't about our own sensitivities, but it's about not letting players down and disappointing people through wrongly set expectations.

In other words, we aren't done, will never be done and we're never satisfied if you guys aren't satisfied. This is true even if you doubt it, even if we sometimes misspeak or have to backtrack and even if we are slow to deliver.  We may fail at some execution for a time, but we don't forget and we do get better over time.  Think about lore as an example remember (or how much our art has leveled up).

People were like "zomg why reboot lore and take it away" - and now people are starting to see how cool this stuff is (and we have some winsauce coming).  Making cool stuff takes time and sometimes we have to "take stuff offline" to take it to new heights.  

When the servers were on fire in NA, Korea and EU, teams worked night and day to resolve the issue and then stability wasn't enough - we wanted to go beyond and we built a better internet for NA and EU (turns out Korea has a pretty good internet =p).

These blog isn't about making excuses. We know we have to deliver. This is simply an attempt to provide more perspective on what happens and why we think it happens the way things manifest to players.

And guess what?  If we're wrong and the stuff we're working on to improve dynamic queue and ranked doesn't work out the way we think it will, we'll re-evaluate and bring solo queue back IF it is the best solution.  The team set the right expectation with the message of "not bringing solo queue back" because we don't think we will need to. But we'd rather "get to the right answer" for players than "be right" and we'll be quite OK with eating crow and backtracking if we can't deliver the even greater outcome that we think we are hoping for.

But as with many of the controversial decisions in the past where we took a huge amount of flak and people called us idiots and worse, we hope we are right - not for our own sakes, but because we think the potential experience will be way better than solo queue ever was - and this is coming from a guy with thousands of ranked solo queue games who has been plat every season except season one where I was gold. Rioters are in the same boat as you guys, even if sometimes it doesn't feel that way.

In the meantime, LCS and chill.

- Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill

PS.  For further reading, I do recommend this post as referenced above.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Power of Perspective

Well it's taken me a lot longer than I'd hope to write another entry, but here I am.  Another early morning entry where I wake pre-dawn with some things on my mind and part of what sparked my desire to jump out of bed and get rolling was an email I received from a new Rioter - appreciated receiving your note this morning G :)

So what to write about?  The topic that has gotten the most consistent time of self-reflection recently has really started to cement itself in my head is about the power of perspective and the power of the cultivating a positive mindset. Before I dive in, I want to back up a step to reflect on the personal journey of the last three to five years and reflect on why much of this time has been particularly
challenging for me personally.

As many of those reading this blog will know, I co-lead a game company called Riot Games along with my long time friend and business partner Brandon Beck.  At the beginning of 2010, we were roughly ~60 people and fast forwarding to today we now have over 2,000 Rioters across 17 offices around the world.  We are a company who cares an incredible amount about our audience and believe that in order to serve our players well, we needed to (and continue to need to) cultivate a unique company culture of like-minded individuals who share the same values and work together extremely well towards our shared mission.

Turns out that scaling this strong culture rapidly and institutionalizing company processes and structures that can support this has been incredibly difficult and personally exhausting. It hasn't only been exhausting for me of course, as the many Rioters who are driving various parts of this approach have been on the front lines fighting the many little fights (and some big fights) that matter every day to make this a reality have poured huge amounts of themselves into making this happen while still trying to do awesome stuff for players.  It's not easy for anybody, but at the end of the day, we all love what we do, love our co-workers and love delivering great experiences to players. When things get hard and we take our lumps, it's important for us to pull back and remember this.

Driving these curves up is hard!
I tend to think about this scaling challenge as best expressed via a line graph where you see the top "growth" line (headcount, revenue, "things" needing to be done internally and externally), where the bottom line that lags is the "execution" line that represents the amount of things that be delivered effectively.  The delta between the two lines shows where "problems" happen.  Cultural misalignment internally from hiring the wrong people or from well-intentioned people who haven't learned key lessons yet, "technical debt", missed opportunities for players, poor handling of relationships with partners, poor communication or positioning of things we are doing, etc.

Whereas the bottom line represents things that are done well, on brand, well-aligned, tightly executed initiatives or capabilities that more accurately reflect the intent of what the company is trying to do and often leads to positive responses.

Now driving that "execution curve" up is where a lot of really tough leadership work occurs. Opportunity (or problem) identification are critical, but we believe execution is where the real value is created.  It's one of the reasons that we've often utilized the term "building the plane while flying" because as any fast growing company knows, the reason you are growing is to keep up with demand, and if you inherently care about your audience, then growth becomes an imperative.  It's simply not OK to not deliver to meet their needs and expectations. The challenge is that the more ambitious the desires, or in other words, the larger that top line, the harder it is to drive the execution curve up to "keep up" or meet the needs of the top line.

Extrapolate this same concept to your personal life and therein lies a similar challenge.  Many people want to be great at lots of things (large top line), but oftentimes don't want to endure the pain or pay the cost to achieve those things (lagging bottom line). Read a great blog recently about this topic that really resonated with me.  One framework I was exposed to that I thought was super helpful was the "pie graph of your life".  If you imagine your life as a pie graph from a time allocation standpoint, it would likely look something like this to the right, where we allocate the vast majority of our time to work.

But if you were to step back and abstractly think about the areas of your life that are important, it would likely look something more like this image to the right.  Replace buckets as needed or add some, but the point is that pretty much everyone wants to live a balanced life where we have our health, enjoy meaningful friendships, have a great family, a fulfilling career, financial independence, are able to allocate time to having fun and adventure, etc.  Now I'm not advocating quitting your job and allocating an equal time allocation to all of the aspects of your life that you care about.  That would be folly and economically unfeasible.  So in order to optimize and accomplish meaningful things in each bucket, we need to be thoughtful about our approach in allocating time, but also come up with clever ways to ensure that the time you DO allocate to each area is actually meaningful and moving the needle.

So, back to the core point of this post: my wife and I tend to set pretty high expectations for ourselves and have historically beat ourselves up a lot in any situation where we aren't meeting our own expectations.  This is probably a pretty common human phenomenon that many can relate to, which I think is a very good thing. Expectation setting is incredibly important in managing performance, whether for oneself, an organization, or another person.

But for the past couple years, my wife and I have taken on even more and in some cases really put ourselves in over our heads. We got pregnant twice and had two children, a wonderful boy and girl whom we love incredibly deeply. My wife got her MBA from UCLA Anderson doing a program during nights and weekends while fully employed. She also launched a clothing company called Lunya to fulfill a much needed niche for women. We started building a house. Given how this same period was the period of incredible scaling pressure at Riot (I'd love to tell these stories some day), while we were both trying to figure out how to be good parents, suffice it to say that we added many new demands and created a lot of strain on the pie graphs of our lives and needed to figure out how to get our personal "execution" curves to catch up to our growth curve. The biggest challenge for us though, has been the emotional toll all of this took on us and how this impacted our relationship. The last thing we felt like doing after long days of driving change, managing people, pushing the rock up hill, trying to stay healthy and being fun and energetic for our kids, was being a romantic pair since we didn't leave a lot of juice in the tank for each other. And since it is in both of our nature's to constantly try to do better, this was extremely frustrating for both of us to feel like we were each constantly failing to deliver on something we cared about and knew was critically important.
Relationships that are worthwhile take work!

Just like with all growth and change, this has been a painful experience with some failures and a lot of learning for us both as we go through this journey of being a couple, building our businesses and trying to be good parents and I wanted to share some of the things we are beginning to really appreciate.

A couple key realizations have occurred:
1. The power of perspective
2. The importance of having a growth mindset
3. Virtuous cycles vs. viscous cycles in relationships

The Power of Perspective
The first key lesson is that for any experience that someone has, they ultimately always have a choice about how they will react to that particular situation and how this impacts their happiness. In other words, you can have something terrible happen to you and you can still be happy and feel OK, or you could have something wonderful happy to you and you can still be negative and find all the reasons to be sad. Dan Gilbert has done an interesting Ted Talk on this topic and it's fascinating.

In other words, happiness is a personal challenge and I think I'm really starting to appreciate and learn how to better manage the internal systems that influence happiness. Part of my biggest issue with my own perspective historically is that I've struggled with "being content" when there is "so much to do" and so many "problems to solve". I am someone who is motivated by problems, so when a meaningful problem (or opportunity) resonates with me, it drives me a bit insane that it hasn't yet been "solved" (like education for society, etc). I've found that it is difficult for me to reconcile this with the idea of "contentedness" which I have long associated with happiness in a similar way to how Buddhists do.

Thus, it has been quite powerful for me to start to associate the concept of "choice" of feeling with the deep frustration I feel with meaningful problems in my life or in broader society that need to be solved. I have realized I can still feel the same deep frustration and desire to drive positive change but not let that frustration negatively impact my emotional state. This is incredibly difficult to do I have found and is closely associated with perspective, patience and self-awareness. I recommend reading an HBR article from Daniel Goleman called the Focused Leader on this topic as well.

One of the easiest ways that I have found to help re-adjust my perspective on a situation when I start to feel sad or upset is to start looking at the same thing from another perspective. So if I feel like getting upset that we aren't educating the underprivileged I can just recall how things can always be worse and have improved a lot which helps me feel better while still not undermining my motivation.

Maybe it sounds obvious, but from personal experience, even as someone who is largely considered an optimist by pretty much everyone who knows me, I believe this to be incredibly difficult and that this is just like any muscle; it can be trained, developed and made more functional.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
Please go read Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck's book called Mindset: the Psychology of Success. This is an incredibly important read that speaks directly to the power of perspective. Her core lesson is that there are two main types of human mindsets, the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset.

Fixed Mindset
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

Growth Mindset
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Recent advances in neuroscience also demonstrate the power of brain plasticity and have demonstrated that thought can re-wire your brain (to a point) and you can grow new brain cells. These revelations should have an incredible impact how society works over time. Gone should be the beliefs that have anchored many entrenched hierarchical structures such as a caste system. Similarly, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the effect of ecosystems like Silicon Valley and the European Renaissance on cultivating "genius", which many have historically argued are simply "born".

There is massive correlation between success and these mindsets, which relates directly to why role models are important, why belief in oneself is important and why setting high expectations is so important and why Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right."

Virtuous Cycles vs. Viscous Cycles
In my experience with all of the most important relationships in my life that have frequent interaction and mutual reliance (spouse, partner, investor, parent, manager, brother, etc), I have noticed that little things matter a great deal. When my wife reaches out to me in some small way, whether through touch, a comment, or a question, how do I react? Do I engage in a positive way or do I shut her down, intentionally or unintentionally? When a business relationship gets angry about something, do I get angry back and hit them with the many things they have done wrong or do I reflect and truly listen?

Every day we are faced with countless minor interactions that I strongly believe can either lead to deeper relationships being built or frayed. Us gamers can easily conceptualize this as some sort of reputation system with various entities, with little +X's or -Y's happening based on the scope and severity of each interaction, but just because we don't have some nice real life UI showing these numbers, doesn't mean this isn't actually happening. It is.

When you are patient, thoughtful, kind, generous, resilient, etc, people will tend to react better towards you, which in turn makes these interactions more pleasant and builds relationships. Similarly, the inverse is true. If you run around as a grumpy face, being rude, impatient, short of temper, loud, etc, people will (eventually) react in kind and you will receive more anger, frustration and angst from others. It is remarkable how clear becomes when when you start to really pay attention here.

To me, all of these lessons reinforce something that my Dad always told me: "The hardest person to manage is yourself."  If you want to change your friends, your community, your significant other, your body, your skills, or the world, if there is one thing that has been continually reinforced for me throughout my life is that it all starts with yourself. Peter Drucker's seminal piece on Managing Onself is another great piece for anyone looking to learn more. We all can choose to do differently and feel differently in the moment.

Which brings us back to why I wrote this piece this morning. I had a great weekend with my wife. But what was most remarkable was that it had pretty much the same content and schedule as our usual weekends. The thing that was exceptional was our perspective and attitude about how to interact with each other and each experience we were having - and it was glorious.

- Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What a Great Day (so far)

It's not even lunch time yet and my day has been great so far.  Let me share a bit of what happened:

7:30-9:00 - Kids slept in late and Ashley jumped up to handle them telling me to stay sleeping if I wanted to (love days like that).  Heard them having fun and got up anyway to go hang out and have breakfast and help with Linken & Vesper.

9:00-9:20 - Took an Uber into work with my wife.  Have been taking Uber's since my wife's car was totaled in an accident a couple of weeks ago & my car has both car seats in it that we need to keep at the house to drive the kids around.  UberX is $5 to get to the office and a Black car is $20.  Super reasonable and easy - and today it was fun to share the ride with my wife and drop her off at her office which is on the way to mine.

9:20-10:30 - Had a light morning for once (thank you blocked out calendar time) which gave me time to think, watch the most recent League Product Update video, read our internal news site to catch up on some things happening around the world and played 30 minutes of Pillars of Eternity (I'm playing a Rogue as my main).

Our cool internal news site
10:35-11am - Have a candidate in for our Director of L&D role do a group overview of who she is and what makes her tick before she heads off to her full two days of interviews and wow is she an amazing person who inspired me and energized me in this short session just by sharing her background, motivations and life journey.

11am - Got to my desk, opened my email and read this note that a woman on our events team shared:

I am the father of a sixteen years old son and I am writing you from the area of Montreal, Canada. For the school break, my wife and I had planned a family trip to go visit my best friend, the godfather of my son, in L A. Knowing that, my son, who plays “League of Legends” since years, asked me to go at LCS. After buying tickets online, the Saturday March 7, my son, his godfather and I went at LCS. We had a wonderful time. My son, who is not the most expressive, was in a state of mind that I have rarely seen. Happiness was written all over his face. He was enjoying every moment, even when his favorite team, Cloud 9, lost that day. He explained to his godfather and me the basics of the games with enthusiasm. Gave us information about the teams and the players. He was so proud, knowing that he was there while his friends were watching the games online. What he uses to do too at home. For my part, I discovered a new world. That day, in the crowd I saw normal guys and girls enjoying the same passion, a passion that is different then mines, but a passion of his time. I was impressed by the quality of the organization as the professionalism and the kindness of the employees. The guys and girls who welcomed us at the ticket table, the girl who escorted us to our seats, the camera guys, the guys at the shop, everyone was very nice, polite and helpful. Sometimes, as parents, we have prejudice when it comes to videogames. That day I had the chance to discover a part of my son’s universe. I have been comforted. Now I can be more comprehensive when he’s not careful about what I am saying while playing, when he’s excited during crucial fights or when he’s late for dinner. I have learned what is at stake. Sometimes, when I want to start a discussion, I just have to ask about the championship or how Cloud 9 is doing? The time spend at LCS is one of the highlights of the trip. It will be one the moments, father and son, that I will remember for the rest of my life. Now, I am not sure who had the best time… Thank you, (name redacted) Father of (name redacted) P.S. Excuse my English, my first language is French. P.S. Could you send us the survey again, I opened it and I closed it because I wanted my son to fill it. But when I reopened it, it says that we already responded. 

The above is why we work so hard to try to delight our players and love what we do. Thank you for taking the time sharing your experience with us!

11:30 am - Decided to write this quick blog entry before I head off for the day of meetings, interviews and other work stuff.  Feeling great and thought I'd share.

Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Role Models

Been a while since my last blog (my apologies - I actually wrote one and deleted it... very long story), but I'm up slightly early this morning and figured now would be a good time. My wife and I had a great conversation last night, after attending an event at UCLA where I spoke in front of a small crowd of around 100 people, and I think this conversation got my mind going sufficiently to write a post.

I went to USC across town - and was sure to make
many jokes about this classic rivalry :)
The event was supposed to be focused on entrepreneurship where I would share experiences with the start-up community around UCLA / LA in general with lessons learned from Riot's early days, but in a very fun turn of events the tickets that the school had allocated were almost all gobbled up by League of Legends players from UCLA.  I always love the opportunity to connect directly with our players and this was a very cool and intimate setting where I got to directly answer questions to the group about anything they wanted to talk about. The event ran for an hour and afterwards, I spent over another hour more talking to each person individually who wanted to line up for pictures, shake hands, ask additional questions, or ask questions on the best way to apply to Riot, etc.

It had been a while since I had a chance to sit down for a prolonged period of time with so many different LOL players and it was a fantastic experience.  But what was also very interesting was that this was the first time my wife had actually had an opportunity to directly hear the stories from League players talking about how meaningful the game is to them and how appreciative they are of Riot's efforts.

A couple cool highlights as examples:
- One woman (Vivian, you rock) made Tryndamere and Ashe dolls and wrote a thank you letter to Riot to thank us for making her favorite game and she actually apologized (no need!) for not being able to spend any money in the game (because she's a student without much money!) and she said she wanted to find a way to express her appreciation.  Wow!
- One engineering student highlighted that the game is how he and his brother who live across the country from each other now keep in touch and have been able to remain close despite the distance
- An exchange student from China mentioned that the game was how he has been able to assimilate into Western culture and meet great friends at UCLA.  It's a shared language that helped him bond with people from completely different backgrounds.

Hearing these stories like these are enough to make even the toughest Barbarian King as weepy as Amumu. We LOVE these stories at Riot and constantly try to collect them because of how motivating they are to all of us.

But what my wife wanted to talk about and highlight was how amazed she was about how genuinely inspired people were and how cool of an opportunity it is to be able to potentially positively impact people's lives around the world even in some small way.  This led to a conversation about the importance of role models where we each reflected on the role models that we have, or that we seek and those individuals who helped shape our perspectives on how we view the world (oftentimes unbeknownst to them).

Amumu is always weepy
I wanted to take some time this morning to highlight some of the people whom I have never met who inspire me, and why I think having role models is very important.  I'll start with the latter first.

I often ask people in interviews who their role models are.  Why?  Because I think this can tell you a lot about the person.

- Do they have role models?  If they can't think of any, that's a big flag.  Do they not take the time to reflect on what values they aspire towards?  Do they not admire anyone's accomplishments?  Are they too cynical or jaded to be inspired?  Any of these are sufficiently worrisome to want to probe deeper around that particular concern.  I have encountered many people whom I concluded didn't have any role models because they were too busy being impressed with themselves to take the time to admire others.  This suggests that they are not humble, self-aware or that interested in pushing themselves to learn about different things or challenge their own assumptions.

There are possible valid reasons to not have any role models (of course), but the key is understanding the rationale.  One example I'll highlight is that it is often hard (but clearly not impossible) for aspiring woman entrepreneurs to find women role models who are extremely successful at building businesses while being sufficiently attentive to their families (this is a sufficiently large topic for books, let alone a tiny blog - and yes, society and guys in general need to do more here... topic for another day).

- Who are their role models?  Common answers are various celebrities because their persona embodies a particular ideal (musicians often do this well), parents or grandparents oftentimes cited for work ethic, balance or achievements both professionally and/or at home.  The more rare answers that I have heard are often stories of inspiration oriented around certain peers with admirable qualities that are subtle, such as a friend who exhibited great courage in a situation where she stood up against something she believed was wrong in the face of very strong social pressure, etc.  People admiring politicians and military leaders are also remarkably rare these days, which makes me sad and seems to be a reflection of our dysfunctional system.

There is no right answer clearly, I am mainly looking to understand what the person thinks is inspirational because I think that often is a window into their character and values (which of course is a strong predictor of future behavior) - and that's one of the primary things we're trying to evaluate.

I have had many role models throughout my life.  Some famous, most not.  I have also been inspired by a great many people, but would stop short of allocating the title of "role model" to them.  I am often inspired daily by the great actions or work of the many talented people at Riot, but I label someone a "role model" when it is their persona and value system that inspires me rather than an individual action.  The dictionary defines a role model as "a person looked to others as an example to be imitated" - and this passes the sniff test for me because many of my role models have done exactly that - I wanted to be more like them.

Here are two examples of people who I have referred to as role models:

Yes, I am a badass
Colin Powell - Colin Powell is an amazingly accomplished individual who overcame a huge amount of adversity in his life.  He was born in the 30's in Harlem, NY (tough time and tough neighborhood) and he was fortunate enough to stay out of trouble and join the military.  In the military he was wounded by a booby trap and later survived a helicopter crash.  Pretty formative and tough
experiences.  He became a 4 star general, later became the first black chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and all the while all reports say he stayed a "regular guy".  He apparently declined running for President despite his enormous popularity because he didn't want to deal with all of the crap associated with that (I read his "didn't have the fire in the belly" comment to mean, "there is too much BS to deal with and I'd rather solve problems directly") and later became the secretary of state.

But beyond his impressive career accomplishments despite his humble beginnings, the thing that resonated the most with me was his values and outlook on the world.  My mom gave me a plaque listing "Colin Powell's rules" when I was 13 years old and I still have it on my desk today.  His 13 rules are:

1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
2. Get mad, then get over it.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
4. It can be done!
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
8. Check small things.
9. Share credit.
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

From my perspective, these relatively simple rules are truly profound.  Without going into detail and analyzing each one, I'll instead leave them as is and let you take away what you will from them.

Matt Markis - Matt is not famous (at least not yet), but among those who know him, he is one of a kind.  Matt is one of the most humble, genuinely nice people who truly cares for others that you will ever encounter.  It is no wonder that he is now a Psychiatrist who helps people for a living.

I met Matt my freshman year of high school during hell week for football.  And my first encounter with him was essentially me being a complete douche.  Ages 12-14 were not great years for me - I was essentially a "shit head".  Being rude to people for no reason, thinking I was cool and doing a bunch of practical jokes that while oftentimes clever (at least I'll give myself that), they were completely destructive, harmful and often hurtful to other people - and I didn't even realize it.  I was completely in my own world.

Matt is the best at delaying gratification of
anyone I have ever met
So, back to how I met Matt.  I attended the middle school that fed into the high school, which meant I knew a lot more people that Matt who went to a different middle school.  So naturally, Matt was hanging with his friend Adam who also attended that same middle school because they didn't really know anyone else.  So I saw Matt sitting against a wall near the football field trying to find shade against the > 100 degree heat.

So, figuring that I would go meet the new guys, I walked up to them and asked, "Hey, do you guys like rap?" This was 1994 - gangsta rap was in full effect.  They looked at me, paused, shrugged a bit and said "yeah" - to which I replied, "losers!" or something like that and ran off.  I guess I thought I was really cool.

Wow - way to go me.  Matt and Adam were like - "who the hell was that douche"?

Over the next several months, Matt and I were not friends.  But he never held that initial meeting against me and over time as we played football together and had some of the same classes, we got to know each other better.  And I in particular started to notice something over time.

Matt was always calm, patient and easy going.  He was always on time for practice.  He always made every work out session.  He got great grades in school.  He got along with all different types of people and was never judgmental.  He was ridiculously consistent and he did this with a seemingly natural ease that simply emanated from him.  Matt was cool and people liked him for who he was.

In a nutshell, Matt wasn't a "try hard".

He just was who he was and it was great.  Matt had the most quiet confidence of anyone my age who I had ever encountered and it had a profound effect on me.  There was some inflection point where I realized, "wow, I want to be like him", where I genuinely didn't worry about trying to being perceived as clever, funny or cool - and it was far more impactful to ACTUALLY be those things because you ARE them and not because you had to TRY to be them.

I don't know exactly what clicked for me or how it did, but somehow I started to relax and change over time.  I started noticing subtle things other people did that I thought was neat and I'd compliment them.  Like, "Ray, I thought you did a great job with noticias (news) in Spanish class today", and other random comments - but they were genuine.  It was like my whole view of other people and the world was starting to shift.  I started to really appreciate lots of "different types" of people for who they really were, where as before I simply failed to take the time to notice.  This different perspective changed my behavior naturally over time in dramatic fashion (but of course still made mistakes as we all do).  I was still the same person, but the insecurities which caused lame behavior simply started to melt away - and I grew more self-confident which continued to generate more positive momentum for this change.  This gave me the confidence to stand up to a lot of situations - like defending people being bullied by other guys on the football team and fully embracing my hardcore gamer side publicly.  (Why, yes, I DO play D&D - why don't you?).  Later on Matt and I were both voted by our teammates to be co-captains of the football team (along with some other great guys) and we both reached the rank of Eagle Scout together (Matt really helped motivate me to not quit scouting despite all of the other pressures to stop participating).

I realized it takes a lot of hard work, self-reflection and discipline to actually be who you aspire to be day in and day out and that if you really want to change, you CAN change - but it takes time.

Somehow, by Matt being Matt, he changed this for me and it is a gift that I will forever cherish and he didn't even intentionally give.

Some of the homies - check out my afro!
Matt and I went on to become best friends and were roommates in college.  We shared many great adventures together, enjoyed many warm summer nights, philosophical debates, trials, tribulations and amazing times.  Matt is a great friend to this day, and this blog reminds me that I need to do a better job of staying in touch with him and many of the other great relationships that have been built over the years.

It is difficult to stay in touch as we all get older, have families, time-consuming careers, etc - but I will forever cherish how Matt and many of my other friends have challenged me, inspired me and helped me to become who I am today and who will help shape who I will continue to evolve to become in the future.

Let's all do our friends, loved ones and any role models that we may know a favor and let's let them know how meaningful they are to us.

And if you don't have any role models, ask yourself why that is and spend some time thinking deeply about who the person is that you want to be.  When you find that, it's likely that you'll notice some things about other people that you haven't seen before.

Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Values as a Foundation

It's been a while since my last blog - my apologies for that!  It's been fun for me to see some comments on Twitter and elsewhere asking for additional blog posts; to continue my tradition of thinking out loud, maybe I can get into a more regular routine by posting shorter entries?  I fear those types of entries may be less compelling, but, to reference my previous entry re: goal alignment, I would say that the goal of my blog first and foremost is to serve as an outlet for my personal thoughts - so that is what I will attempt to do this morning.

It is 4:40am on Thursday June 6th and what is on my mind?

A couple things are happening that are interesting:
Hail Queen Ashe!
- My wife is due to give birth to our first child (boy!) in less than two weeks.  I am quite excited about this - I was the one twisting her arm for us to get rolling with starting a family, and she's been a champion (hah!).  Being a father is going to be quite an interesting journey and I'm very curious about the upcoming lessons and experiences; I've heard they are unlike pretty much anything else in life.
- Riot has continued to grow and take on more and more challenges.  While rapid growth is not exactly new for us (we went from 60 people to ~1,000 in roughly 3 years since launching League of Legends) many of the challenges are of a slightly different nature than many of the previous challenges because they relate to scale at unprecedented levels for the company.

What do these two events have in common?  They both:
- Have many unknowns associated with their futures
- Over time require more and more "letting go" from their creators
- Will only make their parents proud if the decisions they make are driven by strong values

Having a child and scaling a company may seem like an odd pairing, but I think the common attributes above are worth exploring a bit.

Why?  Because they both largely deal with lots of uncertainty and:
- Uncertainty causes fear
One of my best friends is a fire fighter - THAT is courage
- Fear can have many negative implications on human behavior
- Courage occurs only in the presence of fear (absence of fear is not courage - acting in the face of fear IS courage)
- Values are the thing that help people find the courage to overcome fear and do what is right

As I transition into becoming a father, it will be natural for me to be afraid for my child and to start planning for their future.  I will care deeply about his security, health, well-being, education, etc.  Naturally, I feel the same types of feelings for Riot for this is extremely common among entrepreneurs.  As you can see here there are many references to company's being "the babies" of their founders, and I know my co-founder Brandon feels the same way.

One of the current major focuses for the leadership team at Riot is "institutionalizing" the values of the company throughout the organization.  One of the primary reasons that Riot has been able to grow well is because the company has (to date) done a great job staying true to our values and actually having the reality of day to day operations reflect these values, rather than having them just be inscribed on the walls with lofty statements that are essentially ignored.  With this link I am not attempting to pass judgment or call out a very successful company whom I have a lot of respect for, I am merely pointing out the type of thing that is the number one issue which keeps me awake at night and causes me to come down into my basement to write blog entries like this during the wee hours of the morning.  This is the issue that causes me the most fear when I think about the future of Riot, and this is likely the same cause for concern I will have as I think about my son and his future.


Doing the right thing for players is our guiding beacon
Riot has largely been successful at building a values-driven company culture oriented around serving our players because we have a crystal clear mission statement: To be the most player-focused game company in the world - and this has been our guiding principle in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty and fear of the future.   In a nutshell, this crystal clear message helps orient Rioters towards decisions that do the right thing for our players over and over and over.  If we ever do the wrong thing for our players, it is most likely due to a flaw in execution, rather than the fact that the company is being motivated by something other than serving our players well (and while better, is still not good enough).  It has been nice to be recognized for our efforts here with various awards, but the best reward by far and away is actually seeing delighted players at events like this:

The League of Legends Season 2 World Championships was a historic event

Or seeing the "Thank you Riot" posts around the internet or that we get in personal interactions with players.

But, insert scale into the equation - IE - League of Legends being the most played online game in the world with tens of millions of players playing the game each month, and it is quite an amazing challenge to continue to deliver upon our promise to all players around the world day in and day out.  Ironically, our success has actually been our biggest challenge, because it takes time to create the service infrastructure necessary to carry out our mission in the far corners of the globe as effectively as our players need.  Again, we've done a pretty good job here overall, and while we've had our bumps in the road, we wouldn't be seeing the numbers we are seeing if players didn't see value in the service we are providing them. And in other news, we fortunately believe we are close to getting permanently over the hump from a service technology perspective - but we all know that "soon™" isn't good enough either.

Building effective infrastructure to support scale requires effective leadership and while great leadership is always difficult to come by at any level, it is a more familiar experience for many to lead small teams than it is to lead hundreds.  The leadership skills necessary to be effective "at scale" are different than those to be effective "in the trenches".  Both are necessary, and it has been an interesting challenge to personally grow to be capable of succeeding in this regard, especially because the way leadership success is largely achieved at scale is premised upon the ability of growing the leadership capacity of others to effectively achieve the multitude of initiatives we must accomplish.

(As a side note, on this topic, I think the Jesuits do a great job of teaching authentic leadership values as summarized by their motto, "men and women for others".)    

Finally, today's "amazing" becomes tomorrow's "expectations".  As Riot continues to create amazing experiences, we can't be simply satisfied by these or think "we've won" or "done enough".  The expectations of our players are not static - and thus, we must dynamically adjust to deliver value to them.

"Duh, everyone has one"
Just think about that smart phone you have with you.  Just a couple years ago these were the most magical devices on earth and now if your phone runs out of batteries, or doesn't have "X, Y or Z" features, "it sucks".  Good example of how quickly we become accustomed to new and amazing experiences.  What's the next amazing product or service Apple will provide?  The incremental improvement from the iPhone 5 to 6 likely won't be earth shattering.  Thus, one thing we continually challenge ourselves to become better at is to ensure that we stay abreast to what our players expectations are, and we come up with ways to exceed those expectations - over and over and over.

So what does all this have to do with values?  It means that in order to reliably deliver on our company's mission, at scale, as time goes on - IE - across the entire world, day in and day out, across every service we offer - from League of Legends, to the League Championship Series, to experiences we will offer in the future - it means we need the same elements that have enabled Riot to achieve what it has to date present in all aspects of the organization.

We believe those "elements" are the values of the organization that guide our decision-making.  Hence why the leadership of Riot is very focused on further defining the "who we are", the "how we work" and the "what we do" to help contextualize the nuances that we believe distinguish us as an organization from others and then ensuring that our key internal systems reflect and reinforce those values.  I'm now extremely confident in Riot's ability to institutionalize its values to help the company culture remain strong for years to come - but to be honest - for a period of time, I had some doubt.  We were expanding in many directions simultaneously, everyone on our leadership team was extremely busy and focusing on different areas, and many of us felt a looming shadow.  We hadn't quite succeeded at defining the problem we sensed well enough, and that ambiguity caused some fear and uncertainty for a time.

The answer?  Go back to our roots.  Our values.  Define them.  Live them.  Institutionalize them.  When the foundation is solid, we have the strength to deal with the unseen challenges that loom ahead.  We will have the courage to face down the difficult decisions, Rioters will remind themselves about their deep understanding of the company's values and they'll do the right thing.  Hopefully, by being proactive here we will avoid major culture crises that face many companies, but we can never assume we're out of the woods and we must remain vigilant.      

My current perspective is that it would be wise to take a similar approach with my son.  But how?

Religion has often served this purpose well for humanity, as a grounding mechanism to align communities around shared values.  Yet neither my wife nor I are religious (although we were both raised with religious traditions and values of different faiths), and although we respect and appreciate the values that exist in many, one question we have is how to effectively transfer the strong values we share into our child in the absence of an easy to lean on framework that is so often provided by religion.

Einstein is win
Such is a question that will likely take years for us to answer however - and it may be one that we never answer fully.  But, I take assurance in that by identifying the problem, we can continue to make progress on a solution - and I believe that understanding and defining the problem is the most important to step to problem solving.

As the great Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

The role of the leader is not necessarily to be the person who comes up with the solution, but you have to be darn sure you are the person with the wisdom to choose the right answer since you are accountable for the outcome of the decisions.  When you have trouble understanding what the "right" answer is, go back to your roots.

Go back to your values.

My wife and I aspire for our son to have sufficient courage to do the right thing in the face of challenge and adversity.  If we mean that as much as we think we do, then we had better do a good job of raising him with strong values.

Wish us luck!

 Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Importance of Goal Alignment

Another early morning (5am this time), another blog post - a trend that will continue?  We shall see.  What's on my mind this morning?

One of the central themes that has been continually reinforced to me throughout my life  through a myriad of experiences is the concept of "goal alignment".  This is a related topic to my last blog post titled "The Importance of Swimming Upstream", in that one of the most frequent "upstream" causes to many interpersonal arguments or organizational scenarios that have poor results can be traced back to a lack of "goal alignment".

What do I mean when I say "goal alignment"?

First, the definition of goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.
Now the definition of alignment: a state of agreement or cooperation among persons, groups, nations, etc., with a common cause or viewpoint.

So when I refer to "goal alignment", I am referring to a state of agreement or cooperation among persons, groups, nations, etc, with a common cause or viewpoint striving to achieve a particular end.

It should be fairly self-evident as to why this is a fundamental and important concept that is central to any type of effort which requires diverse teams and large numbers of people.

My perspective on this subject have primarily been formed by a diverse set of experiences throughout my life.  On the micro level, I was exposed to both effective and ineffective teams through experiences on sporting teams, boy scouts, school projects, role-playing groups such as Dungeons & Dragons, or through playing MMO's (you learn a lot of useful skills from gaming to all you eye-rollers out there.)  It is often from these type of experiences where people develop an intuitive knack for this skill.  One interesting phenomenon is that business schools often focus on a group learning model because teamwork is so fundamental to business, whereas law schools do not - and I would assume that therein lies an interesting opportunity for leaders in the legal field since law firms are businesses too, but alas, I digress.

On the macro level, my perspective has largely been initially shaped by my educational background and subsequently by my experience building a global & successful organization.

At the University of Southern California, I majored in Political Science and minored in Psychology.  I was undecided for my initial two years, because I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do and I dabbled in a great many subjects, such as Physics and Philosophy.  I was an "OK" student who seemed to always do just enough to get some A's but mostly B's.  I spent a good amount of time "socializing" and a lot of time gaming.  But I have always been fascinated with human motivation and wanted to understand why people do what they do.

On the micro level I was interested in questions like:
- What drives altruism?
- Why would "normal people" commit violence?
- What drives addiction?
- What is love?
- Etc

On the macro level I wanted to understand:
- Why would a normal population of humans follow despots and do terrible things?
- What drives people to sacrifice themselves for a cause such as suicide bombers or Kamikaze pilots?
- Why do people follow leaders in the first place?
- Etc

I learned a lot of interesting things through my studies, some of the most important takeaways being:
- The power and importance of values and their impact on individual decision-making and behavior
- The power of ideology at the macro level and how this shapes values (and thus drives behavior)

The quick summary is that our values are one of the most important and fundamental motivators of behavior.  In short, at the micro level, people do what they think makes sense in accordance with their values, most of the time.  Most exceptions come through exceptional circumstances like being intoxicated, psychosis, etc.  This may sound extremely simple, and it is.  Policemen, as an example, often believe that the simplest explanation is most often right through centuries of experience tracking down bad guys - if the husband had the most motivation to kill his wife, he probably did it.  Scientists are familiar with the same concept, and it is a form of reasoning known as Occam's Razor.  For those not familiar, it's worth taking a moment to read about.  

Thus, at the micro level of the individual across all of humanity, if we believe this to be the case, then we can conclude that people do what they are doing because they think the act makes sense.  Read that again and then think about the implications of that on how you see the world.  This means it can be assumed that every individual, including those in groups whom you cannot relate to all, such as jihadists, communists, religious zealots, democrats and republicans - they all believe what they believe and are acting rationally.  Yes, this means that suicide bombers go through a rational decision making process to determine that it makes sense to strap a bunch of dynamite to their chest and blow it up on a bus full of Israeli school children.  Their decision making process is informed by their values (family, god, love of their culture, etc), their social circumstances (many of the strong personalities they know admire are extremists) and sometimes by extrinsic rewards.

Now what are the implications of this?

This means that if you want to adjust human behavior consistently and permanently, then you need to address their values.  Ruh roh - that sounds difficult.  Well, that's because it IS difficult.  People form their values over many years, are creatures of habit and we have these pesky laws of physics which remind us that objects need force applied against them to adjust their state and trajectory.  In short, humans are notoriously resistant to change.

So if you're a leader of a government institution, business, organization, or otherwise want to accomplish something that you cannot do by yourself, how can you do this?  What "force" can change people's trajectory?  Well, there is a massive amount of literature on the subject of change, so we clearly can't even scratch the surface here.  But what we can do is cut to the chase and tie this back together to "goal alignment" and why this matters.

And this is where ideology comes in - or - put a slightly different way, the power of ideas.  And this is where true leadership shines.  Great leaders authentically represent a particular idea and inspire people (oftentimes, even extremely diverse populations) to act in accordance with the goal that the leader wants to accomplish by relating the goal to the population's values and getting them to contextualize the goal within their personal frame of reference.

There are numerous examples throughout history of leaders who excelled at this.

Ghandi was a tremendous leader who exemplified the ideals he espoused of non-violent protest and inspired hundreds of millions of people to succeed at creating a self-governed India.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought against the status quo of racial segregation and drove the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

John F. Kennedy inspired the United States through a time of national crisis in competition with the USSR and is largely credited with leading the efforts to successfully put a man on the moon - and let's talk about this for a moment, because this is a great example of leadership.

I mentioned in the previous entry that "a problem well stated is a problem half-solved".  When you apply that concept to the challenge of leadership, some leadership responsibilities quickly become apparent.  Leaders must:

1. Identify the right problem to solve (ie. set the correct goal.)
2. Clearly communicate WHAT the goal is and WHY it is important
3. Own the responsibility of execution and inspire confidence that the goal is achievable

JFK did all of the above when he kicked off the Space Race.  He identified that we need to put a man on the moon.  He clearly communicated the goal to the nation and why it was important, kicking it off with his "We Choose the Moon Speech" and he took responsibility for execution by funding the Apollo program and ensuring the team had the support they would need to succeed with the best and most credible scientists on earth.

The ability to organize people around clear goals is one of the central characteristics of effective leaders at the macro level.

Leaders have followers.  Being the boss does not make you the leader, it makes you a manager, and there is a massive difference.  People WANT to follow leaders and a leader derives their power and authority because it is granted to them by their followers and they are inspired to action.  Managers by contrast, derive their power and authority from an organizational hierarchy that gives them the ability to punish and reward those individuals that they are responsible for.  Both management and leadership are critical (and I'll likely write more on the subject another time), but understanding their differences and where and how to apply each of the practices is critical to accomplishing big hairy audacious goals or BHAG's such as putting a man on the moon.

Why would people want to follow other people?  It's simple.  It's because they believe in where they are going.

That's it.

Stated more eloquently, we can say people most often want to follow leaders because of the values or ideals that their persona, ideas or actions represent.

Whether it is at the group level, the department level, the organization level, the municipality, the state, the country or the world level, the same principle holds true and the reality is that many of the best leaders, are NOT managers!  They are team members, moms, passionate volunteers, etc.  Ideas don't need to be massive in scope - small acts can often be the most powerful.  They inspire people with their actions.  "I want to be as great to my children as Sally is to hers".  Many notable musicians inspire millions because they authentically "represent" a particular cause or value system.

On a personal note, I was deeply inspired by someone who later became my best friend in high school because of his quiet confidence, general friendliness and commitment to his values.  He didn't need to try to be like everyone else and he didn't need to "try hard" - he just was an honest, hardworking, generally nice person with quiet confidence.  I wanted to be like him and his presence and daily behavior changed my life.

But leaders all have one thing in common: they can cause a group of people to act.  There are many people with great ideas who don't do anything with them.  A lot of people have great ideas, but few make them a reality.

Brandon Beck and I founded Riot Games in September of 2006 and our mission was to be the most player-focused game company in the world.  This mission has been our guiding principle which informs our strategic decisions and inspires all 800 of us around the globe to work our butts off to try to figure out how to delight gamers around the world with the best gaming experience and service possible.  THAT is what drives the individuals at Riot and this is one of the key reasons we have been able to seemingly come out of nowhere to create the biggest game in the world with our first game.  Riot has a nearly insane zealousness for doing the right thing for our players - the company's ideology is aligned with the values of all Rioters, which in turn drives our behavior.   Our audience recognizes this and appreciates for what it is - a genuine, values driven approach to do the best thing on them.

It is shocking to me that this is something that is rare in the professional world.  The organizations that do this most effectively have managed to effectively execute the steps I listed above, where they clearly communicate why they exist (the problem they are trying to solve), what they do to address that problem and then they assure operational execution aligns with these goals.  A great example of an organization that does this well is the United States Marine Corps.  You probably all instantly assume a number of things the moment I mention them - such as discipline, effectiveness, toughness, honor, etc.  Why don't all organizations function this effectively?  Many businesses and governments suffer from demotivated and dissatisfied workers.

I assume that the non-profit world does a better job here of creating passion driven organizations where employees are intrinsically motivated, but why?  Organizations are fundamentally driven by purpose.  Why have so many leaders failed to align people and get them engaged in the goal of the company, organization or team?

Well, it's simple really.  Because they failed to do this:

1. Identify the right problem to solve (ie. set the correct goal.)
2. Clearly communicate WHAT the goal is and WHY it is important
3. Own the responsibility of execution and inspire confidence that the goal is achievable

Leaders at all levels of organizations have this responsibility.  And the reality is we are failing at this as a society.  We suffer from a critical shortage of effective leadership throughout all aspects of society and our leaders fail for different reasons; one of the most common reasons is their inability to execute.

Fixing this means first developing a better understanding of what effective leadership is and why it's important.  Consider this tiny blog entry a tiny step in the right direction, but hopefully we'll make some progress at codifying best practices at Riot that we can share more broadly as time goes on.  In the meantime, for those interested, I suggest you start reading what Harvard Business Review has to say on the subject.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that the way you drive meaningful change with humans is by getting people aligned on a particular goal and inspiring them to take effective action.  This happens by getting people to appreciate why the goal is important and inspiring confidence in people that it CAN be accomplished.  This requires authenticity, commitment, creativity, a willingness to challenge convention and many other elements.  Hopefully this post will inspire a couple of you that leadership is a subject worth learning more about and will ultimately inform some of your action in the future.

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."  - Martin Luther King, Jr.

- Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill