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Bing Gordon: On Being A Contrarian
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Bing Gordon: On Being A Contrarian

June 1, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Do you think that that sort of thing is part of what makes people in this industry, especially executives, so afraid to actually speak their mind and have an opinion? I was thinking about this in relation to you, actually, because you do say your opinions, and this kind of gives you clout. Or perhaps it's because you have clout already, you have the opportunity to speak your mind. What do you think about that?

BG: There's a book about Steve Sample, who's the president of USC. There's a leadership course with Warren Bennis called Contrarian Leadership. So, I think that if you're naturally a contrarian, you might as well try to be a leader. But, you know, you can die along the way as a contrarian.

I guess I like being a contrarian. I would say that my sense is that in organizations, people that talk more tend to rise to higher ranks in organizations. It's kind of like the class you can think of where the teachers want kids to talk, so they waive the grade to some degree based on class participation.

It's hard to move people in organization without talking. So, guess what? The people who aren't afraid to talk tend to do better. And regardless of whether what they say is more cogent than the talk of the people who don't open their mouth, it's hard to move organizations without opening your mouth.

So I don't think execs are afraid to say what they're thinking. I went to Stanford Business School. I think execs tend to say more than they're thinking.

[laughs] Well, I can see that being true in a lot of cases. I do find that in this industry, there is kind of a culture of fear around letting something loose that's going to be misperceived or something like that. But it may be that someone actually meant what they said, and they try to take it back. This happens all the time, that kind of thing.

BG: Yeah, I've always lacked sophistication. But you know, there are fearful people everywhere. You know, fear is a driver. I don't think there's like more fear in the movie business or in the game business than there is in general.

You watch the news? The news is fear-mongering like mad because it's heightened emotion against the tension. So, I think fear is pretty common, and it's a good driver for people. It's easier to get them out of the bed in the morning because they're afraid than because they're happy.

I don't think there's more fear in the game business than any place else I've seen. I would say it differently... Where was I just reading this?

To lead, you have to be an optimist because optimism attracts other people. People want their leaders to be confident and optimistic. It's hard to create and take risk without being optimistic.

Another way to say it is there are fewer leaders than there are people. Everybody has fears and doubts and handicaps, and you can help people mitigate their fears and doubts. You can help them be their better selves and be more productive. That's what we need out of our leaders.

I talked to Nolan Bushnell a while ago, and I think he was quoting someone else, I'm not sure who, but he said that if you want to lead a crowd, the best way is to observe them and figure out where they're going, then walk out in front and say, "Follow me."

BG: Well, Nolan Bushnell famously learned his human nature in carnivals. In carnivals, they famously learned to watch the crowd for tells and figure out how to amaze the crowd and get them to come to their stand. It's better training for entertainment market than door-to-door sales is.

Talking of leaders, what do you think Will Wright leaving Maxis is going to do for that company? Or to that company?

BG: Let's see. I have no idea. There are some really strong people there. So either they're going to step up and be more inventive, and that somewhat happened in Sims 2. Sims 2 was done without much of Will's involvement, and I think it was better than Sims 1.

Sim City 3000 was without much of Will's involvement. I think that was a really good version of Sim City. So, it could be that the team does better. It could be that the team misses his leadership. Clearly, somebody is going to have to step up with vision and leadership. I think Lucy Bradshaw is spectacular talent.

I was even thinking actually about what this will do for games in general. He was, in a way, our intelligent figurehead that we could point to or could go to get quote or interviewed in news stories. We were actually starting to have someone that was cogent that could speak to news organizations and present intelligent perspectives.

BG: There's always been someone like that. He's particularly interesting and charismatic, but there have been spokesmen... He could still be a pretty good spokesman for the video game business. When Electronic Arts started in 1982, it was Bill Budge. Bill Budge was the Will Wright of gaming in '83.

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