Andy Billings:


054 – Back in the Game: EA’s Near Death Experience with Andy Billings

Andy Billings:


054 – Back in the Game: EA’s Near Death Experience with Andy Billings

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In this episode, Andy Billings, Vice President of Profitable Creativity at Electronic Arts, joins us. Andy is co-founder of Electronic Arts University, an internship program for graduates to begin careers in gaming, and is also an Innovation Advisor for the think tank, Singularity University, as well as to some of the largest corporate organisations within the USA. 

  • How EA suffered a ‘near-death experience’ and rapid decline in profits through not responding fast enough to the digital gaming revolution and how the company used this experience to transform its culture, go to market approach and relationships with its gamers  
  • How the company categorises innovation in three ways – Incremental, Breakthrough, and Disruptive – to maximise return on the energy and creativity within its business 
  • How EA marries process, guidelines and practices with creativity to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market where development cycles can be up to five years 

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How embracing small ‘i’ / incremental innovation at the enterprise level can allow it to be part of the day to day operations of the organization and not just the responsibility of an R&D lab 
  • How EA transformed their customer relationship practices (what they call ‘Player First’) and how the results of these gamer interactions drive other core processes such as game release schedules  
  • The importance of a learning mindset to a ‘hits based’ company so that the inevitable misses can help create future value – or as Andy says, “Never try and help the organisation learn twice exactly the same way” 

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

 

Summary

In this episode, Andy Billings, Vice President of Profitable Creativity at Electronic Arts, joins us. Andy is co-founder of Electronic Arts University, an internship program for graduates to begin careers in gaming, and is also an Innovation Advisor for the think tank, Singularity University, as well as to some of the largest corporate organisations within the USA. 

Andy Billings

Andy Billings is passionate about energizing executives, managers, and teams to shape their future and transform how they do business through innovation, product development, and organization building. Known for developing highly-effective simulations, games, and other creative means that result in learning and change, Andy develops key change agents who ensure ongoing profitability by overcoming “impossible” challenges. Andy has also served on the innovation advisory boards of two Fortune 500 companies and currently serves on the board of the Interactive Professionals Association.

What Was Covered

  • How EA suffered a ‘near-death experience’ and rapid decline in profits through not responding fast enough to the digital gaming revolution and how the company used this experience to transform its culture, go to market approach and relationships with its gamers  
  • How the company categorises innovation in three ways – Incremental, Breakthrough, and Disruptive – to maximise return on the energy and creativity within its business 
  • How EA marries process, guidelines and practices with creativity to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market where development cycles can be up to five years 

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How embracing small ‘i’ / incremental innovation at the enterprise level can allow it to be part of the day to day operations of the organization and not just the responsibility of an R&D lab 
  • How EA transformed their customer relationship practices (what they call ‘Player First’) and how the results of these gamer interactions drive other core processes such as game release schedules  
  • The importance of a learning mindset to a ‘hits based’ company so that the inevitable misses can help create future value – or as Andy says, “Never try and help the organisation learn twice exactly the same way” 

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

 

Welcome to the Innovation Ecosystem. My name is Mark Bidwell and with me today is Andy Billings who is VP of Profitable Creativity for Electronic Arts which is one of the world’s largest gaming companies. He’s co-founder of Electronic Arts University, a mentor at Singularity University and is an Innovation Advisor for several large companies in the US. Welcome to the show, Andy.

Mark, thanks very much. Pleased to be here.

So, Andy, I love your title, VP of Profitable Creativity and I’m sure there’s a very good reason why that’s what you have on your business card. Can you explain why that title?

Yes sure, Mark. That takes me back only a few years in the history of Electronic Arts. Both those words turned out to be something that we didn’t necessarily put together. We were making extremely creative games, the game makers loved them but we were making them in a way that wasn’t profitable so if you want to have a creative enterprise wrapped inside a corporate organization, a for-profit corporate organization, you need your creatives, and at the time what we used to call our ‘suits’, to work together to create something that’s creative, innovative and profitable. So we spent a number of years working with our creative organizations around how they made games, what games are they going to take to market, be smarter about what we thought would be bigger or more successful games and make them in a way that was efficient so that we could have both wonderful, delightful, amazing games and excited players, and at the same time, have a successful corporation. So we spent a number of years reworking our processes and our innovation pipeline and a set of activities that just helped us be both simultaneously creative and profitable so I just nicknamed my job that since that’s what I’ve spent a lot of my time working out.

And you came into the organization, am I right in saying, after the company’s near-death experience?

Actually, I came to Electronic Arts a while after it had gone public, in that happy, maverick, exuberant time when a corporation is really doing super well, so I had that experience, and then we came into a period of time where it just seemed like we lost our thread with our players. In fact, back then we would call them customers and we lost our way really in terms of how to be successful and to be a market leader and we found ourselves, instead of being the leading company, a trailing company and our profits were down. Of course, at the same time there was a huge recession going on in the world but most importantly I think we hadn’t adopted a real player first perspective and so we set about reorganizing and revamping the company, and it was a pretty dark time in the company. We were losing money and if we didn’t make changes we were going to be out of business eventually.

I’m curious because I think, Andy, when we talked about this earlier on you said that you could see it coming and you were holding seminars internally on how market leaders fall but you still couldn’t move fast enough. How did that happen because it sounds like you were doing everything right?

Yes, that’s a really interesting phenomenon to talk about, Mark. We are the poster child for disruption. So we were a beautiful packaged goods company, making entertainment, software equipment and packages, shrink wrapping it, shipping it out to retailers and big trucks, making a lot of money and then just going on and repeating it the next cycle, and we could see the internet coming, we could see digital distribution coming, we could see online interactivity coming, but what we didn’t seem to be able to do was to change fast enough to keep up with the pace of those changes. And even though we were preparing, and we talked about the difficulties of being a market leader and how market leaders often fall because they were entrapped in their own legacy organization, we were working with a certain kind of customer, and the market changes quickly, and so we could see it coming but we just couldn’t change fast enough, and when you’re trying to preserve an existing business it just takes up so much of your time and energy and it was precarious for a number of years before we were able to balance out both retail and, for us, a digital transformation. So, I’m happy to say now – well we’re out of the hospital, we think, and we’re about fifty-percent retail and about fifty-percent digital now, probably on our way to more like eighty-percent digital, twenty-percent retail in the future. So interesting phenomenon. You can see it coming and you can start to move. It’s just that we underestimated how quickly the market would move and we underestimated how hard it would be to change our DNA, our culture, our practices and our mindset, so when all of those things combined it made for a very exciting number of years.

And my next question was on what you learned but it sounds like you already answered that when you talked about changing your practices, changing your culture, changing your mindset. So what are the big things, what’s different this time around, because I think you also said your markets are still moving quite significantly and that the threat is always there of finding yourself back in this position? So what’s changed now? Maybe from a leadership point of view for instance, what do leaders do today that they didn’t do ten years ago in your company?

Yeah, good question. First of all, we’ve won an award two times in a row, Mark, which is called the Worst Company in the World, and it was put out by a small website and we took that really as a rallying cry – ‘How in the world would be the worst consumer company?’ – and so we really dedicated ourselves to more deeply understanding and working with our players, and when you think about a retail model, you’re not that close to your players. Your products go out to a retailer, you’re not in contact with your players day to day, so one of our biggest changes was to get really close to our players. So, here’s an example. Today, when we launch a game, for instance, we just launched a game called Battlefield which is a shooter game in Stockholm. We had five thousand people compete and win the opportunity to play that game for a gazillion hours before it launched and give us critical feedback. In the past, we would have had some play testing and brought in some players but now we have these dedicated groups of fanatic players that are really on our side. They’re our allies rather than our enemies on chat and bulletin boards critiquing our games, they’re out there trying to help us make better games. So each of our different genres or sports games and so forth will have players, they’ll come into our locations or they will specially participate digitally and they’ll work with us for years all just for the love of gaming so that’s a good example.

So, leaders are required to be far more connected with customers than perhaps might have been the case before, where as you say you had a channel between you which obviously made that connection harder to achieve I should imagine?

Yeah. So, it might be useful to just say how we changed our strategic intent in the company, and so instead of having profitability, and revenue goals, and market share goals, and those become the dominant focus, we changed the company to have three strategic objectives. The first one is called ‘Player First’, and even the language to us was a change in our mental set, meaning, players are what’s most important. If we can take care of our players, everything else will follow. So, an example would be instead of releasing a game that would have been good in the eyes of our CFO for our quarterly earnings, we might hold that game back even for as long as a year until we thought the quality was high enough to really fulfill that promise of Player First so that’s a big change in a corporation which has shareholders, and schedules, and expectations. Our second objective was the digital transformation so that meant everyone in the company was working on turning the company into a digital organization. Digital in the way we work inside the organization, virtually, digital in the way we would make our products, and digital in the way we would reach our products and games out through our distribution channels, digitally. Mark, here comes the third strategic objective for us and it’s called ‘One Team’. Electronic Arts is a company built largely by the acquisition of creative studios, and so you have a creative studio in major cities around the world but they work very independently, and so One Team is the idea of all those studios working together. So now when we have a major game release, people from across all of those studios will pitch in and work on that game and so instead of having two hundred people in a studio to work on a game, we’ll literally have a thousand five hundred people getting ready to polish and finish a game in a way that does two things. One, it puts players first because it’s as high quality as we can possibly imagine, and secondly, it’s as digital as we possibly can. So, interesting for us on an organizational evolution transformation basis, One Team has turned out to be maybe the most important objective because it’s enabled the player first and the digital transformation to really work.

And so within that context, I think you mentioned innovation is clearly a very fast moving market where new technology is coming in and shaping the experience, virtual reality, a lot of the technology comes into this market very quickly, but what about innovation? How do you think about innovation in the company, because I think you’ve got an interesting taxonomy and distinctions between the breakthrough and disruptive innovation versus what I call ‘small i innovation’. I’m interested in how you think about nurturing that innovation and making sure it remains in the DNA of the company?

Mark, one of the things we’re so fortunate to have in our company is a very creative and a very innovative mindset. So people come here because they want to make leading edge, new entertainment. They want to do things which are different so we don’t ever have to rally the troops to be more innovative or creative. Our challenge is how to channel that huge amount of energy and so we think about innovation in three categories. As you said, ‘Little i’, what we call ‘Incremental’. The second one would be something we would call ‘breakthrough’, and then the third one would be what we call ‘Disruptive’. Let me just tell you a little bit about each of those three categories. So, Incremental means taking an existing idea or concept and making it better, and making it better features elements that require innovation and for many years our game teams didn’t consider that to be a form of innovation. They wanted to do the other two forms of innovation. They either wanted to do Breakthrough or they wanted to do Disruptive, which, if a whole company is trying to change the company innovation, you just can’t handle that amount of change, you need a certain amount of consistency. So we’ve kind of helped people understand and appreciate that Small i innovation, Incremental innovation, we’re just tuning and improving, but still innovation and change is important and we actually try and measure a little bit of that and we actually think that’s maybe about eighty percent of our innovation portfolio is in that Incremental category.

What kind of measures do you use for that?

We measure – well, that’s an interesting question. What is quality and what is innovation in entertainment, which is so much of a creative world? We are working on defining what we think is quality, which means meeting and exceeding our players’ expectations but specifically in a set of dimensions, talking about the experience players will have with our games and so we measure the impact of innovation on the player’s experience. So, when players are more surprised, more delighted more amazed, more pleased, more immersed in our games and those would all be dimensions that we would measure, that’s our measure of innovation working. So, remember, we have fifty innovation ideas by lunchtime, our challenge isn’t that. It’s deciding which ones to invest in, which ones to go with, and so we’re working more on testing and experimenting rather than just using intuition, so we call that the combination of science and art. So, art is the creative, intuitive approach and science is the analytic and data-based approach. And so many of our innovations today we can test. We can test either while they are a live service, so, AB testing, or we can test them in development. So those are all small i. The breakthroughs, those are really doing new things and getting a game or a genre or an experience to be the best in the world, and in the entertainment business, if you’re not the top two or three best forms of a genre, you’re out of the money, you’re not going to be profitable, so it’s a tremendous pressure to be the absolute best in the category and so we’ll spend time on that kind of innovation. And then in the third one, that Disruptive innovation, of course, that’s when everyone’s kind of trying to figure out where is the world of entertainment and gaming going in the future. Imagine today that you sit in front of a screen with your friends to play a game Disruptive Innovation is going to be – I don’t know, you know? Maybe in five or six years, you’ll go into a room, you will not have a controller in your hands, there will not be screens and you’ll have a play experience. There might be other people physically in the room with you but there will certainly be people there digitally. Your friends will be there having an entertaining experience. That’ll be a disruptive form of innovation. Now to get at that, you have to place a lot of bets. We have some R&D labs inside the company, we look outside the company to find partners to work with, all trying to figure out what will be the next really Disruptive innovation as we would rather not go through another near-death experience again if that would be OK with you.

I’m curious. When you’re working at Singularity, I guess there’s probably quite a lot of deja-vu. I’m assuming you’re surrounded by executives who are worried about being disrupted, be they in FinTech, be they in AgTech. Do you feel that you’re ahead of the curve, you’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and you’re better equipped than perhaps some of your peers who are showing up at Singularity University looking for some answers to these big questions?

Yes. Certainly, people show up at Singularity looking for help to change the mindset of their organizations around innovation and Singularity is a great place to have that experience and the people, the staff at Singularity, they’re the ones actually in many cases that are enemies of companies like Electronic Arts. They get up every morning going, ‘I wonder how we could kill those guys? I wonder how we could disrupt them? I wonder how we could take exponentially changing technologies and completely rearrange what they’re doing?’. Fortunately, by the way, Singularity has a very social purpose dimension to it so it uses that technology to focus on solving some of the world’s biggest problems like hunger, social justice, health care, and nutrition, so corporate types like myself can go down and participate with Singularity and not feel guilty that we’re going to kill our home companies.

This is a nice segue. You have a belief that you can teach and practice innovation so this is the most interesting part I think for our guests, the story. How do you actually use your technologies, the gaming technologies and also the insights that you gained from having survived this near-death experience to train your leaders? What does it look like if you’re put on to a leadership development program, a high potential program for young leaders for instance in your company? What can they expect versus a more traditional GE like leadership development program?

Yes, yeah good question. Well, first of all, we never rest. We’re always restless with what we offer our leaders so we never offer the same thing over and over again. We’re always trying to change. Some of it works really great and we’ll learn from that, and some of it doesn’t work so good, so probably a foundational thing is always to try and be innovative in the way you develop your leaders, and the people then delivering that leadership content never feel stale or they never feel like they’re in a comfort zone, everything feels a little raw. We wouldn’t necessarily be the most polished and glitzy leadership development experience you might imagine. We think a lot about the future. We use people like Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future, we use Futurists, we spend a lot of time thinking about what will the environment and the organization of the future be like and then we aim our leaders not on what they’re doing today but on developing themselves for those future leadership competencies. And then, Mark, the way we help people get better is by practice and when you think about leadership there aren’t really a lot of places where you get to practice, right? Most leadership is the real thing. You’ve got real people, real organization, real business going, so in a practice environment we’ll have our real executives come in and we’ll do simulations and challenges. We call them games. They’re pretty serious games. You’re up in front of maybe the CEO, so the stakes are very real but you’re not necessarily trying to run your business unit, and we feel like that playful attitude, and playful doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re not serious and intent but it does mean once in a while they’ll be laughing because they’re trying on something new, it feels a little strange, feels a little awkward, they’ll laugh at themselves, they’ll laugh at their colleagues in a constructive way, but that, ‘I’m going to have fun, I’m going to be experimenting, I’m going to have a sense of humor’, is just tremendously valuable in getting people in a learning mindset. So, all of our experiences are, if you will, kind of game based. Now they might not necessarily be software games but they have a challenge and people suspend a little bit of reality to go in there and play those things. And so, if you came, by the way, Mark, you’d see we never lecture. We never have an expert stand up and say, ‘This the way you should do it’. We give people ideas and concepts and then we give them the practice feel or a game feel and say, ‘Have fun, try it out.’

One of the things that I’d love to get into is how you train people for failure or for the inevitable bumps in the road because clearly within any kind of innovative environment, things never go according to plan, there are always errors or miscalculations or you just don’t get the results you’re looking for. How do you think about failure either individually or organizationally in your company?

Yes. We as an entertainment company, as a hits based company, it is inevitable that some of the games that you wished were big hits aren’t, and those are big disappointments and there are financial setbacks and there are all the things you would think about with failure. We make an effort not to necessarily have a mindset of failure about them. We’re trying to have a mindset around learning, so ‘What did I learn from that effort? Was there something I forgot? Was there something I missed?’. If you think about your own personal leadership, we always think about learning as opposed to failing so that gets people thinking about, ‘I’m willing to try a new situation, something that I’m not necessarily familiar or effective with’, and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about failure. When it happens, people are discouraged about that from time to time because they’re very intense or they’re very achievement oriented, but we spend a lot of time learning and then sharing those insights with other leaders or other parts of the company and that seems to give people a sense of accomplishment – ‘OK well I wasn’t successful at exactly what I set out to do but I learned something that’s going to be valuable for me and for my colleagues in the future’ and so we get a lot of value out of that. We do a lot of retrospective work and we share that information across our teams. For instance, in three weeks we’ll have a developers conference here on our corporate campus, we’ll have about three hundred and fifty of our senior game developers will come in and they will talk about what didn’t go well and learn from each other. So that’s our thought, we don’t put a big emphasis on failure, we put a big emphasis on learning and reaching for the dream.

And any specific – do you do things like pre-mortems or do you set very clear explicit learning targets at the outset, or is it more that’s how you debrief and there’s a focus on the learning but it’s not explicit at the outset?

Yeah, Mark, what’s interesting about our company is it’s a real combination of process, guidelines, practices and then just pure creativity, and so we try and marry those things together so that creatives have a period to just do the completely unmappable creative process intermixed with a systematic development process for our games and so we have what we call milestones, we call them ‘gates’ here at Electronic Arts, and when you get to a gate you’ll have done, as you call it, a pre-mortem around what we think success will be in the future and if we have failures and problems what we think they will be. We’ll also have done a retrospective on all the development we’ve done to date. Many of our games take three, four, five years to develop so it’s a long cycle in which you’re still trying to stay relevant to the marketplace and so each of those gates our creative people will go through a more systematic ‘What have we learned so far and how is that going to change the way we work going forward?’

And presumably this is very fluid because as we said earlier on, your markets are moving very quickly, the technologies are moving very quickly. I’m curious as to how do you personally remain fresh and ensure that what you’re putting into EA university, for instance, is fit for purpose in preparing the organization for the next five to ten years because I guess your point – we talked about Canada earlier on, you’ve got to skate to where the puck’s going, right?

Yes. Good question. I think we do a number of things. First of all, we’re not a physically separate organization. Our team is globally distributed, we sit out with the business teams from time to time, we go out and distribute, and me personally I’ve worked out in the business three or four times we’ll take leads if you will and go out and work in the business so that keeps us relevant and understanding what those game teams are experiencing. We have over time built up if you will, an alumni of leaders and they come in and work with our next generation of leaders so we have line leaders developing our newer leaders, so they bring that relevance and an expertise. And then just personally, I guess you just never really think that you’ve completely got it understood or never really expect you’re going to get completely comfortable and confident so just kind of expect that and so we’re always looking for something new and different. Remember, our mantra is ‘Never try and help the organization learn twice exactly the same way’, so we’re always just trying to change it up.

Well, I presume your exposure to what’s going on in Singularity plus your work as an Innovation Advisor on a number of these boards, you’re also seeing the world from a number of privileged positions over and above what you’re doing with Electronic Arts?

That is super helpful to go see the innovation challenges of other companies, the ones that have a very strong culture and a success groove that now need to change, or those that have been historically always creative and agile. It’s great to go in and see what kinds of issues and problems that they’re having and how they go about solving them so I’m a member of a number of, also, informal no fee, no membership kinds of groups where we get together and just share ideas and practices and what’s going on helps us all just anticipate the future better.

I suppose the issues are unique to the industry or the company but are you able to see patterns or rhythms of trends or behaviors or responses happening across your network, or is it genuinely very specific to the organization and the industry and the leaders within that organization?

That’s a good question. To my eyes, there is a huge amount of similarity on the challenges around handling disruption, good patterns and dysfunctional patterns, most organizations have both, and some of the specific activities and practices that organizations have. Now exactly what they call their activities and exactly how they’re structured are often unique to them and their leaders but to my eyes, there’s just a huge amount of similarity in the challenges and in the difficulties and how hard it is to take an established company and move it forward. Mark, one of the things your question makes me think about, I’m an advisor to probably around a half a dozen startup companies. A couple of them literally are in garages, and so there’s nothing more refreshing to work with organizations which can only absorb the smallest, lightest weight, easiest, fastest, implement ideas around innovation and change, and so that’s a great discipline for a large company leader to go out and work with those organizations. When they’re only six or seven people you can’t propose a fifteen-person strategic action to go work on something for the next six or nine months. It’s going to be, ‘What are we going to do in the next four days and before our cash runs out?’

Yeah, it’s a very different type of energy. I’ve come out of a large corporation, I’m involved in a couple of startups and the issues are very different but one can learn from large companies but also as you say, you can learn from the small companies and take that experience back into the large companies too.

One of the things we do and have done in the past with our leader development programs is we’ll get them together for a few days, they’ll split into small startup companies whose objective is to disrupt and kill Electronic Arts and then they have to go pitch to investors at the end, and the investors will be an outside person and also be our own CFO and a couple of our line leaders. I’ll be darned, those people come up with really irritating ideas which are really destructive to us and they’re often very low-cost ideas that we’ve been thinking about something that would take millions and millions and they come up with something that would only cost thousands, so it’s just a good discipline to kind of go lightweight like that for a period of time.

Well, I think that’s one of the beauties of your model of innovation, by putting so much focus on Incremental innovation and making it clear that accounts for such a huge proportion of the innovation and the business. It liberates everyone to think that you don’t have to come up with the greatest idea on the planet to make a difference because there are lots of incremental things you can do that have a compounding effect over time, right?

You’re so right, Mark. To my way of thinking, when you have innovation locked away in an R&D center and only a few people get to be creative and innovative, it sends the wrong message to most people that ‘you’re just the worker bees executing on the dull, boring part of the business’, and so if you celebrate Incremental innovation then everybody’s an innovator and everyone’s creative and it’s a much more enlivening, energizing mindset.

Yeah. It’s democratic but it also engages every single person in the organization versus perhaps only those who feel they’re worthy of being called innovators with a big I.

Exactly, yes, exactly right.

So, Andy, beginning to bring this to a close, I sent a couple of questions in advance. First question – what have you changed your mind about recently?

Yeah, I guess I changed my mind – so this is more of a personal note, Mark. I’m always just so interested in new ideas and new activities and Electronic Arts and this ecosystem I work in is very large so I’m always just trying to get involved with everything. So I think the thing I’ve changed my mind about recently is, you just can’t exponentially keep taking on more and more and more. You have to start to figure out where you really most want to concentrate and you have to start saying ‘no’ and so I never thought I would get to the edge of my energy resources or time but I guess I finally reached that place so what I’ve changed my mind about is, if you don’t say no once in a while you never really can say yes to things you most want to concentrate on.

Well, it’s interesting you say that. I’m a great fan of Warren Buffett and I watched his HBO documentary the other day. I don’t know, did you get to see it or not?

I haven’t seen that, no.

It’s very good and I’ve read most of the stuff that’s been written about it but this documentary was fascinating and they were talking about the famous meeting where Buffett and Gates met for the first time and I think Gates’s father asked each of them to write down on a piece of paper just after they’d met, ‘What was it that they found so interesting about the other?’ – no, ‘What was it they felt the other person had done that had contributed to their success?’ and they both wrote down the same word which was ‘focus’ and that really resonated with me because I think, particularly in these – you’re based on the West Coast I think, aren’t you?

Yes.

And the fear of missing out is alive and well with all the changes going on in your industry and all the areas, the things you’re exposed to. I guess it’s very easy to get dragged into the next shiny thing, and as you say, the exponential effect of doing that is, I suppose you run the risk of being ineffective across lots of things.

I hope I’ve changed my mind just in time, Mark.

Well, looking at what you’ve done in your track record it sounds like it hasn’t got in the way, but the question I suppose is, what’s possible once you make that new distinction? What else can you achieve, right? That would be the interesting question.

Yeah, good question.

So, next question. Do you have a personal work habit or practice you can share with our audience that has helped make you as effective as you have been in your career?

Yeah, that’s a good question. So, Mark, I’m a professional worrier meaning I stress about all the little details and issues around execution and producing activities and I think maybe someone could say that’s neurotic but I think that I try and channel that to intensively ripping apart everything that we are planning to do and look for the shortfalls and the problems and so, people will laugh – if we have a ten page deck, we’ll have a twenty-five page critique of it. We just find that helps us not get complacent, helps us not get overly confident in our material. We just always go looking for the problems, the issues, how that thing could maybe not work out, how might it not be as exciting or dynamic or have the impact that we want. We think about if people are going to have reservations about what would they be, if someone’s going to critique it what would they be, so we spend a huge amount of time doing that, and then when we finish something, we really go deep on that and we’ll spend literally hours and hours as a group going, ‘What did we like? What didn’t we like? What could be better? How will we change?’. We generate a whole new set of ideas. Either both the incremental ideas and then the – ‘Gee, what if we did something completely different and completely blew that up and went in a different direction?’ – so that’s a personal practice. It has a little wear and tear on it for the operator but it does keep us on our toes and we’re always improving.

Yeah, and then final question. What’s been your most significant low point or failure and what have you learned from it, and how have you applied that learning going forward?

Yeah, so let me start backwards here. One of the things I’ve learned is if you work an initiative that’s too long a time frame for the people that you’re working with, you lose energy, you lose mindshare and you don’t get the accomplishment level that you would like, and so the example for me was, we had a set of leaders in the organization that were very interested in talking about what we had learned about Electronic Arts, game development and software development, and issues and problems with that and so we wrote a book about it. The book, however, had talked about a lot of problems that we had and it didn’t turn out to be a corporate praising book, it was a book about our issues and our problems.

Sounds like you’re being diplomatic there.

And people really loved it. The authors were all people from inside the company and they’d written in their area of expertise and they were all just filled with great stories. So, there was a leadership change and we had a contract, we were going to publish it externally and so as there was a changing there, they decided, ‘No, no, no, we can’t publish this’, so it’s published internally. If you come to work at Electronic Arts you’ll get it when you sign up and it does have a lot of very old, direct, candid stories about successes and failures. What I learned was you need to do things in a certain timeframe when you have your supporters and your allies there and there is the attention, and it went longer than a year and I learned quite a bit on that one, Mark.

The point I guess is that learning has now become part of the DNA of the organization. Is that fair to say?

Definitely. Fortunately, Electronic Arts has been a big beneficiary of that. We’ve got chapters on all the disciplines of making games. We had wished that a larger part of the world could get a chance to share in that, in those insights.

So, Andy, this has been fascinating. I was very keen to get you on the show because a lot of our guests from the corporate world are in less technified, more long product life cycle, more regulated industries than yours, so this is great to get your insights into how innovation really works in this industry. Where can people get in touch with you if they’re interested to learn more?

They can just reach me at my email address which is just abillings@ea.com, and I try to respond to as many of them as I can.

Wonderful, and are you on Twitter or LinkedIn or any of the other social media platforms as well?

I’m on LinkedIn. I don’t do a lot of Twitter work. I guess part of the challenge is what we can say and what we can’t say and being careful about that on social media, and as an entertainment company, we’re pretty careful about that so a lot of what I have to say is internal to the company.

Yeah OK. We’ll put your LinkedIn address in the show notes as well, but really very much enjoyed this conversation, very grateful for Bob Johansen for connecting us and look forward to meeting you in person one of these days but thank you very much for your time, Andy.

Mark, thanks so much for an interesting conversation.

Great. Have a good day.

Thank you.

Bye.

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