It's Tuesday, 28 September, 2023 in Portland, Oregon and this has been a difficult newsletter to write because the words didn't fall out. But, I suppose they came out eventually.
Here we go, then.
I've been thinking about my consulting and freelance work over the last couple of months, now that I've been doing it about two years and seeing if there's anything I want to change.
The big thing I've learned is that I've been doing a mix of what Jared Spool calls hands work and brains work, and that my best work happens when I'm either doing one or the other, but not both. So this is a good time to think about what kind of work I want to do, why I want to do it, and setting up systems that support it.
What Spool calls hands work is when you have a problem and you know what to do. You just don't have enough hands to do it. You have a content strategy, you don't have enough content designers, you need more content designer hands. You have a devops practice, the devops practice is underresourced, you need more devops hands. This is being a freelancer or generally a contractor.
Spools says brains work is when you have a problem and you don't know how to fix it. Or when you've tried to fix it, it didn't do anything. Or your attempt to fix it made it worse. Or when you're stuck and going around in circles (which is, I suppose, merely a restatement or a clarification of one of the types of problem you might have above).
This isn't quite a distinction between capacity (hands) and capability (brains), although that concept feels close. It might be as simple as doing-and-deciding, which will fall into what also feels like a traditional "consulting is hard to describe and sell" trap.
Anyway. I've realized, belatedly, that what I'm great at is the brains-work. One way that I've figured this out is that hands-work is deliverables work. That deliverables work is mainly writing work and report work. It's been very hard, painful to admit, and come to the understanding that while I'm good at writing (at least, I've been told so), what has been consistently difficult is getting things out on time. This honestly, and candidly, is not good for anyone all around.
But at the same time, what I also get consistently great (or stunning, to be honest) feedback about is my process when working with clients, which is to say that working sessions go really, really well. They're problem solving sessions, strategy sessions: all brains-work, when my clients have problems they don't know how to solve and don't have the capacity or ways of thinking needed to get unstuck and move. Tritely, this can involve creating clarity, narrowing down and recommending decisions, and figuring out approaches to hand off to execute.
When I describe brains-work like the above, it instinctively feels true, but it also feels amorphous. I think that's because that's part of the inherent nature of brains-work, that it's the thinking part that comes before (or with!) the doing-part. If I were to stereotypically and ham-fistedly insert a Boydian reference, which parts of observe-orient-decide-act are brains-work, and which parts are hands-work? Where would you draw the lines, or what proportion of which parts of the loop are more brains-y or hands-y?
One particular issue is that traditionally and without intent, it's very easy to have some sort of hand-brain-hands sandwich in statements of work. Defaults push strongly toward "we need a thing at the end to prove to people that we all did something, we need an artifact to point at". How to square this with really, really, not wanting to do hands-work like writing or perhaps with a healthier attitude, concentrating on what I'm much, much better at (and more valuable at), which is the brains-work?
One way to do this is to just not offer end-of-engagement artifacts. Instead, just run a summary workshop, open up a collaborative document, and then take notes during the workshop. Then there's a thing, and it didn't take slamming anyone's head against a desk or keyboard until the right words in the right order came out. Spool suggested this because he's an incredibly smart person who has done this for a long time. It makes sense!
All of this is to say that the framing of brains versus hands has not only been incredibly useful in understanding and deciding about the kind of work I do and want to do, but also how to communicate that with clients to reduce any unhappiness or misunderstandings. What's the problem here? More brains? Or more hands? And if both are needed, that's fine: get some brains and some hands, and I can be clear about what it is that I bring.
I wrote yesterday about the glimmers of Yet Another Apple Videogame Strategy1 and about ten seconds after I sent it, I realized I'd completely forgotten about Apple Vision Pro, which was a super silly oversight to make. So, some quick notes:
So there's that, the Vision Pro stuff.
Then there's the "but are Apple actually serious this time?" Last time we thought Apple might have been serious was when they launched Apple Arcade and started throwing money at indie developers for interesting games. And then that stopped, and Apple Arcade appeared to double-down on Free Mobile Games that didn't have ads in them, which is certainly a thing! That makes sense, given the only real platform on which Apple Arcade exists. Apple Arcade is definitely not a nVidia GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud Streaming or whatever it's called now.
Some of the responses to the newsletter were along the lines of "well, if Apple were serious then it would court developers in the way that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo do" to bring titles over to their platform, I suppose in the way console platforms currently back up trucks of money to both ensure exclusivity, timed, whether short or long, and presence on a respective streaming or subscription platform. Microsoft's tragic court leak earlier this week revealed some of the figures Xbox offers to bring games to their subscription platform. They are a lot of money!
They are, even and maybe, the same kind of money that Apple has been investing in Apple TV. And if you want to understand how seriously a company is taking something, then one measure you can definitely look at is how much money it's spending. Back in March this year it was rumored that Apple would be spending up to a billion dollars a year just on movies2.
Why and when would it make sense for Apple to spend as much on videogames? The "things the videogames market is bigger than" list has now progressed to include:
The question I asked above though was why and when. If Apple does sell at least as many iPhones 15 Pro [sic] in the coming year as it did the iPhones 14 Pro [sic], then it'll have the equivalent of 50-odd million "best videogame consoles" in peoples' hands and yet not really enough console-class videogames for people to play on them. So! Perhaps there is a shit-ton of NDA money moving around to studios and publishers and all will be revealed over the course of the next 12 months. Perhaps we might see a back-catalogue start to appear over the next 12 months.
The other thing that is super weird about an Apple platform that's capable of console gaming is that there's some other players who might be interested in doing something. Netflix, in an attempt to continue growing, branched out into games and now offers free mobile games for subscribers. Netflix, as it started out streaming, plunked down a bunch of money to license IP, so maybe Netflix might do the same? They wouldn't run afoul of the whole "can't get GeForce Now on Apple Platforms as an app because of App Store rules" if they continue their existing strategy of deploying their subscriber apps as individual apps gated behind subscriber login.
All of which is to say, again, if Apple were genuinely interested in games and saw games as on opportunity, then one might expect to see investment along the lines of media (i.e. film and television) or even something like its Project Titan car development.
And that last part is an interesting one because games have, like I said last episode, never been that interesting to Apple, and I think that's partly because historically games have been seen as entertainment and media and not software. Apple supposedly courts software developers (well, to a certain degree, ask an indie Apple developer about how great the experience has been lately and I'm sure they'll tell you) and hasn't really been interested in media. Apple wouldn't throw hundreds of millions of dollars to get software developers to develop for Apple platforms, I don't think. The last time that happened might have been ensuring Office was available when Jobs came back. But media? Apple is spending hundreds of millions - billions of dollars - on media.
OK, that's it for now. It's late and I've got to stop and I have to admit I'm not entirely happy with this episode. I got a bunch replies about patient experience (which pinged off a bunch more reckons) that I wanted to get down, too.
How have you been?
s16e03: It's the Unique Integration of the Hardware, the Silicon, and the Software, Stupid, 27 September, 2023, me ↩
Apple Reportedly Plans to Spend a Billion Dollars per Year on Movies, Andrew Blok, 23 March, 2023, Cnet ↩
Videogames are a bigger industry than movies and North American sports combined, thanks to the pandemic, Wallace Witowski, 2 January, 2021, Marketwatch ↩
Microsoft, regulators tangle in court over fate of $69 billion deal that could reshape video gaming, Michael Liedtke, 21 June, 2023, AP News ↩