Thirty five + years of projects

I realized the other day that most people grow up thinking in terms of professional affiliations. “I’m going to be an accountant.” “I’m going to work for General Dynamics.”

Somehow, I always thought of my career as a series of projects, not jobs. Projects… things to be invented, funded and shipped. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and last, other times, they flare and fade. But projects, one after the other, mark my career. Lucky for me, the world cooperated and our entire culture shifted from one based on long-term affilitations (you know, ‘jobs’) to projects.

I had a two-part approach to building a career about projects. The first was to find a partner who was willing to own the lion’s share of the upside in exchange for advancing resources allowing me to create the work (but always keeping equity in the project, not doing it merely for hire). Publishers are good at this, and it enabled me to bootstrap my way to scale. The second was to grow a network, technology and the confidence to be able to take on projects too big for the typical solo venture. Complicated projects, on time, is a niche that’s not very crowded…

The stages of a project—being stuck, seeing an outcome, sharing a vision, being rejected, finding a home, building it, editing it, launching it, planting the seeds for growth—I’m thrilled it’s a cycle I’ve been able to repeat hundreds of times over the years.

There’s a difference between signing on to someone else’s project and starting your own. The impresario mindset of initiation and improvisation are at the heart of the project. It’s yours, you own it. Might as well do something you’re proud of, and something that matters, because it’s your gig.

Over time, the project world has changed. Thanks to digital tools, it’s cheaper than ever to build and launch something based on content. Distribution is far faster and cheaper as well. We used to need a publishing partner or a partner with a platform (a record label, a media company…) to get the word out; now, in many cases, this adds time and hassle without creating sufficient benefit. Because it’s easier to launch, we can spend more time focusing on what the audience wants, as opposed to merely pleasing (and pitching) the middleman. On the other hand, that makes it a lot harder to dig in and create, because there isn’t that moment where someone says, “yep, I’ll publish it…”

For me, the trick is not to represent the client, or the publisher, or the merchant. The trick is to represent the project, to speak up for the project, to turn it into what it needs to be. And over the years, I’ve found that each project gets just a little more personal than the one that came before.

The lack of a gatekeeper presents a fascinating shift, now. It used to be that the gatekeeper was somewhat of a partner, a ying to your yang, a safe way to find out something might not resonate. Now, it’s so much easier to go straight to market that we need to find our own internal compass, something to replace the external one we all used to depend upon…

Here are a handful of the projects I’ve created and shipped over the last three decades–not my favorites, necessarily, or the biggest, but ones that indicate where I was when I was doing them. This is way more self-referential than I’m usually comfortable with, but the combination of timing and the specifics that come from the example made me think it was worth posting a chronology. Happy anniversary, and thanks for letting me create…

1985 - Digital MacGyver

1985 - Glacier National Park

1986 - Stockmans Brewery

1987 - Moose's Saloon, Montana

1987 - Namco

1987 - Atari

1988 - Big Mountain Ski Resort

1989 - Missoula Schools - Hellgate Highschool

1990 - MCAT

1991 - USAF

1994 - Founding of Lonestar Unlimited 

1995 - Aladdin Castle

1997 - Move to Portland Oregon

1997 - Sierra Entertainment Systems - Game Designer - Military Advisor

2004 - U.S. Department of Energy - Computer Forensic Technician

2004 - Discover-e Legal

2005 - Legal Tech NY

2006 - London is calling, big trip to London England for Computer Forensics Training.

2007 - Vernian Design Company

2008 - Washington Companies

2008 - Aivea

2008 - Port of Seattle

2008 - Nike

2009 - Weyerhaeuser

2009 - Port of Portland

2009 - Slalom Consulting

2009 - Disney

2009 - City of Garland

2010 - Standard Insurance

 

2010 - HomeDepot

2010 - Portland SharePoint User Group - Take on President of Non-Profit User Group

2011 - Columbia Sportswear

2011 - Microsoft Innovations Conference - Speaking on Retention, Records Management, and Litigation Readiness

2011 - Columbia Distributing

2012 - Portland Trailblazers

2012 - Blount - Oregon Chain

2012 - Microsoft

2013 - Lattice Semiconductor

2013 - Aequitas Capital Management

2014 - SharePoint Innovations

2014 - Delta 1 Advisors

2015 - Welocalize

 

2016 - Move to Montana

2017 - Jenner and Block, Chicago

2020 - City of Bend, Oregon

2020 - Shane Co.

2021 - Well, that happened.

2021 - Goodwill Industries of Georgia

2021 - Colorado School of Mines

2022 - Travel Oregon

2022 - Red Clay Consulting

2023 - Downward Dog Training

2023 - The big move is upcoming, shift to Bend Oregon

Drip by drip.

What an opportunity each of us now has to create a project worth making.

Image by David Marcu

BRAVE A NEW TRAIL ON PURPOSE

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