Whilst three strengths were the same (in bold), two new ones appeared. I wonder how much this survey is affected by the actual job, I do day to day. My work has changed since I last filled out the survey.
My core top five Strengths:
You love to learn.
The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you.
Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”
Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person.
You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.
The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.
It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.
You are a conductor.
When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible. In your mind there is nothing special about what you are doing. You are simply trying to figure out the best way to get things done. But others, lacking this theme, will be in awe of your ability. “How can you keep so many things in your head at once?” they will ask. “How can you stay so flexible, so willing to shelve well-laid plans in favor of some brand-new configuration that has just occurred to you?” But you cannot imagine behaving in any other way. You are a shining example of effective flexibility, whether you are changing travel schedules at the last minute because a better fare has popped up or mulling over just the right combination of people and resources to accomplish a new project. From the mundane to the complex, you are always looking for the perfect configuration. Of course, you are at your best in dynamic situations. Confronted with the unexpected, some complain that plans devised with such care cannot be changed, while others take refuge in the existing rules or procedures. You don’t do either. Instead, you jump into the confusion, devising new options, hunting for new paths of least resistance, and figuring out new partnerships—because, after all, there might just be a better way.
Command leads you to take charge.
Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
People who are especially talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.
People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
People who are especially talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.
People who are especially talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
People who are especially talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.
People who are especially talented in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.
People who are especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.
People who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.
People who are especially talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.
People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.
People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
People who are especially talented in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone in the world with consistency by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.
Maybe you are a Director, a Head of X or a Vice President, and you now own a department or multiple teams. Moving from a front line leader i.e managing Individual Contributors (IC) to leaders of other teams – requires a shift in leadership style, decision making, coaching topics, and evolving strategic/abstracted perspective. This blogpost and the following posts will attempt to explore these differences and my thoughts on them.
Leaders are not born, they are made from experience – for some reason they stood up and led. Effective leaders help us overcome limitations, they help us do more and bigger things than we can do alone. They get the best out of people. They build a better future, looking at potential rather than being stuck with baggage of the past.
The hard thing about stepping up leadership through the levels is the number of stakeholders increases, and how you make decisions will have to change to be successful, or you will fail. This is best laid out in an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style.
Are you a leader or a manager?
“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”
I believe a Leader is an evolution beyond just a manager. It’s not a title, it’s how you do the job – where you are breaking new ground with your people and with the area/topic/business you are in charge of. You are creating something new. You are defining and evolving strategy. You are inspiring more from your people than they could do alone.
With this said, I have met great managers who were poor leaders and great leaders who were poor managers. Context matters a lot here, as not all cultures or leaders encourage the best from each person. It is easy to forget that we are each unique, especially when we are encouraged to call humans a resource.
Evaluating your Leaders
Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents.
They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.
You need a method that helps you evaluate your leaders, and maybe HR already uses one. Below are a couple others if your organization does not yet have a clear framework for leadership and leadership development.
There are a lot of good tools to assess each of your leaders, and one of my favorites is the Talent Dimension introduced in a report by Gallup on Management:
I would strongly recommend you read their report, which gives you a basic view of their capabilities. It’s a good starting place.
Korn/Ferry International has a report that evaluates managers’ skills with a focus on how to develop them. It has 15 skills and a table to define them:
- Time Management
- Action Oriented
- Business Acumen
- Ethics and Values
- Building Effective Teams
- Command Skills
- Conflict Management
- Decision Quality
- Developing Direct Reports (those you manage) and Others
- Managing Vision and Purpose
- Motivating Others
Checking in with a leader’s team on regular basis is also important, as well as with their stakeholders. After you have gathered this information, make sure you circle back to the leader and get their perspective in a timely fashion. Work to separate the agenda, politics, personality, and the actual work from each person or group.
I would suggest that for each leader you have reporting to you, create a document and write down your thoughts and questions you want to ask, and keep it through out the whole year. Add wins and feedback you get throughout the year. This will help you during performance reviews and to spot patterns you wish to encourage or discourage. It will also help you avoid cognitive bias e.g. recency effect, poor memory or only remembering the fires/crises.
Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose
Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, lists three elements of the motivation formula: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In situations where people are paid fairly, this trio drives, engages, and stimulates us to do our best work. Whilst I often see good leaders work hard to deliver all three of these for their teams who are Individual Contributors, I have noticed that more senior leaders begin to neglect Mastery or Leadership Development for leaders at mid level. There is often an over-reliance on ‘learn on the job’, with little opportunity for reflection or professional coaching. A great leader is great at feedback and coaching.
That said, to a large degree your boss defines your actual level of autonomy and the organization defines the level of discovered purpose (e.g. startups are still looking for market fit, whereas a large company like Apple understands its market fit and is evolving it). In a larger organization, the level of autonomy will often be reflected through organisation culture and will either flow from the top, or else middle “management” will create a level of protection for those under their wings.
On an even bigger abstraction, the sector you are working in will impact autonomy, e.g. Banking is very regulated in most countries, thus the sector is reflected in the risk-taking of C-Suite and Board decisions, which is also influenced by perceptions of investor tolerance.
Support and Grow Leaders
Explicit communication (i.e. no telepathy), effective feedback and coaching for leaders is vital. Every decision they make can cost money, a project deadline, a member of staff, etc. Thus they need it more than an individual contributor. The reality is that “we” think managers can manage and thus give them less time or less training or less face time.
- Have regular, consistent 1 to 1’s with all the people that report to you i.e. that you manage
- Do not build collections of feedback, help them understand what they are getting right and not.
- Be careful of building patterns of behavior from separate incidents, ensure you know the real context from all sides. Weak Leaders who are too decisive and judgmental people have a habit of creating a pattern and than forcing all the behavior into that pattern e.g. tunnel vision. And we are all weak sometime.
- Agree on a method for separating operational, strategic, and career oriented sessions. e.g. have your leader send you a regular (weekly) operational email, and ask them to point out what needs to be discussed. Have 1 to 1s every week and have a monthly check-in with them which can be an extended 1 to 1.
- Be open and approachable – if people think you are judgmental they will not be open or honest with you.
- Grow team strength – Through meeting as a team discussing purpose, review if you achieving that purpose together. Spend social time together. Learn together.
- Have a clear plan for growing their capabilities.
- Create psychological safety. Have you ever been in a room of leaders where no one speaks up? This is usually a sign of lack of psychological safety. A lack of psychological safety (e.g. when a director is judgmental) limits the risk-taking of managers in suggesting creative or innovative solutions, or in raising real concerns. This can stunt their leadership growth.
- High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
- How To Build Psychological Safety On Your Team
- Take regular surveys on Psychological safety
- Do not make them guess, if you have an opinion or made a decision, tell them, own it. Explain the Why. The worse leaders I have served have all done this e.g. made me guess, hint, telepathy, etc.
Good books/reports on leadership:
- The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
- The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
- Principles: Life and Work
- Building the Leadership Skills that Matter
- Strengths Finder 2.0
- Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest
- The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management
- Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Why am I talking about this?
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
My own experience so far includes leading teams (24 in total), departments and organizations. Here one post about leading software engineers. In each I have had successes and failures, and both have provided valuable lessons. I have also been in a leader in multiple countries, and had to evolve and learn multiple national cultures, here is what I learned moving to the US.
My first “department” was running a kitchen (I was the Head Chef). I have since led an organization of 330 staff, then multiple departments with 600 people, and later several departments with 21,000 people total. My experience is a mixture of Government, Political, Non Profits, and Private sectors.
You can see my full career history on Linkedin.
I will break up the rest of my thoughts into four more posts. Below is a summary of what I will cover in each post:
1) Lead by Example
“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
Harold S. Geneen
Your behaviors are contagious
- Build trust, with those you manage/reports through being authentic, clear in communication and consistent
- Stay empathetic and thoughtful whilst remaining proactive and decisive
- Always be learning and stay open to new possibilities
- Keep your empathy and humility while you evolve through this journey
- Be a boss that reports(those you manage) want to work for
- Manage your Ego
- Admit your failures and help people learn from failures and grow from them
- Advocate for your people and their needs
- Advocate for your Brand and Business
2) Create strategy. Build an environment for execution. Adapt.
“After a business implements a strategy, competitors will react, and the firm’s strategy will need to adapt to meet the new challenges. There is no stopping point and no final battle. The competitive cycle continues on perpetually. Produce and compete or perish”
Thomas Timings Holme
- Understand the business
- Align with business goals
- Have a plan and deliver it
- Balance the needs of stakeholders and those of your team
- Measure improvements and failure, but do not let metrics define you
- Be good at change management through early involvement
- Advocate for your department
- Make decisions, be decisive without being judgmental
- Be consistent in reporting
- Pay Attention to the real world customers and to competitors
3) Grow others & always be learning
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
- Catalyze the growth of others by facilitating opportunities for achievement, leadership and learning
- Encourage creativity and evolve it to Innovation
- Be great at coaching and feedback
- Grow Leaders and find the right career path
- Spend time growing your team as a team
- Have a framework for Team performance
- Encourage Diversity, manage the growth it takes to be diverse
- Be great at handovers, make change easier with involvement and prep
- Build out training for each career path that is important to you
- Build momentum through on-boarding in a well thought out way
4) Understand and evolve the culture
“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”
Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
How we do things around here
- Strive to build a positive, transparent and constructive culture
- Understand and define cultural principles, together
- Build Psychological safety/Trust across your team
- Understand failure, how to manage your emotions and make it part of evolution
- Appreciate Structure and how it creates barriers, silos and stupid behaviors
- How does your physical environment affect people’s work
- Authentic recruitment – Culture fit vs Culture Add
- Celebrate and learn when people leave
- Encourage everyone to own appreciation and celebration
- Empathy vs rational decision making
- Understand when you are overwhelmed
5) Get Results
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
Sir Winston Churchill
- Through all the above, produce results for the business and for customers
Within each post I will ask questions and recommend books and posts that I have found helpful
This is a post about what I learned from Improv at Second City and my journey. In August 2017, I signed up to Secondcity’s Improv Express Level 1. I have now just finished Level D, with one more level left.
I have organized it so you can get to Why, myths and how it helps out in the “real world” first. If you care for my journey and what I learnt, that follows.
Why did I sign up?
- I wanted more laughter in my life
- Good way to meet new people
- Always looking for the next thing to challenge myself with
- I wanted to add more to my RPGing (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons)
What myths had I heard about Improv, before I started?
You have to be funny – Not true – The classes and the exercises lead you to commit fully to what you are doing. Those who were not trying to be funny were actually easier to play with.
“Don’t Go Onstage to be Funny. Make Relationships.”
He went on to say, in so many words, that audiences like to see relationships developed on stage, and that the “funny” will happen without having to force it IF relationships are made and the behavior is truthful.
You have to be a natural performer. – Not true – Improv focuses more on the commitment you give and the energy with it. Most of us are not natural at anything (ok, I will give you breathing), we learn through experience and classes and exercises speed this up. You will become a better performer through playing the games.
You really have to understand American Culture. – 20% true – No doubt this helps, but you learn from your class and your class learns from you (about your culture). The fusion is something unique.
Do Improv classes help outside of Acting?
Here are some of the areas that Improv classes will help you with, in your real life:
- Improvisation breaks down the barrier between mind and voice. It increases the mind’s ability to form ideas, and present them in a coherent, relevant manner. Maybe creativity, innovation, brainstorming helps in your life?…
- Listening is a skill with definitive benefits to any job that involves humans. Also it is good to hear large vehicles approaching…
- Concentration skills, helping you to ‘tune in’ to aspects of communication that you might not have previously noticed.
- Flexibility in your thinking means constantly reframing the situation, adjusting to the conversation you truly find yourself in, not the one you want to be in.
- Improvisers think on their feet and recognize opportunities as they arise, rather than dismissing so much due to bad “critical thinking”
Why Second City?
Most of the people I spoke to about Improv had good things to say about Second City. Also Second City is just a 20 mins walk from home for me.
Here are the full options I explored:
- Annoyance – Taking care of your partner by taking care of yourself, the art of improv, and creating original shows. Mike Napier is the founder and has a unique approach read his post here
- ComedySportz – short form & Keith Johnstone games.
- IO – Long Form and The Harold. Del Close / Charna Halpern
- Second City – Short Form (Viola Spolin games), Sketch, Writing, Directing and a lot more
I should state that everyone who gave me advice said “start with one school and then move to another”. Play with different ensembles, and learn to trust all. The diversity will evolve your skills.
At Second City in Chicago, there are a lot of options for classes. The standard Improv track is one night or afternoon a week. There are a lot of times to choose from. There is also Express Improv, which is two nights a week. I chose Express as it suits my learning style well.
What did I learn from Improv, so far?
- Commit FULLY – Be bold and CLEAR – Get the fuck out of that chair..
- Remembering to PLAY again, be MORE spontaneous and be present today, right NOW MoFo
- Make a choice – Be decisive but not judgmental
- Give gifts, statements, the ridiculous, do not be timid, you aint a little lamb, you are A HUMAN, unless you are, a little lamb..
- DO NOT BE BORING
- Taking unknown or unstated facts and shaping them to a new perception or new environment
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
- It’s fun to make the other person look good
- ..but this do not mean you cannot initiate some crazy of your own
- Do not take yourself so seriously, this is a team sport!
- Play positive…
- Yes And
- Sometimes going with the flow is fun, NOT every great idea is yours
- Be accepting to others’ gifts, every statement becomes the truth
- Taking others ideas and understanding it better, or from a different approach
- Listening like a MoFo
- When someone expresses a feeling, acknowledge it and take it somewhere
- There are no failures, only revelations. Failure is learning. Mistakes should not slow you down, just learn from them
- Watching shows at Annoyance, ComedySportz, IO and Second City, helps you evolve your skills and ideas.
- “the truth is funny”, and that all we need to do is get out of the way to find it
Improv Level A: Ensemble and Play
Murder Staba Yellow Catfish Ensemble = Angela, David, Eric, Gwen, John, Rose, Skyler, Will
Teacher = Cynthia Bangert, she was incredible supportive, and a great teacher to have as our first for SecondCity. You know its Cynthia because she has a scarf.
“Students get up and play a variety of exercises and games. These exercises and games train the analytical side of the brain to focus on simple goals, freeing the creative side and silencing the negative thoughts that can make us freeze in performance (or in life, for that matter). These games are high energy cooperation and a ton of fun to play.”
Level A – Second City
It seems that adulthood beats the shit out of our childlike wonder. This class helps you gain some of that back. We learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances, and to be comfortable being silly. We did a lot of silly and awkward things to overcome some of our fears of feeling awkward or fearing failure. Every class I left with energy and smiles. This was an awesome class. Even if you never do any other class, with the right teacher and group, this class will change you.
Some of the things we learned:
- How to play
- Object work – Passing invisible objects and maintaining the object shape
- Using Gibberish instead of English to focus on how to communicate without language
- How to show Emotions at different intensities
- Different ways to Heighten a scene e.g. tension
- Learn to be open to transformation of scene – sharing control of the scene
- Who = Relationships, define them quickly
- Where = Location, show your location through your conversation and actions
- What = activity/relationships dynamics
Improv B: Scene work
Murder Staba Yellow Catfish Ensemble = Angela, David Eric, Gwen, John, Rose, Skyler, Will
Teacher = Greg Komorowski, a smart Canadian teacher, who gave us a good range of feedback. Just call it FootBall…
..which emphasize ensemble building and freeing the creative, non-judgment part of the brain. Students also begin to improvise scenes, exploring exercises that isolate the different skills needed for successful scene work. Students also learn by observing classmates performing scenes, and receiving and observing instructor feedback.
Level B – Second City
Drilled in YES AND
- Be better with our Spacework: Objects/Environment
- Make statements in the scene to guide our partners – Assume Knowledge – Be Decisive
- Listening – Yes, AND Building & Reacting
- Everything is a gift = there are no mistakes
- Connecting with eye contact, build connection with your scene partners fast
- Beat your fear – go before you are ready
- Mirroring/Give & Take
Improv Level C: Character Work
Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz
Students learn how to improvise characters. They explore creating characters through internal motivations, like point of view, status, wants and intentions, and external ones, like experimenting with physicality. Students also continue to explore scene work in Improv Level C, learning how to perform three-person scenes, how to find the beats of scenes, and how to understand and apply subtext to scenes. They learn how to make choices in scenes that help define their character.
Level C – Second City
This class was a merger of two other classes plus one random, a very tall random. We had got comfortable with our previous two levels of class and now we had the opportunity to play with different people. I feel it took us a while to get to know each other. I had Sinus surgery the weekend before this class started and I was told not to do anything too energetic, drink or do anything fun, which meant that I didn’t have the energy to engage in the class the way I wanted to. However, I still got a lot out of it. The different people brought very different types of humor, characters and approaches.
The character class was less energy and a lot more thought provoking about who we are portraying and their relationship to the other characters.
- wants/intentions -> scenic subtext (actor objectives)
- point of view (I think)
- emotional perspective (I Feel)
Responding to character wants/intentions (aka ways to yes and to scenic offers)
- React honestly
- Provide obstacles
- Feed the beast
Internal Discovery of Character (Status)
indicated through behaviors: e.g. vocal, physical, space use, spine, conversational style
Beware of status traps!
- Character Status NOT EQUAL socioeconomic status or job title
- High Status NOT EQAL Villain or angry
- LO Status NOT EQUAL idiot or sad
scenic issue vs conflict/fighting between characters that don’t care about each other
a conflict that may arise between characters who care or need each other
Improv Level D: Advanced Scene Work
Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz
Teacher = Julia DiFerdinando, incredible amount of energy, she coached our skills to a much higher level.
Students explore advanced-level scene work. They focus on synthesizing all the elements that go into strong, well-rounded, dynamic scenes: character, emotion, ensemble, environment, relationship, status, transformation, and more. Students also continue to learn how to improvise group scenes, and receive an introduction to scene styles and genres.
Level D – Second City
We learnt a few new games, and essentially tried to tie together everything we had learned so far, to produce a performance. We focused on some of our collective weaknesses. It felt that everyone really grew in this class, whether it was to become more experimental, become better initiators, become a little more conscious of our effect on other people or more YES AND and less undercutting.
- Getting ready for performance – Practice, Practice, Practice
- Building strong initiations to scenes
- Exploring different characters
- Half A Musical Improv Class – this was real fun
- Played with a Level E group
Public Performance One – 16 Dec 2017
Barstool Philosophers 15th annual Toys for Tots Improv Show @ Den Theatre
Going Ape Ensemble = Mat, Eric, Pam, Chris, Amanda, Harry (Aka Garry)
Amanda was asked if she could get a gang together to be the warm up act for another Improv group, she grabbed some of her Second City ensemble and invited two strangers (Harry and I) to play with them. We rehearsed together for two hours, drank for a couple more and than the next day performed. The audience was great, the suggestions were fun and the person who invited us told us we “Killed it”.
Running Order – 20-30 mins
- Introduction, Host for Emotional symphony – Amanda
- Emotion Symphony – Chris, Eric, Harry, Mat and Pam (Suggestion pencil)
- Four Square – Chris, Eric, Pam, Harry -> Kevin Hosted
- Montarge – All In (Suggestion Star wars)
How did it feel?
The audience was warm, gave us good suggestions. It went really fast, there was a lot of laughter, some awkward but fun pauses.. I felt we listened to each other and committed into all the defined scenes. I really enjoyed playing with this ensemble and playing on that stage.
Public Performance Two – 17 Dec 2017
Improv D Show @ SkyBox Theatre, Second City, Chicago
Ride that Bull Sally Ensemble = Angel, Colin, David, Eric, Eric, Gwen, Jen, John, Lisz
Running Order – 40 -50 mins
- Introduction and first game intro – Eric Brooke
- Pimp Freeze – All In
- 184 Intro – Angel
- 184 – All In
- Four Square Intro and Host – Colin
- Four Square – David, Jen, John, Lis
- Take That Back Host – John
- Take That Back – Gwen and Eric Barton
- Soap Opera Host – Jen
- Soap Opera – Angel, Colin, Eric Brooke
- Montage Host – Lis (Suggestion Courage)
- Montage – All In
- Close – Eric Barton
How did it feel?
The audience was warm, it was after all mostly people we had invited! The hosting across the board was strong, the games varied, with Pimp Freeze, Take that Back and the Soap Opera being our strongest deliveries. All the others had moments too e.g. Witch Doctor dance or the Boy that jumped in the Montage. It was a really fun experience. After I spoke to my friends and they all laughed at something and enjoyed the show. Everyone of the ensemble shined at something, it was a lot of fun!
I found the singing stressed me in the half class that we had, so next term I will take Vocal 1 and finish off Improv Level E.
Without a doubt I love playing games. They grow my skills, they help me evolve as a human and they can even be fun.
“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
I have broken this blog post into several sections:
- What does gaming give you?
- Getting started – boardgames for you
- Getting started – roleplaying for you
- My gaming journey
For the last three decades, I have been playing games. I own over 250 board games and 400 Roleplaying books(RPG). You can see what I own here at boardgamegeek.
As a teenager, board games gave me confidence, problem solving skills, pattern recognition and little fear for failure. Roleplaying Games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) gave me the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do, as well as developing my leadership skills.
Board games can teach or improve important social skills to all ages (especially for children and teens), such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns (i.e. patience), and enjoying interaction with other humans. They can also encourage the ability to focus, and increase your attention span. Even simple board games like Snakes (Chutes in the US) and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up, have tenacity. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.
Many people, when they first start playing games, are surprised at the level of brainpower that board games use. Modern games are often highly strategic and tactical, requiring you to constantly make calculated choices, where you to weigh the alternatives. While all board games are different and each one challenges in a different way, I would suggest that, in general, board games are very effective at testing your problem solving abilities, decision making skills, and tactical capabilities. And some that involve more player interaction bringing out the your negotiating, charm or persuasion skills.
Studies on Games
I am a man of science. So what does science say? Here are a couple studies:
- A study from the New England Journal of Medicine linked the playing of board games with a lesser likelihood of developing Alzheimers and dementia.
- One sudy indicated that playing Chess improved standardized test scores for students. Clue, and other deduction games help to train your brain in thinking logically.
- Scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada assessed two groups’ ability to search for and find an object; their results showed that study participants who regularly played video games were far quicker at locating the target than those who didn’t play.
- In, “Clue Deduction: Professor Plum Teaches Logic” a group of professors asked students to create an AI which could solve a game of Clue. The paper includes a summary of the syntax and propositional logic contained within the game of Clue
- Massively multiplayer online video games provide robust platforms to test skills. Does Your Leadership Development Strategy Include World of Warcraft? in the Harvard Business Reviews and you can see the full report here
- Stereotypes and Individual Differences in Role-playing Games and what if any are there?
What do I get from Boardgames?
Boardgames tend to be abstract and there is often no continuation from one gaming session to another.
- Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
- Improved problem solving under different environments
- A better understanding of people under stress
- Learning to gracefully fail/lose
- Learning to win, and when not to
- Learning to understand the nature of chance/probability
- Teaching others simple/complex rulesets and tactics/strategy
- Learning different game mechanics and how to maximize them
- Socializing, Fun and Laughter
What do I get from RPGs?
While similar to boardgames, there is continuation from one gaming session to another. Players become heavily invested in their individual characters, and the skills learned tend to be more about humans than mechanics.
- A better sense of Good and Evil, and ethics in general
- Team Planning
- Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
- Ability to walk in someone else’s shoes
- Improved Problem Solving under different environments
- Investigation skills
- Better understanding of people
- Teaching others simple and complex rulesets
- Socializing, Fun and Laughter
What do I get from WarGaming?
In some ways Wargaming is more mature than boardgames, as you tend to view each games as an experience to learn from.
- Having a strategy and sticking to it
- Paying attention to opportunities and recognizing when they are a trap
- Recognizing when you have lost and should retreat
- Understanding the importance of logistics
- Understanding Combat Strategy and Tactics and the impact of different weapons systems
- The importance of morale on the battlefield
- Using terrain to your advantage
- Improved Problem Solving under different environments
- Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to competitors
So where should you start? It depends on how many will play with you and how adventurous they are.
Most start with the Family games e.g. Monopoly, Clue, and Apples to Apples. Those with a bit more adventure may start with Settlers of Catan, Smallworld or Pandemic (this game is collaborative i.e. you work together). If you are not affected by crossing the lines of political correctness than Cards against Humanity would be a good start for a small group.
If there is just two of you there are many varieties of card games to get you started, such as Settlers of Catan card game, Gloom or Herbaceous. Or if you like word games, Moot or Quiddler are good.
If you want a good database of games, the best is at BoardGameGeek where you will find ratings, photos, reviews, FAQ, pdf manuals etc.
If you want to learn a game without reading the manual checkout Geek and Sundry as they may well have a review of a game, which will get you up and running faster. Of course there are lot of videos out there, but remember its Internet, quality is mixed.
If you are worried about what to buy, head to your local Gameshop and ask them, the best game shops will let you play a copy of the game, or give you a good breakdown of how it works.
Finding a Gaming group
If you are alone here are some suggestions of how to find people to play with.
- Gaming Shops – That is what google is there for
- Meetups – there a lot of gaming groups across the US
- Gaming Conventions
- Work Colleagues
Finding the right people for your group can take time, and finding people that reliably come to regular sessions is harder. Be patient.
One Hint -> Watch how people play and lose, that will give you deep insight into the their character as a person.
Not all boardgames are the same
How does a game play? Where is it set? What are your goal? How do you achieve them? These can differ dramatically from game to game. Here’s a list of the different board game categories, or “styles” of play:
Some games, like Risk, Dust, or X-Wing challenge your tactical skills and invite aggression, pitting you directly against other players. You have to make decisions on who to attack and why. You also have to know how to anticipate losses, as well as how to recover from them.
Some are about finding the clues and solving the “problem”. Clue is an obvious example, and a really good modern one is T.I.M.E. Stories. Murder Mystery dinners are also a lot of fun and easily played with non gamers.
These are often collaborative games, where a group of adventurers (the players) head somewhere dark and try to survive whilst achieving some goal. These are often RPG/Boardgame hybrids, such as Mice and Mystics, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, or Castle Ravenloft.
Games like Monopoly, Firefly, Civilization, Twilight Imperium and Scythe challenge your resource management skills, as well as your ability to make decisions in the present that can yield exponential gain later. Some games are primarily economic games, and you may even learn about investments i.e Planet Steam or Tesla vs Edison or Startup fever.
Strategy & Puzzle orientated
Dominion, Castles of Burgundy and Puerto Rico. You don’t compete much with the other players, instead building up your own area and trying to score points. These games challenge your ability to weigh decisions against each other and calculate opportunity cost.
Collaborative or Team orientated games
Other types of games:
- Legacy Games -the board and game evolves after or during play (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy)
- Political games (Diplomacy, Junta)
- Search & Gather (Merchants & Marauders, Pirates Cove)
- Betrayal Games – They start off as collaborative but it turns out during the game someone maybe working against you, in some cases this an optional version of the game in others not e.g. BattleStar Galactica, Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic with the Terrorist. Check with your group that they understand what will happen, also make sure that you have several copies of the rules, so the “Traitor” can understand their rules without letting on who they are.
Summary of things to consider for Boardgames
Here is how I compare and contrast boardgames, when choosing to play or buy.
How big is the rule book? Is it easy to read? Do the examples make sense? That said some games are great just the instructions suck.
- Look at PDF of the instruction manual online, so multiple people can learn the game at once
- Watch a YouTube video How-to-play walkthrough Geek & Sundry is a good start
2. Setup time
How many pieces are there? How do you record impact on your “empire”? How many cards or counters need to be setup? Twilight Imperium can take 30-40 mins to setup, where as Dominion may take less than 10 mins.
- Buy extra bags or one of the organizing kits, this will get you up and running faster
- Put cards in an order that makes sense
3. Competition vs. Collaboration
Some players do not like conflict and others do. Check in with the mood of the group, sometimes you just want to fight the game and other times you are up for a fight with your friends.
- Having a variety of games will help with this, as well as knowing your fellow players.
Some games like Chess are all player choice, there is no randomness. Others, like Snakes and Ladders, is all chance and no choice. Settlers uses a die to determine which resources will be given out each turn, so it’s a combination of both. Combat games use a variety of choice and chance mechanics to determine the outcome.
5. Player Interaction
If you like your friends, and if you want to spend the evening talking (instead of in silent concentration), games that encourage interaction are good. Some games only encourage attacks between players e.g. Scythe and not trading. Others have minimal if any interaction e.g. Puerto Rico.
6. Growth and Snowball effect
Some games have what is called a snowball effect, where the powerful get more powerful and the weak will die off.
So players might be eliminated, e.g. Risk, or end up feeling bored and frustrated, e.g. Settlers of Catan. Other games are kinder and allow players to restart e.g. Pirates Cove, but the chances are you will be so far behind you will never catch up. It’s important to see if anyone gets left behind in the game, and if you have a player who reacts badly to falling behind or being eliminated, it may be best to avoid these games.
The other aspect of the Snowball effect is that if you make mistakes at the beginning, the whole game could suck for some or all players. This can happen if you are deeply unlucky with the die, or if you suck 😉 The reality is you can learn and improve so watch and absorb, you will get there…
7. Number of Players
A lot of modern games limit the number of players to four. Is that a tribe? (I don’t think so). Some delight you with an expansion to extend to five players for a bunch of dollars or pounds.
Again, it’s definitely worth a collection that has a different number of players. You never know how many people will show up for games night!
8. Time per player
The first time you play a game, expect the initial time to double, until you figure out how the game works.
- Read the rules once before you play and if you have time play against yourself or with a friend.
- Teaching rules all the time can become exhausting, share the load: Get all the players to download the PDF to their phone. Having access to more rulebooks will help the game move faster.
If you have no idea where to start, try the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set or Star Wars RPG Beginner Game, unless you find another world you want to really play. Starting with a simple game will get you unfraid and ready to explore other games/universes. Also, starting with a starter set saves on spending a lot of money on books until you are ready.
If you have not run a session before, keep an eye out for my post for first time Dungeon Masters / Game Masters.
Not all RPGs are the same
There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).
Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.
- Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (Simple) – LOR kind of world with hope
- WarHammer Fantasy Role-play (Simple) – LOR kind of world with NO hope
- 7th Sea (Simple) – 1400 AD with Magic, pirates
- Ars Magica (Intermediate) – 1150AD Medieval Wizards, Faeries, Demons and God. A favourite.
- Shadows of Esteren (Intermediate) – Dark, low level of magic, but really nasty monsters
Present with Twists
These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.
- Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
- Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
- Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
- Call of Cthulhu (Intermediate) – Run away! anddd… you’re dead. Horror and investigation
- Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real
Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future
- Eclipse Phase (Advanced) – Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.
- Shadowrun (Intermediate) – Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear
- Star Wars (Simple) – You should know this
- Polaris (Simple) – Far future under earth’s oceans
- Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
- Coriolis (Simple) – Space Arabian Nights
Summary of things to consider for RPGs
- Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
- The size of the Community of the game- the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
- If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
- How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
- The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
- The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
- Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style
The first game experience really defines whether someone comes back to RPG. So no pressure but… choose the game wisely and make sure everyone gets the opportunity and space to participate.
Like most, I played card/board games as a child e.g. MouseTrap, The Game of Life, Super Cluedo Challenge (Clue in the US), Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Mah Jong, Casino, etc. Good games for passing the time with family and friends. As a teenager I played Risk with friends taking a whole day to complete the world conquest games.
I played a couple war-games as a teenager, some counter, some miniature, some rules coming from magazines, mostly based in the Second World War. Around 1983/4 Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released. This is a miniature war game in which two armies fight against each other, but fantasy based, Lord of Rings mythology e.g. Elves Dwarves, Orcs, etc. I played with friends and in tournaments with a Wood Elf army – They favored fast movement and range attacks, but had some specialized Heavy Infantry.
Later I discovered Advanced Squad Leader, a WWII counter tactical-level board war-game. Extremely complex and thorough. It’s interesting redoing tactical situations that actually happened during the second world war.
Space Marine was created by Games Workshop Ltd and consisted of Epic scale (6 mm) miniatures games. Later they were replaced by Warhammer Epic 40,000 which worked at the same scales but had all new mechanics. I built a large Eldar army and played a lot of games again both with friends and in tournaments.
War gaming taught me a lot about military strategy and tactics, the importance of logistics, a lot of history, how to cope with the unexpected i.e. dice rolls, how to predict your competition and their likely moves, and how to learn from failure and success.
Finding friends who would play war-games was tough, especially because war-games are such a big investment (i.e. a couple hundred painted miniatures, a BIG table, scenery and a day to play). This led me to explore boardgames which took less time to setup, learn the rules and play.
Some of my favorites from this time period 80s – 90s are Kings & Things, The fury of Dracula, Block Mania, Talisman, Axis & Allies, Shogun, Twilight Imperium, Dragon Masters, Mighty Empires (this was a strategic version to Warhammer Fantasy Battle). These were all produced by Game Workshop, which I feel was its peak in creativity at this time.
Board gaming for me was mostly a fun and social thing to do with friends and new people. That said I learnt from them in terms of problem solving.
Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Games Workshop I learned about Warhammer Fantasy Role-play. We played The Enemy Within campaign led by Shane Johnson. Later, through a University student (I was still at College i.e. 16 years old) and part-time shop keeper (Gaming shop) Alan, I learned about a new D&D campaign, just starting. This was redbox D&D and I started with a level 1 Mage through to something double digits level. It was an amazing campaign which relied on a lot of roleplaying. The Dungeon Master (Steve) really opened by mind to acting the character, their motivations and conflicts e.g. Roleplaying rather than just tactical play i.e. surviving and getting Gold.
Later I discovered at Exeter University (UK), a big RPG group. This expanded my playing into new RPG games such as AD&D Second Edition, Mega Traveller, Vampire, Amber, etc. At some point I attended my first RPG Convention, where I played first edition Ars Magica. The way the game dealt with personalities and emotions, it blew my mind. My regular gaming stopped after I left Exeter, UK 1992.
Roleplaying has continuously opened my mind to different possibilities, new worlds, and new ways to solve problems. The people I played with were also important, I learnt a lot about them through how they played and how they reacted to successes and failures. For most it was pure escapism from their lives, for others it was the opportunity to be something better in their minds, and for others it was the opportunity to be something worse than society would allow them to be. For all it was a moment of freedom.
Gaming Again after 16 years
I started Gaming when I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2008 (from the UK) and I met new gamers. Most of my games that had survived this time period had progressed through several editions/versions.
I met a LOT of boardgames and RPGers in Canada. I wonder if cold prairie nights encourages more people to play games, rather than simply watching TV like in the UK.
My modern boardgames favorites are Risk Legacy, Eve Conquests, Middle Earth Quest, Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders, T.I.M.E. Stories, BattleStar Galactica, Starfarers of Catan, Shadows of Camelot, Terra Mystica, Civilization, Village.
Playing with adults is different to playing with teenagers, in part it’s less emotional, except for those adults who never learned how to fail. RPG characters that people play as adults, are generally more complex and games have kept up with this multiple layering of personality.
I think gaming will add a lot to your life, your experiences, your skills, and your friends. And I think it’s a worthy investment. I hope it brings you as much joy, frustration, and laughter as it has brought me.
Here is a presentation that I presented to some of my colleagues at Enova about what it was like to move to the USA.
The Journey of an immigrant from UK, via Canada to US
- Why am I talking about this?
- How did I get a job at Enova?
- Why did I come to work for Enova?
- Cultural adjustment/shock
- Eric arriving in the US
- American/Chicago Culture
- Making friends with Americans
- Working With Americans
- Leading/Working with first job immigrants – What can you do?
- Why employ someone diverse?
- Who is Eric as a person?
- Making Eric stronger/Surviving Immigration
You can look at the Slide and Speaker notes on slideshare here
GenCon is a gaming convention where 60,000 people appear in Indianapolis, Indiana, US to play board games, participate in role-play games, show off cos-play and many other types of fun, each year. This year was the 50th Anniversary. There were 19,000 events and 500 exhibitors.
This was my second time at GenCon. I have been playing board games and RPGs since the 1980’s. You can see most of my collection at www.boardgamegeek.com/user/ericbrooke – Boardgames (221) and RPGs (289).
If this is your first time I have broken tips and hints out at the end of each section and put top eights things to do at GenCon, at the bottom of this section.
Sales for tickets started in January and Housing (all the Hotels become available in February). We bought tickets (April 2017) and discovered there were no hotels and then we searched the web and still no hotels. Thus we cancelled within 2 hours, and of course lost money (cancellation fees). I consider this an actual con as you cannot see what hotels are available before you buy the tickets, easily solved by sharing this information upfront. Have to say I have little trust of the organizers but it is a good event.
A couple of friends bought tickets earlier, and found hotels in January and they noticed in July that Hotel spots started appearing. So we bought new tickets and booked a Hotel near the airport (Wyndam) at $500 for three nights. This also meant we would have to rent a car ($339) to get to the Hotel and drive into the conference each day, parking ranged from $10 to $30 per day depending how much walking you wanted to do.
Ticketing & Housing Tip
My suggestion is to get your ticket in January at Pre-Registration. For Housing be there (on the web) the moment the housing opens up, know your group and book together.
Here is the dates laid out for 2017:
- Sunday, January 29, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Badge Pre-Registration begins.
- Sunday, February 12, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Housing reservations open.
- Sunday, May 28, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Event Registration begins.
- Saturday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm (Eastern) – Pre-Registration ends. All shipping method changes must be completed by this time.
- Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Registration begins. Badge prices increase. All purchases fulfilled through Will Call only. This is the last day to cancel badges for 2017.
- Monday, TBD at 5 pm (Eastern) – Housing cut-off date, the last day to make new hotel reservations.
- Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Onsite Registration begins.
- Thursday – Sunday, August 17 – August 20, 2017, Gen Con 2017 happens live at the Indiana Convention Center.
My preference for events is writing seminars/workshops and RPGs sessions.
The website sucks. It’s hard to navigate 19,000 events some which are good and some which are not. You really have no sense who your GM/DM is going to be and how much experience they have. A lot of events had sold out by July, so we were playing mostly evening sessions.
- Book Events early, so you can plan your experience better and match to your preference e.g. mornings/afternoons/evenings
- Some people recommend getting the “Generic tickets” and just turning up to sessions, a lot of people bail at the last moment, so there is often empty spots.
- The Writing group does have a booklet which is a lot easier to navigate. It is usually available with some goodies at the conference.
- Pay attention to which search options you have selected
This is kinda of amazing, its big and there is a lot of booths, many, many games and a lot of people. Not only is there an opportunity buy many games, but there is a lot of play testing available, to try out games.
Exibit and buying tips
- Break up the Exhibit Hall into several time chunks and search by block, its big and a lot of people. You will literary get emotional exhausted if you try to do it in one go
- Note some games do sell out on the first couple days. For example Spirit Island and Twilight Imperium sold out on Saturday.
- Some studios you will have to line up for i.e. Fantasy Flight Games.
- I generally find games are cheaper bought on-line, there are some deals to be found at GenCon, but they are usually used on the first couple days.
Your First Time at GenCon?
Some advice for first time attendees:
- Do things at GenCon that you can’t do at home
- Don’t over schedule
- Food pack – bring a water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, protein bars
- Remember Dice, Paper & Pencils
- Lunch – Take it early or late – There are a lot of food trucks, but the good ones build up big lines fast.. eat 11.30 or after 14.00
- Choose one or two games a day
- Attendance – Thursday is by far the lightest day of attendance, and is a good day to see the dealer hall. Friday is busier, and Saturday even more so. Not as much happens on Sunday
My Experience at GenCon 2017
Eclipse Phase GMing
So I love Eclipse Phase RPG for many reasons. Thus I offer to GM for them at the Convention. I did last year (my first GenCon) and this year. Posthuman Studios will pay you to do so, though I do not care about the money and instead do it to introduce new people to the game and help out a small Studio.
Pre Convention we played two sessions via Google Hangouts. Marc Huete ran both sessions and they were a lot of fun.
I have to shout out for David Cooper who does a lot of organization to get GMs from all over the US, to fill 37 Sessions, 6 Scenarios, with 3 different rule systems (1st Ed, Fate and 2nd Ed) and 14 GMs. Thanks David.
Why you should run sessions
One great reason for helping a studio run sessions is that it automatically gives you a group of people to give you advice on GenCon, as well as challenging you to be a better story telling and good drinking people to talk about games. Some like PostHuman pay for your time, give you a free pass to the convention and buy you a couple of drinks. Also you also get into an early play test group.
Things always change
The first day I could not go, so I delayed my arrival by a day and arrived Thursday. But my partner could not go to end of day so I took a GrayHound (4 Hours) and she drove down later that evening.
13.00 Pick up Pass an event tickets – super fast
13.05 Get GM Pass
14:00 Legends of the Five Rings RPG – Open Library – 4 Hours
New game to me, interesting and simple mechanics. The scenario was very ritualistic, with etiquette being very important, pulling heavily on Japanese culture.
The fictional setting of Legend of the Five Rings is similar to feudal Japan, though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, as well as magic and mythicalbeasts. There is no given name for the entire world which the setting describes, so “Rokugan” is used alternately to refer to the specific nation within the setting or to refer to the entire world.
18:00 Ars Magica RPG Seminar
I have been playing since first edition 1987, the current versions is fifth. Good news a New version is being worked on, I was worried that they had given up on Ars Magica.
Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in ‘Mythic Europe’ – a historically-grounded version of Europe and the Levant around AD 1200, with the added concept that conceptions of the world prevalent in folklore and institutions of the High Middle Ages are factual reality. The players’ involvement revolves around an organization of magi and their allies and foes both mundane and supernatural. The game was originally developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen, with its first edition published in 1987.
The current edition (the game’s fifth) was written by David Chart, and published in 2004 by Atlas Games, who continue to develop new material for it.
Ars Magica was one of the first examples of a Troupe system. Early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story.
Each player has an opportunity to be Story Guide. (e.g. alternating by-play session, ‘chapter’ of a story, or at the whim of the troupe)
Each player has more than one character; when the primary character lacks opportunity or reason to participate in a session (typically due to laboratory or library activity), a secondary character is played.
To enhance the ‘authenticity’ of the historical setting, the game uses medieval Latin for a number of key terms, particularly in the game’s most prominent feature, a system of Hermetic Magic.
19:00 7th Seas RPG – Heroes of Altamira – 4 Hours
7th Sea is a “swashbuckling and sorcery” themed tabletop role-playing game set in the fictional world of Théah. The mechanics are very simple. We had a fun game.
Breakfast -> Wild Eggs -> Good
Writings Craft -> How to Write an Amazing First Page
The first page can make or break a book. Whether you’re trying to impress an editor or hook a reader, we’ll show you how to wow them! Featuring Toni Weisskopf, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dan Wells
Here are my notes from this session:
- What are your promises to the reader?
- Who is this character?
- What is coming?
- First draft -> Is what you want to say
- Final draft -> How do I want to say it
- Introduce magic or technology elements
- First page advertise your book
- Remember those Promises
- Write the first line after you know your story
“I like to be dropped in it, Grab the reader by the throat, Give me dramatic imagery”
- Allows for discovery
- Total immersion
- Author wants me to keep up
- Emotion and visceral
Eclipse Phase RPG – GM – Dog Star – 4 Hours
Doom metal laser whales on a helioseismic crusade tackle a high-tech dungeon crawl in the heart of a star.
All five were newbies to the game, and fun to lead in a story.
Eclipse Phase RPG – Sympathy for Uncle Silence – 4 Hours – Tim
Jovian trade negotiations with the fiercely independent city-state of Hyoden conceal deadly intrigue as Firewall operatives hunt a dangerous weapon.
This was probably the most effective and efficient random group of people who played together, that I had ever experienced at GenCon. Tim was our GM and did a great job.
Breakfast -> Wynham -> Awful
Writers Craft: No Room for Ego – How to Take, Give, and find Critique for your writing
- Find good critique partners
- Have people who are different to you
- Avoid people who can only tell you how great you are
GM Session Get Together Eclipse Phase
Posthuman Studios (Rob, Jack and Adam) get together with most of the Eclipse Phase GMs who ran sessions for Posthuman Studios. We talked how the sessions went, made comments on scenarios, and talk about life, GenCon and games.
Writers Workshop: Wrinkles in Time
The strategies and rewards of tense, pace, time, and memory in fiction. This writers’ workshop includes specific discussion and exercises on tense (the many variations even of “present”), control of pace (including full-throttle tips), the various functions of fictional time, and the chance/means to mine our own memories for more honest stories. For writers of all genres and levels.
Here are my notes:
- Readers should know when. Every page must have 3 senses. And each page must have time
- Readers recognize breaks and new chapters mean time has gone by, so you need to reestablish time
- Look for simple ways to show change in time ex. First day of school. Next chapter, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
- Always try to avoid comments like “3 months later”. Be more clever and subtle with your time marker ex. “A week ago you told me this”.
- You can also set up time at the end of the scene ” next time I’ll see you you’ll be married”. Author used classic events before and after a wedding to set time for readers without ever saying time.
- Fiction time montage is possible ex Stephen king’s the last stand directors cut
- How does character mark time? Ex. A kid marks time by “Brady bunches”– this also teaches you about the character. Character with heart problem, how many heartbeats? It builds character and articulates time in interesting way.
- Pace: should be fast-paced– most publishers want this. Ex. Author started with 3 months, got it down to 15 days
- ex. “A bomb in this room going off in a month vs. 5 min” time makes everything more exciting. Time fixes everything. To make things hard for your character, you have to take away time. Be mean to your characters, put the pressure on. Don’t give your characters time
- Start your story in the middle, shit is going down, ignore the backstory. The first sentence must grab you. Need to catch attention of agent, editor, reader
- End chapters to cut out bullshit. If you nail it, don’t keep talking. Shut up, end chapter. Every book should start in the middle of action and end with “do something cool”, mic drop. 1 chapter could be 2 pages. Also, get rid of scenes you don’t need
- Exception: Slow down for the emotional stuff. 2 pages on coming to terms with tough shit is okay
- You can make backstory interesting by making it a scene. “I was there…”. Gatsby is great at backstories as scenes
- Who is telling your story and why. Depending on how long ago it was, different perspective on their own story. Time affects characters’ perceptions too
- Learn how to play with tenses. Because we live in all tenses, our characters should too.
Whats up with Eclipse Phase & Posthuman Studios? Seminar
A lot about second edition – Simplified character development, updates to Asyncs, 33/66 rule, update background to reflect the U.S. present day and what science has discovered in the last seven years.
Dinner -> Cerulean Restaurant – Really good
The Bad Trip – Call of Cthulhu RPG – 4 Hours – GM -> Tony Messerges
Life is always grooving at Professor Green’s pad. As he likes to quote Kerouac, “All things are like visions beyond the reach of the human mind.” Freaky man, freaky.
Last time I played Call of Cthulhu was in 1987. This was an amazing session which ran over by about 90 mins. 60’s music playing and hypnotic setup. A lot of great props. A fun random group with one guy who was using GenCon as is Bachelor party.
After the session we went for a few drinks @scottys, with Dan (Eclipse Phase GM), Adam, Jakob and others. We had some great conversations about games they were playing.
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Storytelling
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he takes you deep into the action, breaking it down piece by piece, and giving you tips for creating more realistic and exciting action scenes.
- Your plot needs to be tight -> Your plot is a Jenga tower with the last piece before it falls
- Draw everything, map it all out
- Use photos for each character, google them
- Ask every character their motivation, even the guard who dies right away
- Five stages of grief e.g. PTSD Buffy
- 70% of book readers are female
- Make people uncomfortable
- Dialogue is not just a conversation it fills out dev, motivation
- Words have weight, power
- Avoid adverbs
- Setup plot – Plant. Tend, Reap
- Scene openings – Macro to micro
- Micro opening starts with singular description
- Paragraph size determines pace
- Small paragraph adds weight
- Avoid speech tags
- Italics in their head
- POV rule stay in one persons head, unless you are certain
The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Writing
Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he explores when and how to use physical conflict and using words to craft action. Action that your readers will not simply read, but experience.
I will add more notes here later
Buying – Call of Cthulhu, Boardgames Planetarium
- Call of Cthulhu Books – Keepers Rulebook, Investigators Handbook, Quick Start Guide, Keepers Screen and Doors to Darkness (Beginning Scenarios)
- Coriolis – scenario
- Eclipse Phase, second edition Quick Start Rules
- 7th Sea Books – GM screen and Nations Volume 1
- Element Boardgame
- Planetarium Board Game (Tiger Stripes came with it for free)
These are games, I heard great things about from multiple people at the convention
- Spirit Island Board Game
- Jakob and Dan told us about this game they have already played a bunch of times and love it
- Bought it and played loved it
- Twilight Imperium Board Game
- Asked staff about the changes, they sound good – Greater politics, simplified technology ladder, better defined plastic pieces and box container.
- Pre-Ordered gam for $110, it was $150 at the Convention
- Expanse Board Game
- Get plastic covers for cards in my most played games.
Games to do more research on:
Games I would love to play at GenCon next year
- Ars Magica RPG
- Coriolis RPG
Thoughts from GenCon 2017
- Lots more Miniature war-games than previous years
- More Science boardgames
Next GenCon go to
- Lucas Stadium
- Board game library
- Second-hand games
Each year Apple holds a Developers conference called Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence or for short WWDC. It is a great place to learn and talk about Mac OS, iPhone Apps, TV Apps and Watch Apps. This year it was in San Jose, CA, USA and lasted five days.
It was a fun conference, with an incredible amount to learn and absorb.
Overall I would say #WWDC17 was the year of the engineer, they have given us so many great new APIs and better tools so we can produce some great experiences for our users. The AR/VR and Machine Learning tools are really setting a solid foundation for a interesting and diverse future.
Early 2016 after working on mainly Web application development for a bunch of years. I took leadership of the Mobile Team at Enova (FinTech), which started with just working on an iOS App. Later in 2016 we eventually added an Android Squad. Last year the whole iOS Team applied for WWDC and none got a ticket, its a lottery chosen on your Apple ID.
This year when we applied we expected to be lucky to get one. So of course we got three! Nick a Senior iOS Engineer, Dan our Mobile UI Designer and myself all won tickets in the lottery. I offered my ticket to our other iOS engineers at Enova, they declined. So I went to #WWDC with Dan and Nick.
There was 5300+ people heading to this the conference, which made booking flights and hotels fun. The Hotels are booked through Apple and you need to move fast.
As a team we discussed what we wanted to get out of conference, what sessions we were interested and discussed what questions we wanted to ask the Apple Engineers – you can book sessions with them and discuss your Apps. Great for both your designer and engineers. Not all the session are revealed as they will show up after the Keynote.
Day -1 – Sunday
Up early to travel from Chicago to San Jose.
Getting a conference pass was fast and easy for me. We all got a pin to represent our country, and set of Apple icon pins and a Levi Jacket. Arriving at the Apple conference they had set up a outside garden with music, food and drink. The rest of team came through different routes, we met up for dinner at MOSIAC.
Day 1 – Monday
I got into the lineup at 6.02am. I figure there must of been 1000 people infront of me. I saw people lining up at 7pm the previous day. The reality is that first few lines are saved for VIP and the media.
So you will be stuck in a line up for hours, getting to know the people around you is a good thing and helped pass the time. I met some interesting people from a NewYork Agency, Calgary MRI scanning, Day of Wonders, German Bank, Domino Pizza, Danish FinTech, and Canada RBC.
We talked about many things but there was definitely a couple themes of frustration around a lack of customer research and respect for UX in most companies when working on mobile. Most people seemed to build for a generic user. Others talked about Product Managers who did not really understand the differences between web app and mobile apps.
Once we got inside there was a light breakfast and coffee.. thank you.. after a total of 3 and half hours later I sat down at 9.44. I was in a centre block but a ways back. If you were smart like Dan who lined up after me he got a much better spot by checking where there were gaps i.e. single seats up in the front.
The good news is the room was big enough for everyone all 5,300 to get into the keynote room. Though room is fairly flat so having a tall person in-front of you is going to add hours to your neck dancing skills.
The Keynote was fun, and full of energy. Things that jumped out included iOS 11, Xcode 9, Swift 4, Metal 2, Machine Learning, ARKit, VRKit, Apple File System, and HomePod. From a hardware perspective it felt evolutionary more than revolutionary. with the exception of the 18 Core iMac Pro of course. The real meat and a lot of it was in the software releases. All the things I wanted to see heading in the right direction. A lot of important things to take Apple Engineering to the next level.
Lunch – 5300 people is a lot to feed, there were a lot of places though both outside and inside to eat your lunch.
The Platforms State of Union – this got a lot further into key software updates – it was awesome with lots of stuff we can use in our day to day as an iOS engineer i.e. Xcode catching up with Android SDK, machine learning and a lot to do with testing…
Xcode 9 – Rebuilt Source Editor, Refactoring in Swift, Codable, Language Modes, Faster Builds, faster indexing, GitHub Integration, ViewController update, No need for Mac OS X Server (fingers crossed one day you can build on a linux box), Testing multiple devices at the same time, Wireless Development and a lot lot more..
iOS 11 – Drag and Drop (iPad), new PDFKit, QR Codes, new Video and image formats, Machine Learning, Metal 2 and yea much more.
After the team headed out to a Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – Happy Hour. We recommend it, the grilled pineapple was amazing. Than we headed out to find some random parties
I met a lot of App developers at the Beacon App Party from Dark Storm Comics, Historic house overlays in New York, a couple of the scholars and Apple engineer. Beacon is meet ad-hoc people App and a bunch of people used to find people with common interest at WWDC.
Day 2 – Tuesday
Actually had a light breakfast, as opposed to multiple coffees and head out early (7am) to see Michelle Obama. Her talk was down earth and full of good advice.
In another great talk that day Dr. Christine Darden told us about her journey from Monroe to NASA. I learnt a lot about sonic booms and how to reduce them.
Sessions for the day
The links are to Apples Videos, I will add my summary notes as I transcribe them. Note that links take you to the video page, but there is also a resources tab which includes a pdf of the presentation and full API documentation where relevant.
- Michelle Obama
- Christine Darden – From Monroe to NASA
- Your Apps and Evolving Network Security Standards
- New developments in certificate handling, TLS, and certificate status checking
- Privacy and your Apps
- Love CoreLocation When in Use
- Safari ViewController
- Intelligent Tracking Prevention
- Swift 4
- Faster, easier to use Strings that retain Unicode correctness and add support for creating, using and managing substrings (only keeps what you sliced), Multi-line string Literals
- New Generic Features – where clauses, subscripts (PartialRangeFrom)
- Smart key paths for type-safe, efficient, extensible key value coding for Swift types
- Enhancements to creating and manipulating Dictionary and Set types
- Extends support of archival and serialization to struct and enum types and enables type-safety for serializing to external formats such as JSON and plist
- Enforced exclusive access to memory (Ownership)
- Make it easier to reason about local variables
- Enable Better programmer opt
- Access Control – private and extension work better together now
- Composing a class and any number of protocols
- Improving Cocoa Idioms – Smart Keypaths, Swift Archival & Serialization
- Introducing Core ML
- Bringing Sentiment Analysis, Handwriting Recognition, Translation, Scene Classification, Predicting text, Music Tagging and more to your device
- Updating Your App for iOS 11
- UIKit Bars, Avoiding Zero-Sized Custom Views, Margins & Inserts, Extending Safe Areas, Scroll Views, Self sizing Table views, Swipe actions,
Many years ago I met an amazing CTO/engineer (David Dossot ) in Vancouver, he now works for Apple so we headed to the Infinity Loop to share dinner at Cafe Macs. We had some great conversation and awesome food.
In a previous life I had worked at Apple, as a Genius in the Applestore in Vancouver, BC. Our training at that time brought us to Cupertino and CaffèMacs was my favorite place to eat for several weeks.
After I headed to Buddy build party, than the GitHub social and than Apple Social with a live band. Engineers I spoke to today included from Tumblr, another Creative Agency, a UK Bank and a lot of engineers from Vancouver, BC Canada (where I moved from before working in Chicago).
Day 3 – Wednesday
Sessions for the day
- Natural Language Processing
- Some great examples to get you started
- Debugging in Xcode 9
- Wireless Development, ViewController Debugging, NS Progress, Thermal Notifications, Performance Updates, Key Paths
- Whats new in Foundation
- File Provider Communication
- Improved NSString ↔ Swift String range conversion
- Discrete NSProgress support in NSXPCConnection
- Thermal notifications on iOS
- Copy-on-write NSArray, NSDictionary, NSSet
- Data inlining
- Faster calendrical calculations with lower peak memory
- Faster bridging of NSNumber to and from Swift
- Key Value Observing
- Essential Design Principles
- Why all of theses are important to you -> WayFinding, Feedback, Visibility, Consistency, Mental Model, Proximity, Grouping, Mapping, Affordance, Progressive Disclosure, Symmetry
- Advances in Networking 1
- ECN, IPv6, Network Extensions, and Multipath protocols
- An essential change in URLSession
- Advances in Networking 2
- New URLSession APIs to better handle connectivity fluctuations, to schedule background session tasks, and to receive progress reports for session tasks
Today I met a lot Gaming App developers and learned about their challenges.
For dinner Dan and I hung out with Jaqueline from Calgary first at the Fairmont and than the Farmers Union.
Day 4 – Thursday
This morning was a little harder to focus, as I headed for Breakfast an Apple employee asked me “Hey you care about Woman!, you should go this Women@WWDC – knowing when to do what I am told 😉 I joined the session. It was really good – why Woman should have male allies, how to invite them and how to support them.
One comment really rang true, I have to be invited to go to a Women’s event.. in part because I do not want Women not to have their safe space. But I do care and inequality deeply frustrates (actually it make me angry) me.
Sessions for the day
- Core ML in depth
- Great Presentation with some simple examples that any engineer could play with
- Design for Everyone
- Learn how designing for accessibility and inclusiveness
- Advances in Core Image
- New ways to efficiently render images
- Custom CIKernels in the Metal Shading Language.
- CIFilters that include support for applying image processing to depth data and handling barcodes
- Vision framework can be leveraged within Core Image
- What’s new in Testing
- XCTEST Enhancements
- Async testing – XCTWaiter, XCTestExpectation
- Multi-app testing – App Groups
- UI testing performance – .first, Block-based NSPredicate
- Activities, attachments, and screenshots – XCTActivity, XCTAttachment, XCTScreenshot
- Whats new in LLVM
- API Availability Checking for Objective-C
- Static Analyzer Checks
- New Warnings
- C++ Refactoring
- Features from C++17
- Link-Time Optimization
Fall Out Boy played at the Apple Bash, 5,000+ people in a park with alcohol and food. Not from the US I had never heard them but they put on a great performance.
Today I met engineers from RBC, a Creative Agency, and several education App companies.
Day 5 – Friday
A number of the Apple scholars presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience.
Maybe #woman would be more interested in coding if the examples for Computer Science courses were more interesting and not just calculators..
- Writing Energy Efficient Apps
- The cost for waking the radio is high
- Control retries and be mindful
- A number of specific examples
- Business Chat –
- I can imagine a future where people could sell via chat, or we could support so much easier with customer taking a screen shot of what they are seeing, debugging will become so much easier whilst not awkward for customer and we could share videos of people solving common problems or take a screen shot or needed information. Or just pay with Apple Pay
- PDFKit – yes, yes, yes
- Design Session with an Apple Designer
- This was incredibly useful, we asked him to look at ourUK OnStride App
Talked to an iOS Engineer from Ticketmaster, two from Apple, and an education App.
I deeply thankful that my company Enova sent me along with the team to WWDC and to all the staff at Apple that pulled together a most awesome event.
Broad thoughts for the conference organisers:
- The quality of talks was excellent
- I love there were some all star woman i.e. Michelle and Christine and a lot of engineer woman presenting technical talks, as well as womane@WWDC breakfasts
- I deeply appreciate Apple is starting to sneak Peek future products
- I spent a lot of time in line ups – like hours and hours
- Meeting people was a little hard – some suggestions below:
- Ask when people sign up what they want to get out of conference for example I would love to meet up with other FinTech companies and learn from them. Make this public on a website or add it to our badges
- Or have a noticeboard for people to state what problems they are trying to solve, and types of people they want to meet
- Maybe support an App like Beacon to help the adhoc stuff happen
- Maybe have a recruitment board
- Maybe vary the music a bit
- Have big neon signs at the back of the hall so people know where they need to go when exiting or have the presenter tell people, it was very confusing on the first day
- Communicate more to people when they are lining up what the plan is and not just the front, maybe use your App?
- Overall the conference felt encouraging, positive and I learned a lot
Hints & Tips for Attendees:
- If you win the lottery, book your hotel and flight fast
- Book the parties fast – There is sometimes a list and there is a party App. Some of these go with 15 mins of becoming available
- Consider booking the place you want to have dinner as they fill up with 5,000 extra people in town. We just went to dinner early, where we could
- When booking appointments e.g. UI, App Store, they open at 7am (for that day) and they literary all go within 60 seconds. Be ready and ensure your internet is ready
- Use the Lab sessions to troubleshoot the new software release and your App
- Bring Business Cards, you meet a lot of people and maybe never seen them again
- Bring water and snacks for the line ups
- If you are alone do not be shy in grabbing those middle empty spots in the KeyNote
- The Platforms overview talk is the place that it really gets real for engineers
- Prepare for the appointment sessions, make sure your App is working so you can show them. Know and target you’re areas of weakness.
- Note all the extra conferences that appear around WWDC
So a big plus the Airport is close to the centre. There are a lot of places to eat, most of the week the centre felt lacking people. Friday night was like the whole place was invaded. There were a lot of humans. Most of centre area was very walkable.
- Social Policy offers good food and coffee, the seats rely on perhaps some extra cushioning you may bring with you
- Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – was good and has a happy hour at 5pm to 6pm during the week
- Farmers Union – good comfort food and we had great service
- San Pedro Square Market – A great range of food
I booked my flights late so most of my options were 18 hour trips with connections. So I took the next direct flight leaving 10pm Saturday. This gave me the opportunity to update this blog, consider the upgrades that Apple presented this week for Enova and what we needed to do vs. wanted to do. I also got the opportunity to catch up with another Apple Employee and friend Jerry who works in Apple University. We spent a good six hours talking about AI, tech, education, science fiction and writing.
Lets assume you get offered a job in the US and you live in Canada. You are a Canadian. This was my setup. I writing this to help other avoid some of the pitfalls that I have so far learned.
Summary of the things
- The type of Visa will impact on your and your partners freedoms
- You need to prepare for the boarder crossing to get your Visa, make sure you have enough time – maybe a week
- You need somewhere to live – ask how its done
- Pay attention to the Exchange rate – learn what is about to happen
- You need a Bank Account – The Patriot Act in the US, means you need a residential address in the US
- You need a Social Security Number – You will need this for Credit Card, Internet, Electricity, Mobile
- To move your things or not – Get estimates on the weight and add 30%-50%
- Documentation from Homeland – having my Canadian Credit Score was helpful in securing that I was a respectable person looking for a new place to live
- Doctors Documentation – Get it all
- Budget – Health is about to cost you a LOT more. If you have a domestic partner a LOT LOT more – unless your new company covers this.
- Having no Credit Score will limit you in a lot of ways. Some rental places will not take you unless you have a Credit score and it will take a longtime for you to get a useful Credit card limit.
Things to negotiate in your employment process
One month apartment paid for by the new company.
This saves so much pain, as you immediately have a place of residency which allows you to open a bank account, it allows you to take time getting to know where you want to live and choose somewhere, rather then have to take something in a rush. It allows you transfer monies without getting completely screwed by the exchange rate. Really understand the Health care plan the company offers. I would suggest a meeting with their benefits person.
Ask for more vacation
There will be times you will need to go back to support your friends and family, some of these will not be breaks or times of rest. You could even ask for more for the first year only, and then drop down to a lower amount.
The Company pays for Immigration lawyers
Some will do this without question. But what is your path? H1BN Visa to Green Card? If this is a place you want to really grow 3 years (e.g. TN Visa) may not be enough.
Apply for your Social Security Number
Your Social Security Number(SSN) acts as your unique identity in the US for taxes, and is also used by your employer and for most on-going services.
It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, if you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.
It can take up to 10 days for the information to be transferred from Homeland security to Social Security and then 2-3 weeks after that is processing time for Social Security – so this can take upto 5 weeks.
When you go to a Social Security Office, you need your passport (for identity and proof of age) and proof of Visa (the actual right to work). You will also need a place to send the social security card (this can be work or your living place).
Give it a couple of hours of free time, Social Security Offices are busy places.
Examples of what you need your SSN for
- Credit card
For both Electricity and Internet I had to go to physical stores (show identity) and I had to pay a “security fee” as my credit score was so low (actually non-existent). Because I was a new customer to ComEd (Electricity) I had to pay an extra $20 per month for the first 18 months, which I will presumably get back when I leave (we’ll see about that).
Open a Bank Account
Choosing a bank account, I asked my future work colleagues and local friends what they thought. Chase came up a lot and their mobile app was very good.
You need a US residence first :
- You need a lease
- a letter stating you are living in a residence with signature stating you live there
- Some work places will let you use their address, some will give you an apartment for the first month, maybe make a friend, or get to know your new work colleagues really well.
Sometimes you need a Social Security Number, depends on the bank. You need to get open an account as soon as possible so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
Man this sucked for the move, since I was still earning Canadian dollars and paying in US dollars. So my initial costs were really high:
7 December 2015
Foreign Currency Amount: USD 5,000.00
At a Rate of 1 CAD equals: USD 0.7361
CAD Cost Excl. Fees: CAD 6,792.56
I used Forex to transfer my money, my Bank in Canada does not do Wire Transfers. Forex gave a great exchange rate and only took 34 hours. That said it could take a lot longer.
I needed enough money for my rent, security deposit, and first two weeks living (until I got my first pay). Also for the places that wanted me to put a security deposit down due to a very low credit rating e.g. Credit Card, Electricity, Internet.
Somewhere to Live
This will depend on the market. In Chicago you get an Agent for free, who will take you around multiple apartments. They get half the first months rent from the landlord.
Exploring the neighbourhoods was a combination of asking all my friends in Chicago, book research, walking around them, looking at google maps and using the “Nearby” function.
My filters were within 45 mins walk from work, 5-10 from CTA (Train), good light, good kitchen and about 1000 sq ft.
I worked with two very different agents. Travis Smith from Homescout Realty and Warren Smith from Chicago Apartment Finders. Both were amazing and very different, this reflected in the places I saw. I saw 19 in all. It helped to get a sense of the areas in Chicago, and the prices.
Advice is to find out who which utilities. In Chicago heating and air conditioning is a big cost (it has cold winters and hot humid summers) so watch who pays for that. I was clear I only wanted buildings that paid for that.
The biggest problem I encountered here was getting the money to them. They wanted Cashiers cheques, now! I nearly lost a place because I did not realize how long it could take to wire money.
Transfer money from Canada to US
- Canadian Forex
- A bank that exists in Canada and US e.g. TD
As soon as you are considering moving to the US, make sure you have home insurance for current address that covers your property during a move. Movers charge a ridiculous rate to insure your property. I found it very difficult to find a good third party moving insurance.
What does it cost to relocate?
- Getting rid of things you will not take
- Flights to explore and find a place
- Accommodation whilst exploring
- Extra weight baggage costs for the flight to move
- Large number of deposits (because you have no credit score)
- Moving Cost (See below)
- Packing takes much longer then ever expected
- Getting rid of things you can not take and replacing those things
- Replacing thinks that get damaged in the move
Losing your stuff
You cannot ship a number of things to the US:
- Alcohol – I gave it to friends. That was about $400.
- Food – I had a lot of food which I gave away to friends. That was about $500 right there (I packed my spices and some tea into my luggage and that was it)
- Any flammable things e.g. camping fuel
Movers will under estimate your weight
I got quotes from nine companies, three visited and estimated I had between 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. They gave me quotes based on this weight. You then end up signing a contract that basically the Movers are not responsible for anything. When my stuff was weighed it came out at 8,300 lbs. It felt like the movers deliberately underplay the weight to get you onboard and then sting you.
The Con of Shuttle Service
Shuttle Service is the biggest con from Movers. They cannot get the biggest truck to your front door so then they have to use a smaller one, and they charge you for this privilege (e.g. $1,000). They want to use the larger one so they can transport multiple houses and make more money at your expense.
In hindsight I would rent a car for a couple days, so that I could get rid of things my friends would want. I used a combination of Facebook and Craigslist to get rid of a bunch of things. I had a lot of old electric things that I had to get to the right recycling place, a propane tank, plant pots, patio chairs, furniture that would not survive another long trip, books it was time to let go off. All of these places were really only accessible by car and the services that pickup up scrap end up being expensive and all the charities we could have donated to were either full up or had strict schedules for pickups which you needed to book weeks in advance.
Some places e.g. Chicago require it. I went with All State as they cover your property during moves. State Farm did not.
Bring things early
As soon as you know you are going to move, each time you fly out, bring things and pay for the extra case. My work let me store a bunch of my RucSacs before I started. I brought the things I knew I would need for my first month and other things that I did not want to trust to the Movers.
Prepare for a month
Of not having your things. No bed, no chairs, no table.. After sleeping on the floor for three weeks, we had a vacation at a Hotel.
Buy Health Insurance
Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance within 2 months of moving there (otherwise the window closes and you have to wait until the following January). So make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.
To note that most US Health Insurance plans will “charge” you for every use e.g. visiting the doctor, prescriptions.This is called co-pay. Different plans cover different things and have different percentages of co-pay. The more you pay per month, the lower your co-pay. But not matter how much your plan costs, the deductible is going to really high, usually in the thousands of dollars. So even if you get health insurance, make sure you have US dollars saved up to pay up to the deductible amount in case of a health emergency. Most US health policies are heavily reactive, they fix you when something goes wrong, and only cover a few preventative things, such as 1 annual check-up. There will be no massages 😦
If you (or your family/domestic partner) can’t get health insurance through your work, and you don’t qualify for The Affordable Care Act (for as long as it will be around…), the best option seems to be Blue Cross Blue Shield. Give them a call rather than using the marketplace, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will explain to you what all the plans mean and are patient with people unfamiliar with the system. Be prepared to pay hundreds per month. My domestic partner’s insurance costs me $360/month (includes dental and 20% copay).
If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy. If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.
Building a Credit Score
Nations do not share this information as where would be the profit in it for businesses if they did? You are legally in the US able to obtain your score once a year for free (there may be an admin charge 😉 ), but businesses are likely to make this “difficult” and slow. The fastest way to push up your credit score in the US is to get a “secured” Credit Card, spend often on it and pay off each spend ASAP.
How does a low credit score affect you? Essentially no organization will trust you:
- You will have to pay deposits on most services
- Some services are limited to people with good credit ratings
- Some services will charge you more
- You will have to physically visit stores to prove who you are
- Some apartments that you will want to rent will ask for a range of a credit score, so you may not be able to get them
Get a US Credit Card
Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a upto $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit score over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essentially to build a Credit Score. You will miss your old one.
You will need a SSN before, this is a requirement from the PATRIOT Act
If you’re a resident of Canada but work in the United States, the Canada-US Tax Treaty provides special rules to determine how you are taxed.
If you work full-time in the US on an income over $10,000 – You must pay US federal and, if applicable, state income tax in the United States on your US-source wages (income is sourced to the jurisdiction where the services are performed, not where you’re paid from). You will also have to report this income on your Canadian tax return. To avoid double taxation, you will generally be allowed to claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian return for any tax you pay to the United States. You should note that the individual US states are not bound by the treaty. Therefore, even though you may be subject to an exemption from US federal tax under the treaty, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to a state’s income tax.
You will have to sign a W8 form for every Financial Organization that you work with. The details from the Canada Revenue Agency are here.
Dual Status Alien- First Year Choice
If you are a Nonresident Alien who will become a Resident Alien under the Substantial Presence test in the year following this taxable year, you may elect to be treated as a Dual Status Alien for this taxable year and a Resident Alien for the next taxable year if you meet certain tests. Refer to the First Year Choice area, under Dual-Status Aliens, of Chapter 1 in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
I applied and got a TN Visa (part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement), for three years. This is not difficult to get if you are in the right job category, you have a degree and a job offer. Still use a lawyer.
Check the law and political environment i.e. anti immigration or pro immigration. Understand it.
Your Partner on Visa
If you have a partner (married or domestic partner) you can get them an extended B2 Visa. A B2 Visa is a holiday visa which you automatically get when you visit the US. However, you are usually restricted to 6 months per year on the B2 visa. You can get it extended for up to 1 year at a time (make sure you have print outs of all the documentation). Under the B2 Visa, your partner cannot study, work or volunteer. Once you arrive, you can begin the process of applying for an H1BN (where you are entered into a lottery). If you were to get it, it would make no difference from your perspective, but your spouse (doesn’t apply to domestic partners) could then work and study. A partner on B2 Visa cannot get a SSN, which limits what they can do e.g. phone, health insurance, utilities, credit cards, etc. In some cases a TIN can be an alternative.
Emotional journey of leaving friends
Watching the emotional journey of your friends who actually like to spend time with you is sometimes painful. Some are excited for the new place to visit, some tell every reason why you should not go, some are just pissed off at you, some just shut you out. A lot of emotions like grieving. I love you too and will miss you much.
We do not free ourselves to move on to new adventures by cutting our ties with where we are now. Instead strengthen those roots and drag them through the deep earth with you to wherever you go. In your new place these roots will help you thrive and grow, creating and attracting the same wonderful things from where they came and this will sustain you and them.
You may notice that you miss your friends, the banter, the calling you out, the hugs. You will feel it unless you are a sociopath. This combined with your new colleagues think and feel slightly different, your colleagues will have a lot more culture references to bond over – these will make you feel the outsider more than once. Work to make real friends, find your tribe inside and outside of work, do not let yourself become isolated. The first year will be exhausting, so take good breaks, refresh your soul in whatever manner that serves you.
- Have a house warming party and invite the people you like from work
- Have multiple dinner parties (even if you order take out)
- Boardgames Nights
Working in the US
Here are some other things I noticed that are different but have yet to process them. Some of them maybe related to where I work.
- Style of communications
- Conflict Resolution
- Office Politics
- How Race is talked about
- How Gender is talked about
- How Religion is talked about