Alexandre Mandryka (Game Design Consultant at Game Whispering, Inc.) has coined a term for what he sees as a very real affliction: Old Grumpy Designer Syndrome. He sees OGDS as the rot setting in, when designers have no clear career path in-front of them.
Whilst they hold years of experience under their belt, have enjoyed positions at the helm of ground-breaking design and techniques, are masters of numerous tools and pipelines, and teachers to others coming up through the ranks, they themselves can feel as if there’s nothing else to achieve or nowhere else to go. And that, says Alexandre, is where apathy and OGDS can lie.
The symptoms of Old Grumpy Designer Syndrome can be shooting down the ideas of others, with a pessimistic outlook that new premises won’t work, or a violent resistance to change that eventually makes the OGD toxic to work with. Whilst younger team members may pray the OGD is put out to pasture as someone past his best, there’s huge value in the old dog yet.
Though it’s a painful conversation, it’s one that’s necessary – to make the OGD see the impact on the rest of the team of their continual shutting down of new theories and ideas. Often, the OGD doesn’t want to be toxic, they just no longer know how to adapt to changes when they come. There are many reasons why people resist change, such as a feeling that they’ll lose control, lose face, or have more work heaped on them; that they’ve lost their resilience and can only cope with changes when they’re meticulously prepared for – they may even be concerned with their competence: it’s easier to shoot an idea down than find out if the skills they hold are now obsolete.
This defensiveness and low self-esteem can be at the root of such behaviour, suggests Alexandre. Bringing others down, however misguided, makes the OGD shine in comparison.
For some OGDs, they may have simply spent too long in one place to ever feel enthused again. A change of scene may be the only catalyst for changing their attitude. But if they’re so resistant to anything new, how can this be a possibility?
Perhaps a small change may be something to consider. Finding the same role they’re already doing but with another organisation may revitalise their outlook, as may a modification to their existing role, such as going part-time to indulge outside interests more, or moving to another project. A secondment may even energise the OGD on their return.
Analysing the aspects of their role that are oppressive or which grind them down may prove helpful too. Delegating some admin or responsibility may lighten the load and mood of the OGD; perhaps they’d like to travel less, or they need more support.
Coaching may be the answer in some cases, to find out exactly what makes the OGD an OGD. Coaching doesn’t provide the answers but helps the ‘coachee’ arrive at the answers themselves, effectively unlocking their thoughts and desires commonly hidden away inside as they go about their day to day business. Coaching can help the OGD determine their skills and capabilities, and how they would like to put them into practice in an ideal world, in a way that aligns with their values and interests.
Intervention is necessary, for the OGD’s sake, and everyone else’s. Left alone, the OGD can slowly become more toxic and obnoxious – however much they’d prefer not to be. Putting the OGD on a new career path in a role that’s stimulating, and/or removing any worry and unwanted responsibility, can be all that’s needed. The team can then benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge the OGD holds….don’t pack him off to his retirement just yet.
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