07 Jul 8 things I learned from Club Penguin & Disney
I’m moving on to some new things and saying farewell to Disney today. Here’s the waddle on letter I wrote to my amazing team.
Dear penguins and people,
Today is my last day and I wrote a goodbye. I offer 2 options—as is customary in my editorial world. 😀
Short version (300 characters with spaces)
I adore Disney. I adore penguins. I probably adore you, or at least what you do. (But if you’re Keely Portsmouth. I won’t hug you.) Thank you for every amazing contribution you’ve ever made to this place. Thank you for teaching me ALL THE THINGS. I will keep those learnings for my whole life.—Deanna
Long version (I didn’t count the characters or spaces. It’s long. If you’re not into self-indulgent nostalgia and life lessons, stop reading.)
8 Life Lessons From Penguin
I spent 9+ years here. My time has been split between Club Penguin and Disney Interactive. I’ve done some writing, some narrative design, and helped create some branding experiences—all with exceptionally talented teams. I’m moving on, but leaving a few things behind—things like some of the characters, stories, and campaigns we’ve got going on, some of the most amazing people on the planet, and some sassy post-it-notes from Monika B. circa 2009 when she was in her “roses are red” poem-writing phase. (Actually, I better take those.) I’m also taking important lessons I’ve learned along the way.
LEARN FROM YOUR NOSEPICKERS (aka Be the best listener ever)
There are people smarter than you. Most of them are under the age of 10. Listen to them with your brain and heart.
(Also listen to Nat H. On my first day of work she told me to create a secure password for my penguin. Alas, overwhelmed, I jumped right into to writing and ignored her wisdom. My password was weak… and a penguin perp took over Deamama and it was banned during my first 24 hours of employment. They also renamed my lone puffle “Nosepicker.” Can’t lie—I thought it was rather charming. From that day forward, for the last 9 years, I named all my puffles “Nosepicker” as a reminder to be a good listener.)
GRAB YOUR KEYTAR AND TAKE THE STAGE (aka Make noise about what you believe in)
You’ve got so much experience, expertise, knowledge, and value. You know what you’re talking about. Stand up for the things you know to be true and right.
(Shadow ninjas. Oxford commas. EPF classes. DRAGONS. A girl villain. You win some and you lose some. But whatever you think you need to die on a sword for, do it with unwavering, gracious conviction.)
MAKE ROOM FOR OTHERS WITH KEYTARS (aka Listen when others take the stage)
Everyone around you has so much experience, expertise, knowledge, and value. They know what they’re talking about. Respect that they do the things they know to be true and right.
(Like the great cookie/We must have honor and strength/And chocolate chips—Sensei)
INVITE EVERYONE TO THE PENGUIN PARTY (aka Collaboration is a privilege & a duty)
Teamwork makes the dream work. I used to say this with a dry, droll, ironic edge. Now I don’t. And it’s not enough to just talk and listen in turn. Make space for your teammates to do the same in whatever unique way they need to talk and listen.
(One of the animators here brainstormed brilliantly—and silently—with post-it-notes. He was quiet… but a powerful creative force. Keep the awareness that people have processes different than yours. Don’t only accommodate them, but advocate for them.)
OPERATION BLACKOUT FOREVER (aka Balance the planned with the spontaneous)
We all adore a well-planned, beautifully executed, high-stakes storyline. Even better? When that story comes out of something unexpected. Classic Club Penguin’s Operation Blackout was a narrative born unexpectedly… “Blackout” originated as a note on a whiteboard and referred to the developers’ down-time… but the team took the EPF story and ran with it. Why? Because it was an amazing narrative. Because the players wanted it. Because delight is everything.
(So plant story threads that aren’t yet fully woven! Leave piles of rubble that aren’t yet explained! Throw in a random shadow without knowing a backstory! Leave hieroglyphs on walls and random notes on forest paths! Cultivate an abundant, volatile, creative environment of myth and mystery and unending opportunity for people to pick up the sparks and light them. Do this with carefully crafted words and art and design.)
WEAR A DISCO WIG EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE IF YOU WANT (aka Protect the penguin culture)
One time, a young girl said something in a test group that not only moved people, it reaffirmed, validated, and paved the way to reinforce our penguin pillars. There are so many stakeholders. Everyone is working so hard within the parameters of their own roles. Do that… but also be the person who also remembers the why. If everything you do, make, and create serves your players, you’re winning.
(If this fades after time, skip a meeting and go play. Serve the audience—preferably stinky cheese and squid sticks, right from the Foodtrekker.)
INVENT CRAZY STUFF ALA GARY (aka Be visionary…)
Creativity 3000. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to work with some of the most creative minds and visionary people in the industry. At key times, the vast latitude we were given to make absolutely crazy and unbelievable storylines, features, and creative allowed us to be leaders in the space. It’s not easy to trust like that. But wow… the magic!
(Leaders and teammates…endless gratitude to you—and you all know who you are—who paved the way to stomp on fear and to empower the dreamers and doers to push the limits and make it all happen.)
WADDLE ON (aka There’s always a new party…)
It used to be hard for me to accept change. I hated when we’d rip down the fabulous once-a-month (pixel) experiences. It took a while to get used to the idea that no matter how dynamic and amazing the experience is that I’m living right now, a new one awaits. I’m at a place on my path where waddling in a new direction feels as good as having 6 puffles called Nosepicker.
(Just imagine if we’d decided the pinnacle of Club Penguin was that pined-for Water Party of 2008! Thank goodness we moved forward to create new ones!)
I’m going to miss you—and this. You’ve been an amazing part and party of my life and I’m forever grateful.
Deanna (aka Deamama)