Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hello from your new Program Coordinator

There's so much I want to say, and so many ways I want to say it. I've started multiple drafts of this post since I found out, and none of them seemed quite right. I think that it never really sunk in until the announcement today, so now that it is public, I'm just going to start writing and stop when it feels done.

Program Coordinator. PC. It's the most mysterious advanced role in the Judge Program. Grand Prix Head Judges administer events, Regional Coordinators run communities, and Program Coordinators... coordinate the program? All of it? A lot of people want PCs to be the true leaders of the Judge Program, the "monarchs" or what the Level 5s used to be. At least those are the kinds of analogies I've heard. But if asked the PCs, they would frequently deny being the true leaders of the Judge Program. "We coordinate, not lead." It's been a consistent refrain from the PCs, one where they focus on administration, but one that has frustrated those people looking for more monarchy, more leadership.

So here I am. Do I lead or do I coordinate? Am I a monarch or an administrator? None of these fit me well. I'm actually a pretty bad administrator, and I've found the most success when I've had better organized planners to work with. I am a strong leader, but I've done better as a leader of individuals and not of projects. To lead individuals on a global scale seems exhausting.

The word that appeals to me is facilitator. That word and coordinator occupy similar spaces, but coordinator still feels too much like someone telling everyone what to do, the monarch, whereas a facilitator listens to what you want to do and helps you accomplish it. This is a big part of what I want to do. I want to listen to you.

I recently had a conversation with someone where they used the phrase "I'm willing to die on this hill." I never liked this phrase. First off, I don't want to die. As a runner, when I think of hills, I see a challenge to overcome, a goal to accomplish. I see a hill and I say "How do I conquer this hill?" There are a lot of hills in the Judge Program, and recently it feels like people are choosing which ones to die on. I want you to help me conquer them, to run up them together, and enjoy a Rocky-esque moment of celebration at the top.

I want to inspire and enable. That said, I do have some ideas and a vision. You can't get to be PC without some ideas for what the Program should do. I'd like to share that vision with you because I would like your buy-in and your help. With that in mind, I've also published my answer to the 3rd Program Coordinator application question in a separate blog post here. If I were a politician, I would consider this to be my platform, and when the question asks "how will you help?" this is when I ask for your help in making these ideas into a reality.

Here's the part where I give thanks. Many people have helped me to craft my ideas and my words. It's cliche, but there are too many to name here, so I will focus on Nicholas Sabin, Eric Dustin Brown, Jacob Milicic, and Fabian Peck who helped edit my PC application. I particularly want to call out Fabian as the person who was my personal cheerleader throughout the application process. It is doubtful that my ideas would have been so fully formed and well-written without his encouragement and accountability. When I talk about facilitating the success of others, he did that for me.

Finally, I want to say how bittersweet it is for me step into this new role as Toby Elliott leaves it. Toby has been a lot of things to me over the years. Even as I applied for PC, I knew that Toby would not be staying on. A part of me will always think of it as Toby's seat, and as I have always done while following in his footsteps, I will work hard to make him proud. (btw Kim Warren is great as well, and I'll miss her, but it's hard to compare her impact on my judge career to Toby.)

So there we have it. It's getting late and I've said most of what I wanted to say. I'm excited for this new opportunity, and I'm really excited that people are excited.

Program Coordinator Application Question 3

Question 3: What should the Program Coordinators accomplish in the next 18 months, and how will you help?
Judges love to talk about feedback. They don’t like to give it, and probably hate receiving it even more. This is the dark truth of the Judge Program. Like the Fellowship of the Rings, the feedback culture in the Judge Program is broken. What’s wrong with it and how do we fix it?

I think that feedback culture is upside down right now. So much of it is focused on how best to give feedback, and there’s no discussion about how to receive it. People clamor for feedback, saying that they don’t receive enough reviews, but when they receive an unexpected review, or feedback that contradicts their self image, the response is to attack the giver. This is creating a culture where people are afraid to give feedback.

There are artifacts of this everywhere in the Judge Program. For example, the “best practice” of clearing your feedback with the subject, either via face-to-face or a draft. I do agree that it is a best practice, but many have raised to the level of a canonical requirement, and get upset when it doesn’t happen. Putting the burden of clearing the feedback beforehand hurts the cause of the giver. Meanwhile, we aren’t doing anything to help train the receiver on how to take the feedback.

Yes, we can always educate and train judges to be better at how they give feedback, but we need to acknowledge the other end of these feedback dynamics and at least begin to make people aware that feedback is a relationship.

Relationships are an aspect of feedback culture that is underdeveloped in the Judge Program. All the instances of asking for feedback are random and disorganized. Even L3 recommendations, which should be the paragon of strong relationships between judges often fall to a “whoever will do it” basis rather than finding the people that matter to you most.

The most easily internalized feedback comes from those people who care about you. We should emphasize this and seek to create avenues for these strong bonds between judges to drive our feedback, and not the random chance of “you happened to be on my team.” Part of the above problem of judges not being accepting of feedback is that they aren’t accepting of feedback from certain people. We should seek to find the people the people that we will accept feedback from, and engage them to help deliver the feedback. This might take the form of something like the old judge pyramid or listing trusted feedback mentors in our profiles.

When it comes to the feedback culture, I believe that I am one of the most vocal leaders (other strong voices are Riccardo Tessitori and Dustin de Leeuw). In the past, I’ve been more focused on reviews, but I’ve made a push to change the conversation to feedback in general, and more recently to emphasize strong relationships and holding each other accountable. If feedback is going to be a core principle of the Judge Program again, my track record makes me one of its best spokespersons.

Diversity and Representation
Like feedback, the Judge Program talks a big talk (probably bigger) when it comes to diversity. The Judge Program is, on the surface, a welcoming and inclusive organization. However, there is a difference between merely promoting diversity as a general culture and focusing on changing the balance of representation, and this is where we need to focus more of our efforts on.

Changing the balance of representation often brings with it concerns that the bar is being lowered to let disadvantaged groups in. However, when there is a lack of representation in general, it takes extraordinary individuals to break through the glass ceiling. These people work even harder than the standard to fight against the inertia that is present, and it is my belief that reaching out to help more such people would not compromise our standards of quality.

Magic currently has a gender imbalance issue. Mark Rosewater once released a statistic that 38% of Magic players were women. This stat seemed wrong to a lot of people because when they looked around, they didn’t see that many women playing. Look no further than PT Aether Revolt, which had 2 women playing out of 424 players (less than 0.5%). SCG Tour events hover somewhere in the single digits. That’s a stark drop off from 38%.

This disparity in numbers has everything to do with the often unwelcoming environment of Magic tournaments, and this is where judges enter the picture. We are the ones responsible for these environments. We need to have more women at the front lines of the Judge Program (L1 store judges) to serve as gatekeepers and role models for more women to play the game. And for that to happen, we need to present role models among our high level judges as well.

To achieve this end goal, I propose that the Judge Program have dedicated avenues by which we recruit women to judging. There are two primary ways to do this:
Publicly showcase women in judging. Judge of the Week, other blogs and publications, putting women in key public positions. This normalizes the presence of women in judging and provides examples and role models for aspiring women to follow. These efforts don’t have to be directed “look at all the women” efforts. We can simply alter the ratios without necessarily bringing attention to it.
I want to address the fact that showcasing women, no matter how subtly done, will face sexist comments and actions. For example, when women are on camera in the feature match area as players or judges. It is important that efforts of representation are accompanied by both broad and specific messages condemning such actions swiftly and diplomatically. I had heard that there was a group of judges who were moderators in Twitch chat. Such a group should be supported, educated, and empowered to act on behalf of the Judge Program.
Have programs that encourage women to become judges or advance in the Judge Program, either vertically (in level) or horizontally (leading projects). One specific idea is a “women mentoring women” program that can put geographically disparate judges in contact with each other. I also think that we should be doing more than passively hoping certain strong L2s decide to advance to L3. the path to L3 isn’t an easy one. The path to L3 as a woman is even harder. We should have more direct and personal mentorship for those candidates, and more open channels of communication to listen to the issues that they face in the workplace.

I also want to emphasize that gender diversity shouldn’t be the only thing on the agenda, but currently it is the most glaring, and highlighting representation in other ways should not be ignored.

Growth Check
The general sentiment is that the Judge Program is nearing the end of its growth phase, and that we can no longer operate in the same ways that we have before. One example of this is the L3 forum. The collective number of L3s recently passed Dunbar’s number. While the merits of this theory or the exact number of people that can be in a sustainable network can be debated, the fact that we’ve crossed this threshold indicates that we should at least entertain the notion that our old methods of organizing and communicating might need an overhaul.

Moving back to spheres provides a renewed ability to subdivide L3s into various interest groups. This could be a way to continue discussions in smaller groups. The danger in breaking up the leadership is that you still want there to be some upper management communication and coordination. I don’t know that the PCs alone would suffice for this, and creating a second tier of management here starts to smell a lot like L4 and 5 again. To counteract that, I believe that more project management should fall to L2s and L1s. L3s are experts at a lot of things, but project management isn’t necessarily one of them. I believe this is a similar divide to the way L4 was split up between events and program. It’s a split that we should continue to embrace down the line.

Various policies that encourage unbridled growth should be reevaluated. One such policy that was recently brought up is the “train 2 judges in the last 12 months” requirement to advance to L3. While the actual number of new judges that comes about because of this may be small, it sends the message that growth is a priority.

An important consideration is that not all communities are at the same place in growth, and the Program should be sensitive to these differences. However, I believe it is more important to send the general message of slow growth now and deal with those communities on a case-by-case basis to encourage the local leaders to pursue independent courses of action that differ from the overall message. Having slow growth policies ready to go would also be helpful for when those communities catch up and reach a point of oversaturation.

My three core points have a lot of interplay. If we seek to slow down growth and emphasize making judges better, then feedback and emphasizing strong mentoring relationships plays a role in that. If we want to increase representation, that is going to lead to a swell in the number of judges, something that we should prepare for by slowing down growth in general.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Whitewashing in my Life

There's been some chatter lately about the movie adaptation of the "Ghost in the Shell" anime, and in particular the topic of whitewashing with regard to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese character. I've never watched the original anime, but I have been Japanese all my life, so I thought I would share my personal perspective on whitewashing in general.

One of my earliest memories of feeling like something was wrong, way before I knew that the term whitewashing even existed, was watching the movie "Rising Sun." It featured a bunch of Japanese characters who spoke broken Japanese, as if they were just reading words from a script without even knowing the language. In fact, looking at the cast, there are a bunch of Hawaiian-born actors, so this is probably very true. These people may have been of Japanese descent, but they were being asked to play Japanese Yakuza (mafia) members, and their accents were worse than Kevin Costner's in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." It was jarring, and it made the movie unwatchable for me.

This would be a pretty consistent theme throughout my life. Japanese would be spoken by supposedly native speakers, but it would be stilted and awkward. It's been a few years since I've watched it, but "Karate Kid: Part II," a movie that takes place in Japan, is rife with bad Japanese and even bad English spoken with fake Japanese accents. Just look at this interview with two of the actors who were called upon to play Japanese characters, and try to imagine them speaking Japanese.

Speaking different languages is hard. I grew up speaking Japanese with my family, so I have a pretty authentic accent, but without much practice, my vocabulary has atrophied a bit. I could live in Japan, and immersed in the culture, I would probably revert pretty quickly. Asking actors who don't speak much Japanese, if at all, to pull off movie dialogue works out about as well as this. This scene was played for some quick laughs, but this has been my life with Japanese characters in movies. I am shown people who look like me, mostly Hawaiian actors with Japanese ancestry, but who don't speak like me.

Along comes the "Ghost in the Shell" controversy, and multiple people have posted about this street interview with Japanese people who are okay with Scarlett Johansson playing the main character, Motoko Kusanagi. It's stunning that people are holding this up as... what? I'm not even sure, but it bothers me a lot, because it feels like it is a denial that whitewashing has existed at all, or at the very least a rebuttal against the condemnation of "Ghost in the Shell." Oh, these Japanese people said it was okay. I must be wrong to feel offended.

Let's be clear. I've experienced something completely different from what Japanese people in Japan have experienced when it comes to movies and TV. They get to watch hours and hours of entertainment featuring genuine Japanese actors and voices. For the most part, I've gotten the equivalent of Brad Pitt speaking Italian, except that it has been presented to me without irony. I hope that this puts things into better perspective. Thanks for reading.