by Gunjan Trivedi

Lose Focus, Gain Creativity

May 18, 20144 mins
Construction and Engineering IndustryEnterprise ApplicationsIT Leadership

Losing the relentless focus and taking a team-wide break from punishing project schedules can make you more productive than ever.

Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media.

Quite naturally, the teams return to their main task at hand much rejuvenated, with a profound sense to continually innovate.

You understand a problem. You come up with an answer. You figure out ways to introduce the solution. You execute the project. You assess the results. You either celebrate success or analyze failure. You plan to improvise further. And then, you go about identifying another problem to solve. Sounds familiar?  

I am sure we all are aware of the loop that we have got ourselves and our teams into. And, I believe we know that this persistent, unending, multi-dimensional spiral can easily sap our creativity and throw us off track. Yet, most of us just continue down the path despite realizing that it’s detrimental to our productivity and effectiveness at large.

It’s like you are so focused on pushing down hard on the accelerator that you may forget to change the gears. You get the drift, I am sure. Ironically, it’s not just about individuals burning out at work. It in fact impacts team personality and organizational behavior as well.

I am no life coach and I am not even attempting to paraphrase Who Moved My Cheese.  I am rather interested in drawing your attention to a tad simple approach in dealing with this dilemma.

The CEO of a game developing company Double Fine Productions, Tim Schafer calls it ‘Amnesia Fortnight’. The idea is pretty straightforward. It seems an uncanny combination of stepping back to take breaks and shelf engineering.

The entire 60-member studio takes a two-week break from big, multi-million dollar projects, and simply forgets what it is working on. Journalist and writer, Joshua Rivera reports in an article in Fast Company on this Amnesia Fortnight phenomena. He writes that the studio is divided into four teams, each focusing on creating a small game prototype, all unrelated to the organization’s main projects.

Rivera writes that the first Amnesia Fortnights happened a few years ago during the development of Double Fine’s second production¬—a heavy metal-themed action game called Brütal Legend—as a way to keep the team from burning out. “I thought, I love being in this crazy heavy metal fantasy world for five years, but maybe not everybody does. Maybe they would like a break,” says Schafer in Fast Company’s article.

Schafer credits this approach to award-winning Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. The director adopted this technique during the three-year production of his film: Ashes of Time. Kar-wai took actors and crew to Hong Kong out of the production schedule, without almost any script or plan, and made much acclaimed and incredible films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels during the break.

“Moreover, I think even the act of experimentation has to be experimented with,” Schafer further observes in the article. “So we change how we do the format of Amnesia Fortnight every year, and we come up with new twists to it all the time. Because even if you’re doing this wild and crazy experimental thing, if you just do the same thing every time people will start to repeat ideas.”

Quite naturally, the teams return to their main task at hand much rejuvenated, with a profound sense to continually innovate. In fact, over the years the creative experiments that began as morale-boosting, innovation encouraging organization-wide breaks, kept the gaming studio alive as well.

With their sequel to their mega game dead, the company had four small games developed during their Amnesia Fortnight experiments. All four—Costume Quest, Iron Brigade, Stacking, and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster-—were released in a span of two years. Nevertheless, an argument can be made that this approach lends itself more to an organization with creative pursuits. But, I strongly believe that there are good lessons to be learnt. We can definitely improvise on such techniques to suit our scope better. Ready to forget and experiment?    Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media. He is an award-winning writer with over a decade of experience in Indian IT. Before becoming a journalist, he had been a hands-on IT specialist, with expertise in setting up WANs. Reach him at