The day after the CMMYs

Critical Mass works hard. We know that from all the various nervous ticks we’ve developed over the years from working too hard.

So you can imagine that when we play, we make up for the difference.

There are two annual events in the Critical Mass calendar. The first is the Summer Event, which has been a staple since I started back in 2000. The other, a more recent edition, is the CMMYs (pronounced “see-emmies”). It’s our own internal awards show, showcasing the work we’ve done over the last year. It’s a combination of the Emmys, the Oscars, the MTV Movie Awards, and a car crash. Namely, that it runs longer than you think, but you just can’t stop watching it.

During CMMY week, Critical Mass is a madhouse. Mostly because we import all of our offices to Calgary and still try to function. The Calgary office surprisingly can still accomodate all those people — well over 300 of them — and not have to share desks. Meeting rooms, on the other hand, are in much shorter supply. And that’s a problem when meetings become a priority because everyone’s here. And because it’s a prime time for 2006 planning.

Needless to say, I’m glad that this week is nearly over — the meetings have been murder, and I’ve not gotten nearly enough done. Next week, things will return to normal. I hope.

The events of this week have been varied, but interesting. People started arriving Monday morning from the Toronto office — I wasn’t expecting people until Tuesday at the earliest. The Bistro was quite full at breakfast. Faces I’d not seen in quite some time (partly due to me leaving the Mercedes-Benz account) were a happy sight. And a lot of faces that I’ve never seen before.

I used to pride myself on knowing everyone in the company. But there are just too many of them now. I think I’ll be lucky to know even half of Critical Mass. Half of that number I might know personally. It might be a small world, but there are lot of people in it.

Tuesday was the Town Hall and Department meetings. The winter Town Hall is often … well, dull. Not because it’s all financial and organizational material. Not just because. It’s mostly because it’s not played up as much as the summer Town Hall, which has been the source of some absolute hilarity at the complete expense of anything business-related. So the winter session is a little harder to sit through.

The Department meeting was also a little hard to sit through, despite the lubrication of having beer readily available. The major issue was how the Technology department will work at Critical Mass. We’ve reorganized a bit, and we’re now part of the Strategy group. This, I like. I like the idea that Planning will come before Design, and that Technology is a part of that planning. The trouble is, that’s not the way that Critical Mass has worked in the past — Technology has historically come after the Design phase.

It’s not that we’re objected to change, only that we don’t understand yet how it will all work. But that’s the thing — no-one has spelled it out in detail. And no-one will — you can’t, there’s just too many things to state to make it an effective piece of communication. But it’s the direction that matters, and it’s something we need to pay closer attention to. Agility and strategic positioning is what it’s all about.

Wednesday was all about meetings of various kinds. Two of particular importance to me, however, were the Web Development meetings. First was a meeting of the Senior web developers. This is the steering group, the ones who set the best practices in the company, and guide the rest of the team in our daily work. For the last few weeks, we’ve been establishing our own internal standards. We’ve had the standards embedded in our culture for a long time, but never actually written down. Now that we have more than one production office, we need to get our act together.

The topic of this meeting? It was important to have this specific meeting, given that all of our seniors were in the same place (except Colin, who got sucked away to a client visit in California). This was the sort of discussion that required everyone present. It’s a religious debate amongst developers, one that widely divides camps, and creates shouting matches. (Which is also why I bought beer, so we could keep it somewhat calm.)

Tabs vs. spaces.

For those of you in the programming field, you know what I mean. For those of you who have no idea what the big deal is, well, it’s hard to explain the passion that abounded about which standard we would use. Personally, I didn’t care. Or I didn’t until that meeting. As the arguments went along, I fell into line with Dennis’ well-crafted argument to use tabs. Torin’s defence of spaces never really quite caught on for me, though it was also well-handled. Tabs won out.

The next meeting was not as successful as I would have liked: the Web Dev Bru Ha Ha. Every so often, we try to get the entire Web Dev team out for a drink after work. It’s a chance to mingle and get to know one another. But despite having the entire team in the city, we got barely half of the team out. Sadly, or fortunately (depending on your view), it just means we’ll have to keep trying until we get it right.

Thursday, yesterday, was the big day. Everyone was anticipating the big night. And we knew from the start that this was going to be something interesting, when spying the Brokeback Mountain poster taped to one of the meeting room walls … and then realizing that it said “Brettback Evan” and featured the faces of two of our IT wizards, Brett and Evan in place of Heath and Jake.

One final meeting was the BU meeting — the Business Unit that we belong to. Our BUs are colour-coded, and contain one or more accounts depending on their size. Until a week or so ago, I was part of the Orange BU. That was until we found out that our newest client — for whom I’m the Technology Director — was a lot larger than we’d thought. Now I’m in the Gold BU. We’re still small, but we’ll be growing this year. But due to our compact size, we could easily squeeze into the upper floor of the Rose and Crown. We were back at the office just before 17:00 to get ready for the CMMYs.

The Hyatt project team at the Hyatt hotel for CMMYs, 16 February 2006

The CMMYs are a time for Critical Mass to play it up a bit. It’s also a time for us to look more presentable than usual. In fact, there’s even a dress code: No jeans, no running shoes, no hats. That’s it, so it leaves a lot of options open — no matter what your sense of taste is. Last year, it brought out guys in the stereotypically gaudy 1970’s powder blue tuxedos complete with the ruffled shirts. It’s a chance for Jerry, our Chairman, to break out his very dapper tuxedo. It’s a chance for people to dress up in ways they normally wouldn’t, and enjoy the change.

Benno, Mich, Jerry, Dan at the Hyatt for CMMYs, 16 February 2006

Deciding that I’ve worn my wedding suit too often (it’s becoming a pattern), I opted for something a little different. I wore my kilt.

Actually, it was my dad’s kilt. Custom-made in Scotland. It’s a heavy little bugger, but it looks great. The last time I’d worn it was at Cathy’s wedding. Back then, I didn’t like the kilt so much. It’s a winter-weight kilt, which means you bake in the middle of the summer. I was also a few pounds heavier, meaning I barely fit in it.

I’m thinner now (thanks to Arthur), so wearing it isn’t such a burden. And being winter, it’s more comfortable. Well, almost. It figures that the first actual cold day since winter began in Calgary is the day I’m going to not wear pants. It was -35 with the wind chill.

We all arrived at the Calgary Hyatt for 18:00 — the start of cocktail time. When Neil spotted me walking into the coat check area, he spied my hairy legs poking out from under my Morrison dress tartan, and immediately declared: “I don’t wanna know.”

He was referring, of course, to the oft-mentioned fact: what do Scotsmen wear beneath the kilt? You’d be surprised how often I was asked that question. But only one person dared check: John. The sheep-shagging haggis stuffer was the only one bold enough to continue hauling it up. I don’t think he ever got a good look, thankfully! John and I have a long history, though — he was my account manager on my first project. I met him for the first time when I’d had to be sent down to Cincinnati to fix a problem on another project.

Dinner was served promptly at 19:00 … I think. I’d officially lost track of time by then. I was at the back of the room with my fellow technical cohorts, most of them Flash developers. The rest were web developers. I felt like the old fart at the table, and not just the fact that I’m older than the rest of them. I’ve been at Critical Mass nearly six years — only Natalia came close to my tenure. I’ve been at Critical Mass long enough to be able to remember the events coming up on the projection screen.

Table 16’s occupants at the Hyatt hotel for CMMYs, 16 February 2006

(Incidentally, to the Critical Mass historian: the first town hall that took place at the Danish Community Centre followed by a visit to Ceili’s took place in 2000, not 1999 as it appeared. I know — I was there. I have witnesses to that effect.)

Dinner was surprisingly good. I was worried that our meals would be … not terribly satisfying due to the banquet-style serving. But the Hyatt did an outstanding job of my steak. Certainly something worth praising, I think.

Following dinner, we began the awards show. Every year, we strive to have someone worthy of being on stage, someone who can captivate the audience, while simultaneously being able to offer witty, sometimes slanderous quips. Who else but the beautiful Arif?

The awards go for most risky project, ones with the most changes before it was complete, best integration, and so forth. Mixed in between the awards were short clips of video promoting our CMVPs, one of whom would be chosen as CMVP of the year. It’s a big honour … and a big cheque. I’d filmed some stuff for Torin’s segment. The best part was seeing how the video was edited into it’s final form. Quotes were intentionally taken out of reference, things spliced in such a way as to tell a story that no one person could tell.

Also thrown in were two other special events. The first was a tribute to Jerry, our new Chairman of the Board. Jerry used to be the CEO, but we had a restructuring this year that put Jerry to the head of the heap. I’ve gotten to know Jerry a bit over the years, though I know most of my knowledge is courtesy of stories told by others. Though Jerry does tell a number of good ones, himself.

The second was a tribute to employee #001. It was introduced by Darren, who believed himself to be #001. As the story goes, though, he found out that he wasn’t in fact #001. So he renumbered himself to #000. The one bearing #001 is Randy — our first financial wizard. Randy doesn’t say much, but he certainly did this time. And Randy didn’t allow himself to stay alone, asking up the other original few who are still with Critical Mass. It was time to celebrate one more thing:


No, wait, sorry — that was afterwards. It was to celebrate 10 Years of Critical Mass. Ten years ago, Ted Hellard and Michel Clairo started a little CD-ROM firm. Today, we’re the top interactive agency in North America. A few people working out of a living room turned into a seven-office marketing demon with over 300 employees. I’ve been here over half of its life, and I think I’m going to be here for a long time to come … I hope.

As a present to everyone who had helped Critical Mass get to where we are, everyone was given a gift: iPods. 30GB versions to the permanent employees, Shuffles to the term employees. I’ve already got a Nano, so this was icing on the cake. On the back is an inscription: “CRITICAL MASS Ten years and counting”.

Brett won for CMVP of the year — deservedly so. The presentation was accompanied by the trailer for Brettback Evan, a parody of Brokeback Mountain. Every year, every meeting like this, someone creates a classic Critical Mass video. This was the CMMYs’ contribution to posterity. It joins the class of “Arif Striptease”, “Dirty J”, “Luke’s Workout”, and “The Office Enforcer”. One day, I’ll need to get a DVD of all of these.

We never all made it to Ducky’s. That had been the plan. But in typical awards fashion, we didn’t wrap up the show until nearly midnight. By then, it was clear we were better off staying at the Hyatt. I held out until about 2:00 before finally weaving my way home. I’m not able to handle the drive as well as I used to — I must be getting old.

Afterparty at the Hyatt hotel for CMMYs, 16 February 2006

This morning was a little rough. My head hurt. Tylenol, an extra-cheesy omelette, a -25 degree walk to the bus stop to get to work (I left my car at the office so I wouldn’t drive home), and four mugs of jasmine tea corrected the queasiness.

My throat hurts, and my voice is a good octave lower. That’s mostly due to yelling. As anyone who’s been around me after two beers and in a noisy environment knows, my ability to control the volume of my voice goes right out the window. I’m sure I deafened Ryan when I was encouraging him to be passionate about something he wants to do.

Gary showed up at work in the same clothes as last night. He doesn’t fully remember everything. He wasn’t even sure if he took pictures (he did) or what happened to his jacket. People are calling in sick. Those here aren’t moving with the same vigour as usual. Pictures from last night look … interesting.

God, I love this company.