bridge the distance

If you haven’t picked it up by now, creative artists and technical artists are very different. We think differently. We are interested in different things. We come at the same problem from two totally different vantage points. The nice part is that both groups want to solve the same problem; we’re at least on the same page there.

IMG_1618There is much misunderstanding that originates from this one fact. Usually we are running so fast, that we only have time to deal with our own point of view. Unfortunately, when we are fully immersed in our own perspective, we can misread someone else’s perspective as opposition.

I’m an introvert. I like being in the booth. I’m happy to let the people on stage do their thing…while I stay in the booth. Plus, I’m pretty busy running around trying to make their ideas happen.

Because of this perspective I had as a younger version of myself, I spent a lot of time waiting for people to come to me and to get to know me; to understand the challenges I was facing. I figured the music director would ask me out to coffee any minute.

History has shown me over the years that I will wait a long time. It has nothing to do with the music director not caring, and it has everything to do with the reality that we are all really busy and we are all feeling alone and misunderstood.

One day the light bulb went on for me. If I wanted to be understood and if I wanted to feel like somebody gave a rip about my world, maybe I should do something about it. Maybe I should make the first move.

While there is a physical distance that separates the booth from the stage, there is a chasm of another kind that separates the stage and the booth. It is a gap that exists because of our differences, perceived and real. It is distance that exists because Satan wants to use our differences and the physical distance that separates us to drive us further apart.

Thanks for the pep talk, Elliott!

What are some practical ways you can shrink the spiritual, emotional and personality distance between the booth and the stage?

learn a new art form

I’m a huge proponent of becoming more acquainted with the creative process. As someone who is usually executing other people’s ideas, I don’t fully understand what is involved in coming up with those ideas. I just need to make them happen. From my limited perspective, the creative process can seem very black and white. The reality is very different.

Art roomFor many of us, there is something that we are really good at. Whether you are an audio mixer or a systems engineer or a lighting designer, you are an artist of something. You are exercising your creativity in some way. Because we tend to be most comfortable staying in the realm where we know we can succeed in, we tend to get locked in this perspective of the world.

Breaking out of the rut you might be in, can be very useful to helping understand other people’s perspectives. Learning a new craft can also help you get in touch with what is really involved in the creative process. How many of us wished that our senior pastor would sit down with us while we edited so they could understand what their changes meant? What I’m suggesting is the same thing, only we’re the ones learning something new.

I have a fairly short attention span, which means I’m trying new things all the time. Photography. Watercolor painting. Piano. Guitar. Sculpture. What usually happens is that I don’t get really good at anything, but I develop a better appreciation for those who are really good in those areas.

It also has helped to understand that just because I can think of an idea, it doesn’t usually turn out that way in real life. If I’m trying to paint something with watercolors, the water does what it wants and I just need to go with it. If I have an idea for a sculpture, it might take me 10 tries before it even resembles a fraction of my idea.

The exercise of learning something new helps to expand my perspective from just my own limited one, to one that includes a few other data points. Not that I can fully know all that my creative arts counterparts are dealing with, but having a mercy for anyone in a creative process can help us work together better.

Learn something new. Widen your perspective.

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wait 5 minutes, then freak out

In my early days of work at a church full time, I was the technical director of a church that met in a high school theater. It was a brand new facility and the theater was state-of-the-art, so it was a pretty sweet set up. On the downside, we had 3 semi-trailers full of gear to set up and tear down each week. Fortunately, there was a great team of volunteers who knocked it out every week. Freak Out signFor the most part, we had a pretty robust system for getting all this stuff set up and working on time. However, there were several times that there was a glitch in the system. That one time I overslept. Those times when the custodian opening the building overslept. And the countless times that rooms in the building were double booked. I can remember one such time where the cafeteria, which was our video overflow room, was also rented out to some kind of yoga group. When we realized there was an issue, most of my team started to freak out. Not just mild freak out, but full on “how can church possibly still happen” and “this is a major disaster” types of panic. In that moment, I wanted to join in with the whole team freak out. I figured it would be a great bonding moment for us. But although I  wanted to panic, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t help any of us. Not only would it just be one more person losing it, but as the leader, I was certain my team needed to see me stay calm. In the split second it took my brain to go through this exercise, I decided to stay calm for 5 minutes while I tried to solve the problem. After 5 minutes, if we hadn’t come up with a solution, I would join my team in freaking out. But for at least 5 minutes I would hold it together for the sake of my team. After 5 minutes, I would stop worrying about my team and give in to my panic. In this example, and in pretty much every example since I started living with this mantra running through my head, a solution was uncovered within the 5 minute window. If you are a leader in production, how do you handle a crisis situation? Does your team know that you can be trusted to hold it together long enough to come up with a solution? Do they look to you for everything to be all right or do they know that you will join them in panic mode?

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put one foot in front of the other

The GLS is over…at least in North America. It is one of my favorite events to work, for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I get a chance to have a front row seat to hear some pretty amazing messages.

In the season I’m in right now, which involves much future uncertainty, Louie Giglio’s message was very timely for me. He had some great content like:

Matterhorn“Life is short. God is big.” and
“To climb the Matterhorn, you’ve got to take one step at a time.”

The second one really resonates with me. I don’t have to know every detail of how to get to the top of the mountain, I just need to take one step.

It reminds me of the classic Rankin/Bass production “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and the song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”  OK, maybe it isn’t exactly the same thing, but what a catchy tune!

For those of us in an uncertain season or in a time where what needs to get done feels too giant to tackle, let’s just take the next step; let’s point ourselves in the right direction and just make the move right in front of us.

So I’m going to dig in and start moving in the direction I sense God leading. Regardless of the size of the mountain, I’m going to get up and take the next step.

To quote the eminent philosopher, Kris Kringle: “If your time of life is at hand, a good place to start is to stand.”

 

 

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more or less, cowbell

It’s my favorite time of year. I have the privilege to work with an amazing team to pull off the Global Leadership Summit, which is broadcast around North America to close to 100,000 people live, and then rebroadcast throughout the rest of this year to another 100,000 in cities around the globe.

As we ramp up to this event, we are working hard to solve every potential problem we can think of. Whether that’s getting the scenic design exactly right, or making sure all the audio tracks are working or checking all the camera shots; we are trying to take care of as much stuff today, so that when we are in the event, we can focus on new issues that might come up.

Once we have everything hooked up and working, we then start broadcasting live to all the satellite sites. This is the first time all the sites have their projectors and screens set up and the first time we are sending live content to them. One of the tests we run is the audio/video sync test, making sure that the audio and the video are arriving at the same time.

This is where the cowbell comes in.More cowbell

I have a love/hate relationship with the cowbell.

I hate the cowbell because I have to sit on stage and start banging on this thing until all the sites tell me they’ve had enough, until every site says the sound of the cowbell and the visual of the cowbell match. Do you know how long that can be? Do you know how difficult it is to remain passionate about playing the cowbell over that amount of time? I know that Will Ferrel makes it look so easy, but believe me, it isn’t. There’s nothing I hate more than playing that stupid cowbell.

On the other hand, I love it because it is the way we are making sure everything works. It is one more detail that we are taking care of before we hit the actual event. It is a way that we are making sure the event is distraction free before we’ve distracted someone.

I love the cowbell because it is a small example of what I believe in, that the technical arts have the power to transform people’s lives. Not through playing a cowbell specifically, but what playing the cowbell represents: creating a distraction free environment where people can focus on the content instead of the production.

I don’t care how much I hate playing the cowbell, if it means that we are doing everything we can to make our event the best it can be, I’m in.

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prevent a problem or have to fix it

The pace of doing production in the local church can be crazy fast. Every week, a new service needs to be planned and executed. It is relentless. Sometimes this pace catches up with us in bad ways. If we are running so fast that we don’t have time to think things through, we can start burning people out or spending too much money on an idea.

problemsI’ve been listening to the book by Ed Catmull from Pixar called “Creativity, Inc.”. It is a must read for anyone involved in creating and executing services. I think we could all agree that Pixar has figured out how to create some pretty amazing movies, so I’m ready to agree with anything Mr. Catmull has to say about how they do it.

Here’s a great quote from the book that applies to what we do every week:

“The cost of preventing problems is cheaper than the cost of fixing problems.”

The cost can be measured in time, people or money. Are we running so fast that we don’t have time to think through potential problems? Are we sacrificing time to prevent problems that we end up having to fix them instead.

When I think about fixing a problem that we could have solved before hand, there are only so many times that you can do that to people before you start burning them out. There are only so many times you can do that before you run out of money. There are only so many times you can do that before you have no more time left.

There will always be a tension between preventing problems and fixing problems. We will never know every problem that needs to be prevented until it is upon us. Hopefully over time we can learn from these experiences and behave differently next time.

For me, the balance should land on the side of people. If we burn people out, pretty soon we won’t have anyone left to execute the ideas. On the other hand, if we have to prevent every problem, we will never get anything done.

 

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show your work

Remember when you were in math class, and your teacher would take points off your test if you didn’t show your work…where your answer came from? You couldn’t just write the answer down, he wanted to see your tough process and how you got there. It was a way for him to know that you understand the material.

125489887_124cf772c5_bWhen we lead with the answer “No”, we are not showing our work. For people who don’t generally understand the world of production, you are keeping them in the dark by not explaining how you got to “No”. Part of what keeps us from sharing all the details is that we assume one of two extremes: that most of it is over people’s heads or they already know how impossible their idea is and they are asking for it anyway. My guess is the truth is somewhere in between.

When I am working with my kids on homework, and pushing them to show their work, they usually get defensive about how much they know about the subject and that they shouldn’t have to show how they got the answer. But without the details, I’m not totally sure they understand the concepts.

How often is my knee-jerk reaction to someone’s ideas because I’m defensive about showing my work? What if they think I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? While opening yourself up to someone critiquing your thought processes, you are also giving them a glimpse into what is involved in executing their idea.

Many times, the only way an idea is going to happen is if you and your team execute it. And the way the body of Christ is designed to work, each person has their role to play. You are the expert in what it takes to pull off ideas, so don’t be defensive to show your work.

making ideas float

One of my favorite, yet cheesy bits that David Letterman does on his show is “Will It Float?” Basically something is chosen, like, say, a cheese log. Dave and Paul Schafer vote on whether it will float or not, then they drop the object into a tank of water. That’s pretty much it. (BTW, a cheese log sinks)

IDEAIn the world of production, we have people asking for us to pull off all kinds of things. Some will float and some will not.

When you are talking about making an idea float, you need to not only steward the resources you have been entrusted with, but you need to steward the idea that has been presented.

In the past, if we didn’t have the resources to do someone’s exact idea, I would usually just tell them it couldn’t be done, and expect them to come up with a new idea. This was before I realized how difficult it is to have an idea in the first place.

When I approached brainstorming this way, I’m not a team player, I’m not providing solutions, but only pointing out problems. The amount of time and effort that it takes to come up with a new idea is not something to take lightly, and if something can’t work with what we have, how can I help shape the idea to fit what we can do?

If it hasn’t been clear to you already, nobody really knows the world of production like you do. What better person to help figure out how to make an idea work than you?

When you first hear an idea, and how production plays into it, you are only skimming the surface. It is based on what someone else imagines can be done with production. When you start imagining how to accomplish the idea, you are drilling down to the idea’s essence. In my opinion, any time you can simplify the idea into its primary components, you stripping away the unnecessary parts and getting to the heart.

Once you are there, you are able to see more clearly what production can add or subtract, to bring out this essential part of the idea. Just writing this down I get excited! This is where the fusion of the technical and creative arts really come together! This is what God had in mind when he created you and put you on the team you’re on!

photo by: mlinksva

stop doing the impossible

I don’t know about you, but the closer rehearsal gets, I tend to get busier. Cleaning up messes, correcting typos, doing that thing I forgot to do on Thursday.

Typically these are things on my list, things that I want to get done. I’m generally not doing things that are on other people’s lists, because I don’t know what is on their list. So when the band leader shows up with an extra guitar, and an extra vocalist and a song change, it can be easy to blow a gasket.

How am I going to be ready for rehearsal if I don’t get my stuff done? “Don’t you know that I have enough to do without you adding crap to my already big list?” Because I find myself in this place, it is really easy to freak out and just say “No! I can’t do these things.”

The funny thing is that I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said no immediately, then after thinking about things for a while, finding a way to make it happen. I would then do it, even after I said it couldn’t be done. I can remember one such time when I said we couldn’t add an extra tin whistle or something and then I ended up providing a mic for it. My boss called me on the carpet for it. You can’t say its impossible, then turn around and make it happen.

Trust – Down and to the Left

TrustIf you say one thing and then do another often enough, no one is going to believe you. What will result is that they will stop believing you, which means you won’t be believed, which leads to no one believing what you say.

Nothing drives trust out the door faster than saying something can’t be done, then proving the exact opposite. Trust is the key commodity for true collaboration to happen, and if you are doing things begrudgingly that you’ve already said no to, you will lose trust. Once it is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.

I’ve seen this happen so many times. Not just with me, but with many tech people I’ve worked with. As tech people, I’m pretty sure that we aren’t even aware of what’s going on.

From my perspective, I’m usually pretty proud of myself for figuring out how to do the impossible, and I usually want others to be amazed by what I’ve pulled off. Instead, the exact opposite is happening. Slowly over time, your ability to do the impossible after you’ve already said it can’t be done is eroding trust little by little.

Give yourself time to think

Instead of responding immediately with the negative, ask for some time to think about it. In the pressure of the live event, this can be pretty difficult, but by not answering right away and asking for a minute, you’ve communicated what you are really wanting, time to come up with options.

Sometimes there isn’t time, but don’t let that stop you from asking. Once you’ve gotten these words out, the person asking knows that you don’t know right this second but that you might be able to come up with a solution if you’re given some space.

So let’s say there isn’t time to wait and you’ve said you don’t know. Then the answer needs to be no; and it isn’t something you’ve said, but the situation is to blame not you, the negative tech person. This doesn’t erode trust at all, but instead builds trust.

In this example, what if you then came up with a solution after some time has passed? Do you think the other person will be angry that you came up with a solution after the fact? No way! They are amazed by your brilliance! How did you come up with a solution to the impossible?

By asking for time, you are communicating. Communication is key to trust. Trust is the fuel that drives collaboration.

photo by: purplejavatroll

a new chapter

I love to read. When I was a kid, I would devour books. I can remember getting to the end of just about every chapter and not being able to stop. Now that I’ve been reading my whole life, I know that not all books are written in such a way that the chapters end with a cliff hanger, but I would have to say that the best books I’ve read have a way of pulling me into the next chapter.

IMG_9104If I were to carry this analogy into real life, when you are living in the moment, it can feel like a cliffhanger is happening to you. Maybe it is because of your circumstances or maybe it is because you sense God is moving in your life. Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to let the cliffhangers pull you into the next chapter of your life. Many times, I can find myself getting stuck in the old chapter…in a perpetual cliffhanger. At a certain point, it doesn’t become a cliffhanger any more but a really bad storyline that involves me having tired arms.

As a Christian, I believe that God is always calling us to something. I’ve lived in many moments of God calling me to step out, or to stick with something; to love someone unconditionally or to experience more joy in a particular situation. Over time, I’ve noticed that I am not always listening to God’s callings. There is so much fighting for my attention that I’m unable to hear him.

On the other hand, I admit that I believe I’ve heard God calling,  but I’ve been unwilling to follow his voice. What God calls us to is not always the most comfortable. So what if you feel like God is prompting you to do something? Are you willing to follow the call?

If I were honest, I believe that God has been trying to get my attention for years. On one hand, I’ve been trying to push through, to not quit, to look for solutions, to be a team player and not let the team down. On the other hand, I have been unwilling to believe that God could have a new chapter that is better than the current one.

As a result, I’ve been dangling from a cliff for some time. The big question for me, is am I willing to let go and trust God to continue the story?

Well, I have finally gotten to the point of letting go. I am leaving my position as Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Church. I will be working through the Global Leadership Summit in August, then I’ll be done. (For those of you who are a site TD, I’ve got one more cowbell performance in me!)

I have watched God do some pretty amazing things through me and through my team. Whether it was the way we worked together, or the way we were able to touch the lives of thousands of people each weekend, or watching my team inspire technical artists through the Arts Conference then through Gurus of Tech; God has used us in ways that none of us could have done ourselves.

For those of you who know my story, my journey to Willow Creek was more about God asking me to leave everything and follow him. While my current situation is completely different than 10 years ago, God is still asking me to let go and trust him…to leave everything and follow his call.

Where is he calling? I don’t know yet. The only thing I know for sure is that he has asked me to let go and trust him, so that is what I am doing. My family and I are terrified and super excited for what is next.

If the best stories are made up of chapters that end in cliffhangers, I want my story to be great. Not great for the sake of great, but for the sake of being used by God to the fullest. I want to look back and see how letting go of the cliff led to the next amazing chapter, and that the author of the story could only be God.

In what ways are you hanging on? What do you need to let go of so that the next chapter can start?

 

[As a side note, I plan to continue to write this blog. I anticipate there will be many stories of God working through the next chapter of my life. And since I'll still need to process these things by writing, there will be more then enough content for this space.]

photo by: quinn.anya
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