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

if it can’t be done, say no.

I like to be a team player. I don’t like to let people down. Many times, something can’t be done simply because you or your team don’t have any more time…at least not a normal amount of time.

First T-Ball Practice - April 2011

I’ve noticed that it is easy for me to sacrifice my time for an idea, that I don’t consider my time to be a resource. But because I don’t want to let my teammates down, I say yes to something instead of having dinner with my family or going to my son’s t-ball game or finishing another project that isn’t as urgent but is more important in the long term.

Don’t be afraid to say no for reasons that seem squishy and selfish. Your time is valuable and it matters. Your team needs you to speak up. If you don’t, pretty soon you are going to be bitter for all the ideas that “force” you to miss family time.

I think many of us know the grumpy tech person. It might even be you. Don’t let this happen in the name of being a team player. You are not helping your team any by not speaking up for the things that you don’t have capacity for.

photo by: brendan-c

circle of trust

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most of us don’t make the final decision. As a technical artist in the local church, much of the time we’re facilitating someone else’s idea. Whether it is the worship leader or the youth director or the senior pastor, we all have people that are making bigger decisions than the ones I’m making.

Circle of trustWhat mic to use, how many lights to turn on, what kind of font to use for graphics. Not that these decisions are always the easiest, but production decisions follow other, larger decisions that effect the whole church. Sometimes these decisions aren’t in the best interest of the production side. It could be something that compromises the mix, or the process, or is more risky because we haven’t rehearsed it yet.

These examples are all things that matter, but when it comes down to what is best for the service or the church, what matters to you isn’t always the most important. So how do you care deeply about something; so deeply that you go after it with tenacity, and then let it go?

A big part of it is to be comfortable with what might happen next. If you know that all the information is on the table, and that the leader has everything she needs to make a decision, you need to then go with her decision. And not with your normal passive aggressive self, but with the same tenacity you would go after your own ideas. If your concerns are realized, it isn’t your fault, (since you did such a masterful job of informing your leader of what could happen) and you still did your very best, even though it wasn’t your recommendation.

To be a real team player, it is important for your leaders to know that you will give them your best, whether you get your way or not. They also need to know that you will take care of your stuff fully, so that they never have to worry about it.

Trust is built by the accumulation of encounters like this every day. Your leaders trusting that you are taking care of production and you trusting your leaders that the best overall decisions are being made. And trust is the foundation of the body of Christ functioning at its fullest.

When your leader does the opposite of your recommendation, what is your first thought?

Does the phrase “I told you this would happen” come out of your mouth?

How could you develop your level of trust in and from your leaders?

photo by: drew_anywhere

good sound is subjective

[This is guest post from my friend Jonathan Malm. While we have only met once in person for about 30 seconds, we have done a lot of work together in the cause of making the process of doing church better. He is the curator at churchstagedesignideas.com, Sundaymag.tv, a blog about the creative process and Mopho.to, a photo resource for bloggers.]

“Good sound is subjective.” Have you ever heard that line? I used it often as a worship leader. The staff member responsible for the sound engineers used to pull that out all the time when I asked for specific mix requests.

What did you say?That infuriated me—and not just because I was a bit of a diva. Good sound isn’t subjective. Not when it means you can’t hear the lead vocalist or percussion clearly.

So one day I put aside my guitar and closed my singsong mouth. We liberated that staff member of their technical responsibilities and I took over. (No, we didn’t fire them. We literally just took something off their plate.)

For the first few weeks, I simply sat back in the booth and listened. I didn’t want to rock the volunteers’ world with sweeping changes.

I’d hear the sound engineers explain that so-and-so didn’t have the best voice, so they pulled them out of the mix. The bass player sometimes hit bad notes, so they kept him low in the mix. They preferred more traditional music, not rock music, so they kept the electric guitar very subdued.

You see, these sound engineers had been told that good sound is subjective. It’s not. They were confusing excellence for personal preference.

I made some pretty big changes. I wrote out a manual explaining rock music and its mix. I destroyed the myth that good sound is subjective. And my sound engineers excelled. They got really good.

So did the band. Once the bass player realized people could hear him, he started tightening up his quality. Once the vocalist realized she could be heard, she sang better and with more enthusiasm. As we began to trust the band, they began to trust us.

Good sound isn’t subjective. Good sound is when you make the musicians sound like they intend to sound. When you appropriately mirror—through the sound system—what’s happening on stage, you’ve achieved good sound.

Sure, there will be slight differences between each sound engineer. Some of that is preference. Some of it is technique. There will be differences. But it shouldn’t modulate between smooth jazz and rock and roll each week. That’s a matter of personal taste, not a matter of excellence.

This is true for all production techs. Yes, we are artists. We’re the last line of defense between the message, music, and visuals getting to the audience. We craft and tweak and sweeten each bit so it’s delivered with excellence. It’s truly an art. But we’re also co-laborers and servants. We aren’t the originators of the art. We’re the deliverers. We don’t get to change it to match our tastes.

We get to make it excellent.

If you aren’t willing to lay aside your preferences, the tech department isn’t for you. But if you want to work with a team of amazing artists and help them make something magic, tech can be an amazing calling.

I loved jumping into the tech department. I realized how much we could cripple the worship service if we wanted to. I also realized how much we could enhance the service when we did things with excellence.

I encourage you. Be excellent.

photo by: kc7fys

strategic stretching

By pushing ourselves from time to time, we increase our capacity. Looking at a running analogy, if I increase my pace a little at certain intervals, pretty soon my whole pace has increased.

StretchIn the world of production, once you try something for the first time, it now has the potential to be a part of my normal bag of tricks. The thing that almost killed you two Christmases ago, is now something you don’t hesitate to do on a normal weekend. Pushing yourself to try something new at the right intervals means that you are increasing your endurance, your capacity, your normal.

Pushing yourself too much or too often, will wear you down. However, without pushing yourself from time to time, you will stagnate.

Figure out the right pace for yourself. Then figure out how often you should push yourself.

photo by: emilio labrador

paper jam

Keeping things simple eliminates the possibility of failure. When something has tons a moving parts, we are opening ourselves up to those moving parts ceasing to move.

the Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley memorial copy machineI’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gone to the copy machine and something is jammed or broken. Considering how sophisticated they are, it isn’t a huge surprise that is seems like it’s broken more than it’s working.

In live production, we don’t have the luxury to wait for a copy machine repairman to show up. We need to get it working now!

Are you creating a collating, stapling, whole punching, folding copy machine type of plan or are your plans simple, eliminating the potential for failure?

photo by: ** RCB **
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