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don’t wait to stretch yourself

2570526012_e61ef1c166_oAs the technical artists at your church who stewards the resources that have been entrusted to you, you are responsible to get the most out of every piece of equipment.

Sometime we might not have the exact right piece of equipment to accomplish a someone’s creative idea, but don’t wait on new gear to try something new.

How can you take what you have do something new and amazing? How can you leverage the tools you do have at your disposal for kingdom impact?

Being ingenious with what you have can be a creative challenge.

Think differently about what you have and see what you can come up with. In this mode, you may not be doing things by the book, but who cares. Try it anyway. You might learn what doesn’t work, but you might also learn that your gear is capable of much more.

Along the way, you might also learn that you are capable of more.

no detail too small

The plan to transform a giant square room into an intimate venue for 8000 people

There are some days that I really love my job. I am currently in a run of days that are generally some of my best experiences in production, the Germany Leadership Summit. It happens every other year, and I have had the pleasure of leading these trips since 2005. I can’t even believe it.

I am usually more tired during these trips than for any other production that I get to be a part of, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. To build something from nothing and then watch thousands of German speaking people singing familiar songs in a language I don’t understand will never get old to me.

In the first few days of our experience, we are pretty much just getting stuff done: banging truss together, running hundreds of meters (yes, meters) of cable, hanging projectors and line arrays…pretty much building the environment.

Taken as a whole, it is a TON of work. It is so much, that it can almost seem insurmountable. However, in reality, the whole thing is made up of small, doable parts. Unwinding a cable, rigging a motor, aiming a projector. With the team I get to work with, these tasks are pretty straight forward, if not beneath their abilities. Yet here we find ourselves spending the majority of our time doing these things.

What I love so much about this team, is that while their talents are amazing, they are not too good to dive in and do whatever needs to get done. The other day, a team mate reminded me of a phrase that we used to say a lot: “Here to serve!” This phrase exemplifies the attitude of this production team.

We have a ton of little things to do, and we are going to kill it on each one of these. No detail is too small to not do our very best with. Especially on an event of this scale, the details all add up to something huge. Each tiny thing adds up to the whole. So if we are only doing an OK job along the way, that could potentially add up to disaster. Why take a chance that one small shortcut will come back to bite us later. Let’s do it right the first time.

My pastor, Bill Hybels, often says that God deserves our best, since God has only ever given us his best in the person of his son, Jesus. Excellence matters, but not just to be the best. Striving for excellence is a reflection on how we serve Christ. Are we giving our best, even in the small things, or are we looking for easy ways out as we go?

As we step into this event, we are striving to do our very best, even in (especially in) the smallest detail.

at what cost perfection?

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I had a conversation with a co-worker a few weeks back and we talked about whether or not perfection was the goal of any production. After writing a blog post, then thinking some more about it, I have another idea.

If making things distraction free is just another way of saying perfect, how can we avoid the idea of perfectionism?

Maybe I just have a problem with the word “perfect”. What exactly is it? What does it apply to? How is it achieved? If we are talking about mics on and lights pointed at the right things and graphics being spelled correctly, then sure. Let’s make it perfect.

However, most of what we do in production can be subjective and the idea “perfect” breaks down. What is the perfect mix? Perfect IMAG? What is the perfect service?

If perfection is the ultimate goal, how far are we willing to go? How redundant are our systems? Do we run a generator during every service just in case the power gets interrupted? Do we buy two of everything just in case? Should everyone know how everything works so that everyone can know the answers to every possible question? Should we stay all night and rearrange the stage to make it “perfect”?

The list of things we could do to eliminate risk and ensure perfection would be a never-ending list, but most of us don’t have the many resources. Time. People. Money. And no amount of either of these three things ensures perfection.

This is where I really love the idea of excellence over perfection.

“Doing the best with what you have.” is one way to define excellence.This really help put things in perspective. You can only do your best, which sometimes might appear as perfection. This concept takes into account all the things that you’ve never experienced them before, and it factors in the reality that stuff breaks. It considers the skills of your team and the type of equipment you have.

Another definition of excellence is “being better today than yesterday.” This considers learning from mistakes and new experiences each day to keep getting better and better.

From another perspective, what are you characterized by? Do the same mistakes happen over and over again? Are technical distractions the norm for you? Or are these isolated incidents that only stick out because your congregation is so used to the amazing distraction free environment that you create on a weekly basis?

So the goal isn’t perfection, but doing your best, and being better today than yesterday…which hopefully includes things being flawless.

 

 

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perfectionism is a perception

I’m coming down off the Summit experience, and have a brain full of stuff to process.  For those of you who were a part of pulling off the experience at sites all over North America, thanks for your partnership and your commitment to excellence.  I always love the way we can come together to technically support such a far reaching event.

wpid-2497690512_04ae6f093b_o.jpgOne of the things I like to do in preparing for the Summit each year, is to read as many of the books written by the speakers as possible.  This helps me get my mind wrapped around the content of each session, and since I interact with all the speakers, it helps me get to know them in some way before I meet them.  It also makes it easy to make small talk about the topic they are passionate about while we are getting them mic’ed up.

This year, Brene Brown spoke about the science of shame and vulnerability.  I have been listening to her book “Daring Greatly” which I would highly recommend to every technical artist I know.

Here’s a quote that I love:

Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation. Perception is impossible to control.

As tech people, we tend to get accused quite often of driving for perfectionism.  That our attention to detail or our need to know exactly what is going to happen are because we want things to be perfect.  That a flawless execution is the highest value.

For me and for the team I have the privilege to lead, we do care about flawless execution, but it isn’t because that’s what matters most or because my self worth is wrapped up in a service with no mistakes in it.  The internal motivation is to remove potential distractions from people’s experience.  The goal is to make production as transparent (sounds better than invisible) as possible…that people are focused on worshiping or hearing the message with nothing getting in the way.

I am pretty comfortable with the fact that I am not a perfectionist.  I like to do my very best, which is all I can expect from myself.  With that, I am uncomfortable with being labeled a perfectionist, which is a perception.

While it might be impossible to control people’s perceptions, as Brene states, I need to do my very best to try to change that perception.  I can’t expect people to understand my motivation or my team’s motivation if I am not continually casting vision for why we do what we do.  I’m not so worried about the random people that come up to the booth and complain about the volume.  I’m mostly interested in helping the people I work closely with understand why I am after so much information, or why rehearsing things matters so much to my team.

What is your internal motivation for a flawless service?

What are some ways that you could help change the perception people might have of perfectionism?

 

 

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life change, in spite of bad audio

I am working in Willow Creek’s Lakeside Auditorium.  It used to be the main space where crazy productions have happened over the years.  Christmas programs.  Outreach events.  Conferences.  All these are great, but the most important thing that has happened over the years is that people’s lives have been changed for eternity.  God has met people here for close to 30 years.

I remember my first experience in this room back in 1989.  I remember most every detail.  Where I was sitting.  A rock band.  Concert lighting.  There was no hymnal, just lyrics projected from a slide projector.  It blew my mind for what church could look like.  Every now and then I am still amazed that I work at this place.   Tonight, I am sitting in the TD chair, having a difficult time keeping my headset on.  I am caught up in the worship, the mix, the lighting, the video, God moving…you name it.

Even with all this happening, we have been in need of a production upgrade in this room for quite some time.  Much of the gear we have in here is closing in on 20 years.  Especially the audio.  In 1992, this system was the state of the art, the cutting edge of technology.  It has been a work horse for our church, pushing air for countless amazing events where people met Christ.  However, it is now time to look for something new, to help make people’s experience as transparent as possible; to translate all that is happening on the stage out into the seats.

Our audio team is, needless to say, overjoyed at the prospect of replacing this dinosaur of a system.  To be able to experience clarity; to have low end; to not be sitting inside a giant comb filter.  Even with all these strikes against the current system, I have been in wonder at what God can do regardless of the PA hanging in the room.  There is an environment where 1000+ people are experiencing God.  Hands raised.  Voices lifted up.  The PA is transparent tonight.

I would be lying if I said I am not excited about a new sound system in this room.  It has been on the replacement list for years.  It sounds bad.  I feel responsible to offer up the best sound possible and this is not it.  But it is good for me to remember that God can work and move, regardless of the PA, regardless of graphics being on time or not, regardless of whether the color scrollers match.

Whatever the weak link in your production system is, it is not so bad that God can’t work.

As a technical artist in the local church, the Body of Christ needs me to care deeply about creating the best environment through the use of production and production equipment.  My church also needs me to grasp the fact that God can work and move without the latest and greatest piece of gear.  

As Andy Stanley would say, it is a tension to be managed.  How are you managing this tension?

pace yourself

As a tech person, I love to go to concerts and shows to see how people are using technology.  A couple things usually happen.  I’m inspired, then depressed.  They have way more money than me, they have tons of great content to make better through technology and they have months of time to rehearse and nail the timing and precision of each cue.

With the weekend rolling around with predictable regularity, it seems impossible to pull of what I see on TV or at the latest touring show, yet that is what we have many times been asked to do, with less time and less money.  For many years, my tendency was to go for it, every week; to push the envelope and do something new and hopefully amazing.  I was trying to chase after what I saw out in the “real world” and to accomplish what I thought people we asking me to do.

As time passed, I began to realize that I couldn’t keep up the pace.  Doing something incredible each week started to take it’s toll.  And for those of you who know me, you know that my wife started saying “come home early” because of this crazy treadmill I had jumped on.

Here are a couple things I learned:

Don’t make everything new and cool.  Doing something new always takes way more time than you planned, simply because you have never done it before and have no real idea how to plan.  Along with that, it is generally more expensive than you planned.

All that said, some of my most memorable times in ministry involved me trying something new and cool.  Sure I was at work until 2 am.  Sure my budget was depleted.  Sure my kids didn’t recognize me any more.  But I had been a part of doing something that helped move people closer to Christ, and potentially changed their eternity.  As an added bonus, it was also pretty cool.

I think we all need to go for it every now and then.  If my whole life was just maintaining the status quo, I would go crazy.  I don’t know about you, but I was created to dream and to think outside the box from time to time, and always coloring inside the lines doesn’t sound like the way I want to spend my life.  So what can we do?

Pace yourself.  In exercise, it is important to stretch yourself beyond what you normally do in order for muscles to grow.  Learning and growing as a human being requires you to push past normal to do something out of the ordinary.  I run on occasion.  When I just imagine pushing myself to the limit every time I exercise, my hips and knees start to hurt.  Our bodies need time to recover and adjust to the new, just like our lives need time to recover from pushing ourselves, after Christmas, after Easter, after that crazy.

I know that I have written a few times about figuring out what normal is and maybe this seems like a contradiction.  If you haven’t figured out normal, your normal will become like mine was, crazy, every moment.  It isn’t possible.

As you push your technical self from time to time, what was a stretch yesterday is normal today.  What you wouldn’t even think of doing a year ago now seems pretty ordinary.  Doing something incredible every week can’t be sustained, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go after the dream every now and then.

 

 

What is technical excellence anyway? part 2

Here’s another thought about defining technical excellence:  excellence is being better today than yesterday.  I love this idea because there is an element of striving, of trying new things, and possibly making mistakes along the way.  Being better today than yesterday puts excellence into which ever context we find ourselves in.   What is excellent for me, isn’t necessarily excellence for you and vice versa.

You could argue that there is a baseline for excellence, a level of acceptability.  I probably wouldn’t argue with you too much on that point.  But I would argue that there needs to be some flexibility on where this line is, based on each of our abilities and our experiences.  I would also say that if my ability and my experience create feedback at every event I am apart of, there is a problem.

Being better today than yesterday requires mistakes to be made and risks to be taken.  However, if we make the same mistakes over and over again, how can we say that we are achieving excellence?  But if we make mistakes and make adjustments for them not to happen again, now we are moving the line of excellence.

I was once training someone in the role of technical director, and he kept making the same mistake several times in a row, and each time, in the moment, I’d step in to talk about how to improve.  Then, during a break, he asked me how he was doing and I said “I’m ready for us to make a new mistake.”

In order to achieve excellence, we need to be ready to make mistakes.  When mistakes happen, we need to let the mistakes make us better today than we were yesterday.

Are you open to mistakes happening?  Are you getting better as a result of them?

Be excellent.

What is technical excellence anyway? (probably part 1)

When it comes to doing production in our churches, what is technical excellence really?  Is it the best gear?  The best volunteers?  As close to perfection as possible?

After thinking about my post, “A Clean Stage is a Happy Stage“, I came across another Marty O’Connor classic: Excellence is doing the best with what you have.  This doesn’t say anything about perfection, but simply using what you have currently, and doing your best with it.  This is something we can all do, regardless of what church we are a part of, regardless of the conditions we work under, or the kind of equipment we have.

When I was at Kensington (groan from Willow people, cheer from Kensington people, indifference from everyone else),  I used to look at Willow Creek and think “Sure they can do excellent production.  Look at all the gear they have!”  After coming away from a Willow conference depressed, I started to realize that I could take the equipment I did have and do the best possible job with it.  I could get the most out of it every Sunday.  I could wrap it in duct tape one more week to keep it going until we could afford to replace it.  As a result of this change in perspective, I was able to appreciate that things weren’t perfect, but that we were, in fact, achieving technical excellence on a weekly basis.

Some of us need to release the idea of perfection.  Having a flawless service or event is a honorable goal, but very rarely achievable.  Always trying to be better.  Always learning from mistakes.  Always stretching ourselves to try new ways.  Using what I already have to its fullest potential.  This is the kind of technical excellence I want to shoot for.