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handling mistakes

Mis-takes

photo credit: TehLonz

A little over a year ago, right before the start of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, we had what’s called a “brown out”; basically a dip in the electrical supply.  It wasn’t enough to kick us to UPS power, but enough to crash some of our lighting equipment.  That’s when every production person’s favorite moment happened, people turned to glare at the booth, wondering when things would be fixed.  Meanwhile, I am in the front row wondering when is a good time to panic.

For those of you who know me, panic isn’t really my thing, so instead, I realized that we had the smartest people in the building working on the problem, so we’d be up in running as soon as possible.  In the time it takes Windows to reboot, we were off and running again.

I am continually reminded each weekend that mistakes happen.  The reality is that stuff happens; stuff that we can’t plan for.  In my opinion, there are 2 different kinds of mistakes:  ones that happen because I wasn’t prepared, and those that just happen.  I have a lot to say about being prepared (I am a former Boy Scout after all), but this post is mostly about the mistakes that just happen, that are outside of our control.

There is no way to stop these kinds of mistakes from happening, but there are ways for us to manage them and ourselves when they do.

How you respond matters.   When things go wrong, what do you do?  Do you panic?  Do you get angry?  Do you solve the problem?  Do you shut down?  Do you blame someone else?  In the heat of the moment, people are looking to you as the expert to see if you are panicking.  They will take their cues from you, the person who can hopefully fix the problem.  Definitely go after the solution with intensity, but there is a difference between intensity and terror.

Learn from the mistake.  After the fact, when things have settled down, ask yourself a few questions:  Did I miss something in the planning process?  What could I have done better to avoid this from happening?  Is there a way to change a process to prevent the same thing happening again?  Whatever it is you learn, take that information and inform your boss immediately.  If your boss is anything like mine, production is a bit of a mystery, so when something doesn’t go well, all they know is that something went wrong and that you need to do something about it.  Help them understand (in non-tech speak, please), what happened and what you are going to do about it.

How you handle yourself when mistake happens is a chance to build or destroy trust with your leadership and your team.  Whether it is what you do in the moment or how you adjust afterwards, you have an opportunity to become a better leader and a better team player as a result.

details, details, details

the infamous cue book and cow bell

I was in a meeting yesterday where we worked through the details of the upcoming Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit.  We had 3 hours scheduled to go through 2 day’s worth of content, but by the time it was all said and done, we had been there for 5 hours.

At a certain point, I was thinking to myself “Are you kidding me?  Do we really need to have a meeting that is almost half as long as the event itself?”  Once I got over my impatience, I was able to see the value of the conversations we were having.

Many of us are in similar situations each week (maybe slightly less complicated), where you are having to hammer out every little detail about your services.  How many vocalists?  What will be on the screens during announcements?  How do we get a drama set in the same exact spot as the band?

As a production person, figuring these types of things out is what I am about.  Many of us want every detail laid out for us, and for nothing to change.  I don’t know that this is realistic, so over the years I have concluded a couple of things.

My job is to prepare like crazy.  If I can nail something down, I will.  If we can know how many verses and choruses of a particular song, let’s write it down now.  I am going to do a line check before the band arrives.  I am going to watch the video all the way through to make sure it plays right.  I am listening to the music so I know how to program the lights before the on-stage people get there.

Here’s the kicker for me.  I go into every production with the expectation that I am going to be about 80% prepared.  With some hard work, I think we can know about 80% of all the things that will happen.  I am going to go after every possible detail I can know.   No one else knows what I need, so I will look under every rock for the last scrap of information I can find.  If I can help it, I am going to kill it on 80%.

For those of you good at math, what about the other 20%?  There will be 20% unknown.  In my opinion, this 20% is unavoidable, and necessary.  Seeing something in the room for the first time and realizing it isn’t working.  Adding a song at the end of the service because the Spirit was moving.  A power outage at the beginning of a service.  These things happen and if we are ready for the 80%, we’ll have capacity for the unknown 20%.

Going into this year’s Global Leadership Summit, I know that we are 80% ready.  And that is about all we can expect.  I am proud of my team for how prepared we are for the 80%.  I also know there is 20% hanging out there, that we won’t know about until it is happening.  I am also proud of my team for how we will respond to the 20%.

What  can you be prepared for and what do you need to be OK not knowing?  Do you need every detail?  

eq your mic, for the love!

IMG_0831

photo credit: schrierc

The other night, I went to an informational meeting for my kids school.  I generally don’t go to these with high expectations for technical excellence.  However, this meeting was more annoying to me than normal.  I know I shouldn’t complain that much, since I didn’t get out of my chair and fix the problem…I’m trying to have boundaries and not get sucked into something I don’t have time for…anyway.

The mics didn’t work.  The lighting kept getting shut on and off.  The video kept switching between PowerPoint and someone closing windows to open other windows.  The Quick Time files weren’t full screen, and you couldn’t really hear it.  This is a laundry list of the stereotypical production value at most functions.  There are some very fundamental violations going on here.

Unfortunately, it gets worse.

Over half of the night’s content involved showing several lengthy video clips of a message given by a pastor.  I am sure the content was amazing.  Unfortunately, the mic sounded so terrible, with feedback thrown in for good measure, that it is almost unintelligible.  Here is a man who has prepared like crazy to give a talk that he was passionate about in front of close to a thousand people, and nobody can really pay attention because he doesn’t sound natural and the feedback keeps coming in and out to remind people how bad the production values really are.

Now add on top of this, his message has been video taped and rebroadcast to our event of several hundred.  His message is diminished because of the missed production values at the original event on top of the awful production values at our event.  I kept thinking about the missed opportunities for his passionate message because simple foundational production values were ignored.

What you and I do matters.  If you ever wonder if doing a line check, or spending time training your ears matters…it does.  If you get tired of your attention to detail going unnoticed or your insistence on changing batteries after every use falling on deaf ears….it matters.  Everyone in the room that night was groaning when each video clip started.  They know what bad production is.  Transparent production is just that:  transparent; invisible.

Take pride in the fact that all these things matter to you, and relish the idea that no one talks to you about  it.  It matters.

react(ive) or proact(ive)

A couple of weeks ago I was in a few all day meetings.  After the  first half of the first day, I was totally engaged.  By the time we were in the 2nd half of that day, I was realizing that there was a lot of original thought flying around the room, and that none of it was coming from me, or at least none that I was saying out loud.

From there, it was just a series of introspective thoughts on why I felt totally engaged, but wasn’t outwardly engaged.  For the moment, I have boiled it down to the tension .I feel between being reactive and being proactive.  As a production person, so much (OK, most) of what I am responsible for is a reaction to someone else’s ideas.  You tell me the idea, and I’ll react to it and as we say around here, enhance it.

The problem for me, is that for production to become the most effective, I need to learn how to be proactive as well.  Instead of being in reactive mode, I need start thinking beyond just how to get things done and onto what could be done.

Here are a few thoughts based on my journey over the last couple of weeks:

Being reactive keeps me in my production box.  If all I do is react to people’s ideas, the only questions people will ask me is about how I can get things done for them.  ”Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

Thinking proactively expands my influence in my environment.  If I am imagining what could be, and sharing my ideas about things other than production, my opinion could help to influence more than just my immediate ministry, but possibly the larger church.

Being reactive keeps me in a “WHAT?!?!” mindset.  When I react to ideas, I can tend to poke holes in them, and talk about reasons why it can’t work.  And for some non-production type people, my reaction can be interpreted as reactionary and negative, perhaps even an overreaction.

Thinking proactively puts me in a “What if” mindset.  If I take the limits off of my responses, now I am imagining possibilities.  They might all stink, but asking “What if…” helps to expand the discussion, looking for solutions.  For the non-production person, this feels more like we are in this together.

As technical artists in the church, how can we move from reaction to proaction?  How could things be, instead of how they shouldn’t?

what i learned at #echo11

Nothing.  I wasn’t there.  I was on vacation with my family.  It was awesome.  I suppose I  should have said “what I learned from all the other people who are at the Echo Conference”, and not just tried to get you to open up this blog post by mentioning #echo11.  It has been great to read all the Twitter traffic and the great quotes from amazing speakers.  It has brought to mind a few reasons why I like to go to almost any conference.

See what else is out there.

I love to go other places and see other things.  It is essential.  It reminds me that I have it better than I thought; or what I love about where I am; or to see someone doing something exactly the way I do and therefore I’m not as stupid as I once thought.  It is so easy to live in my own little bubble.  Going somewhere else helps me re-calibrate reality.

Be Inspired.

There is something about not being involved in an event that helps me enjoy it and even let it affect me.  I love seeing what others are doing.  I love to hear from people that understand me.  I love to be reminded why I choose to do what I do.  We all need to be inspired as technical artists and that generally doesn’t happen at events that I am the production crew for.

Network.

I need to remember that I am not alone.  There are others who struggle with similar issues.  There are people out that that understand the challenges of doing production in the local church.  #CTLN (Church Technical Leader’s Network) held a few meet ups and dinners during #echo11 as opportunities for tech people from all different kinds of churches to network and to help each other.  As a leader of tech people, I usually find myself in meetings with church leaders and other non-tech people.  There is nothing like hanging out with a bunch of people that speak my language and where I don’t have to think about how to explain something in “layman’s terms”.

If you are bummed that you didn’t make it to #echo11 like me, make yourself sign up for the next conference that you are on the fence about.  There are more options for church tech people than ever before.  There are people that have been down the road before us that have learned the difficult lessons and they want to share it with us.  Make the most of the opportunities out there.

urgent vs. important

A close up on the phone in Connecting or not
photo credit: Kalexanderson                                          Not sure what this photo has to do with this topic, it just showed up in my search for “urgent” and I thought it was funny. 

On Thursday of this week, I had an all-day meeting with our weekend production team.  When I put it on the schedule, I had really no idea what it was going to be about, but I knew that we needed to meet together.  On the day before, I had hardly given it any thought and it was cramming time, just to make it happen.  Where to meet?  What’s for lunch?  How do we get there?  What to talk about?

Later that night, while working on it from home, I thought to myself “Why are we doing this?”  ”I don’t have capacity for this.”  ”What if the day turns out to be awful?”  Contrast that with how I felt as we were wrapping up our time at the end:  ”Why don’t we do this more?”  ”I have to figure out how to make time for this.”  ”This day was exactly what we needed!”

This contrast is so interesting to me.  The urgent vs. the important.  How the things staring us in the face squeeze out the things that matter.  The question is how can we get past the urgent to get to what is really important?

Put the important stuff on the calendar.

In my example, I put it on the calendar and was forced to make it happen.  The closer the day got, the more pressure I felt to make it happen.  I kept putting it off until I couldn’t put it off any more.  Without the date set, I would have just put it off indefinitely.  Without making time for it, the less important things fill up all the time.  Make space for the important things, first.

The important stuff will probably require some extra effort.

I have to make room in my schedule to plan for the important things.  Unfortunately, most things that matter require more effort than just the stuff that comes across our path every day.  The fact I needed to spend time at home planning shouldn’t surprise me.  This leads to the next big learning for me…

Your efforts toward the important will have long lasting impact.

 This extra effort will pay off in the long term and is worth the price of short term inconvenience.  Spending the time now will get you to where you envision, but it requires effort to start down that road and keep you on that road.

After my experience this past Thursday, I am committing to putting stuff on the calendar, whether I am ready for it or not.  I have to make time and space for the things that matter, in my own life and for the life of my team.

how to develop a td

Disneyland

photo credit: photographerglen

Some days I wonder if the size and scale of Willow Creek is a good thing.  From the outside, it seems like Disneyland.  From the inside, it can be daunting.  10 venues, all with events happening at the same time, ranging in complexity from slightly complicated to ridiculously complicated.  Today I had a moment that represented the opposite.

One of the huge advantages of having 10 venues with simultaneous programs happening, is that you are forced to develop new people.  You have a huge need that needs to be filled by people that are first, willing and eager, then hopefully over time, these individuals will develop into superstars.

I was going from one meeting to another (which doesn’t necessarily differentiate it from any other day), and I saw 2 guys that represent a picture of the benefits of tons of opportunities for people to serve and then thrive while serving in production.  Chris is a guy in his twenties, who started serving in Promiseland Production in the 5th grade and has become a part time staff member on our team.  He will soon be heading off to the Austin Police Academy.  Ben is 17 and has been serving in Promiseland Production since…5th grade and is in his first week as a part time staff member serving in production.  Chris is training Ben.

Chris and Ben have been exposed to amazing production through the local church since they were little.  When I think about the first time I saw a PM1D (at Willow Creek when I was 30) and the first time Ben saw a GrandMA lighting console (at the age of 12) I am blown away.  Ben and Chris and countless other volunteers have the chance to get their hands on  equipment that I couldn’t even dream of when I was that young.

How are you leveraging the talented youth in your church?  There are kids in your church that God created to do production and we have an opportunity to harness that talent for the local church to change the world.  What can you and I do to increase the opportunity for people to learn and grow in the technical arts?

Whether it is for the local church or for taking their Christian world view into the entertainment industry, let’s take the equipment, the venues and the opportunities we have been entrusted with and leverage them for the benefit of young people gifted in production so that we can change the world one production at a time.

one thing i learned from u2, dc*b, cirque du soleil and guy fieri

 

photo credit: swimfinfan

Friday nights are homemade pizza night at the Elliott’s.  We make the dough in that popular kitchen appliance from the 90′s, the bread maker, and when I get home from work I begins the hours long process.  It is a great way for me to unwind.

Anyway, last night, I had the show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” playing in the background, and some restaurant had not changed their recipe in something like 50 years.  They have been doing the same thing, the same way since the day they started.  Not because they are lazy or without vision, but because the way they have been doing things works and is amazing.

After experiencing DC*B and U2 this past week, I noticed something of the same.  From a production stand point, and for that matter the band’s, you are essentially doing the same thing at every church and stadium.  You are trying to make something that has become old and tired to you, fresh and new for the people who are coming and seeing it for the first time.

A few years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to take a backstage tour of the Cirque show “Love” by the head of audio, Jason Pritchard and he said something like:

Most people are coming to “LOVE” for the first time, so I lead my team to give everyone who walks through our doors, the best possible experience.  We execute each performance like it is our first and best.

I was inspired by his  passion for making the same thing, night after night, the same:  breathtaking.

In my world, there are plenty of things that have become mundane to me, that our congregation relies on to be the same.  There are things that are old and tired to me, that require me to figure out ways to breathe fresh life into.

So instead of wishing I had the time to craft each element to allow for maximum effectiveness like U2, DC*B, Cirque du Soleil and to some degree Guy Fieri, I am choosing to be inspired by the ability to embrace the tedious and make it fresh and new.

 

the opposite of synergy

individual -v- group

photo credit: Sean MacEntee

What happens when the sum of the parts is not greater than the parts added together?  What does it look like when all the parts are amazing and the collection of those parts is just OK?  What is that called?  Some say antergy, while others say obsygy.  One person suggested “synergy” in quotations along with eye rolling.  The Miami Heat?

In either of these situations, egos, personal ambition, what matters to each individual, is placed over what’s best for the team, thereby forfeiting synergy.  Sometimes I wonder about stacking the deck to achieve all the exact right pieces, only to give up everyone working together to make something better than any of us could alone.

I saw 2 amazing shows this weekend:  David Crowder Band and U2.  While on the surface, both groups seem to have everything working for them, without need for synergy.  I would argue that in both cases, a great deal of humility is involved to create such amazing experiences for the people that come to hear them.

Bono trusting Willie Williams to create amazing lighting.  Larry Mullen Jr. trusting the show’s producer that getting out from behind the drum set and playing a djembe (or whatever that was) would be good for the arc of the show.  David Crowder trusting his drummer to lay down the perfect groove.  David Crowder’s bass player trusting David that a rock opera in the middle of a worship set is the right answer.

Each one of these experiences was loaded with opportunities for people to be divas or to have things their way to the detriment of the whole.  There were also chances for people to take a back seat to someone else’s creativity; chances for individuals to give up what might be best for them, for the sake of the overall effect; for everyone to place their collective visions into the middle of the table to be used the most effectively.

All this takes gobs of trust and guts to let go of your idea, your creativity, your vision, for the sake of synergy, not “synergy”.

Is your idea the most important?  Are you waiting for someone else to let go of their creativity before you relinquish yours?  Help foster working together by letting go and embracing the collection of ideas for the sake of the whole.

the freedom of technology

1776

photo credit: Chad Horwedel

I’m a sucker for the 4th of July.  Not necessarily the fireworks and the parades (although I can’t wait to see the guy taking a shower on the plumber’s float, or the float that makes the chicken sandwiches at the South Elgin Parade), but the part about freedom.

The United States, while not perfect, is an amazing country, that has given us tons of freedoms and opportunities because a few people decided to take a stand 225 years ago and create a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were self evident truths.

As a technical artist in the local church,  it is easy to get wrapped up in the things I don’t have, or the gear we can’t afford; the less than perfect mix, or a process that irritates me; the volunteer who forgot to show up or wishing for a better relationship with my worship pastor.  Throw all that on top of just trying to make each week happen and it is easy to lose sight of the great privilege it is to have these challenges.

These issues are a luxury compared to what churches around the world are faced with.  To have a sound system that functions is rare.  Even the thought of having a video projector, of any brightness is a crazy dream.  Heck, just having a constant supply of power is a rarity for the majority of the world.  Not to mention being persecuted for my beliefs.

So for those of us who call the United States home, or any place that allows for freedom of religion, let’s all be grateful for the opportunity to worship freely, to have an opportunity to use our gifts in technology for the benefit of the local church and that we have the privilege to have the struggles and challenges that we do.

Let’s stop wishing for something better and take full advantage of the opportunity.

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