we all want the same thing

I’m a technical artist.  I want the execution of the service to be flawless.  You see me as a  uptight, perfectionistic, idea crusher.

You are a creative artist.  You want to keep things loose and organic.  I see you as lazy with a lack of regard of what it really takes.

These are pretty severe extremes.  I’m not sure that we ever talk in these terms, but they do tend to exist on some levels, on many teams.

I would argue that in reality, we are closer than we appear.

I believe that in most of our churches, the technical artists (the people in the booth) and the creative artists (the people on stage) essentially want the same thing.  We want to create an environment where God moves in our services.  We want to see our gifts and talents used in ways greater than ourselves.  We don’t want to fail…we want to succeed.

The challenge is our perspectives.  I have a list of things that really matter to me that you don’t seem to care about at all.  And you have your own list of things that I frankly don’t care about either.  From these perspectives, when we start talking about how to make our services amazing, it is no wonder that we experience some tension.

So what do we do about this tension?  I don’t think we can wish it would go away, because as Andy Stanley says, it is a tension to manage.  I would maybe go one step further and say that it is a tension to celebrate.

When we look at our services, it takes the full range of talents and expertise to make it all work.  Musicians, lighting designers, worship leaders, CG operators, pastors, audio engineers…the list could go on.  Without each of these people contributing their part, the whole thing wouldn’t work.

God made each one of these people a certain way.  He wired each one to care about certain things and not about others.  He created the camera operator to see interesting compositions and the vocalist to interpret music with their voice.  With each skill and each type of person, there are corresponding development tracks and preparation techniques and execution requirements to achieve the desired outcome for each discipline.

With this diverse group of people comes…wait for it…a diverse group of people.

To isolate ourselves and only care about our own process is not how God designed the body of Christ to function.  Yes, we all need to care deeply about our talent, but we also have to be willing to let go of our grip for the benefit of the whole.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

When you boil it all down, we all want the same thing:  God to move in our services through my individual contribution.  

We all have different contributions with different needs.  

How can I fight for what I need, while at the same time celebrate you fighting for what you need?

We all want the service to be great, we just have different ways to get to great.

does God speak…to me?

When was the last time you heard from God?  When was the last time you were listening for God’s voice?  As a tech person, I tend to find myself back in the booth just trying to facilitate what other people have heard from God.  Hearing from God is something that happens to other people.

I have been reading my way through the gospels and right now, John the Baptist has just seen Jesus for the first time and says “This is the Son of God.”  Throughout this encounter with Jesus, John is saying things that we would consider not normal:  doves descending, voices telling someone what to do, God’s son showing up.  Again, these are all things that happen to other people, whether that’s in biblical times or just other people I hear about.

I got to thinking, that I don’t expect anything remotely like this to ever happen to me.  I live my life, I make choices, I pray, I journal, I go to church…but I don’t typically expect to have God speak directly to me.

The sad part, is that I would say that I have had at least 5 encounters with God that I can’t explain, and yet I still assume that God speaks to other people and I just facilitate that.  My life would be very different if I hadn’t responded to those promptings.

What would my life look like if I really expected God to speak?  Or what if I slowed my life down enough to actually have space to listen for His voice?

Now I’m thinking, it is one thing to hear God’s voice, but John the Baptist actually did something about it.  He got down to business baptizing people, wearing burlap and eating locust.

Taking this a step further, what about the promptings I get that I don’t act on?  What would happen if I followed these promptings and trusted God for the outcome?

I feel like this applies beyond big life decisions to every day life.  I had a season in my life a few years ago where I felt very unsettled and wanted God to give me the answer to what to do with my life.  Instead, every time I asked the question:  ”God, what do you want me to do with my life?”, I would put my pen down and wait for an answer, and it was always something like, apologize to this person for what you said yesterday.  I would get so frustrated.  I’m not doing that!  Where’s the big answer?

Eventually I realized that if I am unwilling to follow a prompting to apologize to someone or to give a gift anonymously to a person or write a blog post about hearing from God; why would I think that God would entrust me with some bigger life altering word.

 

 

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over communicate and don’t undersell

I am continually amazed at how expensive production equipment can be…I can only imagine what non-technical people think of the prices!

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We have been in the process of upgrading a space here, and we are choosing to not go for the best long term solution, but rather a really solid intermediate step.  In other words, we aren’t even talking about wireless mics or changing out the 4:3 screens for 16:9 or doing any sort of lighting upgrade; and it is still a ton of money.  Just for the basics of audio.

I have learned (or relearned) a few things in this process.

If I think it is expensive and I understand what needs to happen technically, imagine what it is like for a non-technical church leader who only understands that it is going to cost a lot.  I probably still haven’t done a great job of this, but I have been trying to over communicate what can and can’t be done, and why things cost what they do.

The leaders at my church, and yours, need to know that we are being responsible with the money that has been donated by the congregation, and that what we are purchasing will advance the ministries of the church and not just be a bunch of cool new toys for the tech team.

The other big thing I have gotten a new perspective on, is that it doesn’t help anyone if I undersell the idea.  If after working through what is needed, I shouldn’t back down from the realities of what needs to be done.

As a type 9 on the enneagram scale, it turns out that I don’t love conflict.  When I get into situations where people are pushing on why things need to cost so much, I find myself trying to figure out how we could do it for less.  While working hard to make things the least expensive they can be is a necessary exercise and a responsible way to spend the church’s money.  However, if it needs to cost a certain amount in order to achieve the desired results, there is no reason to try to hide or down play that.

So maybe to summarize what I’m learning, over communicate and acknowledge that equipment is expensive.  But also, don’t back down from what is needed to achieve the desired results.  If the needs of the ministry cost “x”, don’t undersell to “y” and then not really help the ministry.

nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison

I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a guy who took a trip through Europe using the EuroRail pass.  It turns out he was reliving a trip he took 30 years ago, just to see if he could do it now that he was 20 pounds heavier and had gotten used to staying in nice hotels and eating great food.

As he was living through the challenges of traveling for 15 days through Europe as a middle aged guy, he realized that all his memories of his previous trip were perfect.  He had fabricated a trip where nothing bad happened, and the experience was once in a life time.

This reminded me of a quote from Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly:

Nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison.

For Alan Soloman, the traveler in this case, trying to compare his most recent trip to his first one might have ruined the entire experience for him.  Realizing that his brain had fabricated a fairy tale of the earlier trip, helped him to enjoy the ups and the downs of his train trip through Europe.

In my context, I often think back onto my days at Kensington Church as without flaw.  Even here at Willow Creek, we can sometimes get caught up in reliving the glory days.  This makes me think of a couple things.  One is that, like Alan, most of what we remember is made up, and never quite happened.  The second is that while we can learn from the past, only talking about the past doesn’t help move things forward.

As a technical artist, much of my existence involves working with other people’s ideas.  Not that I don’t have my own ideas, I just don’t exercise that muscle very often.  Because of that, it is easy to reach back in time and just compare what isn’t working today with what worked in the past.

How can I stop using the past as a solution for the future?  

Understanding the past is essential for not repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but the future needs new ideas and new thoughts.

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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a physicist’s guide to leading up

Clarity and accuracy of statement are mutually exclusive. – Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr won the noble prize in 1922 for his work in atomic structure and quantum mechanics.  To simplify:  he was a rocket scientist before their were rockets.

Here’s a guy that understands the mysteries and complexities that most normal humans can’t even begin to fathom.  It doesn’t seem like a shock that he would struggle to communicate what is going on at the atomic level to normal everyday people.  He could either be clear and simple, or accurate.

As a technical artist in the local church, I am always trying to figure out better ways to communicate to those above me, so they can understand.  When something goes wrong, how do I reduce the complexity into an understandable statement?  When it is time to replace a piece of equipment, how do I communicate the reasons that make sense for the organization?

Before reading this quote, I would say I had been shooting for both clarity and accuracy at the same time.  Now the challenge seems like figuring out the balance between the two…or is it one or the other, which is what mutually exclusive means.

It is important for our churches, that we figure out how to lead up.  That we are able to fulfill the role we have in the body of Christ and provide our leaders with the information they need to help make great decisions.  Communicating with accuracy of statement usually gets non-technical people lost.  Sometimes communicating with clarity feels like not I’m not offering enough information.

One of the things I have learned over the years, is the importance of leading up; the necessity of speaking in a way that leadership can understand what I am saying.  As a technical person, it can be easy to speaking in dBs and foot-candles, which don’t mean anything to anyone not involved in production.  I have spent a lot of time trying to craft statements and ideas into ways that are understandable to the people leading me.

This idea that clarity and accuracy of statement can’t exist in the same space, is freeing to me.  It isn’t about trying to cram all the everything into a statement that is clear, but it is about trying to be as clear as possible.  It is important to understand the topic enough to speak with accuracy, but it is only necessary when asked to be more specific.

As you try to lead up to those above you, are you trying to be as accurate as possible, and probably losing people’s understanding of the words you are saying?  

Or are you able to communicate with clarity, and not worry about the intimate details that just bog down the big idea?

Most of us technical people don’t need help with the “accuracy of statement” side of things.  We understand the situation in minute detail.  But, if we are going to be effective at our roles as technical artists in the local church, we need to become masters of restraint, so that we communicate with clarity.

 

tense or intense

Such similar words with potentially such different meanings.

 I have been reading the book Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman.  I have been amazed at how familiar the content feels to many of my blog posts, especially the most recent set about responding to mistakes.

Along the way, Liz asks the question,

Do you create a tense work environment, or an intense work environment?

I was working with a crew on a large event, and we were cranking out the work.  Not only that, we were working well together, thinking for ourselves and having a good time along the way.  At a certain point, another team member joined in, someone with authority to make decisions on what we were doing.  The atmosphere completely changed in a matter of seconds.  Everyone stopped working, stopped thinking for themselves and stopped having fun.  I was pretty shocked at the difference one person can make on the environment, but there it was right in front of me.

As a leader in production, it is our job to get work done through a team.  The task to be done is too big for us to do it by ourselves, and so figuring out how to leverage people is a key skill that needs to be learned.

In this example, the leader was trying to create an intense work environment, one where we are getting tons of work done efficiently.  Instead, he was creating a tense work environment, one where people are afraid to make decisions for themselves.

In time, what I noticed was that people would end up just sitting around waiting to be told what to do.  Instead of diving in and engaging with the work that needed to get done, everyone just turned off their brain and let this leader tell them exactly what to do.

In the world of live production, things get tense.  No question.  However, do I need to add to the tension by making the people more tense?  

Does my leadership help people work with intensity or just be tense?

 

 

 

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responding to mistakes, part 3

Maybe there aren’t actually 3 parts to responding to mistakes, but there is one more big idea:

Relax.

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It is so easy to think that a mistake is the end of the world.  Worse things have happened.

I think it is great that we care deeply about creating environments that are distraction free, allowing people to experience God without production getting in the way.  However, I think it is easy to take ourselves too seriously.

Work hard.  Cover your bases.  Respond to mistakes.  Figure out how they won’t happen again.  Then get over it.  Move on.

I was having a conversation with a co-worker today, and as we were talking about a mistake that happened this past weekend, it dawned on us that even if we replaced whole systems, it wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of a failure.

Our jobs as technical artists is to make sure that mistakes don’t happen.  As flawed humans, we must realize that mistakes will happen.  The unforeseen happens.  The unplanned for, happens.  You can’t spend enough money to make mistakes disappear forever.

We must push ourselves to do our very best, eliminating mistakes; then we have to let it go. If you are slacking, and mistakes are happening, that is one thing; get it together.  But if you are doing your best, if you are practicing excellence, then give yourself a break.

Perfection is the only answer to no mistakes, and that isn’t possible.

 

 

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responding to mistakes, part 2

As I have been thinking more about how to respond to mistakes, (check out part 1 here) one of the challenges that I face is knowing when to jump in and take control and when to let things play themselves out.

For many of us, working with volunteers each week, it can be really easy to just do most of thedifficult stuff ourselves, because we know how to do it and it would be so much faster to just do itourselves.  In the short term, this saves us time each week.  In the long term, we are spending a lot of time on stuff that other people could learn to do and thrive at.

The trouble with planning for the long term, is that it requires living through a certain amount of immediate pain.  For someone to learn how to do something requires them to live through all that comes with it:  the obvious parts, the parts that are easy to forget about and the crisis that can happen in the midst of it.

For people to feel ownership, and to feel like they are not being micromanaged, they need to be responsible for all of the above; the good and the bad.

As a leader, it is important to not give people too much ownership, if they can’t handle it.  Responsibility is something that needs to get released over time, in ways that give the greatest chance for the person to succeed at the task.

OK, so let’s say that we have given someone appropriate amounts of responsibility, and something bad happens in the moment.  How do we decide when to jump in and when to let the person figure out what is happening?

First of all, I wait a few seconds, allowing the other person time to react.  Seconds seem like hours, but I try to remember that it is only seconds.

During these few seconds, I try to measure how big the mistake really is.  Will the service come to a stand still?  Will only a few people notice?  Could I solve the problem faster than the person in the seat?

Depending on the answer to questions like these, I will do one of three things:  let the person figure it out, offer a verbal suggestion, grab the fader myself.  Each response will be in direct correlation to what I know of the situation and the person in the situation.  If I let them work through it, will it tank the service?  Will jumping in save the service?

Regardless of what I choose to do in the moment, I always do 2 things after the moment.

I make sure that I talk through the mistake with the team, figure out how/why it happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Critical to following up a mistake is to make sure that your team understands why it was bad, and what values the mistake might have violated.  Without this step, it doesn’t matter how you respond in the moment, if you don’t have a mechanism for correcting the mistake.

The second thing I do is to take the heat for the mistake myself.  I don’t throw the team under the bus, I own the mistake.  If I am the one deciding whether to jump in or not, I need to be the one who represents that decision.  Generally speaking, mistakes can be linked to a process issue, not a people issue.  I will always blame a process before telling my leadership that a team member is bad.  The process could be cue sheet related, it could be that person wasn’t ready to sit in the seat (my decision), or there is a missing step in getting ready for the service.

There is never one right answer to the question of when to take control.  

Do you always default to taking control, or do you weigh each situation different depending on the person and the scenario?

 

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responding to mistakes, part 1

After the last 2 posts, “Don’t screw up” and “Don’t, Don’t screw up”, it seemed like there was another dimension to the idea of creating a culture of people doing their best out of fear of failure or because they are freed up to bring their best to the table.

3221548545_e92686c03e_b As a leader, much of that culture is created in the heat of the moment.  During a live production, when things are going great or going down the tubes, how are your dealing with these situations?  Not only how you are treating your people, staff or volunteers, but how are you personally handling the all the moments that make up a live event, good and bad.

One huge way to create a culture where people aren’t scared into doing their best, is when things are going really well during a service.  It is important to celebrate the wins.

When people are doing a great job, following the worship leader to a song that wasn’t planned, a lighting look that exactly matched the moment, or the perfect mix (not really possible, but you get the idea); do you let the members on your team know that they are killing it?

Sometimes I like to respond in the moment with a “Great job”, but not at the expense of distracting that person from the task at hand.  Over the last few years, we have been doing what we call “Time of Affirmation” at the end of our Saturday night service debrief.  I noticed that we were spending lots of time talking about wasn’t working and we never talked about all the great things that had happened because people were doing great work.

There are a couple things I love about the Time of Affirmation.  Knowing that we will be publically talking about things that went well helps me and others on the team be more aware in the moment, looking for great work.  It helps us see the good during the event instead of just the mistakes.  The other thing I love about it is that people are being publically affirmed.

I don’t do my job so that people say “way to go!”, but it is great to hear, and motivates me to keep doing my best.  The people on your team need to know that someone noticed their attention to detail, or their hustle at a particular moment, or passing on word from the band that the monitor mix was like bathing their ears in champagne.

As a group of people that are always trying eliminate distraction, we tend to only focus on the distractions.  While it is part of who God made us to be, we can’t survive long on only pointing out all the things that were done wrong.

Do you take time to celebrate the great things happening on your production team?

 

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