don’t, don’t screw up

In the last post, I talked about people being motivated to do great work through the fear of failure.  This post will talk about motivating people to bring their best work to the table.

A few years ago, an audio engineer I used to work with came to the booth at Willow Creek.  He started to tell a few people about his most memorable moment working with me.  I began to brace myself for what he was going to say.

19156061_c0903856aa_b I was TD’ing an event where the band kicked in and it sounded amazing, except the string section was muted.  I leaned over to this guy and calmly whispered “String section.”  He figuratively kicked himself and unmuted the strings.  As he was dialing it in, I then leaned over and calmly whispered “Lead vocal.”

He was devastated that he had ruined that moment, and was so appreciative that I didn’t jump all over him while it was happening.

What a relief!  There were many crazy moments over the years we had worked together that he could have chosen to talk about.

We had worked together for about 5 years, over 15 years ago.  The fact that this was what he could remember tells me a few things.

This guy had a sense that he deserved to be yelled at for is poor performance.  What he did was unacceptable.  I agree, it was.  But my history with him told me that he wasn’t characterized by missing audio cues.  This guy normally nailed it every time.  Knowing this was the key to my response.

If he was known for forgetting to turn mics on, I wouldn’t have entrusted our main service to him.  I would have put him in a lower priority room where there was space to learn the basics of production.

How a person performs is in many ways, a leadership issue.

One one hand, I need to determine if someone is ready to perform a particular task.  Anytime someone starts doing something new, there is always a level of risk.  My job as a leader is to determine if the risk is worth it based on the long term gains.  In this example, this wasn’t the first time he had mixed FOH, so the risk vs. benefit assessment had already happened.

On another hand, what do I do when mistakes happen?  Do I just let them go?  Do I assume the person making the mistakes  is OK with it?  Or do I assume that they are as frustrated as I am?

Since assuming is always a bad idea, a conversation needs to happen to clarify what is important and to restate  any values that need to be brought to the surface.  However, for me, when I do have the conversation, my starting point will be that the other person is as disappointed with the mistakes as I am.

Once I’ve put someone in the seat, I want to empower them to do their best.  I didn’t want this audio guy’s motivation to come from how I might respond if he messed something up.  I wanted him to do his very best because he wanted it to be the very best.

Once we have defined the essentials of what needs to happen, I want him to be freed up to go with his instincts.  I want his first thought to be “How can I build the best mix that represents what the band is doing and that can engage the congregation the best?”  Instead of “What am I forgetting this time that will send Todd over the edge?”

The don’t screw up version of this get his mind off of doing his job and making someone not mad.  The bring your best version puts his mind on the things he needs to do in order to do amazing work.

Are you volunteers worried about making a mistake more than they are worried about doing a great job? 

As a leader, have you set them up to succeed or should they be learning the basics of production in another environment?


I think there is another post involved here, about how to respond in the moment when mistakes do happen.  You can either make things worse or just less worse.  There is no real way to make things better, it is just about minimizing the damage done.



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don’t screw up

Why do you do a good job?  What motivates you?  In the realm of live production, different things drive different people.  In the church setting, you have people who are motivated by the chance to help spread the Gospel through the use of technology.  Some people want to fly under the radar and not take risks.  Some are so burnt out, it is hard to figure out why they are still doing it at all.

5383116954_552018dac1_b But what about doing great work?  I mean doing some amazing work.  For those who are doing it, what motivates you to perform at the top of your abilities, to do your very best?

This is not a “Jesus” answer, question.  I’m not trying to over spiritualize the topic here.

As a leader, I’m often thinking about how to get the best out of people.  In my experience with live production, I have noticed leaders motivating their production teams to great performance in one of two ways:   out of a fear of failure, or freeing people up to bring their very best of who they are.

Let’s tackle the first one:  Doing great work by not failing

This is almost like the idea in sports, playing not to lose instead of playing to win.  Playing not to lose in a production setting means I’m just trying not to screw up or make a mistake.  I’m playing everything safe because I don’t want to cause something bad to happen.

If creating a distraction free environment is one of the things you are trying to create, of course you don’t want mistakes to happen.  We’re attempting to remove all obstacles from people’s experience.  If you are a gifted technical artist, this should be one of your core values.  However, not making mistakes is not all there is.

We used to have a joke here that would involve someone saying right before we started an event “Don’t screw up!”.  It was meant to be funny, but as my wife would say, all kidding is half truth.

Whether we mean to or not, we had created a culture where fear of being yelled at was the motivation for doing your best work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure nobody does their best work by wondering when they are going to screw up next.

I believe that doing great work comes from a much deeper place than the immediacy of potential failure.  We’ll talk about that in the next post.

As you lead your teams, what motivates them?  Is it a culture of the fear of failure?


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you are more than perfection

My friend Dennis Choy is not only a pretty awesome person, but he has a saying that I have been hearing in my head lately.  Dennis points out that the baseline for what we do as technical artists in the local church is perfection; that we are expected to not make any mistakes while executing a service.

Whiteout Writing it out, it sound ridiculous and impossible, but unfortunately I think it is true.  The reality is that it isn’t attainable.  Humans are involved, and we aren’t perfect.  Things outside of our control can cause bad things to happen.

The challenge to me is that to have no mistakes as a good goal, and yet we can never achieve it perfectly.  The other challenge is to think about tenaciously going after a no flaws service while letting go when the mistakes do happen.

I love the fact that I get to do something I love, but when who I am designed to be gets wrapped up in my work performance, or lack of work performance, there’s a problem.

I recently had one of the worst work days of my life.  Big time mistakes on my part.  And since then, I’ve been pretty good about beating myself up about it.  On one hand, I need to figure out where I went wrong and fix it.  I can’t just give up on becoming better through my mistakes.

On the other hand, I have not been myself either.  My wife said to me this morning, “You aren’t defined by your job.”  When she said it, I agreed with her and said “of course” and “you’re so smart” and “blah, blah, blah”.  But since she said it, I realized that perhaps I am acting like how well I do at my job is what defines me.

When creating life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and creative arts is something I live and breath every day, and when one of the foundational values I hold to is making a distraction free environment, it can become very easy to define my self-worth by how well I succeed in these areas.

Here’s the reality, God loved me before I existed, even though he knew I would fall short every day.  This means that he loves me regardless of how severely I fail each day.  I am loved whether a distraction free environment is perfectly distraction free or just the best I could do on a particular day.  As a leader, on some days I am really awesome at leading my team.  On other days, I’m pretty awful at it.  God loves me on both kinds of days, and the truth about me doesn’t change.

God proved that he loved me in spite of all I fall short in, by sending His son to die for me.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. – 1 John 4:9

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1 John 3:1

The truth of this applies every day and in every situation.  It is apart of my successes and failures.

Where do you derive your worth from?  Do you rely on a flawless service to make you feel valuable?

be easy to work with

This is the second of two posts based on reading Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell is Human”.   In the first post, I talked about Dell’s consulting practice value of having a bias for action.  Their second value is:

Be Easy to Work with.

bookcoverjpeg-e1354078407704 This is like a serious one-two punch.  Being motivated to get stuff done, and be great to work with!  Are you kidding me?!  I want to work with those people! 

Why does this sound so refreshing?  When you are talking about the people I want to work with, of course I want them to be easy to work with.  When you are talking about me, it seems a little trite:  “Just be easier to work with.”  If it sounds refreshing to me, why wouldn’t it also sound refreshing to someone else who has to work with me.

I don’t often think about how easy I am to work with, I usually just fixate on how difficult other people are.  If being easy to work with were a value of mine, would I behave differently day to day?  For the people that I find easy to work with, what are the characteristics that I appreciate?  What is it about them that makes me want to work with them?

Here are just a few ideas:

Solution oriented.  Like I mentioned in the last post, are you a problem solver or do you just like to point out problems?  Coming up with answers puts you in the “easy to work” with category.  Being someone who likes to roll up their sleeves and figure stuff out makes you someone that people want to work with.

There is also a component of being solution oriented that involves learning how to give feedback well.  Sometimes an idea just won’t work.  How am I communicating that information?  Does the other person still feel like I am for them?  The people that I don’t enjoy working with, make me feel stupid with their feedback.  Their point might be accurate, but I generally don’t like working with those people.

Life is hard.  Have fun.  Normal, everyday life can be a drag sometimes.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could work hard solving problems and have fun along the way?  To build some margin into the schedule to leave some space for not taking ourselves too seriously.

Sometimes fun can take over and we aren’t getting serious work done.  I’m not suggesting we go that far, but when we say every weekend is like the Super Bowl, and every little thing is an opportunity to lose this big game, that’s just not sustainable in my opinion.  Let’s enjoy ourselves while getting some serious work done.

Common agenda.  For those of us a part of a larger organization, being on the same page is critical for being easy to work with.  I have worked with people in the past that have their own agenda.  Sometimes this would line up with the common purpose, but every now and then it would be very difficult to get work done because they had an alternative agenda.

For the technical artists amongst us, are you more interested in your own boundaries than the mission of your church?  Are you driving for the best equipment over any other concern your church has?  Does technical excellence matter above all things?

Having boundaries and driving for the best equipment aren’t bad things, but if they exist has your highest values above the common good, you might need to take a look at why you work there.  These things get in the way of being a person that others want to work with.

I love working with people that have a bias for action and are easy to work with.  Why wouldn’t I try to be one of those people also?

are you a problem solver or just a problem-pointer-outer?

I really enjoyed listening to Daniel Pink’s newest book “To Sell is Human”, about the idea that most of us spend significant amounts of time doing non-sales selling.  Or in other words, we are all in the business of pitching our ideas to those around us, trying to convince them of the merits.

7369580478_92ccf6bfbd_c One of his examples came from computer maker Dell’s consulting business.  They had two main principles for how they work with clients:

have a bias for action

be easy to work with

As technical artists in the local church, we tend to have a reputation for saying “no” a lot.  Being designed to solve problems, it can be really easy to solve those problems by picking apart someone’s idea to the point of not doing anything.  This isn’t problem solving, I would tend to call this problem-pointing-outing.  Solving isn’t a part of this equation, you’re just telling people what won’t work.

This is basically feels like the opposite of having a bias for action.

However, having a bias for action doesn’t mean that you say yes to everything.  Not everything is doable or affordable.  Engaging with an idea, diving into the details, asking questions, all with the intent to figure out a way, is a bias for action.

To work on a solution together, given the boundaries and constraints, is part of what it means to collaborate.  If you are always saying yes to every idea or no to every idea isn’t collaboration.

A few bosses ago, I had a goal to never say no to any idea he had.  I would figure out a way for him to say no.  I realize that it sounds sneaky, but it turned me from always being the one saying no, with a bias for inaction, to the person who was engaging with the ideas and helping to come up with a doable solution…a bias for action.

Are you characterized by action or inaction? 

Are you just pointing out problems or are you a problem solver?


We’ll tackle this second principle, “easy to work with”, in the next post.



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inspired by roger ebert

The death of Roger Ebert struck me harder than I thought.  I am not a huge movie going person, so I didn’t really pay attention to his reviews.  At most, he was a just always in the background, and if I wondered if a movie was good or not, I would see what he thought.  Living in Chicago, it is also kind of difficult to ignore his presence; his name seems to be everywhere.

3120877348_5130705a52 I was struck by his passing, when I was listening to a rebroadcast of one of his last interviews on the radio show Sound Opinions from 2006 (If you love rock history, this episode is a good listen).  While setting up the replaying of the interview, the hosts commented that he had been struggling with cancer for over 10 years.  Over 10 years!

Here’s a guy that kept moving forward, in spite of his situation.  Roger Ebert pushes on to continue meaningful work, even though he hasn’t been able to speak for the last 6 years.  I was humbled by the idea, especially considering the fact that I can so easily get tripped up by the smallest bump in the road.

I also thought about all the times I’ve felt like a victim in a particular situation.  When stacked up next to the courage that Roger Ebert showed, I’m embarrassed.  Roger had a vision for his life and was willing to keep fighting for that idea.  He knew what he wanted to be about, and went after it, regardless of obstacles.

I guarantee that this was not easy for him.  And from the outside looking in, I could totally understand if Roger decided to recede from life and possibly even become bitter for the situation handed to him.  Instead he fought for every ounce of life that was left to him.

There are 2 things here for me, and hopefully you:

Do I have a vision for my life that I am willing to fight for, regardless of the obstacles?

Am I fighting for it?



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gravity and levity

Not just two words that end in vity.

The work that we do as technical artists in the local church, tends to fall in the category of intense.

Not only is there a level of intensity around doing live events, but there is something about doing something different every week, that makes a lot of the process more last minute than any of us would like.  Not surprisingly, this doesn’t make things less intense.  Flying by the seat of your pants is how most of us end up working.

4330199412_379288c805 So not only are live events intense, and not only are different live events each week intense, but doing them in the church, where it is easy to get wrapped up in eternal issues, is where the gravity comes into play.

When you talk about creating a distraction free environment, it is because we don’t want anything to get in the way of people hearing the message of Christ.  If someone isn’t able to hear because production is getting in the way, this weighs heavily on the technical artist in the local church.

I take my role very seriously, as we all should.

OK, so we’ve established that being a technical artist in the local church can be intense and be accompanied by loads of gravity.  So if things are going to be intense regardless, I’d like to enjoy the process along the way.  Levity.

I’m not saying that every meeting or each moment in the booth should be about cracking jokes, but I would say that there isn’t any reason to not have fun as we are serving the church together.

(Side note: I’m not talking about having fun at the expense of other people, which can be easy to do in the cynical world of the production booth.)

I have a theory that most people start serving in production because they like production-y things.  They keep serving because they love the people on their team.

Creating a levity on your team could look many different ways.  It could be a light atmosphere while serving together.  It could be picnics or field trips outside the normal serving time.

For those of you who know me, you know that I love to laugh.  I like to enjoy myself while working on a big project.  This in no way diminishes my commitment to our team’s missions statement:  “to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.”  I am very serious about this lofty idea.

However, it does mean that I want to have fun while working really hard.  The goal isn’t to have fun.  The goal is to accomplish the mission, and having fun along the way is part of the journey.

Deal with the gravity of what we do by introducing levity into how your team functions.  If I don’t enjoy the process, I will eventually be crushed by the gravity.

What are some ways that you can stop taking yourself so seriously? 

Where can you introduce levity to your team’s experience? 

How can you balance out the gravity of what you do with the opportunity to enjoy yourself along the way?



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don’t wait for next time

I have to admit it, I love the church technical arts community.  The last few days of #gurus13 have been some of my favorite.

After not being very diligent with writing for this blog, I’m sitting down to dive back in, and I only keep thinking about all the amazing interactions I had this week.

Guru_2013_v0.3It feels strange to try to think about something new to write about, when so much has happened that is worth talking about.  It is difficult to narrow down to a single post.

If I had to pick a single take away from Gurus, it would have to be the servant attitudes and actions of so many amazing technical artists.

I know that as a group, we are known for serving the needs of others.  Maybe we aren’t always known for serving with a great attitude, but the fact that someone has an idea and we pull it off, is pretty standard.

The difference this week was all of the presenters, the worship teams, the staff of Willow Creek Church, were falling all over themselves to serve the technical arts community.

For those of you who attended Gurus, and gleaned from the wisdom of this crowd, I hope you have some idea of what a privilege it is to learn from people like Lighting Designer Bob Peterson, or North Coast’s Dennis Choy, or any number of incredible technical arts minds.

I can’t even imagine how different my life would be if I had access to all this knowledge when I was first starting out as a technical artist in the local church.  Once we have all the sessions up on the Gurus website, you definitely need to share it with your teams.  Don’t miss the opportunity to share this amazing content with the people around you.

If you were one of the technical artists that shared your knowledge or served the community in some way, you blow my mind.  To use your free time to pour yourself out for the benefit of people you don’t know and may never see again, is an incredible example to me.  This is taking the idea of servant leadership to a new level.

Not only do we all have something to learn from the knowledge those of you in this group, but the idea of giving back to the technical arts community is something we can all be a little better at.

Being a technical artist in the local church can be lonely.  For those of you who benefitted from your time at Gurus, don’t just go back into your little corner, but expand your corner and include those around you.  Whether from other churches or your own volunteer team.  Reach out.  Give back.  Invest in the lives of other tech people.  Pour yourself out for each other.  Inspire each other to carry on.

God designed us to live in community.  We had the joy to live in the larger technical arts community for the last few days.  There are people in your immediate area just waiting to be gathered and poured into.  Don’t wait for the next big thing to experience investing in others and being invested into.

For some good online community, sign up for  It is a great place to ask questions and share answers and to keep the community going.

Also, don’t forget to keep checking back to for audio and video of sessions to share with the rest of your team.

an unbalanced truce

Remember that one time your monitor mix wasn’t perfect, but you just gave up trying to ask for changes.  “I can deal with this.”?


Or that other time when you got graphics late on Saturday night, even though you keep asking for them on Friday afternoon and you just decided that since you always get them this late that you should just adjust your schedule?

Or that one time…

I’m pretty sure we all have stories  when we have decided that things would be better if I just got used to this.  I’m tired of bringing this up all the time, so I’m just going to stop asking for what I need and adjust.

This is a truce of sorts, but it is unbalanced.  You have decided to give in, without the other person having the option of doing their part.  In my opinion, an unbalanced truce leads to bitterness and resentment.  It is what turns most tech people into passive aggressive, negative people that are difficult to work with.

Here’s the thing.  Deciding to give in and just deal helps in the short term.  I would even say that in the moment, getting the job done is the most important thing.  For those of us in the technical arts, when it is “show time”, there isn’t time to argue about process or how you hurt my feelings or whatever.  It’s time to get it done, and deal with it later.

Unfortunately what happened to me over the years is that I would forget to follow up, or the intensity of my feelings had diminished and it didn’t seem like a big deal any more.  Then it would happen again, and since I hadn’t dealt with it, the resentment built up.  But it’s “show time” again, so let’s just get it done.

Being flexible in the moment is super important, but for me it had become less about being flexible and more about not dealing with the uncomfortable conversations required to make sure we didn’t find ourselves in the same situations each week.

Having an effective working relationship with people requires lots of hard work and trust.  When we settle for an unbalanced truce, our trust levels start to decrease and we can become bitter with our situation.

I need to commit to myself to go after the actual truce; to fight for real trust and an actual effective working relationship with those around me.  And not during “show time”.  I need to invest when the pressure is off.

Where have you given in and settled for something, instead of pushing for what’s best?


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what is the perfect volume? part 3

Over part 1 & part 2 of “what is the perfect volume?”, we have talked about knowing what you are trying to achieve in your services and how volume plays into that, and we have talked about the appropriate volume for each part of your service.  In this post we’ll be talking about being responsible with the volume.

4933225386_a52282b247_bHow many of you have found that guy who has brought their own dB meter to church? You know, to check the volume?  With multiple venues going on at the same time, we’ve had a gentleman who would travel from room to room with his Radio Shack dB meter checking up on the levels all around the building.

I had several conversations with this person, as well as receiving many emails from people accusing us of doing permanent damage to people’s hearing.

I know that it can be really easy to dismiss someone that is so insistent and frankly obnoxious about how wrong you are and how right he is.  And while our knee jerk reaction can be to ignore these people, or at the least wish they would go away, we need to be able to address their concerns.

Given that my last posts have been about knowing what you and your team believe about volume and being volume appropriate in each part of the service, these answers aren’t sufficient for someone who is adamant that you are doing actual damage to the ears of the people in the congregation.

This is where the subjectivity of volume goes away and where science kicks in.   Measuring the volume in real time, and keeping track of the volume over a period of time become critical to objectively understanding the volume in your space.

Real Time Measurement

Measuring the decibels in real time helps in the moment, letting you know if it is getting too loud.  We have several places that this number shows up, and as the one who answers for the volume levels at my church, I have a good sense that many times 97dB is a little too loud for the first song (back to the idea of the appropriate volume for the appropriate time).  Being able to see this number, helps me to react in the moment to what the empirical data is telling me about the volume at the moment.

This also helps when a producer or pastor has a question in a particular moment about how loud is it and it is important to know in that exact moment where things are.  It’s not about my opinion at that point, but something exact and measurable.  Again, something might be too loud from a what’s-appropriate-to-the-moment standpoint, but having a number to measure this opinion against is a huge benefit.

Maybe more important than knowing in an instant, is keeping track over time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has set some standards for safety in the workplace, which includes volume levels that have proven over time to be safe for workers.

While OSHA standards don’t apply to the people in your congregation, at the very least they apply to church staff, who are exposed to the same volume over time. As a result, the OSHA standards are a great metric for how loud it can be for how long before permanent damage is done to people’s ears.

As an example, OSHA PNE (Permissible Noise Exposure) specifies a legal limit of 95 dBA (slow) continuously for 4 hours to avoid hearing loss.  Similarly, 80 dB for 32 hours and 100dB for 2 hours.

Now, as I see it, there are 2 challenges with trying to keep track of every service’s volume levels.  The first is how to actually record dB levels over time and the other is the administrative part of having to keep track of it.

To overcome these 2 issues, we have started using TREND, a combination of hardware and software that allows us to set up recording times and then it automatically documents each service on a spreadsheet.  The data is collected in an easy to understand format as well.

Since we really only care about how loud the worship part of the service is, it will take the average of all things that are over the OSHA threshold of 80 dB.  This gives us a more accurate idea of how loud the loud stuff is over time.

I’m going to brag a little bit right here…Chris Gille, the CTO at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, CA has done some amazing work at making this program perfect for what churches need.  Using TREND has really helped us to keep track of how loud our services around the campus are running, without having to do all the administrative work necessary.

Having a record of each service is a great resource to point people to.  For those that think your services are too loud and doing damage to people’s ears, this not only helps them see that you take volume seriously, but it also shows that your services have been well within the limits of potential hearing damage for weeks and months.

On a more serious note, having a record of every service is an excellent way to protect your church legally.  There have been some instances where churches were taken to court over noise concerns, and chances are it won’t happen to your church, but wouldn’t you rather have a record of each service to be safe?

Having a way to measure how loud it is, matters.  While much of the volume conversation can be subjective, there is a good bit of it that is objective.  Let’s do the work necessary to take care of the objective part by measuring and keeping track of how loud it really is.

Special note: Thanks to Chris Gille for correcting much of the technical aspects of this blog post.

Another special note: Chris had nothing to do with me plugging TREND. It is just that good!


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