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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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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