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:



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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