Brain Food

Brain Food

I love to read.  It’s the most effective way I’ve found to gain and absorb new information quickly.  I’ve probably learned more by reading in the last 10 years than by any other method.  Charles Jones said “We will be the same person in 5 years that we are today except for 2 things: the people we meet and the book we read”.  Reading is powerful.

Most of the books I read are recommendations from people I respect.  Some in my industry (church), some in my craft (creativity), and some in my faith (Christianity).  Here are a few of me recent favorites:

 

Creativity Inc“Creativity, Inc” by Ed Catmull

“Creativity, Inc” provides a glimpse into one of the most innovative creative companies in the last two decades.  Ed Catmull, then goes beyond the honeymoon phase and gives a detailed strategy for creating and sustaining creative cultures.  Everything Pixar does is team-based.  If you work with teams, buy this book!

 

 

Platform“Platform” by Michael Hyatt

“Platform” was a recent recommendation by J Warner Wallace via my pastor.  I’m a hobby blogger and only write when I feel like it, so this book is a kick in the pants!  I’m only about half way through, but it’s already creating renewed passion in me to become a better blogger.  If you have anything to say or sell, this is an invaluable resource written by an industry veteran.  I literally cant wait to read the next chapter.

 

 

Knowledge“Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer

“Knowledge of the Holy” has been prescribed reading for our church this summer.  I’ve heard from so many that their concept of God is being challenged and reshaped.  Mine is too!  Ultimately, none of our mental constructs will ever fully describe God.  But Tozer, as he often does, does a great job shrinking the gap in our understanding.  It’s written in a slightly older style, but one that marries language and truth in a very readable package.  For Christians, the concepts contained here will challenge and stretch you, but in a very rewarding way.

 

I’m always on the look out for great books.

What have you been reading lately?  Tell me why you love it!

When in need, Create!

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I’m not a car person. I have one, but only out of necessity. I don’t ever dream of owning a corvette, can’t rattle off the year and model of everything I pass on the highway, and couldn’t care less about the latest thing with a HEMI in it. There, I said it.

In spite of that, I end up doing most of my own car work…brakes, water pump, alternator, master cylinder, etc. (although i did pay to have my transmission rebuilt). It’s because I’m cheep. Not stingy, just cheep labor…I don’t charge myself much. I guess I ended up with good mechanical sense and it pains me to pay for what I can can figure out on my own.

It’s funny how necessity breeds ingenuity.

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the challenge of making something really cool with very slim resources. It’s a chance for team work, ingenuity, creativity, and some crazy MacGyver engineering. Okay, to be totally honest it can also be one of the most frustrating parts of my job. Certain days I wish I could just buy what I needed and save the effort. But where’s the fun (or stewardship) in that?

So on that note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite examples of team genius (at least we thought they were genius).

Here’s one that I had very little to do with beyond the concept. My good friend Will Gallagher made this for our Christmas production last year and we liked it so much we kept it. It’s a brilliant combination of the old and new. On the audience side it looks pretty much like an ordinary piano with enough wear and tear to look nice and vibey.

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But on the other side…

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It was a ton of work gutting all the original parts, but it’s a great way to have all the cool keyboard gear without looking like Styx.

Here’s another one of our faux keyboard rigs. It started life as an empty Fender Bassman cabinet owned by one of the band guys. Add in some 1/2″ MDF, a bunch of hardware, a little cabinetry work, and a couple cans of spray bed liner and…voila! Looks like a Rhodes…

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…but ain’t.

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Several years ago we switched to using low wattage tube amps on all our guitar rigs and we needed a way to keep them isolated from the stage and each other. With the help of a great volunteer, we whipped up these isolation boxes that do exactly what we need. Isolate…and I think they look cool (although nobody ever sees them because they’re backstage).

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Once or twice a year we do a major redesign of the stage. If you watch any of the award shows or concerts lately, you’ll notice a TON of warm incandescent backlighting. The fixtures are crazy expensive, so we decided to design and build our own approximations. We think they turned out great! And every once in a while, when really needed…they can totally melt your face!

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All of these projects were accomplished with very little money. In some cases the trade off was the cost of time. The light towers in particular. In the end though, with a few weekends and some ingenuity, we’re way ahead of where we’d be if we sat around and waited for the “proper resources”.

Creative people are all over – creative parents, creative mechanics, creative cooks, creative accountants (the non-criminal kind). How has necessity inspired creativity in you? I’d love to hear your story!

Gut-check

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Somebody once said “The greatest enemy of future success is past success”. Boy, isn’t that true. We can round the final corner, dig deep into that last stretch, and before we know it we’re still taking victory laps long after the crowd’s gone home. I suppose it’s risk management. We work so hard for victory that the thought of having to turn around and start again paralyzes us. Even though success is often a long cycle between concept, action, evaluation, adjustment, and finally victory – we tend to feel the most good about ourselves at the end. So we milk it.

You don’t have to look far for examples. Hollywood C-listers still riding that blockbuster from a decade ago. People in their 40′s still living their high school glory days (Uncle Rico, anyone). As a parent, I’ve tried a few things on my teenage kids that worked great when they were 6…not so much now. They’re all a product of relying too heavily on the power of past success.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Bible, it offers some solid advice on the subject. Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal…” Not a shove or a slam – press. A steady advancement in the direction of the ultimate goal. God knows some days it’s slow. Other days it practically moves itself. Speed isn’t the point. Consistency is. So unless you’ve reached your ultimate end goal, and I know I haven’t, this isn’t the time to let up.

With whatever resources you’ve been given…press on

No matter how afraid you are of failing…press on

Whether you’re riding success or failure…press on

And whether you feel like it or not…press on, press on, press on

Fan, Coach, or Cheerleader

20130520-220531.jpgFor me, the ’85 Bears, Jordan-era Bulls, and Matchbox 20 all reside in the same psycho-emotional pillbox. Closing my eyes, I can immediately recall the legendary finesse of Walter Payton, the aerial magic of Michael Jordan, and the melodic blend of beauty and angst hearing “Push” on the radio for the first time. I’m a fan. Whether or not those guys ever do something significant again, I’ll always be a fan. My connection to the past outweighs my desire for the future.

I’m also a cheerleader (the extremely masculine, nail-driving, fire-eating sort). Whenever my kids are playing sports, making music, or creating art I tend to forget about their past performance and just enjoy what’s happening in front of me. Whether or not they choose to take that skill to a level of professionalism some day is largely irrelevant. In the moment, I just want them to know I’m of them and celebrate their hard work and dedication.

And then there’s coach. That guy in Wilson shorts with a clipboard and whistle that lives to see people puke. He’s completely unconcerned with your immediate comfort, and believes past performance is just pointless fodder for the yearbook staff. His (or her) job is all about the future. What are we capable of? How do we get from point A to point B? What needs to be fixed in order to realize our full potential? They exist to make us better.

As a leader, I’m rarely a fan or cheerleader. Not to say that past and present aren’t worth considering, but leadership is all about point A and B, getting from here to there. It’s about growth and realizing potential. It’s about seeing the gifts God has given someone and helping them leverage those gifts for the maximum amount of return. By its nature it’s messy and uncomfortable with lots of puking along the way. But what an enormous privilege to be a small part of someone’s journey…whether or not you decide to wear the tacky shorts.

Dear younger self – part 2

Success is the product of making consistently more good choices than bad.  You can over-complicate it, but essentially it comes down to the law of averages.  Make enough of the right choices, while avoiding the wrong ones, and eventually you’ll be successful.  Ironically, what we sometimes call a right decision may not be. It appears right in the moment, but when tried in the fires of time and circumstance, proves an imposter.  As someone who appreciates a system that can be replicated, this irony isn’t helpful.

As a young man, success was elusive.  I wasn’t born with incredible intelligence.  I didn’t possess a crazy amount of personal drive.  I was more of a loose cannon than many of my peers.  And I was far more concerned with what I projected than what I was.  So if I could climb in a tricked out Delorian and offer my young self some advice, this is what I’d write on the cocktail napkin…

  • Deliver more than what’s expected
  • Surround yourself with people who make you better
  • Honor your conscience
  • To hell with being cool
  • Be sincere and authentic
  • At all costs, live in your passion
  • Everybody matters…everybody
  • Show up early
  • Integrity is more valuable than any amount of money
  • Follow people worthy of being followed
  • Be worthy of followers
  • When necessary, be willing to look stupid
  • Respect age

As time goes on, so inevitably does the list.  What would be on your napkin?

Underating Simplicity

It seems the nature of things to drift toward complexity.  The MacBook I’m typing on is anecdotal proof.  Turns out I’m quite fond of complexity.

There’s just something about a bazillion individual pieces all churning harmoniously along together that gives me a giant nerd-smile.

And that’s my problem…at least more often than I’d like it to be.  Because I find beauty in complexity, I forget about simplicity.  Too many times I’ve been challenged with “It doesn’t have to be so complex”, only to respond with “Yea…but it’s cooler this way”.  Somebody point me to the nearest Complicators Anonymous meeting…

A few weeks ago we found ourselves creatively exhausted after the prep and execution of Easter.  We put a ton of time and energy into “The Grand Undoing”, and just didn’t have the juice to dive into another ball-busting design process.  On top of that, the next series promo had to air the week of Easter, so we were actually doing these two projects consecutively.  Our creative team of 5 usually works 4-6 weeks out, meaning we’ve got 2-4 weeks to concept, design, and produce content.  However, given the Easter rush, we had just 1 week to go from concept to completion.  Somebody came up with the idea of going low budget (original, I know).  The interesting thing is that all our projects are low (or no) budget.  We just try not to let them look that way.  So on this round we admittedly kept the look consistent with the budget…low.  Here’s our completed product for the April 2012 series called “Surviving Family”:

This ended up one of our more popular videos especially among, you guessed it, families.  A special thanks to my teammates Abel, Casey, Will, and Jana for their fantastic creative contributions.  I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to create with!

I’m now on this hunt to find ways to make what appears complex, simple; and what is simple appear complex.  Any other complicators want to start a support group with me?

Dream Crusher

I was reminded yesterday morning of just how much we as a culture abhor disappointment.  We’ve developed a hyper-sensitivity toward this brutal enemy that brazenly denies us our hopes, dreams, and fantasies.  And when do our collective defenses rise quickest?  When disappointment threatens our children.  Take for instance the recent story of a young boy at a Texas Rangers game.  In case you haven’t heard about it, here’s the short version:

Three-year old attends Rangers game with parents, ball flies into the stands, three-year old wants the ball, adult couple near him actually catch it, three-year old breaks into a sob, adult couple is villainized for not allowing the three-year old to make the catch.

From what I read, the parents of the three-year boy took it all in stride.  The father actually defended the couple when interviewed by the press.  However, the TV production staff was not so reasonable.  Between the commentator, producer, and camera operators the televised case was made that these ball snatching grown-ups were despicable people…because they dared disappoint a child.  Furthermore, it appears there was an expectation for the couple to surrender their trophy!

I don’t want to overreact, but to me this is a serious problem.  We’ve begun a systematized attack on one of the greatest educators in the natural world.  How many lessons can be learned simply by the harsh reality of an unrealized desire?  Isn’t that what drives us to work harder?  When disappointment exists without dilution it becomes the catalyst for greatness!

Take it away, especially in children, and they never learn to push through, dig in, take the bull by the horns and triumph.

I believe a parents removal of childhood disappointment often has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with the parent.  We struggle emotionally with our kids letdown – the pouty lips, quivering chin, huge tears.  It tugs at our heart strings and we respond by eliminating the sad situation.  This not only removes the child’s sadness (and by extension ours), but it also makes us the hero – “Mom & Dad, the great deliverer of dreams”.  It’s easy to see why the cultural pattern has developed.

We can all probably agree that culture is unlikely to change.  Which makes it all the more difficult for parents to be the champions of reality.  We’ll need tougher skin, concrete values, and plenty of love and encouragement to dole out when disappointment invades our families.  No doubt it’s tough, but the long term pay off is huge, and someday, I believe the next generation will look back and be grateful.