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!

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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!

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?

Visual Communication

About a year ago we started dabbling in the world of story videos.  Two to Three minute vignettes designed to support a theme through the partial communication of a story.  Our objective has been to create intrigue and tension without necessarily resolving the underlying issue.

This first video was designed for our Enticed series which ran in May of 2011.  We wanted to create something dark and aggressive, but with an element of attractiveness.  As our first step into the world of story videos, we all felt this was a huge success.  Check it out.

As often happens after initial success, we got a little over zealous on our next attempt.  The Armor Up series ran just one month later in June of 2011.  During the planning phase we had HUGE ambitions for this project.  In our minds we created an epic 60 second adventure worthy of James Cameron.  For many reasons, we fell short of that by a long shot.  There was however something of epic proportion: the time our cinematographer/video editor, Abel McBride, spent creating the entire CG environment.  The only practical elements are the actor, the suit, and the sword.  Everything else was created digitally.  If my memory is correct, Abel put in around 80 hours in the editing suite.  Not a stellar ROI, but we did learn what a quagmire is…

So after killing ourselves on Armor Up without significant success, we stepped back and really began to evaluate our process.  We became more focused on story and less focused on “cool”.  So almost a year after our initial success, we began planning our most recent project which ran this past Sunday for Easter 2012, The Grand Undoing: When Everything Sad Comes Untrue.  This was a significantly more complex project which required more people, more coordination, more direction, and a solid grasp on the story.  All told, this turned out to be another success – and the story reigned supreme.

As I write this, we’re in the middle of shooting a stop-motion project for our series Surviving Family which begins this Sunday.  Let’s hope we didn’t bite of more than we can chew…again.

The art of painting targets

For the past several months my small group has been studying the book “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours” by Dr. Kevin Leman (Amazon).  On the cover (pun intended), it appears to be a study in developing a more stress-free form of parenting.  And while that may be true, I think it would be better described as a family leadership guide.  Here’s what I mean.  So much of leadership, in or outside the family, comes down to the matter of clarity – clarity of expectations, clarity of systems, clarity of vision.  According to the book, successful parenting is not so much about cajoling/forcing/manipulating/bribing our kids in a certain direction, rather it’s about painting the target and encouraging them (through positive and negative consequences) to shoot for it.

I believe the concept holds just as much weight for leadership outside the family.  This is something I appreciate about my boss.  He’s a painter.  Not in the spirit of Michelangelo, but a painter nonetheless – a target painter.  As an artist and leader of artists, it’s incredibly liberating to fully understand the expectation…and the accompanying boundaries.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably received some “general direction” leadership at some point in your life.  It can seem liberating, but ultimately here’s the problem: while a target has not been communicated, you will be gauged against that unspoken target.  Great leaders are experts at painting targets, but even the worst leaders have expectations.  Bad leaders just don’t communicate and clarify the expectation.  So while looking like freedom and room to run, it ends up being the rope that hangs you.

With this in mind, I’m on a quest to be the “king of clarity”.  My family deserves it, my fellow artists deserve it, and my teams deserve it.  First on the list, clarity in my own head.  Sounds like another blog post…

 

Sex & Conversation

It’s not either or.  It’s not really even a comparison.  It’s more of a perspective.  And as with any perspective, it’s just from one angle.  From another angle one often finds an entirely different perspective.  Read accordingly.

 

What do we value about conversation? 

The answer depends on the surrounding circumstances.  What we expect from a business conversation is entirely different than what we want from a conversation with a close friend.  And both of those are different than what we get from a sidewalk chat with a perfect stranger.  They are all perfectly good conversations given the right circumstance, but imagine getting them mixed up.  What would your boss think if you approached him the same way you would a rambunctious 3 year old?  Or how would a girl respond to her boyfriends Monday night football dude-banter…being used on her?

You see it all comes down to circumstantial appropriateness.  Like most guys, I enjoy my fair share of “dude-banter”, but all my conversations can’t be that way.  Great conversationalists know when to transition from one type of conversation to the next.  They are masters at reading people, always gauging the effectiveness of the current method and ever aware of shifting personal and circumstantial dynamics.

With just over 17 years of marriage I’ve learned to approach sex in much the same way.  And just to make sure my perspective wasn’t too lop-sided I ran this idea past Karrie just for balance.  In the early days we both had very different expectations for sex.  For me, every night was the Super-Bowl.

Game day, leave it all on the field, take no prisoners, forgo the formalities and WIN!

In retrospect, it was pretty much a one-sided game – not much reading the other person, not much circumstantial appropriateness.  And typical of the gender differences, Karrie was almost the polar opposite. You can imagine the relational friction – and NOT the kind between the sheets.  Thankfully, those days faded, and with all the bumps and bruises we transitioned onto a more realistic playing field.

In the end (or at least 17 years in), it is balance that has served us best.  Here’s how I would say it:  Some conversations are deep and almost spiritual – so is sex…sometimes.  Some conversations are rowdy and playful – so is sex…sometimes.  Some conversations are detailed and highly technical – so is sex…sometimes.  Some conversations are casual small talk – so is sex…sometimes.  Some conversations happen in an elevator…anyway, you get my point.

So for those new to the marriage game (and this is strictly a “married only” game), or those experiencing the wrong kind of friction, give this a toss between you and your spouse, especially if you find yourselves on opposite teams.  It’s not rocket science and probably not revolutionary, but new perspective often leads to breakthrough.  Don’t hold too tightly to your preferred method of “conversation”.  The benefits of compromise far outweigh the sacrifices.

Now chatter away!

An Exercise in Listening

Have you ever been asked what sort of music you like.  I’m sure you have.  Maybe it was social small talk, an online conversation, or a first date; but if you’re like me, that question tends to create a bit of an internal dilemma.  You see, I like all sorts of music, but I don’t love many…I really only love a small fraction.  Which struck me as interesting after reading the latest chapter of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  He explains that while we are generally very good at identifying what we like (even with just fractional data); we are generally bad at articulating “why”.  Ask someone whether they prefer Coke or Pepsi and they’ll instantly rattle off an answer.  However, ask them to describe in detail why they prefer one over the other and the same person who initially exhibited confidence will likely digress into indecision and vagary.

So I ask myself “Why?”.  Why…exactly…do I bump certain music from the “like” into the “love” category?  What are the common factors that, when combined, create what I consider to be a great piece of music.  So, digging into my subconscious as much as possible, here’s my best crack at it.

Unique vocals – I’m a sucker for a voice that’s immediately recognizable.  If there’s any qualitative justice, Xenia, from NBC’s The Voice, will be the next teenage mega-star.  INCREDIBLE raw vocal talent – and perfectly unique.

Belivability – I need a sense that the singer totally buys what they’re selling.  That’s hard to pull off with stupid/crappy/juvenile/cheap lyrics.  If I’m able to personalize it – all the better.

Lift – at some point the song has to have a WOW moment.  Think: 2nd verse of Say, by John Mayer – 3rd verse of Hillsongs Forever Reign – the ending of Feeling Good by Michael Buble

Hooky Melody – there has to be a line/tune in the song that IMMEDIATELY connects with me – something I like to sing or hum as I’m driving down the road.  Hip-hop is full of ridiculously hooky melodies, although often without substance.

Groove – not necessarily a beat (although I consider myself a pretty accomplished “drivers seat dancer”), but something that connects to my internal rhythm – it makes my head nod and my arms move – internally, I’m tearing up the dance floor.  For me, Red Red Wine by UB40 is a classic groove song.

Lyrically Sophisticated – not high-brow, but something with purpose, meaning, and some creativity.  I mentioned hip-hop, and while it has great beats and hooky melodies, it often SERIOUSLY lacks in the lyrical department.  Before The Throne by Shane & Shane, and almost anything by Jason Mraz are perfect examples of great lyrics.

That pretty much covers it.  I can’t think of any song I “love” that doesn’t have at least 4 of these.  On a side note, I feel incredibly introspective right now…