Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gun to Your Head...sort of

How do you create under a deadline? No matter what you are doing with art, whether it is part of your job or if you do it as a hobby there will be some situation(s) where you have to create on a deadline. You don't have time to go sit in your little Zen space and let the rain of creativity fall in the misty mountains of get the point. You don't have time.

I actually got some ideas for this from a conference I attended a couple of years ago. The key to being creative on a deadline is continue to fill your creative box. Go with me for a minute.

Imagine a box. In the box are all your creative ideas. To be able to be creative on a deadline we have to have a full box. Here are some notes that I took from the conference.

1. Expand your world - Find a way to experience new things. Read, listen to new music, pursue with a passion to expand your world.

2. Train Your Brain - We have to escape what is known. This includes things like brainstorming, and asking great questions. One interesting idea was called Random Input. Here's how it works.

- Ask the question you are trying to deal with. For example, "How can we make our band better with...?"

- Then have everyone pull something out of their pocket, manpurse, whatever and hand it to the person on their right.

- Take a few minutes and answer the question. "How can we make our band better with (whatever is in your hand)?"

This might not get you to a final answer but it sparks creativity.

3. Invest the Time - You thought there was a way around this didn't you? You have to invest the time to process and capture ideas. You have to invest time to keep the box full.

"If you and I fail to paint the masterpiece no one will."

So when you have a gun to your head and have to come up with a creative idea the best thing you could do is prepare for the moment. Expand your world, invest the time, fill your box. It will always pay off.

*These ideas came from a session entitled "Unlimited Creativity" presented by Mark Miller.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Crying in the Night

I normally don't write about this but I haven't written in a while and it is pretty fresh in my mind.

We have an 11 month old son, Levi, who is teething. He actually has 4 teeth coming in at once. We are also the mean parents that have decided that we are going to let our kids "cry it out" if they wake up in the middle of the night. And cry it out they do.

Last night was really rough. Levi was crying. Screaming. He was in desperation. His teeth are about to explode out of his gums. We knew that there was nothing we could do to stop the pain and he wasn't hungry or anything so we had to let him cry it out.

From his perspective, his cries of desperation were to no avail. He was completely alone. He endured his pain by himself. There was no rescue. No comfort. I can't imagine how it must have been. But I believe it is for his good. (At least that is what many that have gone before me have said)

But something he didn't know was that his parents weren't sleeping. We were in our own anguish sticking to our commitment of what we believe is best for him. He doesn't know that I was standing at the door watching over him to make sure he didn't get hurt, laying in bed listening to his screams and wanting desperately to go and pick him up and bring what comfort I could. While that might have made us all feel a little better in the moment I think it would create more problems in the future.

Going through this process is showing Levi, even at this early age, that he can handle some things himself. It is showing him some realities of life that are not easy. There are going to be things that he goes through alone. It's hard to go through this process but I believe it will pay off in the future.

If you are going through a season where you feel like you are experiencing the pain in isolation or that your cries of desperation are going unheard let me tell you that you are not alone. Someone is letting you go through this because somehow it is for your good and He is standing at the door watching over you. And I guarantee that it hurts Him to watch you go through this as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


We've had a bit of a crazy season in June with different parts of our staff on vacation and others making internal transitions. It was finally our turn to take a break and wow did we need it.

I have heard it said often that if you don't plan your work and plan your play both will be disappointing (thanks Pastor Hal!).

I think taking breaks and getting out of the normal routine is one of those things we know we should do but we have so many deadlines and people and things clamoring for our time that we often let that slip away.

Take a break today. It doesn't have to be a trip to a far off land. Take a walk around your office or your neighborhood. Do something.

I'm curious to know if you have found your breaks as satisfying as the one we just had.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Time to Deal

If you are in any kind of leadership role (and you are) you will encounter an issue that you have to deal with that won't be pleasant. You are going to have to say hard things to the people you are leading. In Nehemiah one of these encounters takes place in Chapter 5.

The people are working themselves ragged but the leaders were basically making slaves of their countrymen. They were being forced to mortgage their assets and even their children to their fellow Jews.

Nehemiah deals with this head-on. He gathers the leaders in the room and deals.

"This isn't right." "What are you thinking?" "Make this situation right and do it quickly."

You are going to have to get your people around the table from time to time and deal. Maybe it isn't that your team is making slaves but maybe the team isn't functioning like it should. Maybe the direction is wrong. Maybe there are a couple of people on the team that have been undermining the vision.

It's time to deal. When it's time to deal it has to be in the context of vision and mission not just personal preferences. The goal has to be to get things moving in the right direction not just to have your way but don't shrink back. Is it time to deal?

Doing What You Know

I have been thinking, nay haunted, by this thought over the last few days.

What would my life look like if I did what I knew I should be doing?

If I never learned anything else and just operated my relationships, spirituality, health choices, finances and career based on the information I already have what would it look like?

The problem often isn't getting more information. There's something else missing. There's something missing that keeps all the information idle. And as long as knowledge is idle my life will look exactly like it does.

What would your life look like?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Spirit That Animates the Machine

Creative people have a great advantage and a great problem. The great thing is that they have Spirit. The problem is they tend not to have Machines (systems, processes of delivery, etc.). What you get is a lot of great ideas that never get done. Great art created but never seen. Amazing investments in the soul of a culture that goes unnoticed.

Administrative people have a great advantage and a great problem. They have great Machines. The problem is they tend to not have much Spirit. They miss the reasons why the Machine was created. What you get is great information that doesn't mean anything. A better widget that no one wants to use. The minutia of timelines, deadlines and deliverables that doesn't get anything done that needs to get done.

If you lean towards more Spirit partner with someone that makes Machines. If you are someone that makes Machines partner with someone that has great Spirit.

It's amazing to see what happens when the Spirit animates the Machines.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Take a Little Piece of My Heart

What captures your imagination? Where are you devoting time and more importantly money? What have you bled for? Sacrificed? What distracts you from these great projects?

In Nehemiah the haters have come and their plans have been thwarted but now the project is really dealing with problems. In the project management world it's called "mission creep". Other things are vying for attention. Important things. So much so that the people are working on the wall with one hand and carrying a weapon with the other. The Bible says they didn't take their clothes off at night. They were perpetually in a state of preparedness while doing intense physical labor to complete the wall.

Just a few verses earlier it says that "the people worked with all their heart." My guess is they weren't now. They were still committed to the project. That's obvious by the conditions that they were dealing with. But my guess is there was a piece of that heart being taken and focused on their own well-being and safety, on the distraction caused by the haters and by their own fear.

Mission Creep is dangerous. Life happens and there is no way to avoid every distraction but beware of losing a piece of your heart from the greater vision. Critics are not going away. Distractions are not going away. Challenges are not going away. But you can still build something great if you continue with all of your heart.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Measures of Success - Last Call

I've continued to have some great conversations wrestling with this idea of success and how to measure it. I don't have it all worked out but here are some final thoughts on processing success.

1. Define Success - Andy Stanley calls it "defining the win". You have to define the win for yourself and for those around you. This is important because if it's too general the goals will be too easy to interpret differently. "Have a lot of people show up to my film screening" is different than "Have 300 in attendance at a film screening on July 22 ."

2. Make a plan - I think this is a step that is often left out. It's great to say have 300 people in attendance at the film screening. Great. Now what are the tactical, strategic steps you have to take to get 300 people in the seats? You might not know 3oo people so you have to figure out how to connect with them. Maybe that means a website, some kind of invitation, going on the radio. Without some kind of specific plan and some idea of what needs to happen it will be like driving a bumper car blindfolded and expecting to hit a target on the other side of the arena.

What this will end up doing is letting you know that your original goal is too big or too small. It will also give you a path to follow in order to achieve success.

3. Check in regularly - This is setting up small goals and deadlines along the way. And this is critical... use the information to make course corrections. If everything is on track everyone is happy. But maybe you find an opportunity to make even better use of your resources or come up with another idea to achieve the win. If the smaller goals aren't being met the tendency will be to start stressing out, maybe pointing fingers, maybe giving up.

Use the information to make course corrections and make tough decisions. Don't use the information to beat yourself or others. It's just not productive. And this is difficult for creative people because it so easy to think more highly of ourselves than we should when we're on a creative high but more often it's easy to think very little of ourselves or those around us.

It's just information. They are facts. Use them.

4. Celebrate the win or learn from the loss - This connects with the previous point. If you knock the ball out of the park, celebrate! If you were expecting 300 and 25 people showed you have to realize the event was a failure not you. The planning was a failure not you. Learn from the pain and move on.

There is a lot more about success and how to measure it but I'm still processing all of it. In some areas I'm better than others. I tend to do better in work environments and not as well in the family environment.

What about you? How do you process this? Are you better in some areas than others?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Measures of Success - Roller Coaster

Recently my 3 year old rode a kids roller coaster at a zoo. When describing it he motioned with his hand the waves and the turns while saying, "And it went up, up, up and then swoosh," as his hand swings round and round.

When thinking about how to measure success it seems that there is often no simple trajectory. If you work for a large corporation you will have vast differences in the success level of departments and there is a huge averaging of the whole company. So one department might be failing miserably but another department is wildly successful. The end result is that the company is average. The problem here is that large problems can be hidden in measuring success. In smaller organizations the numbers are more difficult to hide and the impact on the overall picture is more pronounced. If you are looking at your individual life there are many areas that you can keep failure under wraps for a long period of time.

So how do we counteract this roller coaster? Let's face it. If the numbers are up everything is fine. People get their bonuses, the boss is happy and we tend to stop paying attention to signals and information coming in. If the numbers are down there is a great upheaval, there is the temptation to fudge the data, defensive postures are taken within the organization and all manner of other internal issues that compound the problems.

I think one of the reasons we have this roller coaster affect is the choices we make in what we measure (and maybe as important, what we don't measure), how we interpret what we measure and how we define success. If the measure of success for my children is becoming a professional sports player it won't be good for any of us. I can measure their height, speed, strength. And I will see that they just aren't going to measure up. That will affect how I interact with them because I have defined success for my children as being something that they never will become. This works in reverse as well. If I set my standards so low that I don't ask anything of my kids I will not be helping them to grow or shape the future that they could have.

How we define success and what we choose to measure (or don't measure) will play a huge role in how the ups and downs of the roller coaster play out in our organizations, in our families and in our individual lives.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Measures of Success - The Problem

So after having multiple conversations over the past few days regarding success I am convinced that this is a great conversation that needs to continue for me. There are people that don't want to have any measure of success. They are happy to show up and let life happen around them. I'll tell you, I want my doctor to have measures of success. Like a zero death rate. I want the people that cook my food to have a measure of success. Like no hospitalizations. I want people to measure success and I bet you do too.

I'm not sure exactly why people shy away from defining success because I'm not one of them. I know that when you put some kind of goal out there that you can measure it can become scary because you might not reach it. And we are a culture that deifies those that reach high levels of success and we marginalize those that don't.

I really don't think there is a good argument in most areas of life not to have some kind of idea, however vague, of what success looks like. But I do understand the fear of setting yourself up for failure.

On the other hand I have seen people so driven by achieving their success that they leave a wake of relational destruction that makes any achievement of goals hollow and empty. How many broken lives have we seen and how many times have we heard the stories of people at the top losing it all, their family, their friends, their health.

So the problem to me is where do you find the balance and how do you actually define success? What does it look like in your family? In your finances? In your friendships? In your career?

I think this might be the key... Not how others have defined success. How do you define it?

The Measures of Success (Introduction)

I've had a handful of conversations recently that have got me thinking about success and the measures of success. A friend of mine and I were discussing the different values of orchestral music vs. rock. In the minds of most people under 35 rock music is way better than orchestral music. If orchestral music is going to have success in this demographic they will have to do some things differently.

We can all point to people or companies that have success in whatever field we are in. Whether it's someone in your company, organizations that just seem to hit the ball out of the park every time they do something, artists that aren't nearly as good as you that are catching all the breaks.

I'm going to take a few posts and process some of these different measures of success. Let's face it, how we determine our success will greatly impact our lives. If we don't have any measure at all we are probably missing out on opportunities that would bring a lot of fulfillment to our lives. If we measure our success in ways that are unachievable or are based on someone else's success we are going to be miserable because we will never measure up.

Where do you fall? How do you measure success?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Small Improvements

Whether you are an artist, a business person or whatever you will always have opportunities to make small improvements. Today I had the opportunity to give the message at our church. I speak in different environments all the time but this was the first time in our larger Sanctuary to a larger group of people. Each time I've had these opportunities I have tried to address one or two things to improve on, when I speak, when I play music, when I write.

What can you do to make small improvements in your art? In your business? In your whatever?

This requires some kind of assessment of what your weaknesses are, what changes to make and the ability to try those changes out.

I'm not a great speaker by any stretch but over the last couple of years I think I've gotten better. Imagine if I, if we, made small improvements over a long period of time.

Small Improvements + Time = Big Time Improvements

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's Your Response?

So in Nehemiah, just three paragraphs after the haters show up, we see that the work has continued until they got the wall to half its height. Why? Because the people worked with all their heart. It's amazing what can be accomplished when people work with their heart.

So let's hold hands again and... nope here come the haters again. And they are angry. Now they are plotting. Now they are really stirring up trouble.

There might be a few different kinds of haters. There are certainly the snipers. They just fire off from a distance. But this group of haters in Nehemiah are getting more involved. They are moving closer.

What was Nehemiah and the people's response? "But we prayed to God". That is always a great thing to do. But this is why I wrote this post today. "But we prayed to God AND posted a guard day and night." (emphasis mine)

Many times we just want to pray things away. I tend to think that we put some of our responsibilities on God. Don't get me wrong, God is involved and working and has our best interests (not necessarily our wants) in mind. And there are some things that only God can do. But we have a responsibility as well. And sometimes those responsibilities will cost. Now they are building a wall and pulling guard duty. This is starting to get more difficult.

Should we pray? Yes. Should we post guards day and night? Yes!

So what is your response? Is everything up to God or will you do the work required as well?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mind Space

So this is part 2 of a 3 part thought on creativity. To be honest, this is the one that I probably have the most trouble with. Something you should know about me is that I am part Artist and part Administrator. This is a paradox I am still struggling to come to grips with. That said, part of my problem in this area is that I need a system to capture ideas and sort them and be able to come back to them later. Unfortunately I haven't worked it out completely. But one thing that has really worked for me is a journal devoted completely to artistic ideas and whimsy.

A journal is a great thing. It becomes the bucket that holds all the creative thoughts that ooze out of the cosmos of the mind into one place. I highly recommend the black and white composition books. The important thing is that they have a string binding and not glue. I will be very adamant about this. The string is important.

So how do you capture the ideas once you have them?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nehemiah - It Doesn't Take Long for the Haters

So Nehemiah has done this incredibly insane thing and set out to rebuild the walls. He actually recruited people and they were next to him and he was next to them. Now let's all hold hands and sing nice happy songs together. Oh wait a minute. Here come the haters.

There were a group of people not so interested in this sense of community and accomplishment. And it doesn't take them long to give voice to their sneers and throw their judgments like Molotov Cocktails. "What are they doing? Will they restore? Are they going to finish in a day?" Blah Blah Blah.

There will always be haters. They will always speak. Loudly. They will speak to others about you. They will speak to others about your work. They will condemn, criticize and corrupt the things you are trying to do.

Screw the haters.

White Space

So every once in a while I try to clear my mind. I mean really clear it. It's amazing how long 5 minutes seems when you are just trying to be still. I literally can't seem to do it. So if a creative idea or epiphany is going to register it has to come crashing in. It literally has to crash into every random thought already firing and dismantle my synapses and realign them snapping and crackling with this great new vision that must be seen or heard.

This doesn't happen as often as I would like. And sometimes it hurts because it happens at 4am and then you have to do something with it right then or lose it forever.

So I have to find some ways to create White Space. I have to do some dismantling on my own. When I know I need some creative thinking time there are a few things I try in order to prepare myself for a slightly less violent means of creation. Here are a couple...

1. Plan ahead - Plan ahead for creative inspiration? Blasphemy! Not really. If I know I'm having a hard time getting the White Space I need I look at the calendar, choose a day that I can spend some time and I prepare for it.

2. Turn off the media - I will take a few days and not listen to anything. No podcasts, no radio, no tv (well not much). I find after a couple of days of this media fast the random flutter of thoughts are processed until my brain finally shuts up.

3. Embrace the White - Sometimes this is the hardest part for me. To give myself permission to stare at the wall.... And do nothing.... To wait.... To wait some more.... To stare at the wall....

And then the warm glow. The fuzzy feeling that slowly comes into focus. The connection of unlike things that now make perfect sense. The epiphany that can be held and processed and shaped into the next creative piece that you jettison into the world.

These are just a couple of ideas. I would love to hear what you do with the White Space.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Words

I haven't forgotten about the three part blog but I came up with this first so...

Did you know that the only two words that Pluto (from Disney) spoke were "Kiss Me". (Bet you didn't see that coming)

So I am staring at a Disney cup that we have that has that little tidbit and I started thinking what I would say if I only had two words. I thought about "Jesus Saves", "Love Jesus", "Jesus Loves". Then I thought about something that I could never say. "Follow Me". My life wouldn't hold up to that kind of scrutiny on my own with only those two words. Jesus' life did.

He often said "Follow me." If Jesus could only say two words I think that might have been all He would need. If people did that they would get it. The best that even Paul could say was, "Follow me as I follow Christ." Following Jesus would be the riskiest, costliest, most difficult, challenging adventure I could go on. If it isn't than I'm probably not following Him like I should.

So if I only had two words (and now I bet you wish this was the case) they would be "Follow Jesus". My hope is that if you aren't following Jesus that you will. If you are following Jesus I hope you would be able to say, like Paul, "Follow me like I'm following Jesus." And if people did it would be a good thing for people to see.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

White Space, Mind Space and Creative Use of Space

I've been thinking about this for awhile and now I think I'm going to tackle my first three part blog posting. We live in a day and age that is moving faster and faster. Computers continue to get faster and cheaper. We have more gadgets, widgets and wickets that help us track more, engage more and process more everyday.

The clutter that we are creating is intense and unrelenting.

I have recently been following Seth Godin's blog and reading some of his books. One of the things he talks about a great deal is doing something remarkable. Doing something that forces people to stand up and take notice.

The challenge for the artist and for anyone trying to do something remarkable is that you have to break through the clutter. With that in mind, I really want to start a conversation about how people function in three different areas. White Space, Mind Space and Creative Use of Space. Maybe you don't think of your creative process in these terms or at all but I needed three titles for the posts.

White Space - How do you find time to stare at the wall and tap into the Mothership. The white space of the empty page forces me to find the time to let my mind go blank and tap into something different than my normal everyday thinking. Do you schedule time? Is it the same time everyday? What do you do when the inspiration just isn't there?

Mind space - How do you get in the proper mindset to be creative? What you do once you actually have an idea?. Do you stop everything? Write it on a post-it? Do you actually just remember it when you need to?

Creative Use of Space - Where do you find yourself the most creative? Where do you tune in the Mothership with the greatest level of success? What is the environment that turns that blank page into a blog post that is way too long?

I would love to hear from you and I will tackle each of these spaces separately over the next few days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do You Start With a "No"?

I have noticed a tendency in myself to respond to new ideas from other people with a "no". Unless of course it was an idea or point of view that I already share. I have especially noticed this in areas that I have some experience. While on the surface it might seem like I am processing the idea I have already started with no.

Starting with no is a problem. Sure, there are things that you don't have to think about before you say no. Supersize it? No. Instant Coffee? No.

But when we start with no we are limiting our opportunities. Starting with a yes is a mindset issue. The final answer might still be no. And it might still be no quickly. But starting with a yes creates opportunities. While the idea might not be a good one, starting with a yes creates the opportunity to say, "No. But what if we took that idea and did this?"

Where do you start? Yes or No?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Next to Him

So one of the books I am processing is Nehemiah. Early in the book it talks about how bold this guy Nehemiah is. A little later there is an interesting phrase that keeps cropping up. Next to him. Early on it says that Nehemiah kept what he had in mind to himself. He didn't tell anyone. Then as the work begins there were lots of people involved.

Next to him. This person was working here and next to him this person was working here. Next to him another was working. This idea began in the heart of Nehemiah but within the first few chapters of the book there is a community project going on.

Who is next to you? Who do you need to be next to and who do you need next to you?

For us to do something remarkable it is going to take more than one guy with an idea. To get someone next to you the idea cannot remain yours. At some point others have to get involved. And they are going to have to be able to put their hands on it and make it theirs.

The end results are amazing. In Nehemiah the remarkable event was that the wall was built in an amazingly short period of time.

It happened because there were people next to him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Sketch

There are some amazing works of art. Sculptures, paintings, drawings, architecture. We see the final work (although I have heard it said that art is never finished just abandoned) and rarely think about the "pre" work. The sketches. The innumerable variations and permutations tried out on napkins, scratch pieces of paper and post-its.

These works didn't just happen. There are some artists, the Impressionists come to mind, that based their art around capturing the moment. But even they did prep work.

So what?

Make sure you do the work before the work. That song that you just wrote that flowed out like it was written in the heavens. It's not finished. That spoken word piece needs one more word tweaked. That script is missing something a character, a conflict, one great line.

Don't despair. That's the process. A series of sketches that lead to the final execution of the piece. And then you can finally abandon it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Too Much Information

I don't know if you have this problem. I have a tendency to have so much in my head at any given moment or ideas that are so complicated that I feel like I have to get them all out at once for someone to really understand. This is a real problem. In our world it is difficult for people to stay engaged long enough for me to pummel them with information. While I am trying to get every detail out of my head the nice person in front of me is slowly starting to drool and stare into the dark abyss.

So I am trying to think more in terms of sharing over time. The benefits are that you actually start developing relationships. You start to see the ideas and concepts like the facets of a diamond instead of a big chunk of rock. Diamonds are interesting. Most rocks are not. If someone tosses you a diamond you try to catch it. If someone tosses a rock you duck.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reflections on a Recent Conversation

I have been becoming an increasing fan of Seth Godin as many people that have talked with me recently can attest. One of Seth's thoughts that pop up again and again is that if you aren't remarkable then you are invisible.

My wife recently arranged an awesome night without the kids. There was 2 hours of adult (by my standards) conversation with a couple we are very good friends with. My friend and I were discussing the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. This is just an amazing, even remarkable, story of a cupbearer to the king making some radical requests to go take on a huge project to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The thing is, at the time, Nehemiah was just Nehemiah. He wasn't that great that we know of. He was a cupbearer. Did he know he was going to be enshrined in the Bible when he did what he did? Did he expect to be an instrument of great change for a whole nation? Did he think that people would be motivated by his actions?

I think we make a mistake in looking at the remarkable people and their stories and think that we could never do that. At the time they didn't know they would be remarkable.

So why not you? You might not end up in the Bible (actually, I know you won't) but maybe your remarkable story will inspire someone else to take their first steps to a remarkable story.

A Brief Introduction

My name is Brian. I have 2 kids and a great wife.I live in the Chicago area. I have my Bachelors Degree in Theatrical Lighting Design. I work at a church in the area and I'm currently working toward my MBA with a concentration in Non-Profit Management. I am a walking contradiction. I am an artist. I am an administrator. I hate when movies try to use real science and get it wrong (like Armageddon, there's no way that 2 spacecraft could lift off that close together. The sound waves would shake them apart). On the other hand I really enjoy Star Wars.

My hope for this blog is to process ideas about art and business, church and life, and what it means to do something of purpose and impact in the remaining days.

We'll see how it goes.