While I was in college we had a guest speaker come speak to our film class. Turns out he was the co-creator of the TV shows Home Improvement and Roseanne, and was somewhat of a “player” in the Hollywood scene. He said many insightful things, but the statement I remember most was this…
“Success is when Opportunity meets Preparedness.”
He explained that it doesn’t matter what opportunities come your way if you aren’t prepared for them. You should be continually practicing your craft, honing your skills, improving yourself, making mistakes, working on your chops. Then when an opportunity shows up, you’re prepared for it.
This was encouraging to me as a young whipper-snapper and I took it to heart. I decided to continue doing what I loved at the time without pay…theater. I decided to keep performing, writing, producing, playing, and trying newer, harder, bigger projects. Eventually I went on to make my living at Theater for several years until I transitioned into video production. It turns out that many of the things I learned doing theater are the very things that make me unique, valuable, and competitive in my video production.
I’ve had many breaks come my way since those college days. Some I was prepared for, others I was not. I’ve learned that if big breaks come at you, you have to be able to catch them. Otherwise they’re just missed opportunities because you weren’t prepared.
The THING is your product or message. It’s either good or it’s not. It has a target demographic, a target audience, and it’s made specifically for them.
The PACKAGE is how your product or message looks. Products have physical packaging or boxes. Messages are packaged in graphics, video, audio, colors, stories, etc. There are many ways to package. The packaging is where the creative people live and bring value.
The DELIVERY is how the thing gets to the person who needs it. Products can be mailed. Messages can be emailed, presented live on stage, strategically placed online, delivered in person.
Ideally all three of these are well-done. You’ve got a good THING that has a great PACKAGE and an effective DELIVERY method.
But there might be a kink in your armor. Either your thing is lame or not targeted, your packaging is boring, or your delivery method is flawed.
Hopefully you’ve got all three in line if there’s something you’re trying to say or sell.
Have you ever felt like you’re past your prime? That your best work is behind you?
My improv group is entering its 14th year performing improv, and I understand this feeling. Across the last several years, we’ve done hundreds of improv shows, plays, musicals, and videos. We’ve had many ups and downs in audience attendance, morale, inspiration, and financial bottom lines. And we’ve also weathered a recession, something that took down many other small theater companies.
Through all of this, I’ve reflected on our challenge to balance these two things: doing what’s sustainable vs. doing what’s magical.
As a business and as a person, some things are not sustainable; you can’t keep doing them if you wish to survive and thrive. On the other hand, some things are not magical after awhile. They lose their pixie dust from long-term use. The tight rope we walk is to continue to do sustainable things without losing the magic. By magic I mean things that are exciting, inspiring, and a little scary.
In the context of our improv show, this could mean performing a good mix of improv games that are tried and true while mixing in some new games that we’ve never performed before. The new games create some magic while the tried and true games maintain our sustainability of a consistently good show. In the context of a theater company, this could mean stopping the production of some musicals or plays to focus on the company’s unique competitive advantage. In our case this is improv, and that’s exactly what we’ve done this past year. Halting the production of plays and musicals has made us more sustainable, and refocusing that effort into our improv shows has reinstated the magic into those shows.
So how about you? What things should you continue to do to be sustainable? Is there anything you should stop doing in order to be more sustainable? And finally, what should you start doing doing to re-discover the magic?
I’ve been doing improv for over 15 years, and teaching & performing improv has changed the way I live my life. One of the lessons I have learned from improv is in the area of control.
When improvisors are playing a scene, they have a few choices: watch the scene happen, make the scene happen, or serve the scene. Improvisors who watch the scene happen don’t really participate. They watch it. They may enjoy it, fear it, judge it, laugh at it…but they are only watchers. They watch the scene happen.
Improvisors who make the scene happen are the opposite extreme. They make it happen. No matter what they have to do. They control the scene, control the other players, minimize or ignore other people’s offers, force the issue. They are makers. They may control the scene out of fear of failure, mistrust of their partner, or mistrust of their team. These people have strong creative personalities and should be praised for their boldness, even if it oversteps. It is better to make a scene happen than to watch a scene happen.
In the middle are improvisors who serve the scene. How does one serve a scene? By giving it what it needs. This could be a strong character, a bold choice of movement, a high energy physical feat. Or it could be a quiet background character, a minimal activity choice, or a display of verbal wit. Another way to serve the scene is by serving the other player in the scene. Adding to what they contribute, offering more than is given, listening to everything they say. But the difference between improvisors who make a scene and improvisors who serve a scene is that makers take control and servants relinquish control.
Taking control is sometimes necessary and helpful. Sometimes it serves the scene. But oftentimes it only serves the controlling, fearful, mistrusting improvisor. Creativity is better served by a team than by an individual.
Have you ever been so busy that you started to lose your joy?
So much work to do, so many house chores, so many kids’ needs, so many tasks, meetings, deadlines; that you actually lost some of your passion in life?
I’ve had the good fortune of being able to do what I love for a living for over a decade. I love theater. And I love video work. But too much of a good thing does start to change the taste of it. When I’m super busy day in and day out, what once was soul-filling becomes soul-draining. It becomes monotonous. I can feel that I need a break. A day off. Away from things. But this day off is not always practical when you’re so busy or are unable to get away from your responsibilities.
In my experience of leading a busy life, I’ve ironically found that ADDING something to my plate has been the answer to restoring myself…
When I’ve lost my joy, it’s because my soul is drained. I need to feed my soul. And one of the ways I’ve learned to feed my soul over the years is by doing a project that I love for fun. This project could be anything as long as it’s something that excites me, inspires me, and motivates me. For me it usually takes one of two forms:
1. Shooting/Editing a video of my kids.
2. Performing in an improv show (which I’m blessed to be able to do a few times a month).
I love doing both of these and don’t care about making money at them. I do them because I love doing them. I look forward to doing them. Time disappears when I do them. I stay up too late to do them. I’m proud of the end result. I like sharing them with people. I’m passionate about them. I’m talented at them. It fills my soul to do them. And it keeps me sane because it restores my joy.
That’s how I feed my soul. How do you feed yours? I dare you to answer this in the comments section.
I’ve been facing a challenge I’m sure many of you have faced. This topic has been on my mind, so I thought I’d write a post about it to help myself…
Years ago when I started getting my first professional video projects, I had this insatiable desire to do them REALLY well. The client was paying me good money and I wanted to deliver an awesome video that met their expectations and satisfied their requirements. I wanted them to feel like they made the right choice. I wanted to prove that I was really good at this.
As a result I poured my heart, mind and soul into the projects. I did a lot of pre-planning and conceptualizing, and surrounded myself with really good people to cover for my weaknesses. I was excited about every shoot and edit, and I did really good work.
Then, as time went on, more clients and more videos came pouring in. Video production became my main money-maker, replacing theater production and directing. I hired someone to work 4 days a week with me to handle all the videos we were doing. Which brings me to my current challenge:
How do I do my best creative work when I’m so busy doing the same thing every day?
How do I do my best creative work when there’s nothing to prove anymore?
How do I do my best creative work when I have become uninspired?
This is me right now. And I’ve been here before in theater-land. So I’ve decided to create a checklist for my own accountability. Here it is:
When working on any project, aim to say YES to the following…
1. Have you pre-planned well?
2. Have you given appropriate time?
3. Is there something you can try that you haven’t done before?
4. Is this a good concept?
5. Do you have talented people in the right spots?
6. Did you get someone else’s opinion? And then another?
7. Have you viewed other similar projects for inspiration?
8. Are you avoiding the “play-it-safe” trap that makes for boring work?
9. Are you excited to show someone what you’ve done?
10. Is this the best you can do?
Has anyone else been here before and have other thoughts to add?
Here’s the simple answer: Find out what they expect…and give it to them.
In my self-employed world, my boss is my client. You may have a boss or a list of clients like me, but in either case the question is the same: Do you know exactly what they expect from you?
I recently sat in a meeting with some executive leaders at a company whose video I am working on. As we sat there for a couple hours, it became clear to me that we were actually brainstorming what they are expecting from the video…the messaging, the feel, what to avoid, what they liked. They hadn’t really figured that out yet. It was a confusing meeting for me, because I thought we were meeting for them to communicate their expectations to me. Instead we wound up trying to figure out what their expectations actually were. I left the meeting with a much better sense of what they wanted, and it was an important meeting to have to make sure I didn’t miss the mark on their video.
I learned a few years ago about the principle of Clarifying Expectations from Pete Scazzero. When I first heard this process, it was kind of a wake-up call for me in several areas of my life. The 2-step process goes something like this:
Step 1: An expectation is communicated.
Step 2: That expectation is mutually agreed upon.
As you can imagine, this could work wonders with your significant other. This has helped me in planning my wife’s birthdays and Valentine’s Days since I have a conversation with her before those days so I’m not constantly disappointing her with my lack of mind-reading skills. But this also applies to your work. Try answering these questions:
-Are you crystal clear on what your boss expects of you in your current position?
-Have you accepted those expectations and agreed to them?
-Has your job description changed within the last year to where you may want to clarify expectations?
-If you are a leader or manager, have you clarified what you expect from your people…i.e. what “winning” looks like for them?
-When you are in meetings, is everybody clear on what you expect to accomplish in the meeting? After the meeting?
-Is it possible you are spending time on things that are not relevant to what’s expected of you?
These are important questions that can make a huge difference in your job satisfaction and effectiveness. Most people want to do a good job…provided they know what “doing a good job” looks like.