Early Morning, Pride SF 2013, June 29. Let the Weddings Begin...

Early Morning, Pride SF 2013, June 29. Let the Weddings Begin…

Becoming and being a Leader does not require one to know “everything.”

The best, most effective leaders are those who recognize their own limitations, know how to and who can get things done, motivate others to do their best work and acknowledge those who deliver.

A Leader must know what s/he wants to accomplish, gathering those onto a group who can catalyze into an actual team and get done what needs doing.

The best course is to Be Open to what the process may reveal itself to be. Rather than steadfast adherence to a system or process that has worked before, perhaps hold past experience as a model or guideline while remaining prepared, nimble and ready to adjust or amend as the skills of the team come to light or the unique particulars of a given project manifest themselves.

While The Leader is responsible for delivering the result, product or production, leadership can be found throughout any good team. Wielding one’s leadership capabilities, wherever one is positioned within a hierarchy, is about bringing the best out of people one is working for, or with, or under.

One can lead from within a team or lead upwards from below. One can lead from another team. Leadership is not seen only in “bosses.” In fact, a team in which every member has some of the qualities of leadership is probably a great team.

A team of leaders is a team of professionals who reach out to one another when they can be of help to each other. The spectrum of “…need some help with that…” to “…hey, can I run something past you…” is a continuum of learning and bonding situations; all of which will show up in the final product, again and again.

A leader sees no shame in not knowing how to do something. When presented with a task or situation through which s/he might not be certain of the best way; call in the reinforcements! The sooner the leader throws open the door with, “…who knows how to do…,” the sooner the potential resolutions to a given situation or problem are addressed and likely solved.

It is the weak leader who keeps the cards close to the chest. Trust your team.

I come to the table with my own systems and procedures, honed and evolved over the succession of projects delivered with these tools. Each time, though, I look at how others on my team might approach a given task or set of responsibilities and see if there might be something in their method that would enhance the effectiveness of how I am working. Not always, but every so often, I see something in someone else’s work tools that I can weave into my own; then share with s/he from whom I’ve borrowed this new component.

Often, too, I’ve adopted something that looked good but turned out to be not as effective as a system I’ve already honed.

No harm, no foul; but if one doesn’t look at it all, the unique will ever be out of reach.

Gather the trusted “cabinet” or team and dissect the problem, ask for suggestions from the perspectives of the individual team members, then take responsibility for the resulting course of action by Making the Decision.

Leadership is taking responsibility: showing respect and appreciation for the knowledge and skills of others, listening and making appropriate decisions. Hearing an idea from one’s team and responding with, “…okay, let’s give that a shot…” perhaps following that by vesting the author of the idea with responsibility for applying the approach. “Adriana, why don’t you oversee that, then…? Keep me posted on how it’s going…” is an opportunity to imbue a strong trust in oneself by one’s team. Leadership.

Should above-hypothetical-approach prove other than effective; the Leader points no fingers. Rather, s/he responds with something along the lines of “Well, we learned that didn’t work! Let’s tackle it another way…”, and keep Adriana on the project, partnering with her to take the problem through to resolution and completion. Give her the credit for resolution as it materializes.

Guide; granting ultimate ownership to others…

Another opportunity to strengthen one’s relationship with members of one’s team, as Leader, is to approach people for assistance in situations that may not be under their purview but are encompassed within their skill sets. In production, especially, people specialize at things they do generally because they love doing them. Keep that in mind.

Ask for help when you need it, as hoarding knowledge gaps helps no one. Sharing knowledge gaps both closes those gaps and offers opportunity for relationship-building, empowerment and trust.

Remember; the vision with which you may enter a situation or project thinking you may apply may not, in fact, be that which evolves to become most effective in that situation; you may learn of another way, better suited to the task. Be open, and ready to relinquish hold on your own preconception.

Production is no place for Posers. Be open, share the problem and the solution will become apparent; share approbation and credit and your leadership will grow…and you’ll experience a Loyalty that cannot be bought.

In doing this, you’ve shown the team that you trust them, will stand behind them, and are not one of those “producers” compelled to pose as though s/he knows “everything.”

Who wants to know everything, anyway? Then, there would be no surprises, no learning; and it is the daily and weekly learning that takes place on any project that keeps me interested and engaged.


Download “imho” free; eBook for iPad 2 and beyond from the iBookstore…containing the first 20 posts along with interactive galleries and keynotes, “imho” Volume 1 contains the basic methodologies and myriad applications and extrapolations in the context of creation of compelling experience in a world full of data and distraction.

What Price Passion? …and What are Millennials Willing to Spend?

Opening Ceremonies Gay Games VII - Chicago

Opening Ceremonies Gay Games VII – Chicago

You may have been told that one should not choose a career to make money. Rather one is best served by listening to one’s heart and following one’s instincts; choosing a pathway of passion and fulfillment…making the difference in the world in a way that speaks to and nurtures oneself.

Do this, I’m sure you’ve been told, and the Money will come.

Don’t. You. Believe. It.

While I fully endorse the authenticity and validity of the first part, I’d be very careful of expectation inherent in “…the money will come.” That’s not necessarily a Bad Thing, depending on one’s definition of “money,” and it applies, I dare say, to pretty much any career choice. If you love the Law, be a lawyer; if you love cars, drive, design or repair automobiles…do what feeds you, feeds your muse, keeps you excited and inspired about what you do.

Be aware, though, that there are no guarantees of financial security, job security or what one might describe as “success” – especially in the realm of Entertainment and Creation of Experience – if such success has a material quality of life attached.

While it is possible to make a lot of money in this / these fields; the overarching reality is that a few do fantastically well, some do very well, many do comfortably well, most get by and no small number scrape-by from gig to gig with absolutely no security, at all. For many, the price of a can of tuna remains relevant for a great deal of their lives.

You’d best absolutely love what you do; as that is from whence the fulfillment must flow.

If creating an experience that makes audience gasp or cheer or cry out or laugh or go so deeply into their heads that the silence becomes palpable or leap from their seats before they know what they are doing fulfills and excites you; then, Come on Down! There is plenty of room for you, here.

If, on the other hand, you seek to make Big Money as a Producer, Director, Creative Director or Designer…and that money is important to you…perhaps you ought to look for something else; as you’ll sweat blood before you make Big Money in this spectrum of occupations and careers.

Not attempting to throw cold water on a career choice. Realism is, at the point of entry, a good discipline to exercise before setting oneself up for disappointment. While the perceived Gold Standard of Walt Disney Imagineering will always (we hope) offer long-term opportunity for hundreds of creatives and producers and short term projects for hundreds if not thousands more; that remains, still, just one company.

Outside of WDI, Disney and Universal there are hundreds of entities that hire for thousands of jobs of longer and shorter duration, better and poorer compensation, sporadic to regular work all of which is in support of creating experience to move and inspire people. That world outside of The Big Guys is a panoply of opportunity for the peripatetic; those willing to travel and move from project to project, month to year…

During a recent sojourn in Dubai, I worked on three shows. On the first – a huge spectacle for National Day – we had a team of Independents from all over the world. The show-caller came straight from the London Olympics, one of the choreographers came directly from the Eurovision contest, the Production Manager came from South Africa – departing for Hong Kong the day after the close of the show. Even one of my stage managers, within two weeks of the show close, was on the production team for the New Year’s Eve broadcast from the Burj Khalifa.

These are short gigs, and there are thousands, out here, who make a fair living – not a GREAT living – by moving from place to place, creating something where there was nothing, then moving on to the next thing.

On a larger scale there are installations of all sorts taking place all the time, all over the world: resorts, theme parks, civic installations, museums and even churches are creating experiences that take months and years to create and build. On one of these teams, one might find oneself in Shanghai or Dubai for sixteen months to a couple of years, then on to Brazil to work on an Olympic Ceremony.

For me, this is exciting and fantastic…and it is not secure. At all. Be sure you are in this for the Passion.

Recently, I spoke on a panel of Themed Entertainment Association Board Members before an audience of students at the Savannah College of Art & Design. What struck me, most, was that the first questions after the presentation were about quality of life in The Business…from both male and female students. Questions that never even occurred to me, back in the day(s) of career launch…

What about family? What about travel? Questions that pertained to the personal, the family environment, downtime and regenerative activity. Not overwhelmingly, but notably, these questions shed light on a bit of a new perspective on career and where it fits in one’s life…

A friend of mine, the VP of Sales for a company in Southern California, recently vented with me about the point of view of her millennial sales staff. She was getting questions about how many hours a day and time off at a level and a time frame that would have been unheard-of a decade or two ago. They were asking how much time they would need to put in to meet their goals, she said, “…they just want to know when they can get off work; it’s more important for them to spend time with their friends than to meet quota…”

Of what is this a harbinger?

Observing these questions in the context of the larger conversation articulated in trade mag after business blog after panel discussion in myriad iterations of “How to Deal with Millennials,” I sense something positive out of this gradual (or perhaps not-so-gradual) tectonic shift in the work culture as Millennials come of age. I sense that they seem to want fulfillment, they have a passionate and achievable sense of morality and fairness (and Equality), they want to be fulfilled in their professional pursuits…but…they want to have energy left over to enjoy what they’ve done and time left over to enjoy their families and friends.

Can you imagine?!

So, as I write these words of caution to those about to enter the work force, a part of me is aware that making “Money” may not be the priority for Millennials as it was for the Baby Boomers and the following generations. I am also not experiencing the sense of Entitlement experienced of the GenX and GenY’s – those who wanted it all; seeking a big salary and expected to be on a first-name basis with the CEO from Week One. While some did get that, most did not and they were not happy about it.

Meanwhile, the Business Leaders and writers seemed to keep analyzing the dynamic as though the young people coming up were the problem to solve. How to enlighten ‘em to How It Is so that business can continue to be run “right.”

I don’t know; perhaps this refreshed consciousness will manifest in other ways…

Looking closer, working alongside 20-somethings on my own production teams and teaching Apple Workshops, I see a fresh-faced, aspirational population that may have a more profound effect on the American Work Ethic than many might envision. For the most part, these kids (I say that affectionately and respectfully – even enviously) are happy with less of the material and seem to find more value in personal experience and levels of intimacy. In my experience, relatively few are motivated to acquire; more to enjoy.

This could change the infrastructure of Society in a healthy way, perhaps.

Rather than feeling pressure to succeed, I sense a desire for the freedom to accomplish. Rather than needing to make a lot of money, there seems a deeper desire to enjoy and be fulfilled by what they do.

This being the case, what it perhaps portends is that our Quality of [Material] Life may in fact diminish as the Quality of Living increases as a result of this evolved perspective. And that just might be a very good thing.

Somewhere in there is a great future for the world of Experience Design, of Creation of Compelling Experience. If one is protective of, a contributor to, the resonant qualities of one’s own life; will that person be even better equipped to create powerful and resonant experience for others? Will they be able to conceive of more effective ways of immersive storytelling, of weaving narrative, of new ways to express narrative or story that can engage on deeper levels? I’m thinking, maybe so.

I am struck by something else in these New Kids…a level of respect for those who have gone before that I have not experienced in a long time. A desire to learn what is or was combined with a complete absence of fear of sharing their own ideas and approaches that yields some brilliant, collaborative energy; teaching everyone and benefitting all.

Is it a New World? I dunno. It’s certainly a new ethic.

At the close of one of my Stanford Show Tours, I wrote an epic poem about the 12-city journey, closing with this:

But there was a moment, in every city

When what we did went to profound from pretty.

When guests became silent, when hearts skipped a beat,

When each person settled more into the seat.

The air in the room became quieter, still;

And breath was abated as hearts took the thrill.

That’s when we touched them, that’s when we knew

We’d delivered completely on our Mission, true.

No one will ever accomplish again

What we have given to those where we’ve been…

…and it is That Moment that keeps me in this business. The thrill of being able to create an experience that takes people so far into their heads that they are no longer conscious of their mind, they aren’t thinking, they are feeling and seeing through some deep, personal portal to which I have found the key.

Rarely will you ever be paid what you are worth; the choice is to let go of, to relinquish any such expectation and to embrace what you do realize from it. This work must nourish you; then, while “The Money” may not come rolling in, you may find peace with the compensation you do receive and find yourself wealthy for having touched others.


Please download the eBook, “imho” for iPad2 and beyond from iTunes or the iBook store. It’s free.