Crisis Energy to Feed Stamina

Turning the Adrenaline Rush of a Disaster into Energy for the Solution

Years ago my company created art for a museum that had a specific deadline. Everything needed to be mounted and in place for the grand opening of the new display. The press was coming out in full force and the curator just hung up the phone after pushing me for a specific delivery time. He made it clear that I had 42 minutes left to deliver the final artwork.

Museum_PhotoI felt my muscles tighten and worried about the onset of a heart attack, even though I had no family history. The emotional drama within my body felt like a tsunami was collapsing all around me and I was unable to surface for a breath of air. The worst pressure came while I waited for the subcontractor to finish the arduous process of laminating the art to meet ultra high museum archival standards.

Everything around me started to waver and the room sounds dropped to a deafening quiet—I was passing out. I asked the person next to me if she would mind me lying down on the floor. She looked concerned and nodded a willing “yes.” I dropped to the floor, turned onto my back and wondered how I got in such a spot.

Staring up at the lights was a weird phenomenon, especially when I realized that there were four things that I could do to change my response to the circumstances.

Accept the Worst – Everyone who feels they are falling into an abyss of the unknown needs a solid baseline from which to start their recovery. By accepting the worst-case scenario that my imagination could realistically paint, I was able to stop the sense of pending doom. I no longer felt like I was in a free fall and could work on my choice of thoughts.

Change the Perspective – Turning the corner from a negative perspective to a positive one forces my feelings to follow. A small sense of glee rises when a person stops thinking about their cup of lemonade being half gone and decides to savor a second half-cup more of delight. The positive person can even pick up on how the second half of the drink tastes a tad sweeter due to the sugar settling over time.

Release the Rigid – Facts typically raise its ugly head the moment a person tries to see an opportunity in its best light. After all, we’re taught from an early age to think logically about the situation when a swift deadline appears to be statistically out of reach. The choice to turn the ridged facts into a moment of flexibility brings relief and experimentation—the very thing that fuels creativity and solutions.

Think Creatively – Taking advantage of the freedom found in flexibility energizes the creative soul to see the circumstances as an opportunity to be a hero. Once pulled off, the client will trust their vendor no matter how unrealistic the schedule. And, they’ll even be willing to pay higher dollars for “miracles” knowing the job will get done right and on time.

Strength surged through my bones as I stood up and brushed the dirt from my slacks. I suddenly had the stamina to complete the task and I was ready to be a hero. I had the opportunity to prove my team’s skills and commitment levels. Oddly enough, I also felt comfortable in the middle of the calamity.

Within seconds the subcontractor handed me the pieces of art and apologized for the delay. I thanked him and smiled when he handed me the invoice that read “No Charge.” He thanked me for the opportunity and asked that I consider his firm for future work.

I pulled into the customer’s loading dock and was met by specialists who care for archival quality art. They were ecstatic that the quality exceeded their requirements and worked diligently to install the new display.

The client pulled me to the side and apologized for the pressure he had placed on our team. He learned ten minutes prior that his boss gave an earlier deadline to avoid being embarrassed in front of the media.

I left with a large check that included a bonus. More importantly, I left more capable of managing my emotions based on choice, rather than arbitrary circumstances. And, I had learned how to turn crisis energy into the stamina necessary to complete a project in the midst of turmoil.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

 

 

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Beauty in Motion Speaks Louder than Words

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Yesterday I found myself photographing beauty in motion. The picturesque quality of my surroundings revealed an underlying splendor that only surfaced in the heat of the moment. The cycling races I shot revealed much about the character and determination of each competitor.

The motion also revealed the desperation and sadness of those lagging behind. Whether they were bent on being more competitive or were rookies realizing the strain of their first heat, each cyclist faced internal struggles on top of the external ones provided by the terrain.

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I shot over 1,000 pictures in my attempt to capture this beauty. My passion for capturing a segment of life was amplified as my skills were reenergized. I found myself secluded in a closed course where fans cheered and racers exerted everything they had for the win. The focus was intense.

When I snapped off an array of pictures at the finish line I recalled a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “…Let us throw off everything that hinders … And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” My mind spun to another one of his quotes, “…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…”

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I finally understood that it was all about the movement. There was a level of beauty in life that couldn’t be seen without some form of action taking place. Being passive or reserved hid the treasures of beauty that can only resound when turned into a deed.

Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother about talking versus doing. He wrote:

“Principles are good and worth the effort only when they develop into deeds.”

When my father passed away a couple thousand people came out to pay him tribute. I saw a sea of faces and heard hundreds of stories that dissipated within my sorrows. Years later, the only people I remembered were those who took some form of loving action on my family’s behalf. All the rest were forgotten.

A friend of mine took it upon himself to help any family that suffered loss. He would go to the family’s house two days before the funeral and collect up the shoes they planned to wear. A few hours later, he’d return with every shoe polished and looking brand new. It was his way of demonstrating what love looked like in action.

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Seeing victory smiles on the winners of yesterday’s races were energizing. Not because of the win, but because of their inner beauty being released through the actions they took. That intangible quality that becomes apparent was more powerful than what any of them tried to put into words during their after race interviews.

Only their actions would be remembered and cherished for years to come.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Dialog must be Relational

Conversation is about Relationship, Not Information.

pexels-photo-89873There are talkers and there are listeners that will hopefully never meet. They’re missing the chief cornerstone of relationship when only focused on half of the equation. Talking and listening actively is relationship.

Talkers can never learn or be satisfied until they listen equally as well. The listeners will bust at the seams until they share the valuable information stored within their heart. Communication is the only relational tool that unites the human race and forms culture.

During one film shoot, I directed a group of actors who were very different from their characters. The joy on set was high, as the talent played with roles that stretched their imagination beyond the stereotypical. After great contemplation they delivered heartfelt performances that opened our eyes to new perspectives.

One woman, who was an intellectual, played a ditzy blonde type that had a heart for kids. Her research brought the perception that “ditzy” was based on circumstances of how the person addressed the unknown. Curtailing the stereotype, she resisted playing the person that when jolted by a comment would say the first words that came to her.

She entered the scene as a brunette who led with undefined empathy, which became clear by the end of the scene. The actor’s choice gave the feeling of “ditzy,” but without showing a lack of intelligence. This resulted in the character coming across as empathetic and what I called squishy-warmhearted.

This empathetic quality came out because of the conversation between her and another leader. The dialog revealed the heart of both people and their relationship. It was more than just an exchange of information. The expressions of each character’s souls were on the line, demonstrating their courage in conversing.

Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay titled “Telling is Listening” published in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, shared the following complexities of human communication:

“In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.”

The film was powerful because each character did more than communicate information. Their expressions and backstory came through in how they presented each comment. Even their reaction shots revealed how they were impacted through the courageous interchange.

The audience was mesmerized and fascinated by the dialog, not because it was written well, but because of how it was crafted using the embedded elements of each character within the exchange. The dialog was far more than words or information. It was real in everyway.

I made an interesting note the night after the shoot that read, “Dialog is about relationship, not information.” Whether a discussion occurs in real life or on screen, it is only of value if it develops the relationship. Talkers who talk without listening and listeners who listen without sharing are not interesting because they are only focused on themselves.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Nuances Touch Audiences

RedWhiteBlueLiving next to train tracks delays my exit from the parking lot often. It gives me the opportunity to watch the characters biking, walking, jogging and running on the Prairie Path just north of the condo. Once the tracks are clear, I focus on the unique cars that stream past until I can find a break in traffic to pull out.

This morning I watched three cars drive past that were equally spaced from one another and moving at the same speed. The first car was red followed by a white car and then a blue one. Not only was the timing of the moment unique with the fourth of July around the corner, but also the cars had marching tonality in its colors.

Moments like these make me wonder if someone is trying to send me a message. While I find it highly unlikely, I do have to acknowledge that wonderful moments, no matter how simple, happen far more often than we let on. But most instances are missed due to the cares of the day.

The best benefits of observation come from seeing the beauty in the mundane, cleverness in the random, and amazement in the details.

Beauty in the Mundane

There is a certain innocence found in the unadulterated. Its ignorant purity brings beauty into the world like an unsure fawn experiencing fresh fallen snow for the first time. The quality of innocent naiveté reveals the best in us as a people. It can bring hope to our lives that provide the crisp feelings of being unsullied by our past. This unpolluted hope invigorates us to act out of selflessness for the sake of others.

Cleverness in the Random

The wise know that finding cleverness or any other form of intelligent thought suggests that what we view as random can many times be labeled as “divine appointments” or “God-incidences”. The mere aspect of intelligent design reflects the impossibility that ingenuity in the random is far from aimless, haphazard or accidental. The culmination of the unrelated to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts is truly a generous and heartfelt gift.

Amazement in Details

Strolling down the Prairie Path between the times I get home from work and dinner being served is relaxing and inspirational. Along the path are wonderful displays of nature that sometimes grabs my interest enough to take a picture. The closer I move the camera in the more intricate the patterns I see. The opposite is true of manmade items, as errors and an array of fragmented mistakes that lack precision become evident.

Intelligence in the arts always brings about a higher quality that audiences appreciate. The art that lacks attention to the finer points always falls apart when scrutinized by the discerning eye. This leads me to believe that focusing on the nuances of the arts, which takes longer and is more costly, is far more rewarding for the audience that it’s designed to touch.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Managing Daunting Projects

startup-photosLast Saturday I interacted with several generations at a friend’s 95th birthday. Typically during events of that nature I get to learn a lot about people and observe things that get tucked away in my brain for future use. But this time a person brought up my latest novel (Steele Blue) and asked, “How were you able to write an entire novel? Isn’t it such a daunting task?”

I answered, “It’s not all that difficult if you write it 500 words at a time.”

Now, I’m aware that my answer was a bit simplistic when you consider story structure, character development, and the other intangible elements that must be carefully crafted into a novel. But the person’s face suggested a concern about how to overcome very large and overwhelming projects.

Last week I happened to be consulting with a CEO of a marketing communications firm that specializes in elite professional speakers. The question raised to me was very similar and went something like this, “How do you manage the myriad of elements it takes to make a movie?”

Again my answer was simple, just like you’d give an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time.

There are three steps I take to break down the overwhelming into manageable bites:

STEP ONE: Assess the project scope.

The 50,000-foot view is a great starting point to understand the maximum effort required for a project. However, a 10,000-foot view makes for better decision making because it includes all departments and freelancers that will have their hands in the mix.

Before I break down a movie script to determine budget and schedules, I must first understand the “why’s” of the project and who will be heading up the departments necessary to capture and translate the vision into a reality. This insight immediately tells me what size ballpark we’ll be playing in and the rough estimate of the cost to produce the picture.

As a director, I’ve found that Anthony DeRosa, who’s worked on numerous Nickelodeon and Disney projects, is one of my favorite producers to work with. The reason is because he and I have a shorthand of quickly determining if a script is a $3MM, $12MM, or $40MM project. It allows us to quickly assess what level of actors will be tapped for the show and what team might be best to spitball the visual effects budget.

The bottom line is that only speaking at the level of vision and goals is not sufficient for breaking down daunting tasks. It must be broken down for each department head to fill in the blanks of what he or she knows is needed to accomplish the task.

In the case of an author or consultant, the work needs to be looked at from the standpoint of available time slots. No consultant can work on more than four projects in a given day because it takes time to ramp up and review the previous day’s work, plus have enough time to do something significant to move the project forward. Most experienced executives will try to limit their productivity to no more than two projects on any given day so they have enough time to meet quality standards.

STEP TWO: Look for natural breaks.

When you look at a work of art you see the whole that makes an impression. But when you study it, you see all the segments that make up the whole. In a story there is always (or at least should be) a beginning, middle and end. In film you have the three-act structure.

In nature, you see patterns of fractal art. Take a closer look at a tree. Its trunk branches out into large branches. Each large branch then, in the same artistic fashion, extends out with more branches. This pattern continues until you have a full balanced tree of branches. Next the leaves come in, and the piece of art is complete.

Finding the natural breaks in a project reduces the pressure and allows for the steps to be aligned to a calendar for easy management.

When I was at a large technology company I was tasked to sell $480MM in switching equipment to one customer. After meeting with the CEO, I learned that I needed to get the written and signed consent from certain key vice presidents before the sale could be completed. I then learned from each V.P. that I needed agreement from key directors, who needed buy-ins from senior managers.

It took me two and a half years to collect support from all players. Everyone added great insights to the project, which also altered the configuration to exactly what the company needed. I closed the deal after a long presentation of input to the executive board including the new offer for $750MM.

That meeting was the easiest close I had ever experienced because I had reduced the entire project down to 300 pieces of research, presentations and sign-offs. The CEO was thrilled because he knew the $480MM project didn’t fit, but loved the perfect custom package, and the future profits the new offer provided.

STEP THREE: Develop specific action plans.

Zig Ziglar, arguably the greatest salesman of our time, shared a story about a father giving a party for his newly available daughter. The father hushed the crowd and told the eligible bachelors that the first man to swim the length of the pool without being bitten by the alligators that he stocked in the pool for the night, would receive $100MM and his daughter’s hand in marriage.

A splash was heard at one end of the pool, and after a series of frantic strokes a young man emerged at the other end. The father asked the young man what drove his decision to risk his life: his daughter’s hand in marriage or the $100MM. The pale looking man answered, “Neither. I just want to know who pushed me in.”

Clearly the young man didn’t know what he was doing or why he had “won.” No one is capable of knowing if they achieved a goal unless they first set it in writing and objectively measure the outcome of their activities. Before taking action, people also need to know what’s in it for them, which is the strongest motivator that we hold dear.

A written action plan must include the following: measureable objectives, motivational benefits, self-assigned awards for success, resources needed to accomplish the tasks, and the next steps for the portion of the project during that stage.

With these three steps in place, the daily tasks are reduced to simple steps that are easily accomplished with little emotional concern.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Goodbye Fake News, Hello Selective News

The Media Can Filter Your Perception

Publishers decided what news the public got to read since the manual typeset presses created single page newspapers. There were always more stories than printed space available. But today, the selection process is changing based on technology and demographics.

Social_MediaBack in the 1980’s magazines released regional versions of their articles that were slanted toward its recipients to build more customers. People in the large cities received more liberal editions than the folks living in the Bible Belt. Advertisers could be more specific about who their audience was and create relevant messages.

Our printless society took selective publishing to another level. Millions of niche publications suddenly had a voice and was capable of attracting a very specific demographic. Advertising soon followed with a selection process that allowed you to determine who saw your ads.

Targeted Ads

I placed an ad recently for an automotive shop that was very specific. Since women make 80% of all car decisions, I targeted only women. Due to the average nationwide cost of keeping a car well maintained and what percentage the average person budgets, I selected a specific income window for each given household. My demographic profile then narrowed the focus of the ad campaign more precisely.

The end result was only women that fit the parameters saw the ad pop up on their computer screen or mobile device, while they searched or used a social media. There were 7,913 women that saw the ad, 23 that clicked on the ad, and 3 that responded to the ad—The selection process meant that it only cost the company about $23 to get three new ideal customers who spent $200-$600.

Can you imagine a world where you only get the specific ads you care about?

Now fast forward into the brains behind the largest social media firms. It suddenly dawns on them that they can save the country from a devastating blow to our national unity. They already own a solution that can bring peace across all social media platforms, reducing the controversies that divide families, communities and political parties.

What if the platform team filters who gets what?

Selective News

An article popped up this week about one company showing heavy support to the LGBT community on pro-LGBT pages, but not on pages that hold a more conservative perspective. Individuals known for supporting LGBT all saw the information, while conservatives never knew the company promoted the LGBT agenda publicly.

This technology has been used for years to focus advertising and is now positioned to focus “news.” Companies that support the left can now say it boldly to liberals and then turn around and support the right’s ideals to conservatives, convincing both sides that the company fully supports their ideologies. And, with the massive support people of faith bring to conservative organizations, liberal companies can now seek their support by angling their messages accordingly.

Consider the political candidate who can speak generally and moderately in public, but in detail to his or her liberal crowd, followed by speaking affirming words to his or her conservative crowd seconds later. The candidate will appear perfect to all voters and capture the election, while the non-savvy candidate won’t know what happened.

Then consider news companies only giving you the news that can specifically alter your perceptions and control your decisions, or how about presenting the stories that always make you comfortable and passive.

Can someone rise to power using social media that you believe, while pulling the wool over your eyes? In today’s technology focused profiling atmosphere, the answer is simply, “yes.”

A Simple Solution

The only way to avoid such a controlling society is to use face-to-face communications and gather together people where everyone wants to learn the real truth. Also important is creating an atmosphere where the sharing of ideas is more important than winning someone over to your perspective. Our survival from falling into the latest propaganda trap is merely to communicate truth, while exhibiting an open mind with our neighbors, friends and families.

How do you know that what you are reading and hearing from your favorite source is the real truth and not the one produced to keep you from taking some form of action against those in power?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Mentors Breathe Inspiration into Creativity

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My Home Town Movie Theatre

When I mentor young filmmakers in how to develop their style and breathe life into their films, I often watch their eyes close me out from their thoughts. They are adamant about making sure the film is theirs and they don’t want anyone to give them a helping hand. This is problematic for a collaborative art form.

The idea of inspiring someone to a higher level of art can only come from words of encouragement, difficult moments of challenge, and the sharing of conceptual ideas. The word, “inspire,” means to “breathe into” or to “infuse with life by breathing.” That means someone has to do the breathing of new ideas to help the filmmaker get his mind cranking.

The creative process requires an environment of ideas, enthusiasm and energy. These are tools that help us gain experience from others and expose our minds to various styles and artistry. The shared wealth of history creates a powerful form of influence that brings the young filmmaker to a higher level of art than his or her counter parts ever achieve. Yet, Millennials seldom want to collaborate.

Inspiration of Mentors Stir Our Heartfelt Voice

The best thing that happens in a collaborative process is the deep sense that your own ideas demand to be heard. From deep within the gut comes this voice begging to resound. The inspiration of mentors draw out those deep ideas from within us and we suddenly find a way to express them. The inspiration brings our ideas to the surface so we can take action.

Unfortunately some people think that when you share a creative idea with the hopes of inspiring them, they think you want them to use your idea. But that is far from the truth. The mentor only wants to get the filmmaker thinking about something they never finished thinking about—that special something that resides deep within their heart.

I was mentoring one filmmaker who wanted to create a world that lacked water. The scarcity drove many to kill for a single cup of fresh water. The original script had a sign in it that made the idea of water scarce, but I suggested he find a way to demonstrate the rarity of water instead.

His latest cut of the film had the water sewn throughout the entire story as the key driver of all decisions made by every character. It became obvious that the liquid was such a rare commodity that everyone’s life changed in the presence of fresh water. Within that setting his protagonist could then mature and become a person who questioned his selfishness and chose to demonstrate love sacrificially.

While I gave him a handful of ideas that were plausible to demonstrate the scarcity of water, he was inspired enough to come up with his own unique ideas. Not one of my suggestions made it into the film, which was good, because my goal was to inspire his convictions and expressions. His choices worked.

The Journey of Understanding

Film is an emotional medium that comes from the heart. Those who hold to conservative standards make conservative films. Those who understand the liberal first and then make conservative films takes the audience on a journey that ends with a conservative view that makes sense to all, not just those with likeminded ideologies.

By finding inspiration from both sides of the political spectrum, a filmmaker becomes more powerful in the messages he can send to an audience that’s hungry for answers to the latest societal issues. But closed-minded conservatives who only focus on their views can present nothing of value to the liberal.

And what good is a film that only reaches the likeminded?

Film is not necessary when used as a tool of validation. It’s only necessary to help opposing viewpoints be understood. When film demonstrates the potential results of an idea, while touching the emotions of everyone watching, the audience is able to buy into the concepts and consider how they might apply within their own life.

For this reason I hangout with liberals and conservatives. I read both sides of every issue. And, I create paths through story that will take an audience to the life-breathing conclusion that cries out to be heard. These actions breathe creativity into each viewer so he or she is capable of altering their life with healthier choices.

© 2017 by CJ Powers