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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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

The Woman in the Summer Dress

the woman in thesummer dress-2When my eyes partially opened yesterday morning, due to the bright sunlight causing me to squint, I asked myself what would make my Father’s Day special. A woman immediately popped into my mind without any prompting or forethought.

She’s a person who I’ve shared sporadic and trivial conversation with over the past six months. Nothing notable about any dialogue would suggest an interest on her part to learn more about me, but I found a great deal of curiosity on my part.

There was one thing about her that captivated me and I wanted to find out what made her shine in the presence of those she met.

Watching her interact with others from afar fueled my curiosity. At the end of each conversation, everyone she walked away from was left with a big smile reflecting the interaction. She clearly had the ability to listen, care and inspire.

I thought Father’s Day might make her childless for the afternoon and considered that my opportunity to learn about her might be a possibility. My mind went through a dozen scenarios in what I might say to entice a meaningful conversation over lunch. But our paths didn’t cross.

My wondering mind found deep feelings of self-rejection surfacing as I got in my car and started to drive away. I had failed myself and might have to live with the painful feelings of regret for some time. I just didn’t have what it took to attract a woman of integrity long enough to learn about what made her special.

I turned and headed toward the exit of the parking lot. Glancing into each mirror to make sure everything was properly positioned, I noticed the beautiful woman in the summer dress walking toward me. Well, she was walking toward her car that was in the same direction that I was headed.

Instinctively I took my foot off of the gas and slowed the car. I could see her radiance as she walked my direction. Her dress was perfectly suited for the day, both classy and fun in its appearance. Her joyful demeanor caused me to take pause and wonder if my dream about chatting over lunch was viable.

My mind raced with ideas to pull over, park the car and walk toward her, versus appearing like a stalker spotting his prey. Argh!!! I had nothing to offer her except for time and interest, but it couldn’t be enough for someone as energizing as her.

Certainly she required time with only men that could bring great value to her life.

The value a man brings into the life of a woman varies greatly and a man’s viewpoint of it is typically short of reality. Dad used to work extra hours so he could buy the wonderful things mom dreamt about, yet when she bragged about her husband she always talked about the safety and kindness he provided our family.

There was a disconnect between the two.

Dad only needed one simple thing in his life: freedom to be creative. But mom didn’t understand what that meant or how it played out. Unknowingly she squelched all of his dreams. I watched dad deal with the agony of tearing apart the cool secret storage wall he created in the basement after mom nixed the project midstream.

I lifted my foot from the brake peddle as I took my eyes down from the rearview mirror. I had lost the battle within my soul and pain filled my gut more quickly than I could ever remember. There was something special I was leaving behind and I’d never know the answer to what raised my curiosity.

Unconsciously my foot hit the brake again. My heart was crying out for the answer. I had to know why this woman was so important to me. Was she to be a great friend? A lover? A muse?

Her stride was light as her classy dress waved in a pattern of confidence and beauty. Her countenance was alluring and her step had a subtle, yet fun bounce to it.

My heart stirred and I felt my arms turn the steering wheel to park, but my mind overrode those feelings and released the brakes. The car crawled forward to the edge of the parking lot exit. I had lost my internal battle. I accelerated into traffic and didn’t look back.

That afternoon, I sat alone on the couch eating a salad that I picked up from an organic health store, but it made me feel ill. My day of hope had turned into a nauseous feeling of hopelessness. My stomach settled a few hours later and a phone call shifted my mind to a screenplay I needed to rework.

The day became more pleasant when each of my kids called to wish me a happy Father’s Day. My perspective shifted back to a promising future with the day’s hoped for conversation dissipating from the forefront of my mind.

I would be all right without the answers to this woman in the summer dress.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Duties of a Filmmaker

picThis morning I was curious about the changes in the film industry based on the generational shift in business. The shift is hard to describe, but instead of handing numerous projects over to millennial filmmakers, Hollywood is still making most of the films with more experienced directors and producers.

I googled to learn what new filmmakers think their duties are and was surprised to read about tasks and software. There were no articles about crafting great stories in regard to a filmmaker’s duties. Nor was there anything I could find about the filmmaker’s core responsibility—entertaining the audience, while exploring the human condition.

Film is an emotional medium, which suggests a plethora of articles about how filmmakers create those proverbial roller coaster rides for the audience, but again there were few articles educating millennial filmmakers on how to build the emotions of the audience.

Story is king in both the emotional arena and in the exploration of the human condition. Story is also pure entertainment that opens the eyes and hearts of the audience to consider the filmmaker’s message. But again, there was little about how a millennial filmmaker could craft a story that changes the lives of its audience.

I think Steven Spielberg summed up the core problem well:

“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”

I’m not suggesting that filmmakers take classes on film and story theory. But I do advocate that new directors have as many diverse life experiences as possible to create a cinematic “tool belt” from which to fashion dynamic stories. I also recommend directors read a minimum of 10 books a year to capture and understand the observations of writers who explore the human condition.

Unfortunately the typical Millennial only reads an average of five books a year, keeping them far from the ability to contemplate various viewpoints, let alone draw noteworthy conclusions about our culture. A director must have a life perspective that integrates with, not isolates from, the culture at large in order to meet the audience where their hearts live and guide them to a more hope filled life.

Directors must also live inside the culture at large. They don’t have to be of it, but they do have to be in it. I worked on a major animation project years ago with a professor that was my exact opposite. I was conservative and she was liberal. I believed in sustaining life at all costs and she believed in “mercy” killings. The list continued ad nauseam.

The project we worked on helped over one million kids learn the basics of chemistry in 12 weeks. Even I fully comprehended the scientific principles in that short time frame. Why? Because I lived in the professor’s culture and in my own, which allowed me to bring all kinds of innovative ideas and new perspectives to bear on the project.

Once released, the professor admitted that she had worked with several liberal directors that were unable to simplify here complex teachings into simple animations. None of the previous solutions shared truth in a logical manner. She understood that it was my diverse knowledge and experience that made me the right director for the project.

She shared how much she grew as a person from the experience and offered her future services for free. She was willing to do anything for an opportunity to collaborate again. And, she started to rethink her position on a few controversial life issues.

Directors must be able to enter the worlds of other people and capture the essence of the person’s “why.” He must also thoroughly think through how to thread his message in and out of the entertainment elements of a story. These techniques allow the director to come along side of the audience and draw them from their viewpoint to his by the end of the film—fulfilling the duties of the director.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Rich Culture in a Vacant Industrial Lot

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 9.03.30 PMThe richest forms of culture aren’t in the tourist trap destinations, but in the quiet streets where real people live, love and labor. I’ve traveled to over two-dozen countries where I’ve had the opportunity to step away from the tourist attractions and work my way into the backstreets where the nationals let go of their commercial facades and live their normal life.

With the great diversity in the Chicagoland area, I’ve also stumbled upon pockets of people living richly in the heritage of their family culture. Those moments are precious to me because I get a glimpse of what they face in their day-to-day lives.

A couple weeks ago, I finished work in Addison’s industrial area. The fastest way home for the weekend was driving past the older and more run down warehouses. Some of the buildings had boarded up windows and none had seen a fresh coat of paint within the past decade.

I was three blocks from a street that would take me back to my life’s reality when I noticed high-tension power lines overhead. To my left, underneath the lines, was a vacant lot with old rusty semi-trailers flanking the far side. The area looked dormant and unkempt with the exception of the lively soccer game being played by dark olive and lighter skinned Mexicans.

The contrast between the energetic players in the dilapidated surroundings compelled me to stop the car. I hopped out and hustled to the side of the lot with my video camera in hand. The tan and brownish grass perfectly matched the color palette of the rusty trailers. Bare trees and spindly gray bushes helped to confine the outer areas of play. The multi-shades of brown bricks at the neighboring warehouse where spectators watched the game framed my footage.

Within seconds the players and those sitting against the neighboring building turned their heads toward me. I acknowledged everyone with a nod and continued filming. A few guys played harder with the presence of the camera and a couple moved out of frame. There was only one woman on the field, and she displayed a great deal of frustration every time the guys passed the ball around her.

The youngest man was in his late teens and the oldest looked like he was pushing 70 something. The sidelines were filled with family members and injured players from a previous game. A beautiful woman surrounded by a few kids stood up and called out to me, “Would you like to play?” What a generous person to make an offer for my inclusion.

“No thanks, I’m filming,” I said and then turned back to shoot an incredible battle for a loose ball and an attempted score. The ball hit off of the makeshift goal, which looked like dirty yellow pipes bent in the approximate shape of a giant croquet hoop to satisfy any arguments of what was considered in or out of the would-be net area.

When the guys took a beer break, an eight-year-old girl ran up to me. She was inquisitive and filled with joy. I showed her how the camera worked and she took me over to meet her family. It was no surprise to learn that her mother was the one who invited me to participate.

The mom’s nickname was Chellie and she was a beautiful woman with a classy, yet effervescent personality. She spoke English eloquently, while humbly suggesting that her vocabulary was small. Chellie introduced me to her three daughters, son and husband. Her husband, who was injured and not able to play, took care of the little guy.

One of her girls shared an interest in becoming a doctor and our conversation revealed her ability to become whatever she desired in life. Our discussion meandered through several more topics as we all enjoyed getting to know each other.

I was surprised to learn that Chellie was a driver for the same company where her husband, brother and father worked. Based on how well she spoke English and how she carried herself, I would’ve expected to hear about a professional career. But then again, I come across very different than the stereotype of my job.

The best part of the conversation was sharing our cultural differences and similarities. And, thanks to a few Spanish classes at church, I attempted to say a thing or two without murdering Chellie’s language. Thankfully she was gracious and enjoyed practicing English because she speaks Spanish at home and work.

When I asked how often the guys played, she answered, “Every Friday after work.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“They usually play until 9 or 10 at night.”

“It sounds like a ritual.”

“Well, there is no changing it.”

“So, do you go home and make dinner or something?”

“Oh no, I never make dinner of Friday nights,” she said with a smile. “We go out.”

“I suppose that makes sense if you’re here watching them play all night.”

“Oh yes. Nobody here cooks on Friday night.”

My time was running short, so I excused myself and headed toward the car. I thought about returning to the vacant lot in the near future to check in with my new friends. It would give me a chance to share the final short film I cut together.

I hopped in my car, started the engine and reflected back on the various topics we discussed. I had gained a lot by listening to their perspective on life. I also felt a longing in my heart to create a story that could give the kids hope in a future that they currently perceive as bleak.

As I drove away, my heart ached for funding to create stories that might touch the lives of those kids. I need a miracle and I’m waiting for an answer. After all, everyone in the area deserves someone interjecting hope into his or her life.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

5 Rules of Brainstorming

Idea LeadershipWhenever I ask if anyone knows how to brainstorm, they always say, “Yes.” Not long into the activity they demonstrate that they don’t know how or are unable to follow the rules. I always keep a reminder sheet of brainstorming rules on me to quickly review with teams. Here is the list—

1. There are No Dumb Ideas. This is the hardest rule to keep for people who don’t practice brainstorming often, especially when someone shares an idea from out of left field. Any negative feedback immediately closes down part of the person’s mind in the name of protection. It also shuts down anyone else who heard the comment and hinders the team’s progress.

The best way to approach all ideas is from a position of acceptance. Everyone knows when a better idea is shared, so no one ever needs to be told their idea wasn’t any good, especially when the weird ideas tend to spark more creativity that leads to great ideas. The not-so-great ideas are like kindling that starts a bonfire. If kindling is squelched, the bonfire never gets lit.

2. Don’t Criticize Other People’s Ideas. The moment judgment, a left-brain activity, enters the discussion it shuts down the right brain where great ideas are formed. The only reason for a person to shoot down an idea is to show superiority, which stifles creativity. No creative team has room for a superior being on it. After all, a dominant person in a brainstorming session tries to leverage their ideas instead of finding what’s best for the story.

When someone criticizes an idea, the greatest tool of correction is for the team to immediately use the “bad idea” as a launching point for a diversion into play. Dave Crawford, a Disney Imagineering Principal Mechanical Show/Ride Engineer says, “The most unrealistic options inspire tangent ideas that take you to new places you would have never considered.” By exploring all the possible tangents, not only does the criticizer learn his or her place, but also the team gets to overcome the negative comments with numerous newly inspired ideas.

3. Build on Other People’s Ideas. Some ideas are like taking a thumb out of a dam with a flurry of side or bigger ideas pouring forth. Teams can get on a roll of ideas that build one on top of the other. This sends the team into diverse directions and can shift the focus to address sustainable details. The goal is to capture the best of all the ideas and find an angle on it that will out last the test of time.

In the improv community, who brainstorms live on stage, the process is called, “yes, and.” The yes acknowledges the first person’s comment in a positive light and then adds to it a bigger, tangential or more detailed idea. The add-on is never viewed as being “better,” but instead as being the next step in the developmental process for creating great show or story.

4. Reverse Quality for Quantity. During production or performance everyone focuses on quality. However, in the developmental brainstorming process its mandatory to chase after quantity. It’s impossible to come up with a new invention, show or story without pouring through a gazillion ideas until you find that one new angle, perspective or idea. Whether the goal is to educate or entertain, some form of the idea must be new.

Most pros board their brainstorming activities and later gather the large quantity of ideas based on observable groupings, topic, viewpoint or uniqueness. Screenplay writers group their ideas by set pieces, turning points and entertainment value. Businessmen group their ideas based on presentation, features and benefits. Preachers group their ideas based on scripture, story and application.

5. Play Wildly. This is the most important element and the one few people want to see on the list. The more childlike the approach during the brainstorming process, the more creative the final solution. The play factor instills energy into the developmental process and infuses it with fun-based passion. This activity drives the kind of creativity required for a successful brainstorming session.

Many people define play differently. Some watch a movie in between sessions. Some quip off jokes. The more energetic get into character and role-play various perspectives. Others pull out board games, while still others get into pretend or make-believe worlds. Some even get more elaborate in their play within the worlds of cosplay or steampunk. Any activity works that is immersed in right-brained activity—even scribbling games on a blank sheet of paper.

When the rules of brainstorming are adhered to, all participants gain energy from the experience. When the rules are abused, people feel drained afterwards. This thermometer that tests the flow of creative juices is important to monitor for the sake of future sessions and productivity. Without play, all brainstorming sessions fall a part.

Creating with Opposites

Creating with OppositesI’ve never understood “writers block” or not being able to create something new. Every time I have a slight delay of thought, I change my perspective and I’m flooded with buckets of new ideas. Creativity flows whenever I shift my perspective to something unique.

One change of perspective can come about by considering the opposite. Let’s say I wanted to create a new restaurant or café. The easiest first step is making a list of what restaurants are, such as:

  1. A place with a menu selection of food.
  2. A place to order food.
  3. A place to have food served.

The list could continue, but for this example I’m good with a short list. Now, keep in mind that this list is based on my assumptions of what a restaurant is. It’s possible that not all restaurants have all three. Some places might be more unique, thanks to a creative person who gave input at the onset of the idea. So to pump creativity into my new restaurant idea, I try to list out the opposites:

  1. A place without any form of menu.
  2. A place where food can’t be ordered or bought.
  3. A place where no one serves the food.

This list of opposites opens up the mind and starts my creative process. While the logical person says that’s stupid, the creative soul plays with the ideas. The creative picks a few of the opposites and brainstorms.

What if…

…My restaurant had no menu?

Maybe the chef comes to the table and shares what ingredients and meats he procured that afternoon for the freshest of meals. He shares some ideas with those at the table and based on consensus cooks up a culinary delight. And, sends the family home with the recipe for a future gathering.

…People can’t order food at my restaurant?

Maybe it’s a beautiful setting with privatized ambiance that is rented by the hour and guests bring their own food. Instead of ordering extras that were forgotten by the host, shelves of free supplements are available for use.

…No one serves the food?

Maybe a top chef tosses various plates of food onto a counter for anyone to grab. Each dish is uniquely made from various country recipes and then put on display for anyone to claim. Each presentation perfectly brings out the key elements that make the meal unique to its country.

By using the opposites to brainstorm, several more ideas pop into my head that venture me off in a direction that will make my restaurant unique. Those unordinary possibilities would drive marketing and entice foodies to try something new and refreshing.

Years ago I came up with an idea using opposites and shared it with friends. Everyone was interested in trying my restaurant if I ever got around to making it. Two years later Walt Disney World opened a new restaurant that was so similar that I realized my venture idea could’ve been a success — All due to a creative use of opposites.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers