Education Is Not Gospel

I took a class in college on motion picture distribution. I learned a lot and revered my teacher. Over the last 6 months, developments in the industry continue to undermine almost everything I learned.

Times change. Popular opinion changes. Our understanding of the world and universe changes. New replaces the old. Technology can flip everything upside down. The game changes all the time.

While education is instrumental in shaping your understanding of the world around you, be wary of taking everything taught as fact. By all means – take to heart advice from teachers who have lived through their industries and subjects. But I encourage you to heed their teachings as advice, not gospel. Fact can become fiction overnight. With the future so uncertain, it’s fair to take everything with a grain of salt.

To make a difference and truly change things, you must be prepared to do things differently than those before you – not listen to your teachers all the time. Let your education provide you with the tools and creative constraints to propel your vision forward. Follow your passion and embrace your rebellious instincts to break the rules and undo what has already been done.

Growing Pains

Growth is an awkward and confusing experience. By building on the old and bringing in the new, life mixes up and turns to chaos. Oftentimes, you experience bumps and bruises. In the worst of situations, there may be casualties. Whether you like it or not, that’s the name of the game. The only way to stop growing pains? Stop growing. Or die. I endorse neither. Growth and change are instrumental to life. Hell, they’re key to adaptation and survival. Suck it up, learn to love the pain and enjoy the ride.

Culture of Experimentation

Every company claims they are open to new ideas. But ego and fear of change tend to deflect outside forces. There is a major difference between accepting feedback and acting on it. A feedback culture can only get you so far. After all, actions speak louder than words; what you do is more valuable than what you say. An organization truly interested in keeping an open mind must open its doors – not only to ideas, but also to active change. Companies must encourage every employee to tinker in genuine “ask forgiveness, not permission” fashion. Harsh punishment should not land on failure, but instead on apathy or closed minds. Any person or obstacle stifling healthy ideation must move out of the way.

Let your people play. Design and enforce a true culture of experimentation.

Protest

I keep my mouth shut and seldom declare my stance on tabled issues in public. I avoid stirring the pot for the sake of it and do what I can to preserve my nonpartisan relationships. But when it comes to legislation or executive decisions that may invariably keep my mouth shut against my will, I speak up.

I learned a lot from Hollywood in the five years that I studied and worked in Los Angeles. I respect and support the industry’s need to fight piracy. To produce and spread content on a sustainable scale requires considerable revenue chains that dare not waver. Due largely to the size of teams necessary to complete them, films will always be expensive to produce. Losing control of your content – and thereby losing the ability to recoup costs on your production – is a huge issue and must be curtailed.

That said, I do not respect Hollywood’s conservative grapple-hold on content in an antiquated scarcity model. While the studios contend that they make more by staggering the release of a film across all mediums, these rigid exhibition windows from theater to home regularly deprive hungry consumers of content they want to consume. The Hollywood release model is effectively inspiring piracy – not because people want to maliciously destroy the industry, but because people want to consume content and cannot do so when and where they want. Street vendors in the third world do not sell ripped DVDs as an attack on studios or because tickets are too expensive; they do it because Hollywood failed to make the content available in their market. Contemporary piracy stems more from accessibility issues than anything else. Hollywood is utterly failing to provide. By holding product close to the chest, the entertainment industry is failing to reach customers, scale brands at the contemporary pace necessary to survive, and collect the money of eager and willing fans. The media industry is killing itself. They need no help from pirates.

Out of desperation and a lazy aversion to change, entertainment turned to lobbyists to craft a bill that would effectively give our government the power to censor or shut down websites. There are constitutional ways to fight piracy; the Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property Acts are not it. To learn more about the bills, I encourage you to watch this video.

Tomorrow between 5am and 5pm MST, I will join many Internet companies – including Wikipedia and Google – in protesting these bills by shutting down my site. You will not be able to read my blog.

Under the First Amendment, we have the right to contest any act abridging the freedom of speech. We have the freedom to protest and stand up for our rights. Do not dismiss protests as mass whining or vanity noise. Without protest and public forums for opinion, women would not have the right to vote and many of us would still own slaves. Do not take the freedom of expression lightly. Celebrate your voice at every possible turn. Use it when you can.

Disruption Needs No Permission

Want to change things? Do not ask for permission; no one will give it to you. Few people like change. So all you can do is start without permission. Napster built traction and changed the music industry forever by ignoring the elephant in the room. Today’s positively connoted industry term “disrupt” came largely from the progressive impact Napster had on the entertainment business. If you truly want to change things, you need to break them first. Cause trouble. Challenge the odds. Take your chances. Stand up to the big guys. At the end of the day, it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission (perhaps riddled with expensive lawsuits, but worthwhile and noble nonetheless).

Change the Game

I saw Moneyball with my father today and recommend it to anyone who appreciates numbers, entrepreneurship, the game of baseball, or sports photography (a lot of Wally Pfister’s camera work was superb). At the heart of the film, protagonist Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) needs to do a lot (build a championship team) with very little (one of the smallest budgets in the MLB) and change the game forever. Almost everyone questions, bashes, and rejects him along the way. Why try to change a game that’s been around for 150 years?

Everything changes. Politics change. Culture changes. People change. The ground beneath our feet changes. Empires rise and fall. Nothing is predictable. No one knows what the world will look like in years. But count on it being very different. You can fight it and fall behind. Or you can beat it and come out ahead. Why NOT change a game that’s been around for 150 years? It’s far more risky to preserve the game than change it. If you are not doing your part to stir things up and disrupt the world around you, you will most likely miss the train. Change the game.