Make Time To Find A Better Way

If you have the choice between performing a task in the same painful manner you always do or taking the time to invent a better way, always opt for the latter. If you can afford to invent in spite of deadlines, resources or the status quo, then do it. Time saved down the road often outweighs the time invested now. If you fail to make a better system, at least you tried and will know better next time. A slap on the hand is totally worth it in the scheme of things.

Trial & Error

Trial & error has two parts: trial and error. You must accept both before you embark on an experiment. Stand behind both as they happen. Separate yourself emotionally from failure – few experiments in this world have great batting averages. Remind yourself that every action comes with a reaction you often cannot control. Have fun with it.

Do Not Be Afraid To Lose

Contemporary academia leaves little to no room for error. With grades and tuition on the line, failure is not acceptable. We were all raised to think this way, perhaps the single greatest fault of contemporary education. Individuals deeply ingrained in the academic world have even less tolerance for failure. You cannot genuinely innovate when you need to ask permission for everything or need to meet a rubric. We need to have freedom – permission to make mistakes – before we can truly change the world.

Seth Godin calls this ‘guts’ – a trait far more admirable than perfectionism or a no-tolerance policy. We can all respect high batting averages; we cannot always respect the methods behind high batting averages. At the end of the day, we pay more attention to home runs than high batting averages anyway. To hit home runs? Swing with everything you’ve got – even at the risk of missing the ball. You may lose the game if you miss, but you cannot win unless you swing.

Risk

My dear friend, Shirl, shared a poem with me and I want to share it with you:“To Risk”
by William Arthur Ward

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool, To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement, To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return, To live is to risk dying, To hope is to risk despair, To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails.

Savings: The Game

The best financial advice I received upon graduating college: always have enough cash in savings to survive for at least six months without income. I took that advice with a vengeance. Savings not only provide you with a security blanket, they award you the confidence and flexibility to make major life changes. The risks of quitting a job, changing cities, moving into a new place, taking on a life partner, and having children are dampened by the relative stability of an earned allowance. I would not have felt comfortable quitting my job, leaving Hollywood, and moving to Denver without the cash buffer I built since graduating.

Yes, savings are difficult to accrue. It takes discipline, commitment, and a passion to see numbers grow. I treat my savings like a game: I want to get the high score. With online banking, it’s easier than ever to convince yourself  those numbers are points on a leader board. Have fun with it and take pleasure knowing your high score means something real.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck, you need to find a way to make more money or live cheaper. And who really wants to live cheaper? Negotiate a raise, yo! But we’ll save that conversation for another time.

Get Dirty

Remember when you were young and you liked playing in the sand? It used to be fun to get dirty. Where did that go? What happened to that childhood passion for adventure, play, and discovery?

Why not get dirty now? Dive into something you’ve never done before. You do not have to cover yourself in sand to learn about how the world works, but you do need to take chances outside your element. Make it a game, use your imagination. Love learning again. Love adventure again. Get dirty and have fun.

Regressive Culture and the Decimal Improvement

Most businesses operate and finance on a perpetual study of what has been profitable before. Makes sense, doesn’t it? “This product worked well for us, so let’s keep producing it and continue to make money from it.” Risks, if ever taken, are informed by thorough analysis of previous ventures. The result? Only marginal improvements to products and a gruelingly slow roll-out of human progress. Version 1.1 instead of version 2.0, because any business person knows that they can milk extra money out of every marginal improvement between 1.0 and 2.0.

Sure, this practice is brilliant for driving revenue and safely building businesses. But it’s regressive for human progress. It involves a constant study and reincorporation of what has already been done rather than what has never been done before. It promotes recycling culture, recycling ideas, and holding human potential back. Hollywood has become notorious for this.

We’re stuck on old models, old cash cows, and the golden hens of yore. Our world could “go green” if gas and vehicle companies stop preventing that progress in an effort to perpetuate profits. Our world could connect with other worlds if financiers see space exploration as more than an “investment.” Our world could cure disease indefinitely if pharmaceutical companies surrender their lust for the daily medication business. Our world could do so much more if money wasn’t tugging at our reins. We could do so much more together.

The few making blind leaps of faith are independent entrepreneurs and inventors, working out of their garage after hours to compete for the next big thing. These heroes of our future are pushing buttons few large players dare push. Inventors have played an instrumental role in American history and will continue to define our future. Strapped for cash and time, these men and women really need support to push their visions forward. Unfortunately, they often look to the worst place possible for help: big companies. Why the worst place? The big boys swoop in to buy and ingest the little guys, taking control of the invention and platforming incremental versions to maximize market potential. We fall back where we started.

The entrepreneurs of today are trained (mostly by business leaders, mind you) to have an “exit strategy” – sell your company, publicly or to a larger company. We have been trained to give up our ideas and business in exchange for cash. We have been taught to sell away the future we are building for mankind. Many companies today have become dependent on acquiring small players and have completely disbanded their research & development departments altogether. These companies don’t even bother developing incremental improvements while they wait for the next great purchase. In the good old days, big companies had all the resources AND the best talent to produce great product. Now, the best talent invents on the outside and struggles for capital while companies stockpile all of the resources necessary to produce meaningful change. Herein lies a tragic disconnect that also stunts our progress forward.

Thankfully, the world of financial support is changing. Initiatives like Kickstarter connect projects with needed capital. True change can happen if we stand together and support each other. Vote with your purchases, donations, and investments. Set profit and politics aside. Build a better world. Our children depend on it.

5 Reasons to Leave Your Industry Hub and Move Elsewhere

Westward Expansion

Every industry has a central hub. New York for finance and marketing, Silicon Valley for tech, Hollywood for entertainment, etc. These “capitals” boast concentrated resources invaluable to companies on every level. While centralized talent and cash may be great for growing companies, it is not always beneficial for employees or startups. Competition can be fierce, even deadly. And you may be compromising your ideal quality of life by living there.

Friends know I am not a big proponent of the Hollywood community or life in Los Angeles. In fact, I would be happy to see Los Angeles crash and burn (but that’s a post for another day). Nevertheless, I appreciate the things I’ve learned, connections I’ve made and resources I have access to here. But while I support studying in the belly of the beast (I did so through USC Film School and continued employment in Hollywood), I think it may be to your advantage to take that knowledge elsewhere.

Below are five reasons why you should consider moving away and doing your own thing in another city:

  1. Less Competition. Fewer companies competing for business. Fewer qualifiers poaching jobs. Depending on the scope of your business or skill set, it will be far less difficult and expensive to stake a claim with your great idea or robust resume. There may be a smaller talent pool to recruit from and fewer jobs to step into, but you have a greater chance of standing out.
  1. Easier Press Attention. In fresh locales with less competition, you are the cool kid on the block. Almost everything you do can be newsworthy. It is exponentially easier to promote yourself and rise above the noise outside your industry hub. Do you think the Los Angeles Times gives a damn about film shoots anymore?
  1. Quality of Living. If you are liberated to live anywhere, live where you want to. The cost of living could be cheaper, the pursuit of recreation easier, the commute shorter, the schools better, the communities safer and the environment cleaner. Way waste your life accepting surroundings or a lifestyle that fails to enrich your soul?
  1. The Local Hook. You can sell your support for the community as well or better than you can sell your products or skills themselves. Every city is packed with patriots who will gladly help you out if you promote the local angle of your ambition. You may even be able to secure local investment from financiers who simply adore their home town, even if you are situated in a sector outside their expertise. And to differentiate yourself in the national and international market, you can embrace local themes and regional advantages through your marketing, sales and products (Denver is healthy, Detroit is rebooting, Hawaii is beautiful, etc.).
  1. Room for Growth. Industry hubs are wrought with history, tradition, bureaucracy and rules. Moving elsewhere makes it possible to start anew, break rules and bend the future as you see fit. Becoming a local industry expert or thought leader is much easier with less competition and accessible press. By earning that respect, you are better situated to shape the direction of the community at large and make a name for yourself. There is less ladder climbing and more real work being done.

Mark Suster wrote an insightful post this week about building tech communities outside Silicon Valley. For anyone interested in skipping town, I encourage you to read it (even if you are not in the tech industry).

Film Friday: The Mercenary Model

Like recruiting a band of freedom fighters, a company can commission a handful of different filmmakers to generate original content for a single narrative or non-narrative campaign unified by theme, message, dialogue or genre. By recruiting several auteurs to produce independent work, the company reduces brand risk by investing in multiple creative visions to satisfy one campaign. Odds are much higher that at least one of the dissimilar campaign videos will be successful online.  As an added bonus, mercenary campaigns serve as strong breeding pools for discovering fresh directorial talent.

When pitting filmmakers against each other, it is much easier to negotiate competitive production budgets. Depending on the complexity of the campaign and nature of material, a brand could easily generate five pieces of content for the going price of one 30-second industry commercial. If your filmmakers are chosen through film school or a public competition online, you can offer as little as $1,000 budgets to each. Run productions concurrently and you can collect all of that content very quickly.

Coca-Cola has been doing this for 13 years through their Refreshing Filmmaker Awards. As another legitimate example, Philips commissioned RSA (Ridley Scott Associates filmmaker group) to shoot five short films using the same dialogue to promote their Ambilight Cinema Television. Five different directors produced radically different content and drove strong traffic to the brand.  Carl Erik Rinsch’s film, “The Gift,” even sparked a studio bidding war.

As with crowdsourcing, trusting outsiders to produce video content could potentially compromise your company image. Thankfully, you are in control of your own brand – do not release the videos if they fail to satisfy your needs. Either way, it’s worth the experiment. Young, ambitious filmmakers like 5 Second Films could bring a lot to your campaign if you award them the freedom to do so.

Cross a Busy Street

Risk is a lot like crossing a busy street. You can go out of your way to find an intersection OR you can wait patiently for traffic to free up and seize your opportunity. In life, you can accomplish your goal by the book the slow way OR you can study your surroundings before making a direct move. In either case, there is a level of patience involved – leaping into risks unstudied can be suicide. The crosswalk or textbook may be safer, but they add time to your journey and do not force you to genuinely appreciate the physics around you. Crossing the street or accepting a challenge may end in failure, but you could save a lot of time and have much more to learn by doing.

Sometimes, the crosswalk may be the most direct route – embrace it. Other times, you may need to cross a six lane highway while racing the clock or a competitor. Only you can decide whether the time saved and lessons learned are worth it.

I am not advocating for jaywalking or breaking laws. But I do encourage you to seriously consider a more direct path. Put down the book and get dirty.