Ideas Reflections

Willingly embracing the identity of student

When we are young, we are labeled and identified as “student.” It is thrust upon us, forcing us to fit into a mold that we spend our formative years of life escaping from; we have no choice.

If we aren’t good students, then we become defiant and rebellious. Desperate to find another way, to reveal our truth. The master of our destinies.

If we are good students, then we conform to the expectations of others. We may step into who we really are or simply travel the path someone else reveals for us. They become the master of our destinies.

At some point in our lives, we shed our student identity and reject any external attempt to label us as students.

As we grow older, we have a choice to become a student again. We can submit willingly to learn from the wisdom of others. But we also can become students of ourselves. The dance between the external and internal world is awkward and beautiful.

It is in this embrace of being a student that we learn a new way of being. To be a student means:

  • You have teachers, externally and internally.
  • You are willing to admit humbly your ignorance and desire to learn.
  • You are open to correction, even if you don’t like it.
  • You accept the consequences of your action and inaction.
  • You embrace the learning journey, which looks a lot like the journey of our lives, as a trip with no end apart from death.
Ideas Short and Sweet

An outlet for your doubt

I’ve been thinking about doubt. Not because I’m wrestling with it, but because I’m wondering how I was able to work through it. I’m finally on the other side of a long season where doubt, insecurity, and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome gripped my soul. And it feels great.

For me, I’m learning that I need an outlet to express my doubt. A “doubt-let,” if you will. It initially took shape in my journal as I wrote down quotes and thoughts every morning. Then I started writing again, for no other reason than to get things out of my head. The result has been increasing confidence. Not to mention strengthening my creative process and deepening my imagination in my side projects and client work.

When doubt enters your mind, what do you do?

How do you respond?

Ideas Reflections Thoughts

A New Story of Collaboration

Tonight I’m participating in a workshop led by my friend, Diane Gibbs, in which the participants answer the question, “What makes a great collaboration for you?”

At first glance, my answer reveals an old story that finds its roots in events that happened decades ago: “I don’t collaborate. I’m not a good collaborator. I’m not a team player. I’ve been burned too many times. I’m destined to be alone in my efforts.”

But as I sat with this question, I thought about my clients, side projects, and relationships. The more I sat in silence and listened to the quiet truth buried beneath the noisy lies, I heard it, a new story of collaboration.

So what makes a great collaboration? When the partnership is a true partnership, when each of us has a role that strengthens the other, and most importantly when we are clear on why we are collaborating.

I can’t help but think about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, in this context. However, you don’t have to “start with why.” As long as you define the why together, the roles can sing in harmony.

Like most students, I hated group projects in school. But as an instructor, I saw the value in them. Instead of blindly expecting groups to figure out what true partnerships looked and worked like, I guided them. There was an equality of effort across everyone involved. Even the weakest team member played a vital role, allowing the team to produce more substantial work.

Roles can be tricky, especially for people who have various strengths, talents, interests, and passions. That is where the “what” and the “how” enter the collaborative dance.

As a creative entrepreneur and guide, my clients often hire me in one of two capacities. The first way is when someone wants to create something—a video, a podcast, an email newsletter, a book—and they know what they want to say. They need help to best package those thoughts into a compelling, insightful, and sometimes entertaining product. The second way is equally interesting. They know how they want to show up in the world, their creative identity is firm, but they don’t know what to say.

My collaborations soar when I am fluid between the “what” and the “how.” There will be overlapping actions between the “what” and “how” throughout the creative process. But when I play to my strengths within the relationship and allow my collaborative partner to do the same, we create great work.

Finally, as we work with the understanding of what our “why” is, it becomes our guiding light as we move forward in the darkness of doubt, the fog of fear, and the blinding sun of success.

Dreams Ideas

Early Morning Wacky Ideas

Don’t you just love early morning wacky ideas? Those brilliant bursts of inspiration floating through the ether, capturing your attention from the concerns and cares of the day.

I had a beautiful early morning wacky idea show up today. I grabbed ahold of it, started to write down some ideas, and then asked a series of questions:

  1. What if I did this?
  2. How often would I do this?
  3. How can I make it as simple as possible?
  4. When would I launch?
  5. When would I need to start?

While these questions were helpful to turn my idea into energetic action, they also revealed a more powerful motivator: limitations.

How can I impose practical limits on this idea so that it is manageable, sustainable, and, dare I say it, fun?

The next time you get an early morning wacky idea, write it down, explore it, discover its limitations, and start to bring it to life. It might just change your reality.

Ideas Thoughts

Creativity, Curiosity, and Culture

Chris Guillebeau is one of my favorite writers and earlier today he wrote on Twitter: “If you don’t use your voice now, why should anyone listen to you later? What will you tell a future generation that asks ‘Where were you?'”

This isn’t the first time in the past week I have seen the call to speak up. Each time I read these calls to action, I ask myself, “Am I speaking up?” I often feel like I am not. I feel guilty for not posting my thoughts on social media. I feel judged. I feel forced to say something when I’m not certain what is going on yet. I am uninformed and doing the best I can to stay informed. I feel out of place in the conversation. I feel inadequate.

“You’re on the wrong side of history, Chris.”

“If you aren’t condemning, you’re condoning, Chris.”

“You don’t have time to consider what is going on, Chris.”

“Look at all these people protesting, Chris. Why aren’t you there? Don’t you care?”

“It’s either-or, Chris. There is no middle ground. Remember what Jesus said about spitting out lukewarm food.”

I am speaking up because I’m showing up for the people who matter most in my life.

Through my reflection on the subject of speaking up, I came to the realization that I am speaking up, but in different ways. The most important way that I speak up is that I show up for my students, ready to teach them, to guide them, to give them everything I have, to learn from them, and to serve them. Regardless of their politics, gender, religion, sexuality, beliefs, I show up for them. I care for them. I want them to use the skills I teach them to make the world a better place.

I show up for my wife. I show up for my family. I show up for my business and clients. I show up when I don’t want to. I show up when the world is going to hell. I show up when the world is at peace.

To allow myself to be provoked into other areas of speaking introduces the possibility that I dilute myself from my area of influence and importance. I am able to affect change in the lives of those closest to me. I may never change a life expressing my beliefs online, but I have an opportunity face to face.

My Manifesto for Life: Creativity, Curiosity, and Culture.

I offer myself a reminder of how I should operate in these troubled times. I suppose it is my creative manifesto for life. A belief in creativity, curiosity, and culture.


I believe that the point of creativity, apart from making a living when possible, is to make the world a better place.

It is to express beauty and hope by shining light into darkness.

To tell stories of hope, peace, and transformation by overcoming adversity.


I believe that curiosity is paramount because I don’t know everything. Curiosity keeps me humble.

I want to understand those who are not like me, which is everyone. Without curiosity, I will always assume that people that look like me are the same as me and the people that don’t look like me are nothing like me.

Without curiosity, growth and transformation is impossible. There will be a lack of depth and substance.


Diversity of thoughts and ideas is of utmost importance in my daily life. I learn when I listen. I grow when I share and discuss. Without dialogue and discussion, I might as well stand in front of a mirror yelling at myself. When I hear something I don’t like, I have to remind myself to listen. When I hear something I agree with, I must pause from letting it enter my heart so that I don’t stop listening to those I disagree with.

Culture is an expression of arts and humanities, of science and religions. It is a place where the Earth is both thousands and billions of years old. It is a place of faith and reason. When I listen to the stories of old mixed with the moments of today, I grow and learn.

Welcome to my idealism.

These thoughts and ideas can easily be dismissed as utopian and farfetched. They are almost impossible to instill in a society because they require sacrifice, compromise, patience, and hope. They require context, fact-checking, and belief that there are such things as facts. They require faith and kindness. They require moments of correction and the expression of anger. But never is there a place for hatred and fear, manipulation and lying.

As I speak up, I think about the world I want to create with my art and life. As I pursue projects, as I teach others, as I live and celebrate life, as I pray, as I weep, these are the thoughts I think about.

When leaders act in their own best interests, these are the thoughts I think about.

When the world crumbles and all hope is lost, these are the thoughts I think about.

As the sun sets and rises again in the morning, these are the thoughts I think about. They motivate me to get out of bed. They fill me with hope for the future.

This is how I will show up each and every day.

Ideas Short and Sweet

Fresh Ideas & New Directions

In a vacuum, it is difficult to come up with fresh ideas. You have to go somewhere either digitally or physically. Searching the Internet is great, but there is often a lens of comparison, inferiority, and distraction that occurs site after site, tweet after tweet, like after like.

However, when you venture out into new places, you come across ideas that can direct you to try something different. You meet new people who have their own ideas that inspire you to go down an unfamiliar path.

One way to solicit ideas is to ask. This is what is done at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center: “Leave One, Take One.”

Unplug and get out into the world. Meet new people. Listen to their dreams. Encourage them to continue walking towards the completion of their goals.

It’s amazing what can inspire you if you go searching instead of staying alone in your cubicle, office, or house.


Data Management and Alerts in Online Education Systems

As an instructor I have worked with two learning management systems, Moodle and Canvas, delivering content and grades to a maximum of 20 students at a time. While I have my preferences, there are two problems common to both: the management of massive amounts of data generated and a faulty implementation of alerts.

Management of Data

While all of my classes have been face-to-face, there are still online activities that generate a massive amount of data: messages, homework assignments, grades, pages, and discussions. Not to mention the scale of management problems that occur the more classes taught.

In a training class for teaching entirely online, I was floored by the amount of data generated in order to meet the accreditation requirements. All of the normal in-class activities were being replaced with digital alternatives all resulting in a lot of poorly searchable and unlikely archivable data.

Forums were the popular means of organizing discussions and content and as an instructor I felt overwhelmed. I could not imagine how the students might have felt. I constantly asked myself: How in the world am I supposed to manage this? How is education supposed to scale? Do I trust the system to manage this for me?

I felt paranoid that I was going to miss something. Which brings me to the problem with alerts.


From my experience there are three approaches to alerts:

  1. Funnel everything into one spot, Facebook-style;
  2. Generate a worthless daily digest email;
  3. Only alert when a message has been sent, but report no other activity.

All three of the options listed above are worthless. The first is spraying me with a firehose. I could potentially have 60+ alerts in one day, spread across multiple students and classes. The second is addressing this issue by letting you know daily the activity that occurred with links to view said activity. The final does not provide any peace of mind for the instructor or student.

What if the solution to the alerts is the ability to create people-centric alerts? For example, defining the common activities per student and letting instructors know that new activity has occurred in each activity through alert buckets.

I would personally love that alert system.

Online Education Is Big Business

Online education is a huge growth industry with new training sites popping up daily. It is my belief that the system that addresses data management and alerts will be the front-runners of transforming online education.

What do you think?




HBO GO and the Art of Spoilers

I love almost everything about HBO GO on my Apple TV: the user interface is intuitive, the service is fast and responsive (except when a new Game of Thrones episodes is available), the ability to watch a preview of most of the movies and TV shows increases the chance that I’ll commit time to watching or saving a movie for another time, the overall design is appealing, and access to a majority of the HBO catalog is a plus.

But what I do not love is how often HBO GO spoils major events of a show by the thumbnail image chosen for a particular episode.

HBO GO and the Art of Spoilers

Six Feet Under, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and The Newsroom: all had major plot points revealed and spoiled by the thumbnail image. “Well, I guess that character dies because there is a photo of the funeral.” “Well, I guess they are getting married.” “Well, I guess that character goes to jail.”

What is the solution to this problem?

Whether the image is chosen by software or by an intern, there needs to be a quick check by an HBO catalog expert to make sure it is spoiler-free.

How much time would this take? Not long at all.

Another solution could be the ability to turn off image previews so that I can still navigate the system without the possibility of spoilers. Maybe a Spoiler Free setting?

How much time would this take? Probably several hours of programming time to add this feature to the HBO GO API and then the integration time by major streaming devices.

Ideas Thoughts & Ideas

How to Generate Ideas

This morning in my web multimedia class a student was having a difficult time coming up with an idea for the next class project: to tell a story with a main character, a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the objective of the project was firmly set and relatively straightforward, the initial process of ideation (generating ideas) was the main difficulty. As the student asked, where do I start? Here are three places to start with generating ideas.

Place #1: Analyze the Objectives

For most of my class projects, I try to have enough information in the project objectives to hint at the project workflow. For this project, the storytelling component of the project was the crucial element, so let’s start with analyzing the different sequences of the storytelling process.

The beginning sequence introduces the character and the situation (s)he is in. Alternately, the beginning sequence shows what the character wants, but doesn’t have yet. The middle sequence is when the character goes after what (s)he wants or attempts to change the situation (s)he is in. The ending sequence is the resolution of the conflict the character experiences throughout the process of attaining what (s)he wants. A very basic outline of a story thanks to Steve Stockman’s informative book, How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

How about an example?

Beginning sequence: An overweight man is sitting at his desk and sees a magazine cover of a man with six-pack abs. The man realizes that he wants six pack abs, so he gets up and leaves his desk.

Middle sequence: The overweight man begins the exercise process. He tries to run, but stops after one second. He tries to lift weights, but cannot get the bar off the floor. He struggles.

End sequence: The overweight man returns to his desk and throws the magazine cover into the trash and continues on with his day.

Breaking down this process even further, the consistent element in each of the storytelling sequences is a character. But how do you choose who your character will be?

Place #2: Analyze Yourself

Ask yourself questions. What do you like to do? Is there a specific genre that you like to read or watch on TV? Do you like aliens, astronauts, cowboys, swimmers, dolphins, fish, lobsters, or hula dancers? What about action? Are you active? Do you run, swim, hike, or sit in front of the computer all day? Are you adventurous? What do you dream to accomplish one day?

As you answer these questions and mine your personal preferences, you can start to develop and build a story around that character.

How about another example?

Beginning sequence: Several lobsters are in a water tank in a restaurant.

Middle sequence: The lobster next to the main lobster is selected and cooked. All of the lobsters are panicking. How do we save ourselves?

Ending sequence: The main lobster pretends to be Spartacus and liberates the remaining lobsters by breaking free from the water tank and crawling to safety.

Place #3: Build a Library

Finally, a great place to generate ideas is by building a library of knowledge you can pull from and mash together. Collect books and movies, memorize moments in pop culture, read magazines, and watch YouTube videos. It is easy to build a collection of knowledge in today’s digital world using Pinterest and Evernote. You can also clip photos and typography from magazines.

The secret is having enough information in order to connect one idea to another. For example, applying the story of Spartacus to the world of restaurant lobsters.

How do you know you have enough information and when to stop collecting? You’ll never have enough. Just keep filing what you come across into your library. The more, the merrier. You never know when you’ll be able to use something as silly or serious as what you have just found.

There are a million ways to generate ideas and these are three simple places to start when it comes to the storytelling process. What has helped you in the ideation process?





Ideas Reflections

Transformative Imagination

As a creative individual, I believe in the power of my imagination to consider what could be, which in turn propels me towards solutions. However, what happens when I fail to engage my theories and instead flounder in a sea of mediocrity and complacency? I slowly lose the ability to imagine, act, and relate to others.

Instead of imagining something new, I attack the tools of imagination. I demonize technology. I hold tight to the comforting slogans which protect my ignorance. I grow around the belly and my mind shrinks.

I shut myself off from the concerns of others. I toil in my selfishness. I continue building my borders, the modern-day Emperor’s clothes, not knowing that everyone sees me for what I am: a hypocrite. Naked and ashamed.

As L. Dee Fink writes in Creating Significant Learning Experiences: “for learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner. No change, no learner.”

I would add: No imagination, no change, no learner.

Acting upon our imagination has a tremendous ability to change not only our individual lives, but society as a whole. However, it takes a desire to move into uncharted waters.

To imagine new ways of navigating the complex waves of humanity.

To imagine new ideals and standards.

To imagine.

To act.

To change.