Thoughts & Ideas

The Art of Focus

One of the many books that I have been reading is John C. Maxwell’s, “How Successful People Think,” and the chapter that forced me to pause and take a moment to reflect upon my life and business was “Engage in Focused Thinking.”  To sum up the chapter in a sentence, Maxwell says that in order to do our best work we must practice uninterrupted focused thinking and we can only do that when we know what we must focus on.  With this in mind, what are you focusing on in your life, business and career?  Are you trying to take everything in, or are you choosing to emphasize the few instead of the many?

Choosing focus points means having to make choices

One of my favorite technical aspects of photography is shallow depth of field because I am able to bring greater emphasis to one subject over another.  It adds another element of choice to the creation process because not only do you have to create a compelling and pleasing composition with an approximate exposure, but you have to make a choice in the placement of your focus point.  There is so much emotion that can be injected into your photography by choosing unusual focus points.  In a recent photo shoot, I was posing my subject in front of a mural and the words “What the Hell Do You Care?  Your not going there.” were behind him, so in one frame, I decided to emphasize that over my subject.  I made a choice.  And it is the process of making choices regardless of the outcome that allows us to learn more about ourselves and what we do throughout our lives.

Continuous autofocus is putting your ability to focus into the hands of someone else

Modern cameras have a feature called autofocus that continuously sets your focus for you.  It can be very distracting in many applications because if you are shooting a lot of motion or action, the camera is going to be all over the map and nailing the focus can be frustrating.  It is the same in art and business.  If you let someone else make the decisions of how you focus and what you are choosing to do at a given moment, you are not going to be very focused.  One of my greatest struggles is multi-tasking, especially when I am really busy and have a lot of active projects.  I start to panic and in that panic I lose my ability to focus.  I drift in and out of different aspects of each project and nothing takes shape.  But as I force myself to focus on bringing form in order to get further responses from a client, I am able to progress, the value of focus is expanded greatly and clients are satisfied that I am working on their projects in a timely manner.

Response drives progress

Nothing in the creative and business worlds is created in a vacuum.  The only way to gauge where your ideas and career is at is to get your work and yourself in front of an audience and then engage in discussion.  For many artists this involves getting outside your comfort zone and admitting that they don’t know everything.  It helps to see what is resonating with your audience and what is falling flat.  It can stoke the fires of your own creative process and it matures you as an artist.  For business owners, by opening yourself up to the views of the community and your clients, you can utilize your position of leadership to address the concerns of people through a unique response.  Ultimately what people want is the courtesy of a response.  Why?  It helps them to progress in their own lives because they have one less thing that they themselves need to focus on.

Thoughts & Ideas

The Art of Giving Back

Yesterday, I received the latest business card from Noland Hoshino of Bcause Media. While I get a lot of business cards throughout the week, what made this particular card stand out was that it was a branded Charity Gift Card from TisBest. It had a pre-loaded $1.00 value enabling me to login to TisBest’s website and give that dollar to three charities (I chose American Documentary, Sundance Institute and Room to Read).

Being a business owner that is always looking for new and interesting products to offer my clients, the branded Charity Gift Card blew me away. It is a great way for businesses to not only give back, but to encourage a culture to give back. This also spurred me on to thinking about how we as artists and business professionals can give back in everything that we do.


One of the best ways to give back is by giving your time to local causes and organizations that are in need of volunteers.  Whether it’s volunteering at your local library, mentoring a child through The Mentoring Project, or handing out meals at a soup kitchen, giving your time without regards to what you get back is an incredible way to motivate your pursuit and passion for life.  It builds relationships that otherwise wouldn’t exist and helps you to see a whole new side of our community.


Obviously non-profit organizations need funding to sustain the programs and services that they provide and the best way to give money is to find a cause that you believe in and give whatever you can.  Not just a one-time donation, but spending the time to build a consistent donation strategy will go a long way for your business and your level of personal satisfaction.

Communicate a Vision Our Through Talents and Skills

If you are unable to give time and money, another way of giving back is to use the talents and skills that we have as artists to communicate an organization’s vision.  Whether it is a brochure design, a promotional video or a new logo, the abilities that we have as artists are appreciated and necessary at all non-profit levels.

To further encourage you with ways to give back, here is a brief follow-up Innovators of Vancouver video from Dale Chumbley about organizations he supports.

For more information on giving back to the organizations mentioned in Dale’s video, visit the following websites:

365 Things To Do Gives Back

American Cancer Society

Muscular Dystrophy Assocation

Mothers Fighting For Others

Thoughts & Ideas

The Art of Being a Creative Futurist

The market is flooded with designers, photographers, writers, filmmakers and other creative individuals.  Technological advances put pro-quality equipment into the hands of budding amateurs at insanely affordable prices.  The varying degree of talent in the creative community that is now available to businesses is changing the way that business professionals and artists engage one another in terms of pricing, quality, professionalism and availability.  Art has essentially become a commodity, best defined by Merriam-Webster as “a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price.”

As old world institutions of journalism, filmmaking, design and publishing go the way of the dinosaurs, there is a race to cash in on the new world methodologies that are currently being defined.  As artists, how do we thrive in this new business model?  Do we get scared and cling to how we have always done things?  Do we lower our prices and try to compete with the amateurs?  Or do we expand our vision and look at how we can contribute to the future of the creative new world?  As professional artists, it is our duty and responsibility to help shape the future and the best way to do that is by becoming creative futurists focused on innovation, passion for unique vision and integrating life with art and creativity.

Innovation Drives Us to New Ideas

Written about in almost everything we read today, innovation is driving the creation of new ideas, techniques and processes, while helping artists to continually redefine their artistic identity as well as their business practices.  In some communities, the hunt for innovation is the search for new ways to make money and is often a way to revive the successes of the past.  But being a creative futurist means that you look for new ways to do things, not just to make money, but to shape the future of what art means in our world.

When I share new ideas for projects that I am pursuing, the response is often the same:  “What a great idea…how are you going to make money doing that?”  My calculated answer:  “I’m not entirely sure.  All I know is that I have to do this.”  Innovation produces passion, which is simply a desire to do what you dream, regardless of the cost.

Without Passion, Art is Dead and Vision is Blind

Passion is the driving force in creating new paintings, writing new novels, filming documentaries and dreaming of what is to come in the future.  It gives us purpose, meaning, focus and a direction for our lives, not just professionally, but personally and relationally.  Passion drives us to seek out others that share our innovative vision.  It also drives us to be unique in our projects and pursuits.  Without embracing our uniqueness, we willingly enter into the world of commodities because we are no longer looking at what we bring to the table, but how we compare to others.  Constant comparison and critique is the kryptonite of passionate and productive artists.  As creative futurists, we realize that we set the tempo and pace for our lives driven by passion and a unique vision that impacts not only our own lives, but also the lives of others.

Successful Artistry Integrates Life with Creativity

How we integrate our art into life is where the money is at.  The way that we deliver new ideas through emerging technologies, even creating our own technologies, changes how business professionals will value the work of artists.  No longer will we wear the label “dime-a-dozen” because we, as creative futurists, are focused on redefining how creativity and art is delivered and integrated into everyday life.  By removing art from the commodities market, we retain innovation, passion and uniqueness.

All it takes to be a creative futurist is to believe in your uniqueness, to allow passion for your work to overcome your fear in whether you succeed or fail and to embrace a desire to be innovative, not just for your bank account and production of creative ideas, but for the quality of life and art that we are leaving for the artists of the next generation.

Thoughts & Ideas

The Art of Asking Questions

One of the most valuable skills available to an artist is the ability to ask really good questions that produce a response, thus inspiring discourse, imagination and productivity.

As an artist, asking questions is one of my core foundations in crafting structure, as well as generating visual ideas for a final project. Whether I am creating an identity for a business, editing a documentary film, or preparing for a photo shoot, the questions that I ask directly impact the outcome.

As I wade through hours of interview footage that I have conducted over the course of the past several months, I realize how my interviewing techniques can be improved upon to produce stronger results.

Keep it simple.
Eliminate multiple-part questions. Word questions in terms that your subject will understand. By keeping questions simple, you avoid long-winded responses and help the interviewee remain comfortable. Have questions that relate specifically to the interviewee’s relationship to the subject matter.

Be prepared.
By being prepared, you not only better understand your subject matter, but you are better able to craft questions based on the interviewee’s knowledge of the subject. Knowledgeable questions create an atmosphere of respect because you have taken the time to understand the interviewee’s expertise.

Don’t make assumptions.
In the art of asking questions, there are no stupid questions. By not making assumptions, you help to put your subjects at ease, as well as show that you have researched and prepared for the interview ahead of time.

Be relaxed.
How can you help your subjects be at ease? Be relaxed. Most people are going to be nervous about how you present their image and if you are nervous, that will increase their anxiety level. Regardless of whether a camera is involved, or even a tape recorder, your job is to ensure that no matter what they say, you will present their image in an accurate and truthful manner. Be conversational in your approach. Pay attention and respond.

These are just a few thoughts on how you can have an immediate impact on the quality of responses that you receive from asking questions. I will definitely be applying these to my own interviewing techniques and look forward to sharing the results in future projects.

Thoughts & Ideas

Funding Independent Media…Distribution and Marketing

In a previous post, Funding Independent Media…Independently, I talk about funding independent media projects through consulting, sharing your knowledge with others.  Last night, I had a long talk with a good friend of mine, an independent filmmaker in Northern California, and we ended up talking about distribution.  That conversation led me to think about the next step of funding independent media:  distribution and marketing, specifically distributing quality media that generates and feeds community, the independent method of marketing.

In order to keep my thoughts simplified, I’m going to be talking about independent media under the label of filmmaking and the distribution and marketing of the film.  As independent media producers and consumers of mass media, we have a good idea of how films are made.  An idea is generated, a script is written, a director decides that they want to make the film, a film studio gives money for production if they think it will be a worthwhile investment, a crew is hired, the cast picked, locations found.  The film is then shot, edited, licensed, marketed, distributed, put on DVD, sold at Wal-Mart and Target, and found on the shelves of our movie collection.  An arduous process.  The money invested in the film is primarily regained through the sale of movie theater tickets and DVD sales.  If the filmmaker is renowned, the movie is an adaptation of a popular book, or a spectacle of breakthrough special effects, then the film will typically generate a significant amount of buzz, and we flock to the theaters.

Looking at the traditional system, it definitely has its benefits, as long as you play the game and follow the rules.  But what about the independent filmmaker and media producer that want to develop their own system of distribution and marketing?

It can be done.  And here is the beginning of how I think it could be done.

Internet Distribution = Getting Your Content to Your Audience

With YouTube, Hulu, iTunes, Vimeo, and a host of other video websites, the ability to upload and watch videos has increased exponentially in this decade.  But how do you use that technology as a spring board to make money with your product?  There are a few ways to approach this:

1.  Allow a low-resolution “YouTube” version for free and then effectively lead them to higher quality paid content.

2.  Sell digital copies for iPods, as well as HD files for high-resolution computer viewing.

3.  Sell DVD/Blu-Ray versions of your content.

4.  Sell merchandise (t-shirts, posters, soundtracks).

5.  Allow people to share, reuse or remix your content through Creative Commons licensing.

Marketing = Generating and Feeding Community

In his book, “How to Speak How to Listen,” Mortimer J. Adler says, “without communication, there can be no community.”  What this means for independent media producers is that if we hope to get the word out to our audience, we need to develop and sustain community.  There are many ways to go about this.  Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, websites, printed materials, networking groups, clubs, and colleges.  Regardless of the method of communication, you want to create a community that will tell others about your content.  As I have read on several blogs online, you essentially want to create a community of evangelists that take your message and content to the masses, bringing followers into the fold.  That is the result of social networking done well.

Does Your Content Stink?

Finally, it doesn’t matter what you do, if your content stinks, then distribution and marketing will not save you.  Community will not be developed.  People will not be interested in what you have to say.  But if your content is unique, fresh, and created with a sense of aesthetics and technique, you will have an opportunity to engage others effectively.

Thoughts & Ideas

Funding Independent Media…Independently

Dr. Normal and Cami Kaos produce a weekly video podcast called “Strange Love Life” and were keynote presenters at WordCamp PDX on September 19, 2009.  During the Q&A portion of their presentation, the inevitable question was asked, “How do you make money doing Strange Love Live?”  The answer surprised me and it sent my mind into overload as I thought about what it meant not just for the open source community, which by certain definitions equates to free, but also for the world of independent media production where accessibility of content and scope of vision may not equal the available budget.

So, what was the answer?  Consulting.  Yes, you read that right.  Not commercials, not ad space, but consulting.   Merriam-Webster defines consulting as “providing professional or expert advice.”  In essence, you are “providing professional or expert advice” in your chosen field in order to provide free and exceptional content.  In the case of Dr. Normal, he has many years of experience in A/V production and podcasting, and he is able to consult others that want to get their podcast off the ground.  That is a great illustration of the power of consulting, but how could it be applied to other areas of independent media production?

Several of my friends are filmmakers.  A couple of them are attempting to break into Hollywood by playing the game, and climbing up the ladder.  As they move up the ladder, they hope to be rewarded with larger budgets, crews, locations, and success.  But what about the independent filmmaker that wants to avoid Hollywood like the bubonic plague?  There are options.  Loans, credit cards, selling your body to medicine (like Robert Rodriguez did in order to make El Mariachi), recruiting financial backers, having a day job, a night job, blood plasma, etc.  The list is long and extensive.  Instead, what if the independent filmmaker went the road of consulting?  Offering their knowledge and technical abilities in exchange for the money to finance their vision?  What do independent filmmakers have to offer the business world?  Technical skills…check.  A unique perspective of life…check.  A passion to accomplish a deep, underlying vision for their lives…check.  There are many positive aspects to this way of funding.

Are there any negatives to consulting in the mindset of an independent filmmaker?  Yes, there are some negatives.  You could be perceived as “selling out” by giving your knowledge to the man in exchange for his money.  You could forget your vision.  You could have your vision clouded by the acquisition of money.  You could be labeled “not an expert” which in turn could make you question everything about yourself.  But,should these negatives stop you from pursuing a unique way of funding your vision?   I think not.

Consulting could perhaps be the best funding system that fits inline with an independent and open source community.  The willingness to openly share your knowledge with others, placing a price on the knowledge, enabling others to pursue their dreams, and to offer the fruit of your life and mind to others.

I will definitely be taking a closer look at how to fit consulting into my available services, and hope to continue sharing thoughts about the successes and failures relating to that journey.  Until then, get out there and write.  Produce.  Create.

The world needs the independent voice.

Thoughts & Ideas

WordPress…the Gateway Drug for Community in the Tech Universe

WordCamp Portland, known on Twitter as #wcpdx, was held at WebTrends in Portland, OR on September 19-20.  I attended the first day, and while it was supposed to be about WordPress, the immensely popular blogging software, it was ultimately about something else.  Community.

It could easily be said that WordPress is the gateway drug that paves the way for community to happen in the tech universe.  The attendees spanned from real estate moguls, to moms, weirdos, techies, nerds, geeks, freaks, commentators, students and business owners.  A million interests in the room, a cross-section of real life.  The person next to me could probably care less about film, art, literature and business practices, but they cared about WordPress and that opened the door for conversations to happen, people to get to know one another, passionate debates to get witnesses feeling awkward (thinking about the Unconference on using WordPress as a CMS), and the chance to break out of the everyday loops that we all find ourselves in.  We were an eager audience.

Now, I could easily recap the day, comment on how much beer and public speaking don’t really mix well together, but that would be boring.  Instead, I will share two responses to insights that were given throughout the day.

Big Media vs. Independent Podcasters

During the talk on podcasting by Strange Love Live, Dr. Normal and Cami Kaos commented on big media’s inevitable entry into podcasting and the impending draw away from independent content towards the polish of the networks.  While they mentioned that quality and entertaining content will always win the day, whether it is from big media or the independent podcast-producer, that got me thinking about another industry that big media tried to take over by aping the independent producers, the world of film.  But as much as the Hollywood Independent film tries to connect with the world, it is the unique viewpoint of the independent producer that outshines the shine that is spit upon us by those pretending to be just like you and me.  So, it all comes down to this.

To all of the independent podcasters out there, big media wants to be like you.

As much as we want to have huge budgets, unlimited distribution, big-name stars to promote our work, Hollywood and Big Media want to be us.  They want to escape from their lives as much we want to abandon our own.  And we should all take comfort in that fact, and do exactly what we want to do.  The internet has morphed into a medium of communication that anyone can use for distribution.  It is leveling an out-of-balance playing field, and it only takes hard work to get your point of view out there for the world to read, see, and experience.

Developing (and maintaining) a Volunteer Community

During the talk on developing and maintaining the WordPress Codex, I was struck by something that I hadn’t really thought about.  WordPress is a volunteer community made up of individuals who are contributing, developing and sustaining this platform, not because they are getting paid, but because they believe in it.

Of course, it is not a perfect community.  There is a need for more volunteers, but this got me thinking about not just developing a volunteer community, but also maintaining the community.  How in the world do you do that?

1.) Contribution

Looking at the many volunteer communities that I have been a part of:  church groups and non-profit organizations, they have the same problem as the WordPress community.  There is a huge group of people to draw from and only a small number that step up and contribute.  Community starts and ends with contribution.  But how do you get people to contribute?  Make it easy!  It shouldn’t be difficult for people to volunteer.

If you are a volunteer community, they should see on your home page and all of your marketing materials how they can contribute.  Lorelle VanFossen, one of the speakers on the topic of the WordPress Codex, mentioned that anyone with any skill level can contribute.  Help is needed in HTML, CSS, PHP, WordPress, design, development, even editing posts.  All critical areas to the WordPress community.  But she was also able to speak to the fact that WordPress is trying to make it easier for everyone to contribute.

2.) Passionate Discussion

With community comes individual ego.  There are multiple skill levels involved, many talents, levels of self-esteem, and when someone is hurt by another, emotion flairs up.  People get hurt, take shots at one another, and ultimately leave.  Now, there is nothing wrong with passion and emotion, but leaving it unchecked and unmoderated is dangerous, not only to the community, but the organization that is currently benefiting from the community.  The only way to truly deal with emotion is to address the elephant in the room.  Make sure everyone is heard, keep each other in check (accountability), have passionate discussions, and then remind one another why you are doing what you are doing.  Remind people what the goal is, the dream, the vision.

Now, I know this sounds rather utopian, but frankly, I have been a part of too many communities that could have been so much greater if the elephant in the room was addressed and talked about, so I can honestly say that it starts there, but most definitely doesn’t end there.

3.)  Guilting People into Participation

Do you find that guilt gets more people participating in community?  It might work a few times, but really, you shouldn’t have this be your primary mode of recruitment.  In fact, please don’t do this.  It only pisses people off and makes them leave community.  Instead, get to know them, and draw out their passions.  Enable them to contribute.  Have passionate discussions with them.  Recruitment starts with getting to know someone other than yourself.  And that is something that we all need to hear.

WordPress is about community, and communicating the passions of the people that make up the community.  We are not the Borg, we are not to assimilate each other into the collective thought.  We can all learn from each other, and that is really what I learned from WordCamp Portland.

Now, shall we talk about beer and public speaking?