Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Succeed Failure

Most of the projects we set out to do end up as failures.

Today is the last day of the Self Expressions and Leadership Program I've been doing, and one of the most important skills I gained was not just to measure the results in my work, but to measure the results in all of the projects in my life, and to be able to look those results in the eye and call them what they are. Often, what they are is a failure, or at least a partial failure, when compared to the original intention of the project.

So my project to have the teens in my city create and perform a Broadway-style musical has now been distilled to the possibility of a once-a-week activity for 5 weeks in cooperation with the city. On the one hand, that's not any where near what I envisioned. On the other hand, it is something, and it's something that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Furthermore, I've gotten closer with a number of parents in the patrol, been able to help them out with some personal stuff in a number of instances, and several parents who hadn't participated began to participate. Also, as a side effect, some interesting things are happening for me in local politics.

The same thing is going on with almost all of the other projects in our course. A few happened as envisioned, but most of them turned out either smaller in scope or different than planned. All of them had similar side effects in the communities and for the leader of the project.

If you look at your life, you'll probably see similar results. You set out to have a great relationship with your kid, or a specific partner, or a particular job or salary, or start a startup. Most of the time, you didn't get exactly what you set out to get, when you set out to get it.

But you got something.

So then the question is, if you know you are going to fail, or get less than what you set out to get, how do you set out to your project in the first place?

It seems obvious to me that if you want to get what you want, you have to set out with a much, much bigger goal and a plan to reach that bigger goal. (It's not enough to set the goal, obviously, you need to start executing some plan.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kung Fu Video

One boring afternoon in high school, hanging out in a friend's backyard, someone, I think it was Eric Pullier (maybe it was Andrew Goldman, but I'm not attempting to Google someone with that name), came up with the idea of filming a Kung Fu movie with a home video camera. We filmed a few scenes, which was both memorable and entertaining. I don't recall that we finished the film, but Eric seems to have done alright.

That was more than 20 years ago, when creating your own independent film was just a dream for a bunch of high-schoolers. Now my kids walk around the house with my mobile device, filming the cats and disappearing magic acts. We can publish anything we want to YouTube, as soon as I can figure the right resolution on the mobile device (it comes with 3 built-in resolutions, every time you film, apparently).

The online content catching my attention lately isn't the home-made, YouTube type. Two major trends have emerged, trends that make it hard to imagine paying for content in the future.

One trend is entertaining propaganda. Corporate advertising is one example, but increasingly you get clever people entertaining you with important messages. The Story of Stuff is one of my favorites, because, honestly speaking, it doesn't say much I don't know; it would be faster for me to read in text; but it's still entertaining and I watched it all the way through, and showed it to my kids.

The other trend is independent filmmakers are creating content. Some of them are hoping to get funding or looking to merchandising. To some degree, watchers have become tolerant of buffering, and an advert or two before or after a program is no more intrusive than the adverts on commercial television. Everything from worldwide live television to independent films is available free.

What all of this means is that entertainment is becoming more and more free. The concept that the digital world is becoming totally free is relatively mainstream these days with Chris Andersen writing a book about it.

I know a fair number of people who are trying to make a living or raise money for various ventures involving video or animation. I have to wonder about that. I'm not saying video can't make money. In fact, my searches came up with clear advice on how to monetize video on the net. But it's not easy these days.

What's happening with video is pretty much the same as is happening with all kind of art. A lot of people in my family are artists, as in painting and sculpture. They create these works of arts primarily for themselves and their families, as a form of self expression. You know, like people who write poetry for themselves and never publish. All of these fairly talented artists make a living doing something else, and they create art for pleasure.

We've been seeing packaged and popular art, video and music, for so long that we've forgotten that developing art as a form of income is a relatively new invention. Throughout most of human history, the primary form of entertainment was music or storytelling that people made up for themselves and their neighbors. Few and fortunate were the artists and performers who found a patron or made a living from it.

The movie and music industries may find themselves horrified by the idea that anyone can produce a movie or music, and that there will be an increasingly smaller market for their wares, but truthfully, for most of human history, that's how it's been.

Modern society is global, meaning that some media will continue to be global. A small proportion of movies and music will still reach very large audiences, becoming the foundation of our common culture. Increasingly, however, our communities will be creating their own media, bonding our closer ties at the expense of some of the broader ones.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

ככה לא בונים חומה

Not everything translates.

In case you've been wondering, I've been light on the blogging because of an extended trip to the States for both business and pleasure. It started with NXTcomm and ended with my sister's getting married. Here is my sister Sara and Brett, my new brother-in-law. They smiled like that practically the entire time I spent with them.

Sara and Brett decided to build their home on some land out in the Catskills. Meanwhile, they are living in a rickety trailer. While visiting we stayed in a pop-up camper we borrowed. Other friends and family stayed in various places, including inside the trailer, in an array of tents on the grounds of the farm, and I don't know where else. Some mornings I woke up and couldn't find all the people I knew had gone to sleep there the night before. By mid-day everyone emerged, but it's still a bit of a mystery to me where they had been all night.

Since it's taking a while to get the building permits for their house, Brett has taken on a number of other useful projects, like clearing the future driveway and the future space for the home. He's upgraded the barn, and started building a stone hen house. So when we got up there, there was plenty of barn-painting, cement-mixing, and other stuff to do. And there were plenty of us to do it. Almost all of these people in this picture were staying in tents, pop-ups and the trailer at some time during the week. At some points there were 16 of us, so there was plenty of work just making food and cleaning up after eating (There's no dishwasher and we tragically out of paper plates for a few meals.) Oh, and we were organizing the last details of the wedding, too.

The most intensive job was building the hen house. I have never heard of a stone hen house, but Brett dreamed it up and everybody got involved. You know, for people like me, who produce things like blogs, there really is nothing to compare with the satisfaction of creating an actual solid thing out of stone. Unfortunately, joint injuries prevented me from taking active part in that activity, but I got a good shot of my kids, nephew and brother doing it.

Brett's brother, Brad, spent many a day on this project, happily. When the friends of Sara and Brett came up to the farm, they also pitched in building as well as painting the barn.

I looked for some good pictures of myself among the many taken by myself and family members. I chose this one for this blog, because it is a testament to my and my family's ability to express skepticism in any situation. Here we are, dressed to the hilt, in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, rehearsing the wedding. My daughter, my brother, and I have the unmistakable look of disbelief and suffering, despite having faith and enjoying ourselves.

I've been involved in a number of community projects, as you, my faithful followers, probably know. One of the main secrets to successful projects (of which my last one was not) is to get other people on board. No matter how ridiculous or enormous the project, if you can get enough people on board, you can get the project completed. How else can you explain landing on the moon? How ridiculous was that?(I know it's unpatriotic to say so, but to this day, I am not sure exactly how useful the moon-landing activity was.)

Brett is exactly the kind of person who could get people to think that landing on the moon is a good idea, or that it makes sense to build a hen house from stone, or that the barn must be red because brown just isn't good enough. He doesn't convince anyone of anything. He's not slick in any way. He's just a guy who believes. He isn't skeptical and he never puts down an idea. He believes it's going to be fun, and, in fact it is. Everybody had a blast.

This vacation helped remind me of the importance of the kind of optimism and love of life that is necessary to achieve truly great results. Hey, if nothing else, I have to drop the attitude just so I can have some decent photographs of myself.