Lessons From An Old Guy

For some reason, I’ve been getting a lot of letters from young guys lately. The exact topics vary, but the general theme seems to be looking for advice as they join this wonderful, wacky world of church tech. God has also brought a bunch of younger guys into my direct sphere of influence, so there seems to be a common theme here. Between that and the recent revelation that I’ve now spent more years doing live production professionally, than most of these guys have been alive (25 years, to be exact), it seemed good to share a few things that I’ve learned in that time.

Banish Pride
When you’re young you think you know everything. How many teenagers have you heard say, “My parents just don’t get this!” Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. For reasons unknown, with a little bit of knowledge comes a lot of pride. I know a lot of guys in their mid to late 20’s who, having worked in live production for a few years think they have it really dialed in. Typically, they are good at what they do, but they have a huge blind spot; they don’t yet know what they don’t know.

I know about this attitude because I was one of those people. I was really arrogant and cocky when I was in my 20’s. I was actually pretty good at what I did, and I let everyone know it. Thankfully I had a few people in my life who were willing to call me out when I was being a jerk and God put a lot of opportunities to fail in my path. Nothing roots out pride like catastrophic failure. Or you could just start working at being more humble.

Now, it’s true there are a lot of old guys in this business who are arrogant bastards as well. The only thing I can say about them is that after 20-30 years of doing this, they may have earned the right to be arrogant. But they’re still no fun to work with.

Takeaway: Strive to be humble and easy to work with. You’ll go a lot farther, a lot faster.

Stay Open Minded
This is almost a corollary to the first point. Never be afraid to learn something from someone who knows less than you do. I work with guys who weren’t even born when I graduated high school, and I’ve learned a ton from them. Having a fresh perspective on an issue is one of the fastest ways to come up with a solution. As a church TD or production professional, you’re not being paid to know all the answers (though that’s a common misconception). In fact, you’re being paid to come up with the best solutions. The best solutions come from teamwork, collaboration and not being afraid to try something new.

I’m fascinated with the story of the development of the personal computer. In the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, the Apple team visits the Xerox research center in Palo Alto (PARC). After the Apple engineers got the full tour of the GUI the PARC guys had developed, the Xerox engineers went to the head of PARC and asked why he was giving away all the secrets they had developed. He told them that the GUI was essentially a novelty and that no one would ever want a computer in their home. Steve Jobs and the other Apple guys saw the future and made history while the PARC chief missed it completely because it didn’t fit his current paradigm.

Much of what we do every weekend in church was once considered heresy, from having guitars (or any instruments for that matter) on stage to hanging long arrays of speakers up in the air. Everything we do was at one time, believed to be a crazy (or even wrong) idea. It’s important to maintain an open mind.

Takeaway: Don’t get caught in the trap of, “We’ve never done it that way before; it can’t possibly work.” Keep an open mind and give it a try.

Since this is getting long, I’m going to finish it up next time. Check back in on Wednesday for two other lessons from an old guy.