Creativity Re-Imagined

Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

As most of you know, I had the privilege of attending the Seeds Conference at Church on the Move in Tulsa last week. It truly is my favorite conference of the year, and I again came away inspired, challenged, encouraged and humbled. We had the opportunity to meet many of you and I was touched by all the words of thanks and encouragement. 

While COTM does some amazing production work, that is never the focus of the conference (or their services, for that matter). As I found two years ago when I was there, this year, the best content of the week was delivered in the sessions. The speakers talked on a variety of topics, most not directly related to technical production. However, I’m going to translate several of them for you into how we can improve our technical ministries. This will take a few days. But it’s going to be good.

One of the first sessions was led by Whitney George, Executive Pastor of COTM. He was formerly in charge of the creative arts teams, and as you know, did a bang-up job. He spoke on the concept of creativity, and challenged us to think differently about it. 

Creativity Is Not Art; It Is Problem Solving

A lot of people will tell you they are not creative. That’s because we’ve typically defined “creative” as creating art—graphics, paintings, video, music, sculpture or the like. But Whit defines it differently. In his mind—and I tend to agree—creativity is problem solving. And that manifests itself in many ways. 

Most of the best technical directors are incredibly creative. They may not be Photoshop or InDesign wizards, but the way they approach production problems and challenges is amazing. Figuring out how to get the band on in-ears with an extremely limited budget takes creativity. Coming up with a cool set look that enhances the series takes creativity. Helping a volunteer figure out the proper timing for advancing song words takes creativity. 

Technical artists are some of the most creative people I know; that’s why I often refer to them as technical artists not just techs. Elegantly solving the myriad of problems that come up every week takes incredibly creativity. If this is you, take heart, you are a “creative.” 

Creativity is a Discipline, not Magic

I really like what Whit said about this one:

“There is an implication that if the process is magic, then I can't be held responsible for doing bad work. If they have access to some magic I don't have access to, I'm off the hook.”

He told the story about Joel Houston who was apparently mugged in New York City. While he was willing to give up his wallet, he hated to lose his phone because he had hundreds of song ideas on it. Whit asked how many of us had “hundreds of ideas” for anything? 

I get asked all the time how I come up with ideas for blog posts, especially 3x a week. My answer is that ideas are everywhere. I have a couple of lists that I maintain with what is probably close to 100 ideas. Many of those ideas will never be written because they’re terrible. But I know I have a few dozen that will work. I have developed the discipline of looking for ideas everywhere I go. I even still keep an Evernote notebook of set ideas even though I’m not creating sets very often anymore. Just do it. 

Creativity is Not the Absence of Limitations, it’s Leveraging Those Limitations

Many of us see our pastor as a limitation to our creativity. If only he would let us use haze, then we could go great lighting work. If only he would let us turn up the volume, then we could deliver great mixes. If only he would let us use motion graphics, then our song words would look cool. 

It’s easy to get large-church envy, especially when you’re in a smaller church. If you only had the PA Andrew Stone does, or the lighting rig Daniel Connell does, then you could do great work. But I know those guys, and I know that while they fully appreciate what they get to do, they have also had to work on some pretty crappy rigs during their careers. But that didn’t keep them from doing great work. 

I’ve had the opportunity to mix three shows on crappy PA’s with crappy mixers over the last few months. Each time, people came up unsolicited and told me they had never heard anything sound so good in those rooms. The lack of a Digico SD5 and an L’Acoustics PA will not keep me from delivering a great mix. This is because I’ve learned the secret to leveraging what I have. 

Don’t let limitations be an excuse. Find ways to make it great regardless. That is when your creativity really shines. 

There was another whole section to his talk, but you’ll have to wait for another post, or for it to appear online to get the goods on that.

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