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Transformation

Artists are in the transformation business.  Business is in the transformation business.  Society is in the transformation business. We all seek the same thing.  A better way, a better life, a better world, and as Steve Jobs famously said:  “making a dent in the universe.”

We can choose through our actions to just reflect what has already been present in the world, or we can choose to make our way forward with the spirit of transformation and evolution.  To be truly useful and to lead fulfilling lives, we have no choice but to consciously and constantly engage the world in a transformative way.

But, transformation works both ways. When you engage the world through transformation, you get to choose to evolve or devolve. Evolution is forward thinking, bright and dynamic. Devolution is a dark corridor, full of derivative thought and laggards. The Rainbow flag and the Confederate flag as art and symbol for example.  Which one is transformative in a evolutionary way and which is devolutionary?

With every breath we take in the entire universe.  Everything that has been and everything that will be. That is a mighty responsibility. There’s a simple fact to our biology:  within every human now living  resides some molecules of every human that has ever lived, and our earliest relatives came from stardust. So too, in one thousand years our molecules will reside in others.  Yes, with every breathe we take in the entire universe.

It’s easy to disappear into the problems of every day life and forget that we’re here to create and move forward.  It’s easy to to think that “I’m just one person, what can I possibly do?”

Jobs didn’t do it alone.  Churchill rallied a country but didn’t take on the nazis by himself.  These people had vision yes, but it took many thousands of people to transform that vision into transformative experiences.  Edison didn’t do it alone, nor did Charlie Chaplin, Mary Ellen Mark or George Lucas.  They had friends, family, crews, executives and an audience that wanted to evolve with them.  They together transformed industry, art and society.

Do you want to feel excited about what you do and what you’re leaving to your children?   Commit to evolution and be in the transformation business. Use your creative voice to make a dent in the universe.

Night Sky Small

Wind Direction

Boat bw

Have you checked the wind direction lately?

Where are you going?

Are you still on course?

Did you decide along the way to head in another much more desirable direction than where you first intended to go, but suddenly find you are still headed towards your first destination?

Has a storm risen up, forcing you to set down for a while to wait for better conditions?

Have you followed a tributary inland and now find yourself fighting your way upstream?

Has the sea totally dried up and you find your boat aground?

 

After you choose a destination, it’s easy to not notice what’s happening around you if the first part of the journey goes smoothly.  You think you’re focused, but focused on what? It’s easy to wait until it’s too late to change course.  We have so many distractions, so many things trying to get our attention that it’s no wonder that obvious changes to the environment can take us by surprise.

Any port in a storm is often a mistake.  It’s preferable to sail through the tempest.  You may know you don’t have the skill set to enter the storm, but if you can survive you will have the skills forever after. No storm can then frighten you and you may even welcome them as they put you at your best.

Just be careful not to create storms where they don’t exist. They come from changing your destination from week to week because you can’t see past the horizon. That boat just sails in circles.

Check the wind direction, set the sails, push off and stay the course. But, remember that the only constant is change. Conditions may change to the degree that you abandon your ultimate destination for another.  It’s life, we all need to do that from time to time, just make sure you are not compromising your truth or the desire of your soul.

So, have courage, be adaptable, watch the sea carefully and listen to the breeze as it whispers.  The wind will tell you everything you need to know.

Ambition

“He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Universe,
just do your job, then let go.”
– Lao Tzu
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As I watch the National tragedy play out in Washington.  A President and those close to him only focused on their own benefit, both in terms of power and plunder, I have to ask: as the days and weeks and eventually years go by, what effect does it all have on us deep inside?  What effect does the barrage of reckless and unreasonable blind ambition have on each of us and our businesses? On our families?
Is it becoming normal to try to crush those around us who simply have another view? Is it really just all about being a winner or a loser? Are we becoming numb to the idea of grabbing what we can and selling it to the highest bidder? Does watching lack of loyalty to the whole in the name of expediency and self aggrandizement encourage us to follow suit?
We have to be careful to not steamroll others with our own view of how things should run. For within our ideas lie our own ambition and within our ambition lies our personal agenda which is only human to have, but not usually helpful.  If we don’t listen to those around us very carefully our ambition can quickly become blind.  When we do that, it may seem as if we are getting ahead, and we may very well be in the short term.  But, in pursuit of our personal goals we may just destroy everything around us in the process.
I recently read “Powerhouse – The Untold Story of CAA.”  Fascinating and in many ways inspiring.  But, it’s easy to forget that at it’s core, it’s a cautionary tale.  In the end, although extremely successful and wealthy, Ovitz and company managed to destroy friendships, long time working relationships and each other.  At a certain point, they forgot why they started the company in the first place and were no longer working together.  Instead, they were working against each other and the greater good of the group that was so tight in the beginning.  All for blind ambition, power and greed.
Ambition is good when it’s purpose is for something beyond ourselves.  It’s good when we’re making a difference not just in the day to day of helping our clients, our co-workers and our families,  but in making the world a better, more gentle and honest place. That is accomplished by examining the how and why of the way we as individuals and as a group are doing things.
Ambition should feel great.  It should feel like you’re at the best beach party you can imagine, laughing with your friends and together feeding a warm bonfire.   That is the joy of feeling successful together. But be careful. If you see the bonfire going down, don’t run back to the house by yourself and comeback with the furniture and doors.  You’ll eventually throw the whole house on the fire.  Instead, to bring that bonfire back up, scour the beach together for more wood.
I make it sound easy, it’s not. It takes putting your agenda aside. It takes listening respectfully,  being calm, having empathy, giving honest feedback and aligning towards a common cause. Not aligning against each other, individually or in groups.
If Ambition feels anything but great, don’t bother looking at others as the reason why it doesn’t.  Look to yourself and do a careful examination to make sure your purpose is truly beneficial to those around you.  If it’s not, you may be going blind.

Letting Go

Let go.  Yes, that’s it, let go.  There comes a certain time where you have to let yourself fall into whatever it is you need to fall into.  It could be organization, it could be disorganization.  It could be progress, it could be regress. Only you know the answer to the question.

Anger is pointless, fear is pointless, so is joy if you are not walking to the edge and then falling through the barrier that you have set up for yourself there.  This is business, this is life.

Sometimes, letting go is walking through the fire and sometimes it’s just walking away.  Most of the time, the barrier looks like a dense forest that appears beautiful in its complexity, but too difficult to ever make your way through.  It’s funny how we see accomplishment as pushing, pushing, pushing, when it is really relaxing into your fears and letting go of the barriers to success that exist only in your mind.  The barriers that you’ve developed through years of positive and negative experiences that have taught you where the boundaries are.  The boundaries appear to protect you from too much pain. But, they also protect you from too much joy, too much accomplishment and too much peace.

Walk up to those boundaries, relax and walk through.  Let go.

Trees 1

 

Don’t Scare the Wildlife.

There is a saying:  be nice to assistants, receptionists and car valets.  One day, they’ll be green lighting your projects.

There are many ways of doing business in Hollywood.  The stereotype is the Agent as Shark.  Plowing a way through the ocean, eating everything in sight and generally causing havoc.  When you have the leverage, it’s easy to do that.  But, with experience you learn that you should rarely do things because you can. Doing things because you can has no view of the long term.  Instead, you do things that will be fair to everyone involved now.

You’re not kind to those under you because someday you may be under them,  you’re kind because it’s right. Because, whether you realize it or not, when people are working under you, the way you conduct yourself teaches them how to treat those that will be working under them someday. It’s like the cycle of abuse. You can perpetuate it or you can break it.

You have a choice.  You can continue Hollywood’s bad behavior or choose to take a moment, think about it, and make the choice between coldness or empathy, bullying or mentoring. Almost always, people are doing the very best they can.  Berating them won’t make them better.  It will freeze them where they are. In the end, if people disappoint you, you probably haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them what they need to know.  Such is the mystery of power.

Kindness and understanding is not situational.  It’s an operating system.

 

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The Inefficiencies of Anger

Unknown-3Around the WPA offices, I am sometimes called Obi-Wan.  I try not to take this as the old, decrepit and hooded Alec Guinness of Star Wars, but rather, the sage, father figure and hooded Alec Guinness that is all at once serene and powerful.  I suppose we all tell
ourselves the stories we need to hear.

When I was a young agent in New York.  Well, a younger agent, I was prone to getting angry about the weirdest things, little things, big things, anything really.  One day, I actually got a call from the head of the agency in Los Angeles, informing me that if I kept throwing my phone headset against the wall and breaking it, I would have to supply my own.  Fair enough I thought at the time.

I’m not sure when I realized what a waste of time my emotions were becoming or when I realized the amount of mistakes I was making sans calmness, but at some point I turned over a new leaf. As I think back, I wonder if it was inexperience that made me angry or my fear of failure when I found myself in unfamiliar territory, or an addiction to the drama of it all.

I think I calmed down for good when one day, on a negotiation I said something out ofimages-1 anger to a producer, who instantly used it as leverage and not only beat the hell out of me in the deal, but then he (of course) used the comment to deride me to my client. I ended up losing that client, even though what sparked my outburst in the first place was my feeling the client was being insulted and taken advantage of.  Hard lesson.

Once I turned the corner, I was left with a few undeniable philosophies:

  1. We’re making movies, not saving the world.  We’re white collar executives, not Seal Team 6.  No one dies in what we do if we are close to competent. In the movie industry, it’s only the extreme hubris of a Ryan Miller that will kill a Sarah Jones. 99.999 percent of the time we are perfectly safe.
  2. If your client will walk away from a negotiation, you can go hard because you have all the leverage.  If your client is desperate, you’ll have to accept what they give you and there’s no use in being upset about it. Supply and demand.
  3. At this point I’ve seen so many people get into trouble through their emotions that it’s hard to miss the lesson.  I have passed on so many clients after hearing their reputation as a screamer on set or unreasonable in negotiations.  It means at the least that they don’t understand principles 1 or 2. At the most, they are just assholes. In a business based on repeat business, they will have a short shelf life. Sometimes, they are in the “so talented, they’ll be around forever category.”  But, that just puts them in my “life’s too short category.”

I’m left with the image of Abe Vigoda’s Tessio in the Godfather as they put him in the car to drive him to his execution.  They told him it wasn’t personal.  It was just business and he understood with a resigned calmness.  For him, it was life and death, well pretend life and death anyway, but again, in the end it was just business.

images-3Now, when things start to get heated at work, I take an imaginary step to the left and let the other person’s emotion pass by me instead of through me.  If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that the person who is more emotionally invested ALWAYS loses a negotiation. It’s a simple success model, be the calm one.

 

Scars

stapled-scar-resultsI have a scar on the knuckle of my left thumb.  I got it when I was in 7th grade and it was the first of many. It’s very faint now 40+ years later but it’s still there.  There was a kid in my neighborhood named John Coakley.  He was two years older than me and he had a penchant for terrorizing younger kids.  One day, outside a store in town, I came upon him pushing around a friend that was a year younger than me.  I stepped in the middle and told him to stop it.  He asked: “What are you going to do about it?” I hit him with a solid roundhouse from the left side and I caught him square in the teeth. Unfortunately for John, he didn’t expect that particular answer from a smaller kid, but he also wore braces and I think he assumed the unwritten law of “no hitting kids with braces” was in effect.  It wasn’t.  So the blow ripped open the inside of his mouth as well as my thumb.  He ran off yelling at me with blood flowing into his hands.  He never bothered us again.

All these years later, I have plenty more scars.  Physical, emotional and even spiritual I suppose.  I was reminded of it this morning when I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror.  I had surgery for a separated shoulder three weeks ago so I have a beauty now.  About 4 inches long, red and angry looking.  It runs from the top of my shoulder down almost to the top of my chest.  The result of another misadventure between man and horse.

I have some on my right shoulder from a Labrum repair, a few on my stomach from Gallbladder surgery and others here and there that I don’t even remember how they came about.

It begs the broader question: what are the cost of my scars?  See, horseback riding is a contact sport. Contact with the ground, with hooves, with dicey terrain and gaps in my horsemanship. The Gallbladder scars?  Bad eating habits. My emotional scars are from incessant worrying about my wife and children, the death of my father, mistakes, rejections, business failures and stepping up to do the right thing when I knew it would hurt my business and my finances.

But, now I realize that every scar means something to me. It’s the cost of standing up to a bully.  It’s the cost of having the sense of adventure to get back on horses that invariably will throw you into the woods now and again.  It’s the cost of doing business with integrity when others can’t or won’t, and those people will find the justification to call you inhuman, ruthless and worse when you show them the door.  They will multiply your scars by poisoning what they can long after. It’s the cost of loving someone who won’t be here forever and that particular scar will be where no one else can see or understand it.  That scar is on your heart.

I’m proud of my scars. I’ve earned them.  They mean that I tried.  They mean I stood for something. They mean I’ve loved some people and said goodbye to others.  They mean I had courage and I wasn’t afraid to fall down and fail.  And all those things put together ultimately lead to a successful life.

So, a big thanks John Coakley.  I hope you learned something from your scar too.