The Positive Touch

I’m constantly seeking information for improving the various teams with which I engage , from filmmaking technology to sports and music. I read business articles, neuroscience and brain studies, sports inspirations, and track what makes team chemistry. I observe what holds bands together and what breaks them apart. So when I recently read The Feedback Fallacy. it really clicked with a lot of the interests in my life, creating a confluence of inner streams of thought. It’s leading me back to something I lost from my past: relentless positivity.

In Agile management, we like our teams to have trust in one another so that we can be freely critical of what we do; the idea is we need this freedom in order to help ourselves improve. This article on feedback highlights how we might misinterpret what that could mean. Negative criticism rarely helps team members learn how to improve, and generally degrades team chemistry. Worse, it actually might help in immediate short term situations, creating the worst kind of reinforcement for negative criticism, an intermittent one which creates somewhat of an addiction to it. An action may have been corrected in the short term, but there may be no learning for it to stick, because the negativity interferes with learning.

We need to be free to make mistakes and learn from them. We learn if we critically analyze the data, and processes, not the people. The trust that the team members earn from each other should be used to give team members the confidence to blaze unknown paths without fear of negative criticism. We can then learn from those paths, whether they are considered successes or failures. We reward learning, not results. We value collaboration to infuse learning with effective energy.

So how can team members help each other improve? According to the afore-mentioned article, the neuroscience backs a strategy that leverages an individual’s best qualities, evolves their strengths rather than focuses on their weaknesses. We shouldn’t pick on one’s lacking areas, as that does not create a healthy learning environment. Rather, we highlight what works for someone and how it was accomplished, so that it can spread.

This reminded me of my past before I had much experience in the business world. Which if you think about it, is ironic. It’s amusing that I need to go back to get what I want now after so many years. When I was just out of school I was relentlessly positive. Not just about what I was doing, in fact less about what I was doing and more about others around me. I tried to model Einstein’s desire to make all his debating colleagues right. I was an aspiring peacemaker, trying to see the best in everyone around me. Trying to see the best in everyone, even, as my roommates would remind me, if they did not deserve it. We laughed about this trait, and chalked it up to a youthful exhuberance that I retained longer than my friends and colleagues. But alas, I got sucked into losing it eventually like those around me.  It didn’t affect my ability to enjoy my many varied pursuits, from sports, dancing, singing, acting, and technological invention. In fact, given my inner drive I kept pushing through on personal development, training and learning to acheive goals. I studied Zen and acting therapy, and used my music and sports for great release and healthfulness. One of my favorite books at the time was The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which came after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was so popular.

Over time, as this positivity eroded, I continued learning more about management as well as the multiple domains I worked in from entertainment technology to sports coaching and singing direction, blending music, sports, and filmmaking. I was using disciplined self-development techniques to help me learn more about management. But not all management approahces are the same. I found different styles and studied those differences. All the while, experiences in life continued to take away my positivity.

What took it away? First, my dream job, which felt like having a hit record right out of college, was ripped from existence along with a whole division of a company (Mattel Electronics) in one day.  That was the day I decided I’d learn everything I could about management. But I did it in parallel with everything else in life. Tryng to resurrect the innovative designs from that dream job eventually fizzled from lack of funding, and required a new job hunt. The new job also brought innovation and satisfaction, but eventually dropped projects took more of my positive nature away while I continued to try to understand management failures. Meanwhile, as a single person in my 20s and early 30s, not all of my personal relationships worked. Duh. And that took a toll on how I felt about people, others. Others chiding me for my political naivete at work. Others holding me responsible for not allowing their bad behavior to hurt others. Continued intermittent success paired with plenty of criticism. I took it, fighting to improve, but perhaps despite the criticism.

Ever hear of coaches talk about tough love? Some can handle it. Some cannot. The nicer approaches say the coach should adapt style to the player’s ability to take it. But.. Can they really? I thought I was one of those who could take it because of my self-confidence in many areas developed through training in sports and dance. But if I examined areas where I didn’t have the same confidence, I had different results. And that started spilling over into the areas of confidence. I started erupting as reaction to the slightest negativity from a teammate. Negative criticism affects even the most solid positivity. Repetition whether good or bad enforces a direction. This is why we don’t just do things, but try to always do things right. Proper technique is as important as the repitition. So why not apply this same philosophy to coaching style.

Team chemistry relies on building trust. We practice honesty and transparency, building integrity and confidence in each other as much as in each self. This is easier in a positive environment. Even best friends and family members grow apart if negative criticism overwhelms the relationship. Why choose to be with someone who tears you down, even if presented in veils of humor to have fun. Ie, many think if the criticism is wrapped in a joke that everyone can enjoy, its ok. Newsflash, its not. Though it may present that way on the surface, with everyone in the group of friends laughing and having a great time, it is taking a toll little by little. Destroying trust. It digs and digs until limits are reached.

Urgency in communication requires a positive envelope for lasting success. How one deals with pressure and stress to enable swift action can often reveal their soul. Scolding may work in the short term and some learning happens, but over time scars build. Those who are scolded learn mostly to avoid being in the line of fire. As a consequence, paths toward improvement wander and weaken.

Acknowledgement is not enough. Getting back the positive touch will take practice. It will take practice with more specificity and less generality. It will take patience. Just as it was lost, it will take continual small steps to build up the energy from the inside, and remove the scars that hide it from the outside. It will take constant reachout, and collaboration with the others. The feedback needs feedback. I definitely can’t do it alone, because its all about the others.

Finally, since the positive touch deals with others, and I enjoy serving others, I will gain much more fulfillment. And that is the key to increased happiness. That in turn, helps spread the positive touch.

Vision and Balance

Just before, during, and after the holidays, with renewed energy, often we have time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading. It is a great time to refine our vision, where we are heading in the future. And consequently, we can think about how we balance our day-to-day short term focus with that longer term vision, especially as we prepare to get back to the grind of delivering shows. Note that I use grind in a more sport-oriented sense, in that it is a good thing to think of short term frequent deliverables to improve our game. We want consistent, leveled progress, preferring it over up and down swings. A grind increases daily focus, and continuous learning.

Vision

We can establish the what in our vision, by listing and refining where we are heading with a user/customer focus. Collaborate with the whole team to take advantage of that holiday energy renewal. Add some quantitative measurement, and keep it short, from 2 to 4 sentences, to give it punch. While refining, think of it like a lyric — its rhythm, it’s sound, it’s easy metaphoric meaning — and it can be motivational by merely repeating it out loud.

Listing out everything you want in the vision should be quite fast. The effort comes in refining it like a fine lyric, as mentioned above. Personally, I find in actual lyric editing in the midst of songwriting that it’s best to go with some gut thoughts at first writing them all down, and then sleep on it, refine and repeat. Don’t forget to record those brilliant thoughts you get in that morning shower right after awakening. So the refinement process could be scheduled over a couple of days, and enlist team members that are willing to grind on the refinement.

Balance

After refining what the vision is, we move onto the how, and this becomes an exercise in balance. Since a mission is often considered to be a statement of current purpose, while a vision is future looking, we might think of this as a balance of our mission and our vision. Another way to look at this is that the vision envelops the mission; it provides a guiding context for the mission and the roadmaps. In any case, in our daily grind we can think about how we might add tasks of continuous learning that balance our vision with our daily mission, which may be for example to put out the finest quality production work while delivering with consistent efficiency.

One of the ways to do this is to add specific vision related tasks, from brainstorming new workflow to improving technology in the pipeline. Schedule time for these sessions for each team, with the frequency dependent on amount of ambition in your vision. Once a week, every two weeks, or once a month. Perhaps split into categories and have separate meetings in each category once a month. Note that the energy these meetings typically provide more than offset the time taken away from immediate deliverables. In fact, the use of other parts of the brain may help with the problem solving activities that present themselves in the daily grind. It keeps the people happier and more fulfilled, and sparks collaboration in unanticipated ways.

Finally, share the team visions across departments to take these sparks into ignition of even brighter ideas through deeper collaboration. Fan those creative flames!

Healthy Production

Healthy Production Team Environment

A consistent, sustainable, frequent delivery production team is the goal. Even though productions may vary in length from months to years, the daily habits of the team affect flow efficiency, the progress of the deliverable results. A team driven by sugar will have swinging cycles of ups and downs that may look good temporarily at times during the upswings. But ultimately it can affect the stability of working with others in a group. And this group dynamic is the key to successful collaboration and true production effeciency.

Healthy Food

How many houses have you seen serving up big bowls of M&Ms to keep the junk-food starved production artists and TDs busy? Candy and other sugar-metabolizing junk foods detract from the health of team members over the course of a production. This can can be the real source of artist burnout, rather than the work and hours put into the work. I might even give it partial responsibility for crazy late-night production crunches. What time in the morning did the team start on that day? Were they tired from habitually bad eating habits?

Balance the diet with proteins and fats using fresh foods, and the ups and downs will lessen in their extremity. Furthermore, better nutrition makes for better sleep. Better sleep provides essential sleeping patterns that sustain productivity over the course of the production.

We know production team members may find more humor than glee in trying to adopt healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. Approach the nutritional change in an evolving, agile way, which may bring potentially distrustful, or recalcitrant team members along for the healthy ride. One snack, one meal, one healthy improvement of value at a time. Try chicken skewers or spring rolls for a late work snack. Leave raw nuts and seeds in place of the M&M jars. For more sustenance, try turkey and salmon jerky jars as well. Add raw crunch snacks with spicy flavors. Eliminate soda and replace with more natural electrolyte waters. In the morning, offer fresh-squeezed lemon, and minced ginger in hot water for a tea-equivalent cleanse before a breakfast with eggs. Bodies need protein to energize up for the day. Practice moderation and balance as these are gradually introduced.

Healthy Seating

Its not great to spend hours at a time in front of a computer. We have to move our bodies, adjust our seating. At the same time, we want focus we can sustain for bursts of productivity. Collaborative working can help remind us to bring our bodies along with the changes. For example, if using paired programming, the switch of the driver at the keyboard and the navigator can be accompanied with something that helps the body move, like a short walk around the office. Perhaps the navigator has a higher seat, or the driver has an adjustable seat for different leg and back positioning.

Healthy Movement

At or beyond your seat, we can do things to keep the body moving and aligned for health. Let’s examine a few.

  1. Scapular push up. Computer users often need work on their upper backs, neck and shoulders, after hours at the keyboard. Pinching and expanding the shoulder blades (scapula) can be done in many positions. Beginners can start positioning hands on a wall. Then progress to knee push-up position, finally to regular push-up position, where just the shoulder blade areas are worked. After getting familiar with this movement, one can also do it right in front of the desk placing hands on the edge of a desk and using the seat back to stabilize the back as you run through the shoulder blade motion.
  2. Cat, camel stretch. This is done with minimal space on the floor on all fours. In-hale while stretching your belly toward the floor finishing with a look forward, then exhale while letting the head drop and slowly reversing from the neck down to the pelvis as you imagine reaching your belly button through your body toward the ceiling. Once familiar with the movement, again this can be modified to be done somewhat from a seated position in restrictive office situations.
  3. Hip strengthening and stretches. If you sit for a large part of your day, chances are your hips are tightening, and if you don’t move your legs much, they are also weakening over time. Hip flexor stretches can be done standing up, or lying down on your back. Strengthening can be done by holding the knee higher than the waist in a variety of movements. I like a hip rotation move from standing position, where you lift your knee up and open it wide as your toe starts in a forward pointing direction and rotates to pointing out to the side as you rotate your hip and then place it down on the ground. Then reverse from the side to the front again. Repeat on each side of your body. You could also incorporate this into somewhat of a froggy walk forward or backwards.
  4. Lat, arm and shoulder stretches. Again from the upper back and neck, tightness can spread to your upper arm and shoulder muscles. Hug yourself across to the other side, then wrap your other arm around it. Then squeeze. Another arm stretch focusing on the latissimus dorsi (lats) is to put your hand behind your head, pointing your elbow up, then grab that elbow with the other hand from behind your head, and gently pull it across. You will feel the stretch in your upper arm, lat, and shoulder area.
  5. Head and neck rolls. Focusing on the neck can be a relaxing movement. You can do it right at your desk. Try tilting your head forward, then to the side, then back, then to the other side. Then gradually try to connect those positions with a head roll. When tilting your head to the left, think about lifting your chin to the right, and vice versa tilting it to the right.
  6. Dance and music-inspired movement sessions. Consider team bonding experiences while listening to music and doing some of these moves in sync with the rhythms. Add chest and hip isolations, rocking and stepping side to side in beat, and to inspire with some fun; try incorporating turns, and jumping and locking poses. Locking is sneaky good work on one’s core as a good lock requires quick strong stomach contractions. Note that creative problem-solving can also be increased when passion and endorphins are released from the movement and the music!

Agile Production

Agile Production

Announcing a new sister website www.agilevfx.com dedicated to Agile Production, especially for visual effects and feature animation!

To start, it contains a series of blog posts suggesting how to apply “agile and lean” methodology to high tech film-making. It leverages many experiences which collect into an agile mindset, from self-improvement thinking, information-age corporate culture, and other experiences from performing to coaching.

We start with a defining summary, followed with posts on establishing mindset, culture, and then finally lay out potential practices.

In true agile form, this is being released well before it might be considered complete, but still worthwhile, as it may return value to the community immediately. It will continue to evolve.

The direct link to the Agile VFX Blog is here.