Testing Irrational Passionate Ideas

What if you were seized with a crazy desire to buy a video camera and tell stories, but you don’t have a clue how to make a film let alone hold a camera? That’s the question I was faced with a few months ago.

The idea smacked me across the face. Video is a beautiful intersection between my techno-geek, story-teller persona and the needs of projects I was involved in. So how to travel down this path a little further? Or as Savage Garden once sang, “I don’t know if I love you, but ooo I want to find out.” Here are some of my first steps down in that journey.

Is this idea even feasible in my life?
I started thinking about what kind of video equipment I needed (versus wanted which was unlimited). Not the necessarily best place to start, but it leads to questions of purpose for the camera and me in the short-term as well as what I wanted to grow into in the long run.

But how to pay for this venture? Fund raising was a possibility, but knowing nothing about that, I settled on starting a small business in videography. What set of skills did I need? How could I get them? What kind of work could I get? What can I learn from other videographers out there? And in the context of other things I could be doing, is this worth while for me to do?

After seeking answers to those questions, there was only one thing to do: get my company started.

Logo and name for the basic conceptual idea

If yes, ramp up and get started
Convincing myself (or perhaps rationalizing) that it could work, I proceeded to build my own action-oriented curriculum since film-school was overkill at this time for my little side project.

  • Learn Basics of Editing – Luckily I had hours of raw footage from my wedding that I could use. It was perfect for practice and my anniversary was coming up in any case.
  • Practice Basic Camera Work – Incidentally EMMEDIA had an Intro to Videotaping workshop. But as it turned out there was more than enough resources on YouTube and the web that explained the basics of videography. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: http://www.video101course.com.
  • Do Live Shooting – Nothing brings out a keen desire to learn like pressure, and that means weddings. Weddings are one of the most difficult kinds of events to shoot. Poor lighting, high expectations, long hours and you only get one shot. Fortunately, my friends Lindsey and Mandy were willing to be my guinea pigs for my first creative production. Here was the result:

  • Discover Audio and Lighting – Lighting properly and getting good sound was a whole other world. Purchasing the camera was only the first third of the expense. The second third was lights and microphones. I now understood why people specialized in each of those areas. Small tip: purchase cheap daylight bulbs and reflectors from home depot; they work great for simple setups.
  • And the Third Third? – High definition means high computing requirements which means high additional costs for new software and computers.
  • Learn from Other People’s Work – Pretty soon, I couldn’t watch a movie or a show without noticing the camera work, how the cut was made, and what filming techniques were used. Documentary films took on a whole new meaning for me.
  • Seek Out Mentors – As I started telling others about my plans, I met a number of people working in the field many of whom were helpful in giving me a feel for the industry. I’m still seeking the right guild of people you might say who will provide the kind of feedback I need to get to where I want to go.

The experiment goes on. There’s storytelling and storyboarding to learn. There’s shooting mini-documentaries. I feel as if there are invisible lessons everywhere to be learned. Some significant, some not. Now if I can only find them.

I have to admit that I like learning my way versus the school way. It takes more discipline, but it is also vastly more liberating, and it has to lead to interesting collaborative and creative projects such as this one. Try it out with your irrational idea.

Chris Hsiung
U Venture
Better Life… Better Business

Reality TV Killed My Brain and Truth

Reality TV is not all evil. But it certainly has warped our sense of what reality is. Consider Dragon’s Den. We see a 30 second pitch followed by a decision made in a minute or two. Someone watching the show religiously might be tempted to think that a judgment about a business idea can be as quick. It’s easy to ignore and forget the hours spent interviewing the entrepreneur prior to the show and the hours, possibly days or weeks of due diligence after a deal is struck.

There is very little of reality in reality TV. The edited dialogue, the dramatic turns, the quick images only give us the perception of experiencing reality. We feel that we are experiencing the real thing when in fact we are being fed digestible biscuits. There may be nothing wrong with getting the highlights, but seriously, let’s not mistake the news for the whole story or the appetizers for the whole meal.

Then there is the other kind of “reality” TV where every inane pointless detail about people’s lives are documented for the public to see. It’s like Robert McKee says in his book Story,

The weakest possible excuse to include anything in a story is: “But it actually happened.” Everything happens; everything imaginable happens. Indeed, the unimaginable happens. But story is not life in actuality. Mere occurrence brings us nowhere near the truth. What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.”

Extending that thought, the quality of the thinking will determine the quality of the truth. Not all truths are equal just as some stories are mediocre and other stories are masterpieces that transcend time and culture.

The illusion of reality TV – reality as highlights or reality in its minutia – arise from the same fundamental challenge: mortals are not omniscient. Consequently we have to choose what is significant to pay attention to. If we don’t choose, we have it chosen for us… by our family, our friends, our society.

Reality TV shows are produced to entertain us. We can gossip about who so and so did or laugh at the dalliances of the rich and famous or go on adventures of ordinary people. Entertainment is fine, but what if it is at the expense of other more significant aspects of reality? What if there are global economic forces at work or growing water shortages or wars resulting indirectly from our lifestyle? These realities have more impact on us than who was kicked out in last night’s show, yet we avoid it and deny it. We barely register its knocking at the door while the TV is on.

We have other things to be worried about of course. We have groceries to buy, dinner to cook, work to be done, friends to socialize with, and fun to be had. Unfortunately not being interesting or not caring doesn’t eliminate our ignorance.

So what to do?

Part of the answer lies in creating our own “Significant Reality TV Show”. Our time is limited. We can’t learn everything. We can, however, tap into our deep caring and curiosity of the world and find more meaningful channels to take in. What if we created our own comprehensive basic cable channel that brought into our lives thoughtful, caring, wise authors, journalists, artists, scientists, politicians? It’d be like TED.com on steroids. Imagine how connected we all would be to reality.

Unfortunately, my brain is not yet trained to feed on healthy stories all the time. I like my action movies and occasional CSI episode. I am comfortable in my denial of reality, and society conspires to help me in my denial. Nevertheless, I know it’s possible to develop a taste for the significant and the meaningful. Bruce Lee once said,

It’s like drinking fine wine, one acquires a taste for it. One does not acquire a taste for watered down wine.

Chris Hsiung
U Venture
Better Life… Better Business

Purple Revolution

I think they call it creative constraints. 48 hours was all we had to write, rehearse, perform, and edit a music video to deliver a message.

Amy Thiessen came up with the seed of an idea to write a song for Nenshi’s mayoral campaign. So I throw up a studio in her living room while Amy is busily rehearsing the song she just wrote, record a few takes, then I’m off running around the street with Rahim, the guy that connected Amy and me. Add in a bit of overnight editing and voila, we ended up with a small masterpiece that made it on to the CBC evening news.

And to boot, Naheed Nenshi won the mayoral race.

I’m a beginner videographer and she was new to the music video. In the end, it tapped into the spirit of an extraordinary campaign. I think the lesson for me is, if it moves you, do something that is just a bit outside of your capability.

The ultimate goal of education is…?

Growing up in an Asian immigrant family, I learned to value education, which meant that doing well in school was a minimum requirement of being a good son. In other words while other kids got cash rewards for getting over 70% on their report card, my reward was that I was not punished if I got over 80%. Consequently, I learned, even if originally out of fear, to be disciplined in my studies. I learned that if I studied hard, thought hard, worked hard, I could achieve excellence. And this attitude has served me well.

From the award-winning documentary, Manufactured Landscapes.
From the award-winning documentary, Manufactured Landscapes.

Schooling, however, is not the same as education. Years later, most adults will admit that school was not all that useful in helping us deal with the ever-changing challenges of life. We may rationalize what we learn. Didn’t we learn basic language and arithmetic skills? Didn’t we learn to “stick” with it?

There is no doubt that learning basic skills and knowledge is necessary, but let’s pause for a moment and ask, what are we educating kids for?

If we are training people to be good, obedient employees to work in corporations to improve the economy, then the conformity demanded by large classrooms and standardized tests certainly meet the task. Often the goal of education is to cram as much information as possible into the students’ head and thereby keep them from exercising their own judgment muscle. As Ken Low would say, “Schools teach kids the need to be taught.” (This quote originally came from Ivan Illich, an educational critic).

On the flip side, focusing on the kids’ desires and wishes and letting them do whatever they want without guidance is irresponsible. These kids, distracted and undisciplined in their thinking, are unable to exercise their powers. Worse, if they’ve been cocooned in a bubble-wrapped playroom to keep them “happy”, then they learn that everything comes easily and everything bows to their whims, when life rarely does either.

If the goal of education is to develop ethical thinkers who take on the responsibility of creating a better future for humanity in an uncertain and dangerous world, schools have to equip kids the time, space, and guidance to learn how to learn. Certainly, they can’t be expected to do it all. Nevertheless, they are an important part of a person’s education. John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon, puts it succinctly:

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else. Not only does education continue when schooling ends, but it is not confined to what may be studied in adult education courses. The world is an incomparable classroom, and life is a memorable teacher for those who aren’t afraid of her.”

Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society

Don’t misunderstand me. I have had some amazing teachers who opened my thinking and sense of wonder. There are many who strive to do what they can within a system. However, the rapid and accelerating changes taking place around the world demands a higher level of education that develops the character and capacities of the individual such that they will be able to figure out what needs to be done.

Is this even possible? Start with these books by – Erin Gruwell and Deborah Meier – and you’ll believe it is possible.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.

Moving beyond “school => work”

It is not a surprise that school is seen as a means of getting work. People are naturally utilitarian that way. “If I take this MBA, what will my salary be?” And it is okay to be pragmatic that way.

Nevertheless, while this might have been fine in an age where industries were better defined and careers lasted ten or twenty years, this is much less the case today. We need a breed of broader-looking citizens that are able to adapt to and act on changing economic, social, political, and environmental conditions. We need architects that build solutions, not just trained workers.

John Abbott said it better:

Life is more than work. If we give
children the idea that they need high-
level skills only for work, we have
got it all wrong. They are going to
need even higher-level skills to
perform in a democratic society. We
have got to get this absolutely right:
the issue is not technology, but what
it means to be human, what kind of
future we want for the human race.

John Abbott, Why Good Schools
Alone Will Never Be Enough