The Reel Response | Adventures... #64

An alternative empowerment message for a New Year

The Reel Response | Adventures... #64

Hello. This is the Adventures… newsletter: a trip into finding your inner groove, creating work that sustains, and making more sense of the world. It’s put together by me, Howard. Not a subscriber yet? Join now

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I was out on the road once more - a purple patch packed with speaking, teaching, and workshop gigs.

One book stayed ever-present through that Winter tour. Its author? The star of the aforementioned travel caper.

‘Born Standing Up’ is the autobiography of comedian and actor Steve Martin. The story of a life on the road and how to build a practice that lasts, it's a must-read for everyone who seeks to do creative work.

As well as the book's more transferrable principles, my type of gigs contain several elements of the comedian’s craft. But the core is closer to the work of the DJ.

While the comedian sharpens a pre-planned set, the DJ is a curator. They prepare a vast range of material, and then respond to in-the-moment shifts in vibe and groove. The very best take the audience on an unchartered trip into unspoken wants and desires. And paradoxically, they do it all without diluting their unique individual style, yet also never straying far from common structures and motifs.

Yup, for me teaching is just like DJing. It’s no coincidence one of London’s best club nights was called Inspiration/Information.

History Rhymes

One of these winter gigs required an amplified level of curation. It was at the global HQ of a Big 4 consultancy. They wanted me to get into a topic that tons of other speakers offered: Digital Transformation.

To carve out a niche, I flipped it around - ditching ‘digital’. Instead, we focused on people - more specifically, how people throughout history dealt with disruption and change.

Not well, it turns out. Typesetters, stablehands, concert hall owners, photographers - when change hit, they all ended up... well, furious.

An excerpt from that winter workshop

In the room, smiles all round. We knew better, of course.

Except we didn't. A couple of weeks after that gig in February 2020, you-know-what struck.

Most of my business was wiped out overnight. All touring cancelled.

I fast became the furious Typesetter. Confused. Flailing. Trying to react.

I didn’t realise at the time, but I was grieving.

Major key, minor key

Grief is the natural reaction to a loss where we've formed a bond or affection. It’s most common when a person or other living thing has died.

But grief can also show up in other contexts. The death of a relationship. When a life chapter closes, or we feel valuable time vanished. It can also occur when we’ve lost - or sense we may soon lose - a cherished opportunity or hard-won success.

Perhaps we can think of these things as grief in a minor key. In lowercase letters. They don't have the seismic shocks that come from the death of those close to us; yet they're still visceral and real. The grief is not full-blown, but it’s not to be minimised, either.

And there's a growing amount of it stemming from digital transformation’s latest wave.

Sneaker revolt

A couple of weeks ago I riffed up a quick post on LinkedIn featuring a spec Adidas advert made using AI tools.

It's now racked up a lot of traffic - higher than my last 20 posts combined. But more noteworthy are the comments. Many reminded me of the first two stages of the famous Kubler-Ross model of grief: Denial, and Anger.

I get it. Even if we pretend to, we really don’t like change. We’re also highly averse not just to loss - but also the potential of it. So for many people, this brave new world of A.I. is deeply unsettling.

In these minor key moments, when there's lingering uncertainty and discomfort - especially in our working lives - what can we do?

I want to share two possible antidotes, in what I hope is an empowering message for the new year (yes, really!).

Two Antidotes, Four R's

1) React, or Respond

Zig Ziglar had a great riff about going to the doctor. If you take medicine and the doctor says you're reacting, that’s bad. If they say you're responding, that’s good.

Sometimes it can be helpful for us to react. But more often than not, it’s better to respond - especially when we can choose how to do so. It's amazing how often we forget this.

In a year of A.I. consolidation, the world’s largest ever number of people voting, possible recessions, and all the rest - it’s worth noting we don’t always have to react. Instead, we can likely take a beat, gather our emotions and thoughts, and generate a response (yes, via ChatGPT, if you must...).

2) Real Reels

My pandemic pickle partly came about due to my lack of body of work. It wasn't that I didn't have one. The problem was it wasn’t legible. To put this into TV or ad speak - there was no reel I could rely on.

I could talk, sure, but talk is often cheap. And I have a strong sense that this year will see talk get much cheaper, and all the action will go to... well, action. More action, more shipping, more proof, more reels. Just like that Adidas ad. It may be A.I. generated, but it's 100% human directed. And it's proof.

The reel is now critical, but you don’t need to be a movie producer or creative director to have one. Today, just about any work can be packaged in a way that’s legible and tactile. Think of it as a provocation - a way to spark conversation. Action leads to talk, not the other way round.

Here’s the key thing about a reel, though. It's real. It's human. Made by one for another. You can make it unmistakably you.

Stand up, Stand out

Flicking through Steve Martin's book as another Winter sets in, I see elements of these two ideas show up again and again.

Build a portfolio.
Inspire talk through your actions.
Be so good they can’t ignore you. Even when the prospect of loss feels terrifying.

Not everyone was Born Standing Up, but all of us can stand up our own unique body of work.

Speaking of which - if you'd like to respond (or react) - do hit reply. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.




Music Supervisors' Best Songs of 2023

This is a real treat. 166 cuts from across the spectrum, as chosen by the very best at matching sound and vision. (I also wrote a riff on why curation like this matters).


3 things I’ve been doing of late.

  • Writing: A lot! I hope this is a good sign
  • Playing harmonica duets: With a 2 year old. He's better than me. Obviously
  • Cycling: Around a very quiet NYC. Strangely delightful

Just one more thing...

Want more Howard in your life? You do? Well, when you’re ready, I can help you:

  • Bring out your inside genius and become a more accomplished teacher, presenter and speaker
  • Develop your groove with A.I. tools and workflows
  • Create vibrant content and experiences that people actually care about

More info >

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