Who Is Your Competition?

As part of this year’s Design Week Portland, I dropped by several design agencies and film/animation studios in SE Portland. The level of professionalism and quality of work was off the charts. In one building alone, I visited over five studios that all looked and felt different. They all had their own identity. It seemed from the outsider’s perspective they had it all figured out.

It is easy when in these spaces to start comparing yourself to what you are seeing and experiencing and immediately discount yourself as anything but a hack.

But after I calmed down, I came to the realization: they aren’t my competition. The competition is in my head. I am competing against an ideal construct in my mind of what success looks and feels like.

What is the answer to this problem?


Every business book essentially boils down to the same wisdom. If you want to compete, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. But this can be a trap and distract you from actually working.

As artists and creative professionals, they only way to compete is to create. The only way to differentiate is to work.

Who are you competing with? Yourself and the mental barriers erected to prevent you from doing the one thing that will set you apart: your work.

Don’t Wait…Create Now

There is an illusion often presented as you learn a subject: you must wait to act until you know the basics. But I say, don’t wait and create now.

Right now.

The basics serve as a foundation of knowledge, but how do you learn them? Do you wait for the gurus to enlighten you with their understanding or do you look to experience to guide you mistake after mistake, breakthrough after breakthrough?

Do you teach chord progressions and scales or do you teach someone to play Stairway to Heaven? Do you teach editing theory or do you have someone recreate Star Wars shot by shot with PLAYMOBIL® characters? Do you teach HTML and CSS or do you teach how to recreate a popular website?

I say don’t wait and create right now.

Make mistakes.

Take the initiative.

You have the Internet to guide you and teach you anything you could possibly imagine.

But you mustn’t wait.

You must create right now.

Higher Standards

As an educator and life-long learner, I found these words in my introductory email so refreshing: “…as a member you are called to a higher standard.”

What does it mean to be called to a higher standard?

I must rise up to the challenge of learning and applying the knowledge presented.

The responsibility is on me to go beyond what I know to grow into what I can be.

Growing in the knowledge presented reflects upon the instructor as much as the student.

The standard is not the end, it only reveals what is next.

The Spirituality of Marketing and Cinema

“I think cinema resonates with a piece of our brain that is way, way in the back. Because the way you watch a movie is not the way we watch life. When you go to a mall, yes, you’re absorbing, subliminally, Drink Coke, and Buy this, and Buy that. But cinema is different because when you go to a theater, it’s like you are going to church. You sit in a pew, and you look at an altar, and the reception is completely different.” — Guillermo Del Toro, Cabinet of Curiosities

I’ve always been to some extent intrigued by spirituality. From religious icons and stories to the manipulation of senses in order to subvert the pulls of modern life.

As I read Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I found the quote above that compared the spiritual and mythical nature of cinema to the realities of life and marketing and it got me thinking about the spirituality of marketing and how culturally our faith in the market and Capitalism has replaced our trust in the divine.

For some, marketing and advertising is their church. The temple in which they weave stories of redemption and sin. Instead of martyrs, saints, and sinners, we have products, services, and competition. “You have sinned,” if you use this brand. “Your life will change forever,” if you use this other brand. We have labeled the promise of eternal salvation as impossible and those who believe as childish. And yet, we label the smooth words of advertising as truth.

As marketing continues to take on the appearance of cinema in order to become more entertaining and to subvert the radar people have for an ad, will our brain in the “way, way back,” as del Toro writes, be rewired and repurposed for the greater good of selling vacuum cleaners and insurance? Will the worth of our individual lives be measured by how much we buy?

Marketing and the Death of Surprises

Why do movie trailers reveal everything?

Why did Fringe reveal that Leonard Nimoy was in the episode, so that you are expecting him at the pivotal moment at the end?

Why do TV showrunners let people know what’s going to happen to characters in advance?

Do we need to be told what is going to happen so that we watch?

Why can’t there be more mystery and surprise with modern media?

Some examples of shows and movies doing it right: The Leftovers on HBO. I have no idea where that show is going. It weekly surprises me and keeps me coming back, hoping for answers. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens announced an enormous cast and has left many out of the trailers including Luke Skywalker (supposedly, there are a lot of wild fan theories).

Think about your own marketing. Are you creating room for surprise and mystery or are you just telling people what to expect?

The Model of Making It

If I were to draw a picture of what it takes to make it today in a creative or technical field, it would look a lot like this:

The Model of Making It


People who are making it in today’s world are constantly learning, but they don’t keep the results to themselves. They share their successes and failures. They can relate to others and others can relate to them. They aren’t creating in isolation, they are building a community and are a part of a community. They produce new work as a result of all the effort they put into their work. They inspire others to follow this model, which then causes the process to start all over again.

The Value of Compounding Time

It is easy for me to measure the value of spending several hours at a time working on a project. These marathon sessions usually result in finished products. They are heroic in my eyes; epic and often necessary because I neglected the value of compounding time.

Let’s assume that a project takes 10 hours. There are two ways to approach this project: 1) Sit down and tackle the project all in a day; or 2) Work on the project for 2 hours a day for 5 days.

The procrastinator in me is used to tackling a project in a day. The end result is good. But it could be great if I valued the concept of compounding time.

Allowing myself the freedom of spending time to think about the project means that it will not be a by-product of a single gut reaction. Each day, something more will be revealed as I use my daily mental power to think through and solve problems.

Multiply this effect across multiple projects and the result is sustainability. Imagine finishing 5 projects in a week as opposed to burning out after two because the marathon sessions took a lot out of you?

This concept applies to not only time, but money and exercise. Is it better to save $10 a week without any problems? Or dramatically save $100/month, maybe, when the circumstances are right? Is it better to exercise every day for 10 minutes as opposed to waiting for the day when you can devote 30 minutes or even an hour?

Do the little things consistently and you’ll outperform the dramatically inconsistent over time. The tortoise and the hare.

Shortcuts and the Fear of Laziness

I enjoy hearing the excuses people tell themselves for not attempting to learn or do something.

For myself, I fear the lack of perfection. This causes procrastination and the occasional bout with depression and frustration. I battle through these feelings because I want the outcome, even if it isn’t perfect.

I recently heard a new excuse: “I didn’t learn that because I didn’t want to become lazy.”

This person chose to not learn something because it was a perceived shortcut and could have led to laziness.

All I heard was an excuse.

Laziness is usually the result of inaction of any classification, not shortcuts. I say try the shortcut, learn it, be it, do it, because you will get to know two things even faster: 1) How much you don’t know; and 2) What you need to do next.

Don’t fear becoming lazy.

Fear the lack of action.

The Ethics of Teleportation in a Capitalist Society

Facebook wants to build a teleporter by 2025. Granted it’s a virtual reality teleporter, but that got me thinking: what are the ethics of teleportation in a Capitalist society?

Star Trek epitomized teleportation in a Utopian society—beaming crew members and whales to planets and to the ship—aiding in the United Federation of Planets’ mission to go where no one had gone before. There was no money in Star Trek. But there is money in our world.

What is to prevent teleportation from occurring until we watch a short ad?

What is to prevent the teleportation overlords from injecting subliminal advertising messages upon reassembly of our bodies (assuming that teleportation means to deconstruct our bodies at the molecular level, transmit them to another place instantaneously, and then reassemble)?

What if to boldly go where no one has gone before means to have more likes and higher click-rates than ever before?

Your Path Through Education

As an instructor at a community college teaching a variety of courses ranging from video production and multimedia to web design and development, I am often asked by students if the program they are studying will land them a job upon graduation. This is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer because on the surface the answer negates the work that I do as an instructor: your college degree does not guarantee a job and in some professions, such as those in the arts including web design and development, a college degree is given less weight than talent and ability.

Does this mean there is no value to college? There is still value in college and I’m not just saying that because I get paid to teach. The value is found in expanding your interests, fueling your passion, and being challenged by other students and instructors.

Expand Your Interests

The Internet has made it easier than ever to discover everything about anything. But with infinite options come the Sisyphean task of choosing the right interests and the associated fear those interests will not lead to a job or monetary gain. The result? People don’t choose and instead consume what is fed to them through the entertainment distribution channels of the Internet.

The benefit of college is to introduce students to topics they might not have discovered on their own. The best instructors connect information from multiple sources to the central theme of the course they teach. They provide an opportunity for students to discover the new in the old and to see the value in areas of study that are not directly related to their chosen profession.

The role of the instructor is to provide an environment where students can identify and connect to their passion and drive buried deep within.

Fuel Your Passion

There is a lot to be said about passion in both positive and negative terms. But the short- and long-term success of students is connected to their ability to identify and connect with their source of passion.

Passion helps you to look at college not with the lens of entitlement, but with the lens of opportunity. Homework becomes an opportunity to try something new instead of being yet another irrelevant set of tasks that prevent you from doing what you really want to do (which is the equivalent of my dog ate my homework).

By identifying your passion, you can go beyond the surface level of learning often provided by a curriculum and go deeper into the areas you really want to learn about.

An Opportunity to Be Challenged By Others

In the “real world” we often don’t get challenged to improve or take risks because of the fear of negative consequences. College should be a place to get challenged by others through direct feedback and observation. Being open and vulnerable to ask your fellow classmate or your instructor is key: How am I doing? How can I improve? Without this challenge, accountability vanishes and entitlement sneaks in. The A is demanded for effort, not results, and the reputation of collegiate study is diminished.

What if the true value of education is found in the statement, “I think you can do better”?

Can’t you do all this without college?

Yes. You can. If you are disciplined enough and have the humility to figure it out for yourself by asking a lot of questions of others. But most people, myself included, lack discipline and commitment.

I needed college to illuminate what I didn’t know and expose me to what could be. I needed to be held accountable and be told my work didn’t measure up. I needed college to teach me discipline.

College helped me to learn how to connect to others with differing beliefs. It exposed me to new ideas. It made me hungry to continually learn. It helped me to see the humanity in other people.

Yes, I have debt.

Yes, I have regrets.

But I would have those whether I went to college or not.