Working on the WebJanuary 11, 2005
As we prepare for the Creative Church Conference next week, I've been working on the outline for my breakout session with Terry Storch, WWW: Web, Weblogs and What's Next. Here's the section called Working on the Web.
Everyone who works within web technology shares a certain commonality; a similar sense of being overwhelmed, a dreamy optimism about the web and its potential, and the knowing look of someone who has said at 1:30 in the morning, "One test is enough. Let's launch it!"
But we love it. Why? Because our work has true, visible, measurable impact. Work on the Web can capture people's attention, change hearts and minds, answer some questions and encourage more, and at the end of the day, you can see it. There is a pace to web work that is addictive. Where else, particularly in technology, can an idea be thought up on Monday that is used by hundreds of people on Sunday?
There are few more challenging environments, however, and so to lend a hand, here's five ideas and perspectives to help you survive the 24/7 web world.
At all times, in all situations, be sure you can hear George Costanza in the back of your mind, shouting "Serenity Now!" It truly captures so many of the nearly absurd situations we find ourselves in and is often the perfect response. To refresh your memory, here are the details of one of the best Seinfeld episodes.
Why Don't You Guess Your Way to Redbud?
This moment from the somewhat under-appreciated Chevy Chase movie, Funny Farm, is what I always think of when I imagine what normal people feel like when they try to interact with web people.
Chevy Chase is lost in the country, trying to find his new home. He stops in front of a quiet gas station where an old man sits in a chair. Chase shouts out, "Hey, Mack, can you tell me how to get to Redbud?" The old man asks, "How'd you know my name was Mack?" Chase smiles, "Just a lucky guess." The old man stares back, "Why don't you guess your way to Redbud?"
A couple of hours later, Chase, still lost, returns and asks the same question. The old man's response? "If I was trying to get to Redbud, I wouldn't start from here."
Let's be honest, one of the biggest challenges technology employees face is the reputation for arrogance and condescension. People come to us each day with ideas, full of enthusiasm, and our analytical minds are filled with hundreds of reasons why it won't work. "We don't have enough time", "The framework won't support it", "No one will use it", "That's been done before" and the classic, "You don't understand, the schema wasn't built to handle that."
We want people to come to us with ideas. Those ideas mean that the web is considered a viable, successful, reliable way to get a message out or solve a problem. Those ideas mean people have seen it work in the past and have come to expect and rely on those results. When a new idea is brought to you, be open, gather the details, then step back and analyze the implications on your own. Then return with a plan or an alternative.
Is there anything better than watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year? My favorite scene should provoke sympathetic nods from every web designer.
Lucy asks Schroeder to play Jingle Bells for her. He plays a classical-themed, complex version. She says, "No, that's not it." He tries again, this time an organ-based, more popular take. Again, Lucy's unsatisfied. "No, that's not it at all. You know, 'Jingle Bells'? 'Ho, Ho, Ho?' Merry Christmas and all that stuff?"
Frustrated and exasperated, Schroeder frowns and takes a single finger and plays the simplest, 5 note version.
Lucy shouts, "That's it!"
Isn't that so often the case? We build these impressive, cutting-edge designs and inevitably our final, 15 minute, any-art-intern-could've-thrown-that-together option gets chosen.
What do you do? More than anything else, simply come to terms with the fact your role is not to make the final call (if it is, never take it for granted!). We build and design to the best of our abilities and strive to meet the needs of our organization. Of course we push the envelope and make the case whenever possible (particularly if there is a black & white technology issue, such as security, that must be taken into account), but then you turn it over to the leadership and let go.
50 First Dates
In 50 First Dates, Adam Sandler falls in love with a women who has short-term memory loss. Each day, he must start their relationship over again as if the previous days never happened.
Sound familiar? Terry pointed this out to me months ago. In many organizations, particularly churches, you have to make a daily case for why technology matters, what you've accomplished, and why you need the budget and staff you have. Once you come to terms with that you'll find it much easier to make it a integral part of your day.
Make the case for your team. Share your accomplishments and victories. Be honest about your failures and mistakes. Demonstrate daily how the web is integral to the vision and purpose of your organization.
And then do it again the next day!
I Don't Care
It comes down to this. Tommy Lee Jones pursuing Harrision Ford in The Fugitive. After an exhausting search, they finally encounter each other face to face in a tunnel. Ford has one brief moment to make his case and with full conviction shouts, "I didn't kill my wife!"
Tommy Lee Jones looks back at him and shrugs, "I don't care!" For Jones, it doesn't matter whether Ford is guilty or innocent. His only task is to bring him back to the prison he escaped from. Anything else is irrelevant to that single mission.
When you are blessed to work in a church, there is a single, overriding mission: to reach the unconvinced with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Every other consideration is beneath that single purpose. There is so much at stake and when those opportunities come to play a part in making an eternal difference, there really is only one choice: make it happen. There are a thousands reasons why it can't happen. There is one reason why it must.
What an incredible opportunity each of us has to use our God-given talent to impact our world. As Willy Wonka says, "We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of the dreams."