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The Science of Character: Shaping You and Your Community's Strengths

The Science of Character explores the fascinating research behind character development -- science that proves that if you focus on certain character strengths (self-control, courage, curiosity, optimism, enthusiasm, to name a few), and encourage others to do the same, it leads to happiness and well-being.

Every year I try to do at least a couple of things that totally scare the sh*t out of me. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes I fail, but I always learn some new edge to push against of what I can do or what I need to work on. Usually there is one moment on the morning of the said talk, premiere, or event that I ask myself, “Why did I need to put myself through this?” At this moment, I try to conjure up my late father’s voice in a very “Obi-Wan Kanobi” echo: “You can do anything you set your mind to.” That was the superpower my father taught me from an early age.

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What I Learned in 2013: “I Had to Become More Efficient Creatively”

I was working happily on a new film with my team and out of the blue I received a call from AOL to do a new original series of films.   I...


“When the door opens, go in.” - African proverb

I was working happily on a new film with my team and out of the blue I received a call from AOL to do a new original series of films.

I said, thank you, I would love to, but my plate is very full. I also had never made films for other people or companies. I was skeptical. I had heard countless stories over the years of filmmakers who have had their vision changed, trampled on, truncated by “notes” from layers of executives. No thank you.

However, the offer kept getting better and better… complete creative control, whatever I was interested in, being part of a new era and platform of making and distributing films in a new way.

In my 20s, time was endless and I was immortal. But; I am married now and have children and didn’t want to work more hours. I had spent the last four years really focusing to maintain a schedule to create films but also spend more time with my families, unplug on Saturdays (for our technology shabbats), get more sleep, exercise, and enjoy life. I value these changes.

I talked to my family, I talked to my team, I talked to my mentors….I will never forget one conversation with a mentor who said, “You always want elevate the conversation. Go out there and elevate it to a bigger audience!!”

So if I wasn’t going to work more, I had to scale and become a lot more efficient creatively.

I needed to set boundaries so I wouldn’t become mentally, physically, and emotionally depleted. I bought books about artists and writers creative rituals and organizing time. I tried to think of my creative time like an athlete -- to put more out, you need to take more in (more sleep, more rejuvenation). And which hours would I be most creative in? And which hours would I need to be most with my family? How could I work more but not during the hours I am with my children.

I also realized that scaling wasn’t just about bringing on more people. It was about finding partners that truly compliment my team’s skills. I called a filmmaker, who I had great respect for who ran a production company in SF….and after a request that sounded like one to be in a relationship... they were in.

Here was the scaling strategy:

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  • I awoke 2 hours before my children at 5am when I was fresh, and when I could still resist the Facebook, Twitter, and email bombardment to work on scripts.
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  • I put a firm block in my calendar for creative time with my team from 9am - noon (no calls, no emails, no interruptions) and blocked off family time with the kids 3 - 6pm, 3 days a week (no calls, no emails, no interruptions).
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  • I put an auto-responder on my email that let people know I was very behind in email and focusing on a film series and my family, and how to reach me if it was a time-sensitive matter.
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  • We researched tons of productivity tools to manage so many moving parts and settled on the cloud-based Asana. (Highly recommend it.)
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  • My team worked late at least one day a week (more during crunch time) so that we would always unplug Friday afternoon and take the weekend off.
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  • We made sure everyone (from my team and our partnering teams) focused on the skills they were best at so that we could maximize both time and creativity.
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Now this isn’t to paint a picture where we had the most perfect production for 5 months. We’re making movies, which are messy, with moments of darkness, breakthroughs, laughing until you cry, and edit sessions that run past 2 am. But all-in-all, it was perhaps the most prolific period of creativity I have ever had and the most fun.

So this year I learned, in a new way, when a door opens, check out the door, ask the people you trust to help you access what’s on the other side, then, if all that checks out, you walk through it.

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In 2010, when a friend invited me to move my film studio to a funky refurbished pier in San Francisco with a gaggle of other tech start-ups, I responded with, “You had me at funky.” You see, tech is in my DNA. I founded The Webby Awards and love experimenting with new technologies to make the films that my team and I make in our studio. I had no idea exactly what would come from this new neighborhood floating on the water, but knew it would be good. As soon as we moved in it felt like we were all pirates inhabiting a space that was in some city loophole, where we all had ridiculous views of the water, but were paying a meager rent. We held rough cut screenings and invited all the other companies over for feedback—we watched our neighbor Instagram get bought by Facebook for 1 billion dollars (I am pointing my pinky at my chin), and we borrowed hard drives and projectors instead of sugar.
Matt Ridley wrote a great book called “The Rational Optimist,” where he talked about how innovation usually occurs in cities because people from different perspectives would be in such close quarters that they would bump up against each other and then come together to solve problems. That was like our fabulous Pier 38. But then the America’s Cup boating competition came blowing into San Francisco, and our little funky island of innovation was served eviction notices with what I believe was not sufficient cause to make room for the boats. We all felt like the city did not understand what was happening on our pier—that we were combusting ideas by bumping up against each other in the hallways, in the parking lot, at app demonstrations and rough cut screenings. In any other normal time in my life, an unfounded eviction would have made me take to the streets and to city hall, but our feature film Connected was opening in theaters that same weekend. I was stretched beyond my capacity—like one of those fine sails on the America’s Cup boats.
Fortunately, our fearless building manager came to the rescue and had secured another unbelievably surreal office situation for us at the Moxie Institute and our whole motley crew of tech companies. Now we take the elevator up the fifth floor of a beautiful office space looking at the piers and the Bay Bridge. There are new companies that have been added to the mix, like Mashable, Etsy, Grammarly, and Skimlinks. We continue to watch start-ups move in, and then move out once they grow too big. We read articles daily about the next great innovator, and smile at the fact that they’re right down the hall.
Our work has benefitted greatly from this cross-pollination of ideas and from the shared passion, energy and excitement that filled our common space.
Neighborhoods, whether where you live or where you work, make life better. I just read a quote from Stephen King on writing: "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” I feel like being able to be in this neighborhood of companies with open doors has inspired a lot of new ideas, rewrites and better work for all of us.


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