One of the great joys of parenthood is that our kids often teach us as much as we teach them. I’ve learned a lot about perseverance, patience, integrity, trust, servanthood, sacrifice, love — you know, all the stuff that life is made of. But I’m always surprised when my kids teach me things that I can apply to my work as a communicator.
My 17-year-old son Max is a fledgling filmmaker. This year he took a film class where students not only studied many of the classics but also made their own movies. This week the students showcased their work in a film festival to which parents were invited. The works were impressive — not only to us parents but also to a jury of professional filmmakers who judged the finalists in the school’s version of the Oscars.
Max was involved with several of the winning films as an actor and screenplay co-writer. I’m proud of his achievements (and really have no idea where the acting gene comes from) — but I was surprised that the film he directed wasn’t a finalist in the competition. I knew he had worked hard on the film and I had seen an early cut of it. I’m admittedly biased, but I thought his film was better than at least two other finalists.
Last night Max asked if I wanted to see the final version of his film. It turns out that he had just finished working on it last week — much too late to be sent to the judges of the competition. I had seen the early cut of the film months ago, so I asked why he completed it just last week. He wanted me to watch the final version before answering my question.
The film I saw last night was very different — much better and much more thought-provoking — than the one I had seen earlier. He added a compelling musical soundtrack and other background “noise” that provided stark contrast to the beautiful visuals, which was one of the points of the film.
I was sufficiently impressed and proud of his work. Then he told me the backstory.
It turns out that adding the audio was a chore. Max had to jump through all kinds of hoops in order to add and edit the sound. It involved removing the film file from his computer and reloading it. His computer crashed four times in the process and there were times when he questioned if he’d ever succeed.
Producing the audio was also challenging. He had wanted to use music from one of his favorite bands, but his teacher informed him that doing so would violate copyright laws. So Max — who has taught himself how to play the acoustic guitar — recorded his own musical soundtrack. He also wanted to use a monotone, droning voice as background noise, so he went online and found the transcript of congressional testimony and recorded it in his own voice (which I did not recognize).
The process was agonizing. There were times he felt like giving up. But he didn’t — and he discovered something along the way. The film actually turned out better because of all the problems he had to overcome. Mistakes and setbacks contributed to the creative process. He describes the final product as “a tapestry of errors.”
Any artist or creative worker understands what this means. Things that go wrong can add to the beauty of the work. Missteps often make the final product better. It’s not simply a matter of overcoming or minimizing mistakes. It’s a matter of integrating them into the work so that they become part of it.
Communication is a creative process. I’m not just talking about the creation of a written piece, the production of collateral materials or the development of a plan. I’m talking about communication itself — the give-and-take, the conversation, the act of connecting with another person. It’s sloppy. It’s messy. It doesn’t always go as planned. It’s improvisational. Often, we want so much for communication to occur as we visualize it from the outset that we fail to see how we can work the imperfections into the final product.
Communication is often a tapestry of errors. It still can be a beautiful thing.