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Unveiling Creativity: The Multi-Faceted Artistry of Author, Director, and VFX Artist Matt Hartle

Venturing into the world of creativity during the late 90s at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Matt Hartle has evolved into a multi-talented virtuoso. As a Writer, Painter, Director, Designer, and VFX artist, his artistic compass guides him through diverse mediums.

Honing his skills at illustrious studios like Illusion Arts, BLT Communications, and Deva Studios, Hartle’s journey led him to his current roles – Partner, Executive Creative Director, and Director at Baked Studios, spanning both Culver City, CA, and New York, NY.

Recently, Hartle etched a significant chapter in his artistic narrative with the publication of his bestselling book ‘Of Courage And Sacrifice—Book One of the Bot Trilogy,’ a testament to his writing prowess. The saga continues with ‘The Magu Program,’ a visionary delve into a CyberPunk/Blade Runner-inspired future. Meanwhile, Book Two of the Bot Trilogy unfurls, exemplifying Matt Hartle’s unwavering dedication to the art of storytelling.

I was thrilled to have a chance to find out more about this creative thought leader.

As a successful author and filmmaker, how do you define effective leadership in the business and creative industries? What qualities or characteristics do you believe make a great leader?

This is an interesting question; there are varying answers depending on which hat I’m wearing.  

I believe effective leadership strategies in business can sometimes differ from those in a creative field, but there are also similarities.  In business, it’s important to thoroughly understand the playing field before making decisions.  You need to have a strong sense of your goals and be adaptable but also decisive.  Money ramifications must be considered, but people are always at the forefront.  Many companies, especially ours, are entirely based on the people we have and the skills and abilities they bring.  We work in a service industry, and our primary efforts must be to offer the best services we can efficiently and sustainably and provide the best possible customer experience while also prioritizing our team.

In creative leadership, a clear vision and collaboration are critical, as well as working to bring something new and original.  I have a somewhat unique perspective as I am both a partner and a creative at our company and have had this split role at the several companies I have been at.  As an artist, it’s important for me that I don’t focus on deadlines and budgets. While critical to the overall production, those things make it hard to find a creative spark. Sometimes the artist’s job is executing a process that’s been utilized many times before. Other times, it’s finding a novel approach or solution. When working with a client, it’s our job to hear the objectives and notes but also to understand what is being asked for. It can be challenging to articulate a feeling or emotion, and a good supervisor will ask questions that help to decode the intentions. As an artist, I’ve been on the receiving end of notes like, “The client didn’t like it.” Or “They want it to be more organic and original.” Those are examples of feedback that are very hard to execute. Artists need specific information, even if it’s loose. Imagine building a house and telling your contractor with a wave of your hand, “I’d like a wall over there.” That builder will begin measuring, cutting, and nailing – all specific actions. The goal is to provide enough information to make the wall while allowing for creative interpretation.

So there’s a balance:  a strong sense of goals and fiscal responsibility but a willingness to encourage and embrace the creative process to achieve something great.  

Could you share a specific example from your career where you had to exercise strong leadership skills to navigate a challenging business or production situation? How did you approach it, and what were the outcomes?

Many of the challenges we face in a production environment involve navigating schedules, allocating resources, and addressing production challenges.  Many of these things are handled by having a good pipeline and a strong team.  Organization is essential when dealing with long-term, multi-faceted challenges.  On the creative side, it’s about creating a space where artists can be productive and bring their best work.

I find in leadership, as in life, you must decide what kind of person you want to be.  I remember, many years ago, I was teaching a class at a college in San Francisco.  I was somewhat new to teaching then and had only been doing it for several years.  I had a class where the students were not following through from week to week.  Assignments went unfinished; their remedial questions reflected their lack of effort.  I studied at The Art Center College Of Design in Pasadena, CA.  While in school there, I remember a class where the teacher asked us to put our paintings on the critique rail.  Then he sent us off for a coffee.  When we returned, the teacher explained the paintings had been arranged from best to worst.  He then proceeded to rip into everyone, tearing down the work, the artists.  It was quite dramatic and sobering.  In my situation with my class, I decided to try this approach with the misbehaving students.  I was harsh and on point and gave bleeding critiques.  By the end, the class was quiet – I certainly had everyone’s attention.  The following week, progress had been made.  People were turning in work. The questions were on point.  But, I could tell every person in that classroom harbored great disdain toward me.  I came away from that having learned much about myself and what I wanted from my time on this planet.  While being a teacher, leader, or professional isn’t necessarily about nurturing friendships, all things can be approached professionally, with kindness, honesty, and respect.  Yelling and coercion can get things done, but it’s not for me.

In your experience, what role does effective communication play in leadership? How do you ensure clear and open lines of communication within your team or organization?

In our business, communication is at the center of everything we do.  As a professional, I have been a creative director for film advertising and our visual effects company.  Often, the projects we work on can be high-concept.  It’s important we share any information we have with our artists to ensure everyone is headed in the right direction.  We have a variety of approaches to accomplish this.

In addition to our administrative and sales meetings, we have weekly, all-employee meetings where we go through projects and regular office business.  We discuss any areas of concern people may have with their particular shots and workflow.  Doing it as a group helps promote team building which is very important when we are mostly remote – but it also allows us all to benefit from the diverse ideas that come from the group.  Often there are resources, bits of advice, or just encouragement that can help everyone soldier through another week.

We use video conferencing for these meetings but also have many running Slack channels for each project.  There is a constant flow of information through these channels, updating everyone as things progress.  Slack has a ‘huddle’ feature allowing instant video and voice conferencing.  You can also share screens which is a huge help when working with other artists.  It allows me to look at their screen or share mine with them to work through a problem together.  To keep projects coordinated, we use another industry standard application called ShotGrid.  ShotGrid is essentially a database that allows information sharing about individual shots, tracked statuses, and relayed notes.  It goes far beyond that with customizability and workflow connections.

To me, the best kind of leadership is hands-on and in the trenches.  While this may not always be possible, it is critical to understand the daily issues that arise, team building, and developing expertise in your field.  People prefer to work with someone more than working for someone.  Sometimes the differences are subtle, but it’s an overall approach to communication.  It can be easy to set up a caste system within a company accidentally.  We all have different responsibilities, but the work we do matters.  Also, confrontational management styles promote environments of uncertainty and fear – both destroy creativity.  A person needs to feel supported and accepted like they have a place at the table, to be at their most effective.  From a purely managerial perspective, that’s just good business.  Productive people are profitable people.  However, from a human perspective, I prefer being in the trenches with people I like and respect.

As a leader in the creative industry, how do you balance the need for artistic freedom and creative expression with the practical demands of running a business? How do you foster a creative environment while still achieving business goals?

Deadlines run our business!  This is one reason I need my own creative pursuits, like writing, where things can be far less structured and more open-ended.  For me, it’s important to have these outlets to balance the pressures of a more structured environment. 

At the outset of a project, a survey of the objectives is required to understand what things should be started first and what resources might be necessary.  Do we need to go out of house? Do we have clear direction from the client? Have we been given the assets we need?  Time and resource planning needs to be done at the beginning and continues throughout the production.

We need to have our pipeline in place from the start.  Going back to make corrections to the organizational format can be painful and costly.

Once we have these basic structures in place, we can begin.  In a creative business and as a creative myself, I believe we are selling the work our artists produce.  Of course, every aspect of the process is critical: our organization, efficiency, and ability to communicate effectively.  We can be a well-structured business, but if our product is substandard, it won’t matter.  Conversely, if we have a fantastic offering but do poorly delivering it, we will be equally hindered.

Creative tasks inherently take more time.  If we have shots that require design, those need to be started as early as possible to ensure there’s space to explore and find a good solution. We must prioritize the creative and allow for an artist’s process. Sometimes, in the rush of production, it can be easy to forget that.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, what do you believe are the key qualities or skills that leaders must possess to successfully adapt to change and drive innovation? How have you personally embraced change and encouraged innovation in your work?

As a business owner, you must accept change and adapt accordingly.  This has manifested in our business in a variety of ways.  Like everyone, we were affected by the Covid pandemic.  A large consequence of that has been decentralized workflows.  Engaging talent wherever they are is key to hiring and maintaining a staff.  Outside of on-set time, our work is done on a computer.  The collaboration tools available are incredibly robust and have been for some time.  It’s our job to utilize these tools to strengthen our business, develop new team-building strategies and optimize non-centralized workflows.  There is something lost in the lack of in-person interactions, but I honestly believe, largely, those days are behind us.  What’s important is how we build connections using the tools we have – it’s an evolution of the work environment.  

We live in a technologically dynamic world.  Artificial Intelligence is the latest thing to explode onto the scene.  There has been significant resistance from the creative community, as we have seen with situations like the Writer’s strike and fans rejecting the title sequence for the show, ‘Secret Invasion.’  Much work needs to be done around this technology to establish boundaries as it develops, but it seems clear that whatever solutions are found must also be inclusive.  It’s too powerful and pervasive to expect it won’t be used.  I’m personally cautiously excited about the possibilities it presents for our industry.  There are many repetitive tasks that we perform daily or go out of house for at a high cost.  Technology that can help address these things is fascinating.  Of course, this technology is also being used creatively, and I’m also excited about that.  

I recently finished my next book, ‘The Magu Program.’  Traditionally, after completing my own rounds of editing, I would engage an editor to complete the final polish.  This time, I opted to work with ChatGPT instead.  The reasons were varied – it is significantly cheaper, faster, and offers more of a direct experience.  It was not the same as working with an editor, and I was sure things would be lost in the lack of human interaction.  However, it was an experience I was excited to explore, and I found it quite rewarding – and also frustrating!  As I was working through the edit with the AI, it offered amazing insights but also some confounding ones.  It constantly ‘forgot’ what we were doing and had to be brought back on course. It was annoying, but ultimately I believe the exercise was fruitful, and the story/ book is better for it. It’s exciting to realize this is only the beginning of where this technology will go!

As a business owner, this is an example of adapting to new technology and seeing how to make it work.  Margins in business are often razor thin – discovering and implementing cost-saving measures may significantly impact the bottom line.  Also, likely your competitors are working to adapt them as well.  To stay relevant, a business has to adapt and implement.

For more information about Matt Hartle visit his website.

Categories
Growth Health and Wellness Personal Development

High-Performing Women and the Imposter Syndrome

As someone who has personally dealt with Imposter Syndrome, I understand the importance of addressing this psychological phenomenon and delving into the reasons behind its occurrence. My studies have focused on this issue, particularly among high-achieving women, to better counter its effects. 

Imposter syndrome is a widely experienced phenomenon, and it seems to particularly affect high-achieving women who doubt their own worth. Many accomplished females often question their capabilities and accomplishments, fearing being challenged, and believing they have somehow deceived others into thinking they are competent. This persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence to the contrary, can be crippling.

Studies have shown that women leaders and high-performing females are more likely to experience imposter syndrome than their male counterparts. Societal expectations and gender biases that create higher standards for women in leadership positions contribute to this. The pressure to constantly prove oneself and the fear of being perceived as less capable are significant factors fueling imposter syndrome.

The impact of imposter syndrome on high-achieving women is profound, affecting both their professional and social lives. It significantly hinders success and personal growth, undermining self-confidence and creating hesitancy in taking risks or pursuing new opportunities. Ironically, in the pursuit of proving themselves, many women overextend, over-commit, and push beyond their physical, emotional, and mental capacities, ultimately leading to burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Interestingly, most over-achieving women don’t consciously align their contributions with the imposter syndrome. Yet, many end up working tirelessly, sacrificing their well-being in the process.

This begs the question: Why do we push ourselves beyond limits? Could it be that we feel inadequate or that we have something to prove? Addressing these underlying beliefs is essential in conquering the imposter syndrome.

It is crucial that we prioritize self-care and kindness towards ourselves, starting with setting appropriate boundaries. Striving for perfection often fuels burnout. Instead, we must give ourselves permission to take breaks when needed, embrace imperfections, make mistakes, and learn from them – after all, growth is a constant journey.

Leading authentically and conquering the imposter syndrome begins with embracing our true selves. It’s essential to raise your voice and be unapologetically you. You deserve the space and time to care for yourself and live the life you choose.

To achieve a healthier work-life balance, we need to change old habits and be unafraid to seek help, set boundaries, prioritize, delegate, collaborate, and seek feedback and support. These steps may take practice, but they are instrumental in our journey towards overcoming the imposter syndrome.

As we strive to make the world a better place, we must start with ourselves. Let me know how I can support you in this endeavor.

Sincerely,

Scharrell Jackson

Your High-Performance Leadership Coach 

Categories
Growth Personal Development

As someone who has personally dealt with Imposter Syndrome, I understand the importance of addressing this psychological phenomenon and delving into the reasons behind its occurrence. My studies have focused on this issue, particularly among high-achieving women, to better counter its effects.

Imposter syndrome is a widely experienced phenomenon, and it seems to particularly affect high-achieving women who doubt their own worth. Many accomplished females often question their capabilities and accomplishments, fearing being challenged, and believing they have somehow deceived others into thinking they are competent. This persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence to the contrary, can be crippling.

Studies have shown that women leaders and high-performing females are more likely to experience imposter syndrome than their male counterparts. Societal expectations and gender biases that create higher standards for women in leadership positions contribute to this. The pressure to constantly prove oneself and the fear of being perceived as less capable are significant factors fueling imposter syndrome.

The impact of imposter syndrome on high-achieving women is profound, affecting both their professional and social lives. It significantly hinders success and personal growth, undermining self-confidence and creating hesitancy in taking risks or pursuing new opportunities. Ironically, in the pursuit of proving themselves, many women overextend, over-commit, and push beyond their physical, emotional, and mental capacities, ultimately leading to burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Interestingly, most over-achieving women don’t consciously align their contributions with the imposter syndrome. Yet, many end up working tirelessly, sacrificing their well-being in the process.

This begs the question: Why do we push ourselves beyond limits? Could it be that we feel inadequate or that we have something to prove? Addressing these underlying beliefs is essential in conquering the imposter syndrome.

It is crucial that we prioritize self-care and kindness towards ourselves, starting with setting appropriate boundaries. Striving for perfection often fuels burnout. Instead, we must give ourselves permission to take breaks when needed, embrace imperfections, make mistakes, and learn from them – after all, growth is a constant journey.

Leading authentically and conquering the imposter syndrome begins with embracing our true selves. It’s essential to raise your voice and be unapologetically you. You deserve the space and time to care for yourself and live the life you choose.

To achieve a healthier work-life balance, we need to change old habits and be unafraid to seek help, set boundaries, prioritize, delegate, collaborate, and seek feedback and support. These steps may take practice, but they are instrumental in our journey towards overcoming the imposter syndrome.

As we strive to make the world a better place, we must start with ourselves. Take the first step towards becoming a more authentic and empowered version of yourself. Visit this link to secure your spot by registering for the Authentic Leadership | Conquering the Imposter Syndrome virtual event today.

Your High-Performance Leadership Coach,

Scharrell Jackson 

Categories
Best Practices Human Resources Operations

You’re Wrong, but Not Alone: Four Horrible Truths for Surviving Matrix Management

One of the first jobs of my professional career required me to serve as a technical link between Intel Corporation’s mask operations experts and its factory yield specialists. The challenge stemmed from the fact that, at the time, we were on the bleeding edge of what was technically possible, inventing the future as we went.  Specifications and requirements that at first seemed straightforward and uncontroversial quickly became difficult to create and confusing to interpret. It wasn’t uncommon for the two organizations to think they were on the same page only to discover that their agreement didn’t work, that it wasn’t fully understood, or – maybe most often – that what originally appeared to be a complete set of parameters suddenly seemed inadequate in light of new information.

Of course, when I say it this way, it makes it sound like we uncovered these discrepancies over coffee, in comfortable chairs, with smooth jazz playing in the background. Actually, the discoveries tended to look more like one hard-charging-part of the organization suddenly realizing that the other part had done something that DIDN’T WORK FOR THEIR NEEDS and would create CRITICAL DELAYS and cause FINANCIAL IMPACTS if it wasn’t corrected IMMEDIATELY even though what they wanted might be TECHNICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. The capitalization isn’t mine, by the way – it’s based on which words were pushed across phone lines at the highest volume. I know this because it often fell to me, a 25-year-old engineer just a couple years out of university, to get these highly intelligent, heavily goal-driven, and (ahem) relatively headstrong technical managers and leaders to have conversations, gather data, share information, come to agreement, and make adjustments that they DIDN’T WANT TO MAKE – especially since the two groups reported into different bosses and structures.

It turned out, I wasn’t bad at this – maybe because I have thick skin, and definitely because I was lucky enough to work for managers who supported my potential rather than overriding my every move. So I suppose it’s not hugely surprising that I ended up progressing from an engineer, to a leader in matrixed organizations, to a weirdo former engineer-turned-unusual-management-consultant who is more concerned about how management works as a complex, open, dynamic, emergent, coherent system than about what results it gets on any given day.

The thing is, because of that progression, I now know something I didn’t know back then:  I wasn’t alone. Plenty of people in matrixed organizations find themselves hamstrung between competing structures, just like I was.  So, whether you’re a senior leader or middle manager, should you find yourself caught this way too, pulled apart by various parts of your company debating each other in capital letters, I wanted to offer you four truths that might help. They’re excerpted directly from my bestseller Iterate: Run a Fast, Flexible, Focused Management Team, and they come with a warning: they’re not just truths – they’re horrible truths. If you’re a Ted Lasso fan, you no doubt remember Dr. Sharon telling Ted that “the truth will set you free, but first it will p**s you off.” Be warned:

First, management isn’t sexy. Making incremental adjustments to organizational resources to keep the enterprise on target may be the least attractive part of the work, as viewed from the outside. It’s not high-tech, it’s not customer facing, and it’s not terribly exciting to talk about. The fact that acting as the feedback system for the organization is critically important—and that it can be interesting and engaging to the manager who’s actually doing it—doesn’t change any of that.

Second, management is about being “wrong.” In Iterative Management®, every step leads to new information, and every new piece of information informs every step. Management is about making the best decision possible and then discovering upon implementation that things aren’t going as planned. Often that discovery comes packaged as criticism: “Why didn’t you see this coming?” The truth is, often management can’t see it coming. All it can do—must do—is adjust and adjust again. Fail forward, fast.

Third, management can only allocate resources. The management team can’t change the customer, the products, the services, the marketplace, the board, the ownership, or the future. All it can do is assign resources—people, money, and equipment—to get the work done. And since most resources are fully assigned, all it can really do is contemplate changes to resource assignments already in place. The only decision management ever makes is whether to leave resources alone or, if not, how to move them around. (Sometimes, some managers can change goals too – but not always, and not all of them.)

Lastly (maybe worst of all), management is succeeding when it’s resource constrained. Moving resources around almost always involves taking them away from something else. That’s because the balance between opportunities and resources is never perfect, and it’s preferable to have too few resources rather than too few opportunities. In the best-case scenario, management is all about stealing resources from good opportunities to apply them to better ones. And while that sounds good on paper, in reality it makes for some terribly difficult decisions, especially since those not-good-enough options always have strong, emotional advocates.

(Source: Iterate: Run a Fast, Flexible, Focused Management Team by Ed Muzio, An Inc. Original)

It sure would have been nice to know these things back in my 20’s: To know that I was serving an unpopular but important function, that I was destined to be “wrong” over and over, and that my possible avenues for action mostly involved taking resources from those who didn’t want change. The knowledge wouldn’t have made my job easier, exactly, but it would have lowered my stress while doing it. That would have made my life better, for sure, and maybe even increased my level of performance.  Unstressed brains are creative brains, after all.

If you’re leading or managing in a matrixed environment, I hope you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. It’s hard, it’s supposed to be hard, and all you can do is take your next best step from here. I wish you well, and I hope that, after it p**ses you off, this truth sets you free.  Because either way, you’ll still be wrong again tomorrow.

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