Peacefully, I sit staring out at the gnarly oaks, twisting and moving in all directions. In the distance, a barely visible gray mountain and a dull white sky. Soon sprinkles begin, and the mountain disappears as the clouds move toward this old porch overlooking the vast Texas land. Suddenly, I’m disrupted by barking dogs, tearing off my red wicker couch to chase a rogue squirrel who dares to dart into their territory. Sniffing and barking, they look aimlessly around, not understanding the squirrel went up a tree. It’s entertaining the first time it happens, but by the fifth time, it’s a little disruptive.
The Camera Lens
Years ago, when I was in my early 20s, I supplemented my radio DJ income as a wedding photographer. I had studied under Rocky Gunn (1940-1983), who was considered one of the best. He taught me a ton of techniques to make spectacular and interesting photos, one of which was the use of filters. For instance, I had a filter that made the photos look dreamy, another that colored the entire photo in a color like red or blue, another that made the sky darker. Anyone who knows photography knows filters.
But most of us don’t know about the filters that color our lives. We each have a set or two, and as in photography, if we were to use the same filters in every shot, our photos would have no variety and everything would be the same.
Recently when I spoke of disruption, I mentioned that rarely can someone “inside” come up with disruptive ideas because they are too close to things. That closeness is a filter.
In 1999, when I started RadioCentral, one of the very first Internet radio companies, I had success raising money from people outside the radio industry (and raised millions). But those inside the industry, who had the most to gain, were reluctant to participate. They could not see (or admit) that they would be disrupted by music online. Their lens was colored with the idea that radio has to be delivered through a transmitter, and they thought consumers would never get their music through their phones — people wouldn’t want a small speaker, they couldn’t easily listen in their cars, and the cost of data for music streams would be too much. Costly it was, at the time, but soon – like so many things — it no longer was. Though I was unable to keep my company going after the 9/11 recession, other disruptors came along, following in my footsteps and doing it better. Those disruptors could see things even I could not see, and as a result companies like Spotify approached things with a very smart membership model. I was too close to it and did not believe people would pay for their music. I was wrong because of my filter.
Our filters create a bias. For instance, ever since I became an artist, I see everything through the eyes of an artist. One day, at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, I had gone to dinner with two or three friends who owned radio stations. We were walking down the street in Boston right as the golden afternoon light was washing the red brick buildings. I saw the light, saw its beauty, and thought about how I would paint it. When I pointed it out to them, they glanced and moved on, thinking I was just weird. One of the biases I fight is that I tend to make decisions in my business based on what artists need, which helps me relate and give people what they want, but it can also keep me from seeing where things are going and how things should be done.
In my art marketing classes, which I hold annually at our Plein Air Convention, I’m teaching a room of a thousand or more artists, and I try to get them to embrace new ideas about selling art. Usually about 10 percent in the room embrace them, and the others cling to “that’s not the way things are done.” The bias is like handcuffs, preventing them from moving forward. That same bias has gotten in my way many times, even though I’m aware of it.
Angry and Negative
We also have emotional filters. Tony Robbins is the first I’ve ever heard point this out, in his new book, Life Force. Some of us have angry filters; we’re just angry at the world. Others have skeptical filters and are skeptical about everything, and others have loving filters, believing that everyone is loving and therefore treating everyone with acceptance.
Emotional filters can serve us well. There are times when being a skeptic is a good thing, times when accepting everyone is a good thing. But when these filters are applied all the time, it can hurt us. Ever know a Negative Nelly, someone who looks at the world and finds something negative to say about everything?
This Is Who You Should Hate
We also have filters based on our beliefs. At the moment, the filter is that Russians are bad and Ukrainians are good. Those filters are being reinforced by the images and video we’re seeing. And in America, we’ve always been told Russia is the enemy and is bad. When I started visiting there to paint, I changed my perception because of some of the amazingly sweet people I’ve met. I did not meet anyone who fit the narrative we’ve seen in the movies. My filter now tells me that some Russians, or Russian leaders, or Russian oligarchs, or the Russian Mafia, are bad, but the people I know in that country are just as upset as we are.
Finding Common Ground
Tony Robbins was teaching when the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11, and there were people in the room who worked in the towers, people who later found they had lost family, and a few people from other countries who were ambivalent about the action or even called it “justice.” The conflict was polarizing. And because they were all stuck there anyway, he helped them see how their filters were preventing them from seeing the viewpoints of others. Once they opened up and saw other perspectives, they understood one another and came to peace.
The One and Only Way
Religions — or the lack of belief — are also filters that color our biases and perceptions. The media has often portrayed Christians as nerds and bigots, yet I’ve found the opposite to be true. In America some have portrayed Muslims as different or maybe dangerous, yet through my daily broadcasts with international artists, I’ve made friends in Egypt and other countries only to find them to be sweet people. We are brought together by our commonalities, and though we might not see eye-to-eye on who our God is, or what happens to us when we die, sometimes our filters prevent us from being willing to listen to one another and see others’ point of view.
Blue Vs. White
Filters run deep because of our upbringing. Think of the differences in the ways you might perceive the world if you grew up as a blue collar worker in a union town, versus growing up middle class with parents who worked as executives. I’ve had people tell me that all corporations are evil, and that “the man” is out to get them, to squash them down. I’ve also had people tell me blue collar workers are lazy and deserve their low income because they are not willing to step up and do anything extra to get ahead, they just want to put in their eight hours and go to the bar. Neither is accurate, but our filters influence our thinking.
Our world is polarized because of our political filters, and the media we follow tends to distort things, finding and highlighting the worst examples. Too often we look at the other side with pity, or we mock them for their stupidity in believing what they believe. But what if we gathered information on our own, did not believe everything we’re told, and were willing to listen to our friends on the other side? We’re all too quick to judge. Families are divided because one cannot tolerate anyone with a different opinion. How sad is that?
I’m not suggesting you change all your filters. Our filters make up who we are.
But what if a filter is preventing you from doing something that will make life better?
What if it’s preventing you from seeing something that would strengthen your business, your job, or your artwork or hobby?
Awareness is the first step to not allowing our filters to control us.
Finish this sentence:
I see myself as…
What is the first thing that comes to mind? What comes next? What’s after that?
Now ask yourself: How is this helping me? And how is it hurting me or my relationships with others?
Since I started painting years ago, I see myself as an artist, a painter, an oil painter. I was reluctant to try other things because I still have not mastered oil painting. Yet when I created my virtual art conferences and they were teaching watercolor in one and pastel in another, it opened my eyes, taught me new things that helped me take up these other mediums. Though I was uncomfortable at first, I now happily embrace these mediums and techniques, and they have given me new freedom, new ideas, and made me feel more balanced.
You can tell from the paragraph above that my lens is that of an artist, yet tens of thousands of people reading this have never picked up a paintbrush, and their filters may be telling them they have no ability or talent (something I can prove wrong), or just that they have no interest.
If I were into antique cars, my filter would lead me to sharing different examples.
How are your filters serving you?
How are they hurting you?
Where are they getting in your way?
Where are they hurting relationships?
Where are they preventing you from seeing opportunity or disruption?
How do others perceive you, and are they right?
Filters prevent us from being situational. If my filter is anger or negativity, I’m always looking for problems, or always wondering why everyone does not see my viewpoint. And that could be hampering my relationships and opportunities.
The Wedding I Screwed Up
I once shot a wedding where my film was bad in many of the shots, and the only things left that came out nice were the filtered shots, which the client hated. I was not paid, and endured (rightly so) an angry lecture. Not everyone likes the filters you like.
Over the years, some filters remain while new filters are added. My interests in photography, technology, marketing, radio and TV broadcasting, podcasting, etc., have made me more well rounded, yet during those periods in my life, I saw everything through that lens, and it discolored opportunity.
Your filters are who you are, but they don’t have to be.
PS: Last week I mentioned the need for spontaneity, so Laurie and I got on a plane (the first in a long, long time) and headed to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. It made me realize how much I’ve missed travel and exposure to new things. Today, we return home, with our brains having been exposed to new things, new perspectives, and added filters.
My next big adventure will be our annual Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe. We get beginners, people who’ve never painted, as well as experienced pros. We learn from top people on four stages teaching oil painting, watercolor, pastel, acrylic, and other things. We go paint together (which is loads of fun). If you’ve never done anything like that, and if you are in a high-stress job, or you are just looking for more in your life to add filters to your bag, take the risk and join us. You’ll easily meet others, make friends, and gain a new perspective on life. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it (a filter getting in the way) but that you should try it and find out.
Here’s what’s happening at my company Streamline at the moment…
Our next virtual event, Pastel Live, is happening in August. About 40% of the people who attended PleinAir Live have already signed up. It’s going to be fun, fun, fun!