Year In Review: 2017

I am writing this annual review as a way to reflect and improve on my work in 2017 before leaning into this new year. I am also hoping this might spark some creative thinking or ideas for new collaborations in the minds of readers.

Summary:
This year I took an unexpected path of ups and downs which lead to one of the most productive years of my career. Through various experiments, I uncovered ways to radically increase my output and expand into new disciplines. However, I made mistakes along the way in terms of how I approached and completed my research. Overall, I made strong steps towards the type of work I want to be doing.


Quitting my job

This has been a year of tremendous ups and downs for my family and I. My father in law Chris passed away and days later my son Kaito was born. But I started 2017 by quitting my job. I had built and was leading a strong creative team and it was a lot of fun, but overtime the opportunity stopped making sense for me and what I wanted to do with my life.

Quitting this job was a very difficult decision. The company is one of the best places to work in Canada, I really cared about my team and my wife was pregnant expecting our son in a few months. Leaving this job would mean increased financial stress and higher instability for our family, but I could not get past that my limited time on this planet and my talents were not being used in the most productive way anymore. All of this was making me very unhappy and I wanted to find a way to be more useful to my society.

So with the support of my wife (and our savings), I quit my job in February and decided to take some time to think, experiment and figure out what I wanted to do next with my life.

With my new exciting freedom, I naively sat at my desk and started typing a list of things I was going to do in 2017. I titled the list, "Stuff I'll do in 2017 that might be useful to society" and shared it online:

  1. Create a podcast that captures the process and learnings completing these projects
  2. Make a feature documentary about Artificial Intelligence that gets important ideas into the mainstream
  3. Create a treatment and bible for a documentary series that would create more awareness about our world's most important problems and what's currently being done to solve them. This would be pitched to Netflix, Amazon, etc.
  4. Find a way to create and accelerate a few of the best ideas in Virtual Reality.

As I worked on each one of these projects in 2017, they evolved and developed but none of them really manifested in the way I thought they would.

I think I made two mistakes in how I defined this list:

Pre-defining outputs for each item:

Each item on my list has a designated output instead of using it as a marker for research. For instance, "Create a documentary series about the world's most important problems" vs. "What are the world's most important problems today and why?". The latter allows for a more dynamic approach, open outputs and has a higher chance of addressing the root cause of this project.

More on this: Inquiry-based learning

Underestimating the importance of autonomy in this stage of my life:

I was (and am) at a point in my life where I have a lot of questions about myself, my work, our society and our planet. It seems there is so much I don't know and need to study in order to do the type of work I want to.

Each one of the projects on my list is at some point heavily dependent on the vision, time and feelings of someone else. While researching Artificial Intelligence, my progress would be delayed by the availability, feelings or location of specific computer scientists who were critical to the story. I emailed countless computer scientists and some agreed to discuss, but most were unavailable and too busy to speak with me. This was frustrating because all of it felt devoid from my actual ability to make a useful documentary.

These experiences sparked many thinking experiments about the way I was structuring my projects and my career. I started to wonder if I was creating unnecessary dependencies on others in general and if there was a better way for me to create things.

So I adjusted my focus for the year and started to explore a new question.

What types of projects are possible with just my talents, a MacBook Pro and an Internet connection?

This question lead to one of the most productive years of my career and it's something I'll put even more focus on in 2018.


Experiments with Audio

After almost 10 years of working with video, I have become interested in experimenting with audio only formats as a way of capturing stories and experiences without the logistics of video production. I have also become interested in audio only formats because a user can consume audio content without losing the interactivity of their phones. Video content is interruptive and eliminates your ability to do anything else with your phone or eyes.

The most interesting audio experiment this year has been #project_everyday, in which I try to create some kind of music, everyday. I have created 170 tracks so far and that's over 9 hours of continuous music.

Here is a selection of some of the audio work I completed this year:

#project_everyday

#project_parents (experimental audio doc)

What went well:
  • '#project_everyday' fundamentally altered how I think about learning new skills. It's pushed me to radically expand my thinking around what can be accomplished in a single day.
  • Embracing simple tools is a really good way to enter any new medium. I started making music with Garageband iOS and then organically progressed to using Logic Pro X.
  • Spending some time on the track in the morning and then completing at night seemed like the optimal approach vs. starting and completing the entire track in the evening.
  • I have created 170 tracks and over 9 hours of continuous music so far.
What did not go so well:
  • On average a track can take me anywhere from 1-6 hours to create. This means depending on what I'm doing during the day, I can be up pretty late working on a track. Especially when I am in the middle of working on other projects, productions, or if I'm busy with personal stuff like a wedding or Christmas dinners.
Into 2018:
  • As long as I'm physically able, I'll continue creating music until I hit everyday 365 and we'll see what happens from there.

Expanding into software (#project_apps)

I have been around the creation of technology (software specifically) my whole life and it has always been something I wanted to create for myself. I decided to give this much more of my attention in 2017.

I started my exploration by creating my own concepts for new applications and then designing and animating interfaces to demonstrate what they would do. I really enjoyed this process and there's obviously so much potential in terms of the types of experiences that can be created and the types of problems that can be solved through this medium.

You can explore this project in full here and I'll continue focusing on this in 2018. These are a few of the concepts I developed this year:

What went well:
  • Expanding into new disciplines, specifically ones that can be explored by myself and a MacBook Pro seems to be one of the most compelling things I can do for my creative process and potential to create impact.
  • Designing and animating an interface is an excellent way to develop my skills and learn if an idea is useful to users.
  • One of my app concepts, 'Desk' came out of a problem I had trying to find simple workspaces while travelling. This concept has generated some interest and now has over 120 email subscribers from all over the world.
What did not go so well:
  • I have not been able to figure out the optimal frequency of output for this project. I casually decided to make it every week or so, but that has not been a perfect approach. I'm not really sure what to do about this yet, but I'll continue experimenting. I'm generally satisfied if a new concept is created or an existing one progresses in some way on a weekly basis.
Into 2018:
  • Form a strong understanding of Swift (Apple's programming language) so that I can turn specific concepts into working applications.
  • Continue to output concepts for new applications at a high frequency.

Consulting

I did not plan on taking any consulting work this year so that I could focus on my own research and experimentation. However, Wattpad presented an opportunity to collaborate on a futuristic product called, Tap. I thought this was really exciting because the project existed at the intersection of filmmaking and software development, so it was directly in line with my current interests.

We worked together to create a compelling interactive horror experience called, 'HIDE'. You can explore this project in full here.

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What went well:
  • Consulting is an excellent way to learn from very talented people working on cool problem sets in a short amount of time. I learned so much working with Tap and it was a project that gave me more confidence about creating my own applications.
  • I like how these kinds of projects are timeboxed. My project with Tap was 8 weeks long and took all of my focus. Upon completion I was able to step back, reflect and return to my own research and experimentation.
  • Writing a debrief of the project was very valuable for my own process and seemed to be interesting to other creators and potential collaborators.
What did not go so well:
  • This project was a success and it's difficult to point to a specific thing that did not go well. However, I think in the future I want to have a deeper capabilities in all aspects of these projects. I would like to not only be able to lead the storytelling but also have the ability to program and design the application as well. I think this may dramatically improve my ability to create value in collaborations with technology companies.
Consulting in 2018:
  • My approach to consulting in 2018 will be similar to 2017. I want to keep my focus on my own research and experimentation, however I'm open to collaborating on a limited set of projects (1-3) when it makes sense.

Moving into 2018

Learning from my work in 2017, I've seperated my focuses into two categories for 2018: Research and Application.

Research:
  1. How does the Earth (humanity) function as an interconnected system?
  2. What are our planet's most imperative problems and why?
Application:
  1. Complete 365 days of #project_everyday
  2. Expand my creative practice into the development of new apps, video games and robotics

If required, I'll update and adjust this focus as the year goes on.


Thank you so much for everything in 2017. Without your support, feedback and perspectives I would have been completely lost.

If you're enjoying my work, you can support my projects through Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/vinvvv

🤞