Cinegasm: Creative Expression Emerges Only Through Collaboration – Lessons from a Skateboarding Millennial

I had the opportunity on Saturday to attend something very few adults ever get to experience – a “Skate Premiere”.  What IS that, you ask?  Think of a Hollywood film premiere. The night is filled with excitement and anticipation, the stars are in the house, the producer says a few words about his work,  the lights dim, and the movie is shown publicly for the first time.   Now, replace Hollywood with Kennesaw, Grumman’s Chinese Theatre with the Ambush Board Company skateshop, the glitterati with kids from the back of the school bus, and add a 15 minute smoke break.  There you have it!
I was there because my 21-year old son was premiering his new video, Cinegasm, to a rapt houseful of skateboarders.  This is his 3rd video, so I’ve become kind of familiar with the way these things work.   Each of the productions has become more elaborate and professional.  Think 37 minutes of Mountain Dew commercial-ish footage, with scenes of people skating in parts of downtown Atlanta and NYC into which you’d not venture wearing a clean polo shirt.  Afterwards, attendees can buy copies of the DVDs, T-shirts, and stickers as souvenirs.
(Without a hint of parental bias, I’m sure…) I was darn impressed.  I asked Grayson afterwards about how he’d made it all happen.   What struck me was the extent to which the creative vision of a single person came to life ONLY because of effective collaboration with others.    Perhaps there’s a lesson there for all of us.   You may consider yourself the smartest/best/most creative programmer/speaker/writer/teacher, but your impact will be greatly limited if you aren’t able to collaborate effectively with others.
Be open to incorporating the ideas of others into your vision.
While skateboarding is about what one person can do with one board, once you advance beyond the “I can’t believe I made it down the driveway without falling off” stage, it’s actually a highly social activity. Skateboarders  travel in packs that discover new places and encourage each other to do new things (while somebody stands watch for the ‘evil’ Security Guard to come and chase them off).  Grayson tells me he never knows when, who, or where someone will do something extra special, so he films all the time, always open to capturing a magical moment that can later be incorporated into a video.
He’s also a voracious consumer of other videographers, at YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and sites like, seeking inspiration from what others have done.
Let others take you outside your comfort zone.
There are a number of very well known “skate spots” in Atlanta, e.g. outside the AT+T Building (hint: lots of concrete is a good thing),  For this video, Grayson and his friends intentionally drove around with no particular destination in mind, but with a lens for places that would be good to skate, but which were as yet ‘undiscovered’.   Footage from these new places really captured the audience’s attention, because they’d not seen anything similar before.
Cultivate a Relationship Pipeline with others in your same space.
Rest assured, Grayson never has (nor probably ever will) think in these terms, but he’s surely putting it into practice.  The Relationship Pipeline is a concept from Action Plan Marketing, whereby you move people through a pipeline of:
  • Affiliation
  • Familiarity
  • Information
  • Experience
In practical terms, this means you just can’t ask people you just met for favors and expect anything in return.
Grayson got the T-shirts printed off the account of a friend who knows that business. I asked Grayson how he’d asked the guy to help; he said that they “know each other well, and he knew I could use the information”.   The premiere was held at Ambush because Grayson began as a customer years ago, and now his work is broadly known.   His merchandise is carried for sale there and at Ruin in Sandy Springs because they also know Grayson.
Focus on what you do best, and outsource the rest.
While Grayson envisioned and created the video content, he outsourced production of the DVDs, the stickers, T-Shirts, and the online store.   These are absolutely essential parts of the whole process, but aren’t parts of the process that interest Grayson, so he lets others do them.
Be transparent – let others enjoy the journey as well.  
Throughout the movie, people loudly oohed and ahed, screamed, and gasped almost in unison – it felt almost like a hymn sing at a camp revival meeting.   Grayson’s answer for why people get so fired up: “People want something to support.”  His website, Facebook page, and videos essentially provide the hard core skateboarders of Atlanta something of their own to rally behind and connect with.  They see the genuine Grayson for who he is, and are invited to connect.
Watch and learn from your local Millennial; Collaboration is second nature to these digital natives.
Grayson was able to successfully complete what is essentially a very complex creative project without sending an Email, having a meeting, using a PMI certified project manager, writing a business plan, having a mission statement, or even attending a college class.  How?  I’d assert it is because he’s a master of collaboration.  Perhaps it’s as simple as our being conditioned through the tools we grew up with to consume information.   I grew up on books, newspapers, and TV, so am comfortable consuming information passively and individually; I have to often remind myself to think about how best to engage others in my work.   Meanwhile, Grayson grew up in the age of Facebook/Instagram.  It is absolutely second nature to him to consider all his activities as ‘collective’ activities.  He has access to an almost infinite number of online sources; he depends on others to filter and curate the information he should act upon.
There’s no doubt that Grayson’s creative talents made Cinegasm a possibility; but it only became real because of his almost effortless use of effective collaboration.
What creative endeavors are you (unwisely and unnecessarily) doing alone?   Find and partner with a Millennial to show you how you COULD be working.  
The new spirit of openness and collaboration innate in millennials and often practiced on social media makes many of us a bit uncomfortable.  However, the case for the benefits is pretty compelling.   From an Economist debate on whether society benefits when we share information online:
We are sharing for good reason—not because we are insane, exhibitionistic, or drunk. We are sharing because, at last, we can, and we find benefit in it. Sharing is a social and generous act: it connects us, it establishes and improves relationships, it builds trust, it disarms strangers and stigmas, it fosters the wisdom of the crowd, it enables collaboration, and it empowers us to find, form and act as publics of our own making.
I’ve come to appreciate how fortunate I have to have two ‘experts’ (Grayson and his sister) close to me to consult on how to navigate this new world.   Wishing the same for you!