Finding the line between work and play..

Attributed to Confucius is the quote that ‘if you find a job you love then you will never do another day of work in your life’. .. and that has some truth to it but there is nuance that needs to be considered.

It can be that the grass is always greener but I for one am lucky that I have a job whereby (apart from a certain lack of agency); I get to work on a number of interesting projects, with technology and helping people engineer solutions and solve problems big and small with the satisfaction that brings.

Right now I am thinking about is the reverse – when does play become work and how to handle that?

One of my loves is for sound and music. I’m a rubbish musician (no one will argue with that and though I play the trumpet from time to time it tends to be in the dark of the data centre while I’m waiting for something to happen where the servers are fortunate not to be AI enhanced else they’d be screaming out in pain). .. So having established that I’m not good at making music – I do appreciate the talents of those that can. I don’t do a bad job though of being behind the mixing desk and running all the tech / recording / doing live sound etc.

Over time I’ve invested in and accumulated quite a few bits of sound kit – speakers, amps, microphones, mixing desks, effects units and other audio processors, along with a fair number of lights, stands & umpteen cables to connect everything together.

Overall this is enough to use for:

– A quite respectable Mobile Disco / Live Band Events up to a few hundred people (Light / Laser / Sound)
– Recording a band (24 track hybrid digital studio)
– Podcasts and now with video cameras and mixers also to allow for video recordings and live streaming.

I greatly enjoy the recording, live music events and helping with things – at any given event I’d probably rather be helping to run the event than just participating in it as an audience member.

.. and so from local school discos to small concerts as well as our own company events, it’s great to get the sound & light system out and put to good use & have a good time.

Rock and Roll (it’s not but the phrase gives you a good idea) has an image of glamour and high living but the reality is actually quite different. Setting up a sound & lighting rig needs design (and meetings if a non trivial event) to get to exactly what is called for, preparation (one cable short and you can potentially have no show!) , and physical effort to lug heavy speakers and other kit around to erect & wire correctly with due attention to health and safety, and then operate the event etc..

On the one hand that’s good exercise, but it also has a cost. While typing out the above it has occurred to me that a lot of this comes down to motivation. If there is an artist I’d like to see, or friend I’d like to help, or event I like the idea of and possibilities to meet interesting people then I have a reason to help and it becomes a pleasure to contribute to the success of an event.

Thinking about this in economic terms, we can consider this a transaction in values – ie there is a cost to me in terms of time/opportunity cost, wear and tear, consumables etc. on the one hand, and a benefit in terms of inner glow & satisfaction, fun of operating the kit / recognition for helping etc. Hopefully, there is also an effect whereby value is overall created in helping everyone get more out of an event than the two sides of this equation on the ins & outs.

As a sideways example, I recently attended DorkBot London, which was held at Limehouse Town Hall (an amazing space) and had talks, demonstrations and a chance to catch up a little with some friends [queue thoughts of do any of us have any friends, but that’s a whole different topic I’ll gloss over just now – perhaps I’ll say ‘people I respect and like being around and talking to’ for now). .. but getting back to track – at the event there was a ‘bring your own refreshments’ policy as there is no licence and these are slightly ‘chaotic in a good way’ events in character etc. Thus it occurred to me to take along a contribution of assorted beverages to help stock the fridge (take several times what you might reasonably consume seems to be a good yardstick for contribution). Upon arrival and adding my contribution to others already in the fridge, there did not seem to be anyone actually running/operating the bar so I defacto took on that small role. This was enjoyable and I felt that I was contributing to the event’s success in a small way. Drinks were freely given as were donations towards the running costs of the hall and people gave most generously & the talks were super. The hall incidentally has a very substantial sound system run by someone who loves doing that so has the great benefit of available kit.

OK we didn’t need that many examples but you get the point. The question comes of where the joy runs out and what happens then. For example, being asked to an event which might not be something you’d go to otherwise or when you value your free time (and other things) more highly than running AV at a given event.

So here there needs to be an additional motivation. This might be simple money or some longer term motivation. A large part of the decision making process also revolves around the alignment of the event with values and governance / structure. For example if the event is one that is a festival or charity event where everyone is giving their time and resources freely it is natural to contribute on the same basis for the collective good. If however an event is a ‘for profit’ event then the concept of giving time freely for the financial benefit of others jars somewhat. It also means that the pressure is more commercial to deliver which again takes the fun away a bit.

So while it is hard to say no to things, and while there is pleasure to be had in helping with something – the equation needs to be balanced (and ideally a win win situation that we all aspire to).

Thus I guess the answer is that I’d likely supply a car’s load of equipment to an event / people / music / performance / cause etc. I’m interested in, setup, run / operate this and take it down again for the fun of it, ideally in a non critical situation – ie where lights & sound would add to an event but would not be a bust if they were not delivered and there would not be any hard feelings around that (again if I wanted to do something then I’d do that).

Otherwise – we like to help but things need to be on a bit more of a commercial basis… and in fact they should be so that an event is sustainable and realistic. Something I do somewhat for fun I feel on the one hand bad about charging for, but that’s probably residue from my childhood communist inclinations.

Business school teaches us that if you charge for your time people value it more. That’s something I continue to strugle with and it seems to be a family trait that I know goes back to my grandfather’s hardware business in Ogre (Latvia) where he went bust because he continued to supply people who could not pay for things on the basis that they needed them and he wanted to help but unfortunately it is hard to know where the line is drawn and you end up helping too much and so you have nothing left yourself. I guess it is easy to sell ourselves short in any line of work or life.

Recognising the value of a profession, product or service is an important point to start at. Value is hard to compare but is in overall contribution towards a goal and a little good consultative input can go a long way in helping to align things.

So perhaps with any negotiation, the question is of looking at the bigger picture and seeing how things can be best structured. Ie is something a simple client relationship where services are priced and supplied to a risk taker (event owner)? or could things be aligned so that there is shared risk and reward (ie an entity that might build value over time) where parties can add their contributions towards a positive outcome. This is where we hark back to original thoughts of the udimon organisation – one that challenges some of the givens of the traditional capital / labour / equity triangle to create a more equitable environment for everyone where value is accounted for beyond money. The practicalities of how this might in reality work are ones that are need more working out (understatement of the century) but are approximated in current setups with debt, equity, wages and so forth. Reality is that things are never quite equal but they should aim to be as fair as possible to be true to values and perhaps the effort and intention is as important as the outcomes here.

So with my technical services / equipment input question – there is nothing to stop hire of services and equipment / consultancy at market rates on this front, and that can be a simple working relationship. But then what is the difference between this service and any other hire company? On the one hand very little, but on the other hand a lot in motivation – ie wanting to do things for the right reason towards the best outcome and having a good head towards this. The alternate arrangement might be to form a joint venture on events where costs are accounted for and time and resources are committed with a degree of risk balanced towards benefit of upside in the longer term. If this is mutual risk (ideally limited to value of inputs rather than unlimited exposure, then this might work out well for everyone.

So this has considered something and nothing but has helped to work out thoughts on value propositions which leaves me on the one hand feeling mean but on the other hand progressive and liberated towards possibilities.

PS – Promise to self not to start with ‘So’ as much in paragraphs but as this is all the point of thought I’ll leave it all as is for now because content is what matters.

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