It’s time to reinvent the wheel.

I’d love to feel as this statement is entirely about ‘casting off the shackles’ of antiquated technology, however, it’s equally a statement as to the ridiculousness of that adage.

To stay relevant in this world we must constantly reinvent the wheel (by the way, tire companies already do).

Before jumping down the rabbit hole of what I actually mean, lets finish the analogy: The wheel has been reinvented, near constantly since its inception in 3,500 BCE. Sometimes made of wood, sometimes metal, often with a specialty tire for a near infinite number of applications. Train wheels are not like car wheels, which aren’t like bike wheels, which aren’t like shopping cart wheels, and many construction and military vehicles use treads. The wheel is NOT some sacred thing that should never be questioned, and neither is literally ANYTHING else you’re working with, question everything.

Hundreds of times I’ve heard this battle cry of the status quo shouted from rooftops, “lets not reinvent the wheel here.” To which I will always say: “Why not? If it isn’t the right tool for the job… then it isn’t the right tool” Unless you are doing something you know how to do, the tools are set, the efficiencies are in place and you are 100% positive you can’t get better, you need to consider every option as being the problem. All of them.

To illustrate this point I will use two examples.

The First

Amongst our many projects at Glass River Media, one is a daily live news stream on the gaming platform, Twitch.tv. We use our spare warehouse space, the out-of-date gear in our inventory and our lunch breaks to test live streaming and engagement media. This quickly became an enormous amount of work, for which we found many of the tools didn’t exist.

Live streaming looks a lot like television and our show specifically was following the model of your standard news broadcast. However, we had requirements and limitations that are unparalleled to my knowledge by any other news show, ever. We weren’t broadcasting, we were live-streaming which comes with very specific internet requirements. We wanted to have a three camera live-switched show, however we had a grand total of two people available daily to work on the show… the two hosts, of which I was one.

Audio would of course be another problem. This was a warehouse space, not a sound stage. Audio would need a dedicated set of hands to ensure efficiencies, but as previously said, two people, the hosts.

I can only imagine if I had taken this idea and pitched it to any other media guy:

“Let me see if I understand you correctly.” They would say, ” You want to do a daily live show; three camera live switched, dedicated audio capabilities, integrated graphics, playback, AND moderated live chat over the internet, and the ONLY people you have are the two hosts that will be on camera?”

“Yes,” I would have said proudly… which is where I’m sure the conversation would have ended.

You see, the problem is, all of these problems have established solutions. You want a camera, you need a cameraman. Want audio mixing, you need an audio mixer. Live-switching you need an engineer, and graphics/playback you need a graphics producer. The show I was describing in the methodology of the past (to current) was an eight person job. The tools required to do it were in the 10s of thousands of dollars. I had two people and a budget of zero dollars.  We needed to reinvent the wheel.

Nothing is sacred. There is no absolute truth or solution that can’t be approached or questioned. By some creative rewiring and building of the systems we had in place, we were able to build a method by which the sound, playback, and camera switcher were underneath or on the news desk itself, so we the hosts handled all the jobs ourselves.

Along the way another member of the team was always there to tell us how we’d reached the limit and how we’d need X tool or Y tool and how it would cost too much or wasn’t available. We have yet to find a capability we don’t have. As a matter of fact our only limitation has continued to be not enough time to get it all done. The technology, largely cobbled together, has yet to be an actual problem. We haven’t let it be.

It was during this time I developed another one of my catch phrases:

“We Don’t have the money” is the rally cry of the uninspired, to enable the unmotivated, to accept the unremarkable.

You do have the money. Money isn’t the problem. If you can’t afford the tires, it’s time to reinvent the wheel.

The Second

One of the biggest contributing drivers to the success of our show, which can be found at http://www.twitch.tv/kirkandkory, was a philosophy we came across very early in the process. It was developed by video game pioneer and innovator Gunpei Yokoi and is translated as “lateral thinking of withered technology.”

This will possibly sound like a direct contrast to my first point, but in true spirit it isn’t. Lateral thinking of withered technology is the idea that instead of using the best, brightest, future solution, you can draw development and innovation ideas from technology that is on-hand, tested, and understood. This makes them cheaper, easier to obtain, easier to fix, and easier to build an infrastructure around.

Most of the Twitch streamers attempting at something like what we are doing, spend between $5k-$15K per camera, ours were $500. They have to get a friend or hire someone to man them, we have them in a set position. We were told we’d need an engineer to switch, we wired a computer keypad from office max to be our switcher, assigning cameras to numbers and the enter key to switch.

Having limited space we didn’t want to share with the large footprint of three camera tripods, we built posts out of wood bases and plumbing pipe so each camera takes up only 16″.

Using a long HDMI cord our computers sit on the desk and we are are our graphics and playback… problem solved.

Lateral thinking of withered technology hand-in-hand with reinventing the wheel lead us to be able to do things that we were told by multiple multi-decade video producers wasn’t possible. We were told repeatedly that what we were trying to do wasn’t possible and if it was, it would be expensive, prohibitive to keep crewed, and take up a lot of space.

None of these has proven to be true.

Reinvent the wheel. Use every resource you have. You don’t always need the best new tech, often the answer is in yesterday’s playbook, just never accept yesterdays answer for tomorrows question.

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