do it yourself: a q&a with david wilson

do it yourself: a q&a with david wilson

I recently had a chance to chat with David Wilson, founder of the True/False Film Festival and our creative director here at Aggregate. We talked about the DC punk rock scene of the 80s, the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture it fostered, and the influence these things have had on the way he works.

 

Melissa Duque
Hi David! Let’s start by talking about what DIY culture is.

David Wilson
DIY culture is an outgrowth of punk rock and came about in the U.S. in the mid 80s. It was a distillation of the spirit of punk—positioning music as just one of many forms of expression that could be “punk” and recentering the movement around an ethos of Do It Yourself energy and enthusiasm. The idea was to value and prioritize individual (or small group) creation and expression, rather than assuming that things (art, culture, objects) had to come from a top-down economy.

MD
This includes selling your own music instead of being part of a record studio and the focus of playing in garages instead of “typical” establishments?

DW
Right. The emphasis was on not only writing the music, but taking control of every aspect—where you played, where you recorded, making your own records. In doing so, one could reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you.

“reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you” 

MD
I love that.  So how has that played out for you? Is that part of everything you do?

DW
I think I steeped in that culture long enough to have it permeate my bones. So yeah, anything I do now, I tend to think of the entire pipeline. And, if I’m passing off parts of a project to others (which happens often—DIY is really all about collaboration), I try to be extra mindful of how all those pieces fit together.

“DIY is really all about collaboration”

MD
How hard has it been to get to a place where you think that way? Do you see it as something anyone can do?

DW
Yeah, there’s nothing exclusive about DIY culture. If anything, it’s the opposite. But, be warned, it’s a very “active” mode of creation. It’s more work, and more things to worry about. But the end result is worth it, I think.

And even when we’re not actually creating things ourselves, we can apply these tenets to lots of aspects of daily life. I may decide that I don’t want to make my own shoes, but I’m going to be more inclined to buy shoes from a company that gives me a clear sense of its manufacturing process and demonstrates a high regard for ethics and the rights of its workers in that process.

MD
What are some iconic examples of DIY culture?

DW
For me, DC punk was my first exposure to this culture. Dischord records started to put out albums by their friends—by the early 90s they were selling hundreds of thousands of albums, while still staying true to that ethos. They were followed by Simple Machines, run by two women who not only got their label off the ground, but wrote a booklet that contained step-by-step instructions for how to start your own. They legitimately inspired hundreds of small labels to get off the ground.

The confluence of DIY culture and small-town culture is really important to me, too. In a small town, there are far fewer opportunities, so if you want something (a skate park, a concert space, a movie theater) you have to create it yourself.

MD
This really helps me understand True/False…

DW
You’re totally right. True/False exists because a group of people—first small, then bigger and bigger—decided that there was no reason there couldn’t be a world class film festival in the middle of Missouri. One of my favorite T/F moments came in the second or third year, when a friend (a writer) typed personal welcome letters to each filmmaker and put them in handmade envelopes. It blew our guests away that we’d devote that much individual attention to them.

MD
Fantastic.  How do you see DIY culture and Aggregate?

DW
Aggregate rose up out of the bloated corpses of big agencies. They’d built an unsustainable model, and it crashed. By being light on our feet and working instead with a dynamic and ever-shifting pool of collaborators, we are able to do world-class work without the excess of a bigger agency.

Also, Aggregate cares, legitimately, about our clients and their missions. And that spirit, that energy—you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something. We’re going to always be working to find the most elegant, efficient solutions to problems. And we’re never going to be afraid to turn away from something that’s not working.

“that spirit, that energy – you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something” 

MD
How do we embrace this culture?

DW
I think it takes a certain confidence to be willing to step outside the usual systems. And once outside, it takes more work. You’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them.

“you’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them” 

Interested in learning more about DIY Culture? Check out these sources!

how to have an impact when volunteering

how to have an impact when volunteering

When I first moved up to Seattle, I was a self-proclaimed “professional volunteer.” I loved finding organizations and helping them. Managing social media accounts, putting stamps on invitations, sorting wigs—I did it all. I like to think that my volunteering made a long-term impact with these organizations but I can’t say that for sure. I know my help was appreciated but likely forgotten once a new crop of volunteers came through the door.

I have less time to volunteer these days, so I’m now focused on making sure my efforts support the organization in a meaningful way. There is nothing wrong with putting stamps on letters or tracking names in a spreadsheet, but you can have a bigger impact when you focus on setting up successful processes that make the organization better in the long-term.

I recently came across an article about Toyota’s work with the Food Bank For New York City. Rather than write a check, Toyota offered to share its knowledge of kaizen with the Food Bank. Kaizen, which I learned about during my days at Boeing, is a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement.” It’s an effort to optimize flow and quality by constantly looking for ways to improve. Toyota’s offer was aimed at helping the nonprofit serve more people, more efficiently by searching for ways to streamline their process.

It worked. The Food Bank was able to speed up services and slash wait times at its soup kitchen and warehouse.

I love that Toyota’s employees shared their professional knowledge—that’s what’s missing for a lot of organizations. Volunteers can have an enormous impact on an organization’s well-being and culture, but volunteers need to be committed to making the best use of their time. They need to understand the goals of the organization and convey their skills to the organization.

If you want to volunteer and make an impact, it’s your responsibility to figure out how you can best help. For example, if you’re a writer, don’t just volunteer to write a couple of posts for the newsletter or website. You could also help create processes to make content development run smoother—like building an editorial calendar or interviewing board members for future stories. A writer could also help develop a content strategy and develop a process to get stakeholders to contribute to the organization’s blog.

Sometimes, we can get stuck on “task list” mode. Instead, we should focus on looking for opportunities to help meet the organization’s long-term objectives and find ways to help the organization think outside the box. Organizations can help foster this environment by being open to new ideas, listening to their volunteers, and helping them feel empowered to act on their ideas. This way, it’s a win-win situation.