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22. Why low-level skills are invaluable

As someone who creates and organises events for a living, I am used to being an octopus. Not that I’m naturally slimy or lurk in dark places — no, I just end up having a lot of different sort of tasks on my plate. Because to get even a small-scale larp event off the ground, the following skills come into play:

  • Research (a larp set in 1493, you say? Gotta read up on that!)
  • Game design (which in itself involves a whole sub-set of skills)
  • Writing (neither characters nor web page texts appear out of thin air)
  • Web design (buying www.coolestlarpever.com isn’t enough)
  • Layout (got a flyer, poster, book, etc? Word doesn’t cut it)
  • Social media (unless you promote somewhere else, of course)
  • Project management (if you’re not the only organiser, naturally)
  • Budgetting (something a surprising number of people dislike)
  • Location scouting (including talking with owners, and so on)
  • Prop building (not mandatory, but often useful)
  • Food (buying it, making it, serving it, cleaning after it)
  • Driving (since most larps aren’t held at your home)
  • Costume making (again, you don’t have to. But it’s cool)
  • Set design (those props have to go somewhere, right?)
  • Public speaking (doing briefings can be downright scary)
  • Carrying stuff (sometimes it’s a LOT of stuff)
  • Volunteer management (since few projects are 100% professional)
  • Photography (for those nifty-looking pictures)
  • Videography (for both trailers and documentation movies)
  • Money management (which is NOT the same as budgetting)
  • Accounting (which isn’t, either)

The reason the list isn’t longer isn’t because there aren’t more things on it. It’s simply because I got bored, and feel that I’ve proven my point that there’s a lot of stuff that goes into producing larps. Even more if you create them yourself, and aren’t running larps made before by others. And that can be challenging enough, mind you!

That someone doesn’t have to be you. But it can be an enormous pain-in-the-behind if you get to a point where you’re stuck because you’re lacking someone who can edit/write/film/talk, etc. That’s why I’ve found it a huge advantage to have a crazy number of skills at a low level. I also have some at high levels, but most of all there are very few things I can’t do.

I can’t drive a car, which sometimes stops me from doing things.

But I can create a web site, film and edit a movie, write a text and sew a costume, to just name a few things. And that means that I’m seldom stuck. This is not to say that I’m an especially good web designer, prop maker or project manager. However, it does mean that I can get things done.

This has been invaluable for me as a creative professional, since the difference between zero experience and a little experience is huge. Someone who’s never picked up a camera before is usually not interested in doing so for the first time at a larp. If a person has zero web design experience, there’s a very low likelihood that they’ll say “Web site? Sure! I’ve got it!”.

And without someone to do a thing, it often grinds to a halt.

In big organisations, you might be lucky enough that people are specialised and if you’re even luckier, you’ll get to do only the things you’re good at. For most larp projects, however, there’s a good chance you won’t have experts for every task, and some (if not all) of you will need to work with double, triple or multi-druple areas of responsibility. Having a photographer who’s also in charge of accounting, or a cook who also does check-in is not uncommon when it comes to larps.

This is — surprisingly — the easy part. There are tons of people out there who want to teach, and there’s a whole internet full of guides, how-tos and collections of tips and tricks for the rookie. Whether it’s text writing (which most of us have done quite a lot during school, so we’re not exactly newbies, to be fair), cooking for 50+ people or organising storage space, there are lots of places to learn. And if asked, many people will gladly help you out.

Of course, it’s daunting learning new skills. Many people avoid learning stuff like they’d avoid the plague. Ok, maybe they’d avoid the actual bubonic kill-50-million-people black plague more, but still! Asking someone who’s just bitched and moaned about not having a decent web designer in their organisation, whether they want to learn how to do basic web design, is usually met by horrified stares and a bunch of excuses.

When I tell people who are interested in layout that I can teach them most of what I know (except the routine) in an hour, they usually just smile and excuse themselves and mutter something about how they’d like to learn, but just-not-right-now-teacup-pig. The same goes for movie editing, web design and budgetting. There are more people who will explain how it’s not for them than who will set aside one hour to learn the basics.

I’m no saint, myself. There are plenty of things I try my best not to learn anything about, even though it’s probably not that hard when it comes down to it. But it’s so delightful to say “I can’t do that. Someone else has to.” It’s also problematic when you’re doing projects, because you again and again end up in situations where that someone else isn’t available. Or is too expensive. Or brings in other problems. And then it’s pretty nice to have those low-level skills.

Oh, and don’t get me started on why it’ll help you in a “normal” job. Because no matter where you work, there’ll almost always be a need for someone who can do something they’re not trained (and paid) for. And being that someone is a sure way to contribute in a big way. Whether you’re an electrician in a small company where someone needs to update the web page, a barrista in a coffeehouse that needs new flyers or a university lecturer who needs to do budgetting for a project — you’ll be better off.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the main reason I’m a moderately succesful larp designer is because I have many skills at a low level, but I’ll definitely say that it’s one of the reasons. And that’s why I recently got hold of a camera for one of our projects. Because while I have some small skill at film editing, I’m pretty bad at actually shooting them with equipment that’s more complicated than an iPhone.

And that won’t do!

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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