We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Karen Lustgarten a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Karen, appreciate you joining us today. Can you open up about a risk you’ve taken – what it was like taking that risk, why you took the risk and how it turned out?
I am a risk taker in business. It seems to be in my nature. When I see a need that’s not being filled in my area of expertise (media), I like to create a pathway–a business–to fill it. I have created a few pathways to meeting business needs over the years.
In San Francisco, it was starting classes in dance and exercise with a new twist that hadn’t been done before. That led to writing books on the subject (one on the NY Times Best Seller list), to a TV show (Emmy nomination), to a syndicated newspaper column and more.
In Washington, DC, I saw a need for a newspaper chronicling the charity-society segment that received little to no coverage for their dedication, caring and sharing. So I quit my job as a magazine writer and started publishing/editing the journalism concept that later attracted an advisory board of larger businesses.
Now in Florida, I saw a need for storytelling videos—short movies that showcase the great work that goes unrecognized, such as construction projects. I believe every construction project has a story to tell but most don’t tell it or know how to in video. So that’s one of our niches at Multi-Media Works. And there are many other companies and nonprofit organization that don’t know how to tell their wonderful stories to the public. We love to highlight them in short movies that get viewers excited about what they do.
Overall, risk-taking for me comes down to recognizing a need and having the confidence to fill it.
Karen, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Everyone has stories. I’ve listened to them since childhood when adults, strangers, other kids would confide a personal “never told this to anyone before” story, seeking advice from a good listener, even a 10-year-old kid. I listened non-judgmentally and intently to understand and imagine what would I do in their predicament. Then I asked a few questions and gave a few words of advice based on the answers. An unwitting budding therapist, by 11-years-old I decided to be a child psychologist.
Later I’d write essays about living in the midst of major social changes–my own stories written from the front lines (a forthcoming book). Journalism allowed me to write about other people’s interesting stories. The goal was always to get to the essence; what is this story really about?
I have worked in a few different fields—social work and probation work writing reports to the courts about defendants’ stories; in public relations writing press releases for business stories; establishing a niche newspaper in Washington, DC; editor of a Hollywood monthly uncovering fascinating stories about women working in film and television; a Hollywood columnist scooping out stories behind the scenes; lifestyle editor of a Florida newspaper discovering business owners with great origin stories. A communications eclectic and an adventure junkie, I would go anywhere for a good story and photography.
While working in Hollywood, I joined a screenwriting group where we analyzed scripts of films about to be released. We delved into the elements of great storytelling with professional “script doctors” (only in Hollywood). It was inevitable that storytelling in print media would morph into TV and video.
Before starting Multi-Media Works in Florida, I worked for a PR agency telling client stories in press releases, then for a video production company as writer/producer/co-editor telling stories in mini-documentaries in six continents.
Multi-Media Works is the culmination and combination of my photo and storytelling experiences– branding and showcasing the essence of a business, nonprofit or government entity with compelling storytelling in print and in mini-movies. We have won Palm, Bernays and Telly Awards for our video work. I love spotlighting what makes our clients remarkable, their products, services, origins and entities.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can provide some insight – you never know who might benefit from the enlightenment.
I believe everyone has a creative streak for something. Creativity begins by keeping an open mind about what you do in your work or hobby and make observations that get you thinking about how you would express something in a different or better way—your unique way. Then research and practice doing it until it becomes natural and enjoyable. For example, I found my “voice” in writing by reading, writing and polishing my work daily.
My antennae have to be up to envision a need or a new way of doing something. That means being alert, observant and aware about my surroundings and field of work. Then the creative juices flow. The great dancer Martha Graham was one of my creative heroines. On my desk, I keep her eloquent quote about creativity and her encouragement to embrace it without judgement:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.
“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even need to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.” –Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille
What do you think is the goal or mission that drives your creative journey?
The mission of Multi-Media Works is to discover, brand and promote remarkable you (Yes you are!). We love spotlighting your remarkable projects, products or services in the media; and you can bet that even if you don’t think you have remarkable parts, we find them!
We get to the essence of what you do best then feature it with a brand story in print, video, photography or all three. We have spoken to so many business people where we stop them in mid-conversation and let them know that what they are relating would make a great story and why. “I never thought of that,” is the common reply. But my ears and focus are tuned into what would make a good story to tell in the media and that’s what drives my creative journey.