Who: Dan Blythe
What: Creative Director of Media Collective London & Pastor at Hillsong Church London
Field: Film, Fashion, Design & Ministry
Follow: @mediacollectivelondon | @danblythe8
How to create a collective community around art, fashion, film, TV and design
Media Collective London is a community of creatives within Hillsong London across fields such as photography, graphic design, film, fashion and web and app development
Introduce yourself and tell us about your involvement with Media Collective London?
I met a few people through church working with Burberry or on adidas campaigns and their creative worlds were just so busy it was difficult trying to get them signed up to a team at church. So instead of getting people to do stuff for us it was more about how we can create a community where it’s about them. To challenge, inspire and equip them.
MCL wasn’t set up to see how people can contribute their gifts and talents to the church (although that has happened) but it was set up to initially empower them to go back into their sphere of influence and create more incredible stuff.
Where are you from?
I grew up in West Sussex, near Brighton.
Did you go to university, if so what did you study?
Growing up no one ever spoke to me about creativity or dreams. Some of the language we hear today was just never around. My parents just told me to do whatever and I followed the crowd. I was never a leader growing up. Every moment was about having fun, school was fun. I ended up going into Sports marketing and was going to go to university but ended up going backpacking around Australia and that’s where I met some incredible people. My life got turned around and everything shifted from then.
Were you a good student?
No one ever told me about the progression of school, college, university, getting a job and then money. So, because I didn’t understand the whole progression I was just having fun and getting terrible grades.
How long has it been since you’ve started the collective?
Just over a year ago. Our church has always been creating what we’d call content of high excellence. Stuff which we believe is the best we can put out.
About a year ago was when I stepped into lead the creative community. I noticed there were a lot of introverted artists but no one really bringing them together. There’s so much talent, it’s like a vase of water with sand at the bottom and when you shake it up all these rocks come to the surface. That’s what it’s been like, it’s been shaken up by church and we’ve found all these hidden talents. If I was to strap line it now, I’d say MCL is ‘finding the hidden talent in you’.
The most popular conception of creativity is that it’s something to do with the arts, but I think creativity is imagination and imagination is for everyone. How would you define creativity?
From a biblical point of view, God created us and he doesn’t have any limit to his imagination. He created us in his image. So, when we start to create I believe that we reflect the characteristics of God who is our creator. It’s in every single person to be able to create, whether you’re an accountant, single parent, teacher or an artist.
“I know some people are artier than others, but every single person is creative and has levels of creativity that they can unlock. It’s almost like going back to when you were a child and when imagination was so easy.
How do you go back to that place where we can dream without barriers and limits?”
What kind of events do you put on?
We put on Culture Club nights which are all about coming together and hearing about the culture of our community. This is ‘no idea is so precious that you can’t share it’.
Collaboration enables you to go to the next level of creativity. You could probably meet someone having a drink by the bar and get just as much wisdom as you would from listening to the speaker on the night because you have people working for the BBC and film makers etc. It’s like a hive of talent.
We also do workshops, which upskill people. Say you want to go into graphic design and you don’t know how to use photoshop. It’s never too late to learn. Then we also do socials. London’s one of the loneliest places in the world and it’s easy to assume that because of social media everyone’s got this banging social life, but it’s kinda fake. We just make sure we’re having fun and creating a community and a place for those that want to hang out.
You’ve had a lot of key guest speakers come and speak at these events. Can you give some examples of who you’ve had?
We had a good friend of ours called Marcel, who has his own clothing line called X London. Katy Hill who used to be a blue peter presenter. Dave Burt who started @LONDON on Instagram, he now has over 2 million followers and he just travels the world living his life. We’ve also had many artists and fashion designers who come in to talk about the pressure and positives they face in the industry.
When and where can people come to these events?
We normally do them at the beginning of each month, over the summer we do more parties and socials than the official Culture Club nights. They can head to hillsong.co.uk/MCL or follow us on Instagram at @mediacollectivelondon.
When you first started out, how did you market MCL?
The first thing I did was chat to a few London artists and fashion photographers. I practically wanted to engage with the fashion world. So you have the innovators, the trend setters, the trend followers and the main streamers and let’s just say that the innovators are the very niche imaginations that come up with the crazy things.
I came into contact with a lot of mainstreamers and not so many trendsetters, the ones who will wear stuff before it comes into fashion. I hang out with those people who are going against the grain and challenge mindsets and really don’t want to fit into the status quo. And from there we built a bit of identity.
How big is the team at MCL?
We’ve got 10 full time staff members, but the MCL community is anywhere between 50-100 in terms of collaborators. It’s more like a collective and different people get involved with various campaigns depending on their capacity at the time. We might have people come to every Culture Club and hang out but don’t contribute to anything and that’s fine with us. It’s not about what we can get out of you but it’s about just having a place where everyone is inspired.
When looking to take on someone to join your team, what are the key characteristics that would make an individual become a good return on investment?
Definitely teachability. They say the best creators are the ones like sponges, they just absorb everywhere they go! They’re learners.
Even Kanye West who’s recently said he wants to do 52 albums in 52 weeks and every album has 7 tracks. So that’s a track a day. But he collaborates with so many different people and he says if that person can make the song better then let’s collaborate. Some people say he’s arrogant but I think he’s showing huge humility because he’s saying if I can work with you and make it better then I’m in.
“The trick is to never become an expert, never become a professional and always be a beginner. Beginners have an edge because they’re always like how can I learn? After university we’re so eager to learn and then we become professionals and stop learning and that’s when we cap ourselves”
What’s the big dream for Hillsong MCL? The 5-year plan?
I’d love to do a film festival and clothing line. We do make clothes and sell it in church but I’d love to have a proper label where people don’t even see it as a church thing because of the quality and standard.
I’d also love to do a short film, we’re doing a few TV shows right now but I’d love to be able to do a show that ends up on MTV. 5 years is a long time and you can achieve a lot in 5 years.
You’re also one of the lead platform pastors at Hillsong London Church here in Tottenham Court Road. Tell us a bit more about what you do here and why anyone would want to come to Hillsong?
Hillsong is one of the fastest growing churches in the UK. Our doormat says ‘welcome home’ and this is because we believe that no matter who you are, where you’ve grown up, what your background is, what you’re behaviour is like now, you can come to our church, we’re going to welcome you and we’re not going to judge you.
I think that’s important because these days in church mentality, it’s very judgmental, but it’s quite the opposite of how we see church. It’s quite accepting. I think people should come and check it out because it’s different and you’ll probably get an experience that you’ve never had before when it comes to church.
How would you break down the misconceptions that a lot of young people have today about being a Christian?
I think these days our generation are the leaders of misconception. We don’t even get real news we get fake news and we take word of mouth as solid. Truth is, we’re so opinionated that we say a lot without even knowing the truth.
When you get to the foundation of Christianity and if anyone actually met Jesus Christ you’d be attracted to him. He was loving, gracious, encouraging and he was always lifting people up instead of tearing them down and if you ever meet someone like that in the world, you don’t run away from those people but you run towards them. Jesus himself was an attractive guy in terms of how he lived his life and I believe the church should be the same because we’ve got the same values in Christ. But for some reason no one is perfect so somewhere we’ve taken the teachings of Jesus and warped it over the years to make it like you have to be a certain way or do a certain thing.
So, I think it’s refreshing that we’re in a generation where people don’t really care about church but they are saying God is real and I want to experience him and I’d love to know him. We’re not a Christian nation, we love that and we’re open to experience.
Where do you find the time to work for the church full time and do MCL?
I go pretty hard because I love what I do. I saw the quote ‘everyone has the same number of hours as Beyoncé has’’ and it’s so true. I don’t sleep in or snooze, I’m very disciplined. I’m at the gym every morning at 7am and I’ve just disciplined my life which means I get to do everything I want to do and then I get to do the fun stuff.
Normally what happens when we’re not disciplined is that we don’t do what we have to do and then we miss out on what we want to do. My creativity and fun stuff comes out of what I want to do. I go through my mundane checklist and try to strategise my week.
Sometimes we think creators don’t have routine, but every person has rhythm and I always look to put more structure in my routine so I can make sure I have enough time and energy for my family and relationships.
It takes a certain level of focus, resilience and character in each individual to want to make their mark on the world. What do you think taught you to be this way and what childhood influences have contributed to this?
So much of what we do is seasonal and forgotten. Even some of the most incredible artists like Michael Angelo, who painted the 16th chapel. He had so many gifted artists working with him on that project, but now we don’t even know them we only know Michael Angelo. It just gets you thinking about what is success and why do we do stuff? I always think knowing the why you do stuff is more important than the what you do.
Simon Sinek has a book called ‘What’s your Why’ and I think if you know your why then your perception of success is in a healthy place. If success is about the amount of money, fame, followers, recognition from peers there’s no end game for that, it’s continuous and no matter how high you get, at some point everything that you’re striving comes to an end. I believe if you can just find content-ness, satisfaction and enjoyment with what you do and have right now, that is everything.
As a teenager David Beckham was a huge influence on me but I think the biggest influencer has been my pastor Gary Clarke. He says it’s not about building your name but it’s about investing into people around you and that’s the legacy. How you can enable others to run faster and further than you ever can do. If you’re running a relay and you’re going to hand over the baton, the person needs to be running in your lane at the same pace as you. But if you’re never training a number two or the next generation, the baton is just going to fall on the floor.
For me, its’ not about how do I leave a legacy for Dan Blythe, but how do I invest in a generation of young people that’ll forget my name. We need to empower the next generation of creators.
Out of all the success you’ve ever achieved what do you value the most?
Having my son. He’s 3 months old and we do everything for him. This little person takes so much from us but yet brings us so much joy. With Knox I can picture what our lives can look like when we live to serve others and you don’t do it for what you can get out of people but you just love and serve and you’ll watch how you actually get joy and fulfilment out of that.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?
This younger generation has and lives in a massive fear of failure and because we don’t talk about this we hide in our failures. But this is the thing that allows us to grow. I heard a quote which said ‘failure is a lesson with emotion attached to it’ and so they’re not meant to define us but teach us. Another quote is ‘failure is not meant to be like a tattoo but it’s meant to be like a bruise’.
Even Kernel Sanders from KFC went to over 500 banks to ask for a loan so he could make the brand that it is today. He had to go through failure after failure so that he could give us all good fried chicken. Think about a baby in the womb, it takes 9 months and sometimes we give up on our dreams and hopes way quicker than 9 months. If it takes 9 months to have a full baby at least give your dreams and ambition a bit longer than 9 months. When failure comes, look at why it came and learn from that.
“In the creative world, if you’re not having any failures it tells me that you’re not getting any decent feedback. They say feedback is the breakfast of champions. We should be failing, because if you’re not failing, we’re not taking risks and this is because your fear is stepping in the way. So, if you’re not failing you’re not stepping out of your comfort zone” - Dan
My biggest failure was to do with public speaking. I usually speak in front of thousands of people but there was this one moment six years ago where I got up on stage in front of two and half thousand people and had a mind blank. It caused me so much fear, but if I never had that moment I wouldn’t be the communicator that I am today. That hard moment caused me to press into who I’m about and the why I’m doing what I do. Because if it was about me, I would just never speak. But because I know what I’m sharing is actually going to help people that’s what allows me to overcome my fear. Love will always win over fear if it’s genuine.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Definitely the people that surround me and investing in others the way that I’ve been invested into. I find it quite easy to involve, equip, lead people and set them up to win and the reason why I find that easy to do now is because over the last decade people have been investing into me and helping me grow into my creativity, innovation and risk taking. My greatest investment is never in a product or programme it’s always in people and so if you can always invest in the people around you, you’ll have created a bond with that person that can never be taken away. You’ve helped them in such a way that is worth more than money.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realisations have helped?
Most people say no to meeting new people, where they’ve got so big that they haven’t got time to meet people. If someone wants to meet with me because they feel like I can inspire them or mentor them I will always say yes because that’s where the gold is. But what I do say no to is the stuff which maybe is fun for me but I don’t need in my life, so the selfish stuff so I can say yes to helping the people around me.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I remove myself from the situation, because I know when emotion is added into the mix it’s hard to make calculated decisions. I’ll take some time or reschedule the meeting and use wisdom and the time. I try not to make heated decisions or do things that I’m going to later regret.
What does the definition of success mean to you?
Success is living your life in a way in which I can live by excellence, in the way that I can give the glory to God. It’s a bit of a Christian answer. I don’t think success is the way the world deems it, the world says it’s about being comfortable, buying a house, getting the wife and the kids and going on the holidays and the end.
Because if I gave you 100 million pounds right now and asked you what you want to do? You might say I want to do my business but then what? Buy an island. Then what? At the end once you’ve exhausted all the options you say I want to make the world a better place. For me success is just about starting where you’d finish if you had all the resources.
How can you make the world a better place? Give your heart to that.
If you had to gift one book to someone what would it be and why?
Obviously, I’d have to say the bible but I’ve recently been inspired by a book called “Creativity Inc’ by Ed Catmull. He’s the CEO of Pixar and he talks about the way he’s navigated creativity and caused innovation.
If you could have a gigantic billboard, metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to billions - what would it say and why?
Reckless abandon. This is a tattoo I have at the back of my neck and it means to go all in without caring about the consequences. It means to just do it and work out everything after.
Fear will stop you from taking a step out and stop you from going or rising to the challenge. It’s about living life without fear. Fear has held back humanity for so long and capped us. If we all imagine what our lives would be like without fear and think about what that would look like. That’s the life that we can live.
9 JULY, 2018