The Playground of the Designer: Working in the Space Between Logic and Magic

ChurchWorld leaders need to think like designers.

Before you rule that out by saying you’re not creative, consider the following thoughts, adapted from The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier.

The easiest way to understand the design process is to see how it differs from the traditional organizational processes you are used to. Most decision-making processes used in churches today were derived from the business world. Those processes came from the early management theory developed as the Industrial Age hit its stride. Those processes emphasized two main activities: knowing and doing. Leaders and organizations would analyze a problem, look to a standard box of options – actions that had been proven to work in the past – and then execute the solution. The traditional church organization is all head and legs. 


The designful organization inserts a third activity: making.

Leaders still need to analyze the problem (knowing), but they then “make” a new set of options, and then execute that solution (doing). By inserting making between knowing and doing, leaders can bring an entirely different way of working to the problem. The head and legs are improved by adding a pair of hands.


In reality, designers don’t actually “solve” problems. They work through them. They use non-logical processes that are difficult to express in words but easier to express in action. They use models, mockups, sketches, and stories as their vocabulary. They experiment and try new things. If they fail, that’s no problem – they’ve just discovered a way that won’t work.

Leader/Designers operate in the space between knowing and doing, prototyping new solutions that arise from four strengths of empathy, intuition, imagination, and idealism (more about this in a future post).

In the meantime, if you are a leader, you should be a designer. But don’t think you are creating a masterpiece right out of the gate. Designing, innovating, making – whatever you call it, it’s a messy, chaotic process.

One that you can’t afford to ignore.

When the great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete, and confusing form. For any speculation that does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.     – physicist Freeman Dyson

An organization that automatically jumps from knowing to doing will find that innovation is unavailable to it.

To be innovative, an organization needs not only the head and legs of knowing and doing, but also the intuitive hands of making.

How are you putting hands to work in your church?

inspired by and adapted from The Designful Company, by Marty Neumeier

The Designful Company

Simon Says, Be a Designer

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing conditions into preferred ones.     – Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate

If we take Simon’s description but simplify the language and tone, we end up with a new definition powerful enough to recast the way organizations think:

Design is change.

According to Simon, anyone who tries to improve a situation is a designer. You don’t need a Master of Fine Arts degree and 9 years of experience at a design studio to engage in designing.

You just need to find a situation worth improving and then work through the creative process.

And of course, ChurchWorld leaders don’t have any of those situations, do they?

Marty Neumeier, writing in The Designful Company, reminds us that leaders are designers, too, since leading is the act of moving people from an existing situation to an improved one.

According to Neumeier, while everyone uses design thinking in some situations, certain people are particularly suited to it. They tend to be:

  • Empathetic – able to understand the motivations of individuals and form strong emotional bonds
  • Intuitive – a shortcut for understanding situations. While the logical mind works through sequential steps, the intuitive mind is good for seeing the whole picture
  • Imaginative – new ideas come from divergent thinking, not convergent thinking
  • Idealistic – creative personalities are notorious for focusing on what’s wrong, what’s missing, or what they believe needs to change.

Designful leaders are energized by the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with constant change. Designful leaders don’t accept the hand-me-down notion that cost cutting and innovation are mutually exclusive, or that short-term and long-term goals are irreconcilable. They reject the tyranny of “or” in favor of the genius of “and.”

When you look in your leadership mirror, do you see a designful leader?


inspired by and adapted from The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier

The Designful Company


The Amazing Power of a Brand: How the Yellow Border Transports Us Through Time

There are times when pictures are worth more than a thousand words…

My wife travels to Baltimore, MD at least once a month on business. Because I work for a virtual company (Auxano) with no “office,” my primary role of Vision Room Curator requires only an Internet connection to “set up shop.” Occasionally, I accompany her and we spend the evening or weekends visiting in the area. Recently we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare before leaving Washington DC to return home. I made a list of places to visit, and we agreed on the National Geographic Museum. Located in the heart of the city just a few blocks from the White House, the Museum had a surprise in store for me:

A literal wall of all the National Geographic magazine covers since the magazine’s launch in 1888.


A story I wrote a few years ago, and updated later, immediately came to mind:

The image below,  from the December 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, once again stirred memories.

Giant sequoia

The following is an updated repost from 2009:

NGM Oct 2009

Images are often powerful reminders of our past. One of my boyhood memories is that of eagerly anticipating the monthly delivery of “National Geographic” magazine.

The familiar yellow border outlining an amazing photo was my ticket for travel around the country and the world. It’s a pleasure I enjoy to this day, as my mother continues give the magazine as a gift each year. Until recently, I kept them all – now going on 36 years, plus dozens of other pre-1979 issues I have picked up at occasional yard sales (but that’s another story!).

The October 2009 issue has a striking image of a redwood tree on it. As soon as I saw the magazine in its shrink-wrapped shipping bag, I was transported back to first grade show and tell: my crude drawing of a redwood tree, taken from a July 1964 NG story.

I filed that thought away, and not long afterwards, had the occasion to visit my boyhood home in Tennessee. I asked my dadNGM July 1964 (who was still living at the time) about that magazine, and sure enough, he had kept the magazines too! I pulled the issue off the shelf and thumbed through it, gazing again at living giants thousands of years old, comparing them to the same family of trees 45 years later. While I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, there was still something tugging at my thoughts.

When I returned home, I searched my library and found the answer: Growing Spiritual Redwoods by William Easum and Thomas Bandy. Published in 1997, it was a striking call for church leaders to understand the new paradigm the church was entering. They likened the healthy church to a redwood tree. I remember reading the text when it first came out, and my copy bore highlighted sections, Post-It© Notes, and scribbles throughout.

Using the metaphor of the redwood tree, the authors described the growing and healthy church as follows:

  • They stand taller than any other tree, but their visibility is less a function of the numbers of their adherents, and more the magnitude of their ministries
  • They hold aloft an enormous umbrella of intertwined branches, which shelter a huge diversity of life in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect
  • They are resistant to crisis from beyond and disease from within. Political winds do not break them, and ideological fires cannot burn them down
  • They put down strong, extensive root systems that intertwine with those of other Redwoods. They draw nutrition from unexpected sources, and reach out into unlikely places
  • They regenerate in abundance. Not only do seeds initiate new life across the forest floor, but they sprout vigorously even from the stumps of felled trees

What can your church learn from the redwood tree?

The Lesson of the Redwood Tree aside, I was again reminded of the power of the visual image in communicating. That visit gave me a sobering perspective on what it takes to deliver that image. Walking through the rest of the museum, I was struck by the lonely quest the NG photographers had embarked on: months of often-solitary work, shooting 50,000 to 90,000 images to get the few dozen that ultimately become a story.

That’s the price they willingly paid to bring their vision to fruition.

What price are you paying to bring your vision to reality?

Leading Forward by Looking Back to the Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow in recent years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club

Focus on the Ultimate to Make Your Vision Sharp

What does it take to gain the focus required to become a truly effective leader?

The Apostle Paul had absolute focus on his mission – a focus that enabled him to let go of everything that was not critical to his mission. In Philippians 3:5-9, Paul willingly discarded his heritage, his lineage, his former legalism, and his past zeal in order to advance his mission.

Paul’s focus was so sharp that he discarded everything he once counted gain. But he goes beyond that: he counted everything as garbage for the sake of obtaining Christ.

Leaders who want to change the world need to have this same kind of sharp focus. The keys are priorities and concentration. A leader who knows his priorities but lacks concentration knows what to do, but never gets it done. A leader with concentration but no priorities has excellence without progress. But when leaders harness both, they gain the potential to achieve great things.

John Maxwell, writing in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader says that leaders base their decisions on a variety of things:

  • The Ultimate – First things first
  • The Urgent – Loud things first
  • The Unpleasant – Hard things first
  • The Unfinished – Last things first
  • The Unfulfilling – Dull things first

Paul exemplifies a leader who focused on the ultimate every day. How about you? To get back on track with your focus, work on these items:

  • Work on yourself: you are your greatest asset or worst liability
  • Work on your priorities: fight for the important ones
  • Work in your strengths: you can reach your potential if you do
  • Work with your colleagues: you can’t be effective alone

Focus on the ultimate, and your vision will become sharper.


inspired by and adapted from The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John Maxwell

The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader

Will You Just Answer the Question Already?

The same question, coming from 3 different conversations with 3 different pastors over the course of 3 different days prompted this series of posts.

Q: How do you put together a team of leaders to guide a church through a new ministry initiative or project?

My reply is that you don’t just want a team, you need a high-performing team. The foundational work that I have used for several years is based on what Pat MacMillan, author of The Performance Factor, has described as the six characteristics of a high-performing team. 

The first characteristic was a common purpose. The second was crystal clear roles.

Here are the remaining four characteristics:

  • High performance teams need – no, demand – accepted leadership capable of calling out the levels of initiative and creativity that motivate exceptional levels of both individual and collective performance.
  •  High performance teams have effective processes. They identify, map, and then master their key team processes. They constantly evaluate the effectiveness of key processes, asking: How are we doing? What are we learning? How can we do it better?
  • High performance teams must work out of a foundation of solid relationships. The relational qualities of trust, acceptance, respect, courtesy, and a liberal dose of understanding are needed for high levels of team effectiveness.
  • High performance teams have excellent communication. No team can move faster than it communicates; fast, clear, and accurate communication is the key to thinking and acting collectively.


It’s a short list – only six characteristics. But each characteristic plays a specific and vital role in making the team effective. Notice the arrangement of the characteristics – a wheel shape. In a sense, each one is equal and necessary. If one of these six characteristics is missing or inadequate, the team is limping at best. Think of the wheel on your car: if it is out of balance or alignment, the performance is affected. What starts out as a distraction can turn into a disaster.

By the way, if you click on the image above, the link will take you to the website of author Pat MacMillan’s company for detailed explanations of each of the 6 characteristics, along with a wealth of other resources.

Back to your car’s alignment – the same is true for your team: if two or three of these characteristics are missing, your group is probably not a team at all.

Here’s my quick answer for the question above.

A: You start by bringing together a group of people who effectively demonstrate the six characteristics of a high-performing team. Once the team is together, the work begins.


Now the fun begins…

inspired by and adapted from The Performance Factor by Pat MacMillan

The Performance Factor 

Still Answering the Question of the Week…

A continuing discussion coming from 3 different conversations with 3 different pastors over the course of 3 different days, but all having the same question:

Q: How do you put together a team of leaders to guide a church through a new ministry initiative or project? 

Pat MacMillan, author of The Performance Factor, and Seth Godin, author of Tribes, have been a great resource for me in working with church teams. Here is the second of several posts on the topic.

The first characteristic was a common purpose.

High performance teams are also characterized by crystal clear roles.

Every team member is clear about his or her particular role, as well as those of other team members. Roles are about how we design, divide, and deploy the work of the team. While the concept is compellingly logical, many teams find it very challenging to implement in practice. When they get it right, though, team members discover that making their combination more effective and leveraging their collective efforts is an important part to synergistic results.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of team roles:

  • Functional (technical) expertise team roles – qualities and knowledge each member brings to the team
  • Formal team roles – skills needed for a specific role like team leader or facilitator
  • General team roles – the expectations placed on any member of the team so that objectives are met

Role Design Criteria

  • Clear – everyone must have role clarity or you will have role confusion
  • Complete – cover the whole task – no gaps
  • Compatible – match tasks to individual strengths and skills
  • Complementary – configure roles so that one person’s accomplishment doesn’t hinder or block someone else from their task
  • Consensual – agree on who is to do what and how

This is my part of our job and no one is done until everyone is done

A: Defining the common purpose of the team is the first step of creating a team; that common purpose is the reason for cooperation. Following that, the church must develop an appropriate division of labor and create clear roles for team members. This is the strategy for cooperation.

inspired by and adapted from The Performance Factor by Pat MacMillan and Tribes by Seth Godin
The Performance FactorTribes