How Environmental Immersion Leads to Creative Inspiration

One can be inspired by research as well as immersed in it for inspiration.  Rhonda Counts, Show Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Florida

How you do research is dependent upon where you are in the process. Disney’s Imagineers value the story’s intent and the importance of being surrounded with or immersed in the story’s environment.

With a nod to “Talk Like a Pirate Day” celebrated annually on September 19, here’s an example of creative immersion from one of my projects:

As you can see, there’s a definite pirate’s theme going on in part of my office. It’s both from previous work and work in process. I’ve used the theme of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” storyline – both the attraction and the movies – to develop training resources and presentations in the area of Guest Experiences.

Specifically, I created a tool – the Guest Experience Compass. And how better to demonstrate it, than using Jack Sparrow’s compass? I also created the Guest Experience Code – and based it on the storyline of the Pirates Code. Of course, both of these tools had to be introduced and used by a pirate – the Navigator – in a fully immersive learning environment. The result?

As a result of my pirate “adventure,” I created a blog series which you can read about here.

And it doesn’t stop with pirates.

There’s the Disney wall in my office (currently undergoing renovation)…

It’s continually changing as I acquire new books and other “resources” that help my inspiration.

It’s no secret that I am a Disney fanatic of the first degree! I had an early start in the 60s, both from watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and benefiting from my father, who as a Gulf gasoline dealer received many promotional tie-ins from Disney movies.

Anchored by a Disney library of over 450 books (and growing!), I am literally immersed in all things Disney. As I research and work on various projects – especially Guest Experiences – I find great inspiration through the many resources at hand. My immersion is not limited to the visual and tactile – at any given time, the soundtrack of a Disney movie, or the background music from one of Disney’s theme parks is playing in the background.

Here’s how Disney Imagineers recommend immersion into an environment:

Select a project that you want to immerse yourself in. Make a list of all the elements of the project and find samples (the larger the better) that represent these elements. Find a place in your surroundings to display the samples so you can immerse yourself in them.

For example, if you wanted to fix up a vintage car, surround yourself with large detailed pictures of its original interior and exterior, very large color samples for its seat cushions, dashboard, etc., and exterior paint job, pictures of various locations you would drive to, and of course, spray the space with new car scent.

Research leads to inspiration.

part of a series of ideas to help shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

written by The Disney Imagineers

The Love-Hate Confessions of a Horizontal Organizer

or, the domino effect of renovation in action.

A few years ago, my wife and I replaced our antique brass bed with a new bed. That led to a minor redecorating of our bedroom, which led to a major effort to simplify life in our house. As parents of four, but being empty nesters, we decided to reduce our furniture footprint, change our room use around, and redecorate our house – to be accomplished over several years.

After a few trips to Goodwill and Restore to donate furniture and other items, we had a working kitchen with plenty of space for 3 chefs at a time (we’re a foodie family), a small home office tucked away to one side, and an island for casual eating for 3. The family room lost the media center, replaced by a wall-mounted screen and sound system. The fireplace wall’s built-in side book shelves were cleaned up, organized, and looked great. Free standing bookshelves were rearranged, relocated, or removed. New furniture was chosen and delivered to create a simple, clean look. A complete redesign of the room-facing fireplace wall brought a new focal point to the entire room. The original dining room – our computer room and my office for 17 years – was returned to a dining room furnished with art from several Charleston trips, along with a custom-built dining room seating ten. One of the front bedrooms – our daughter’s – became known as the Disney Princess room, decorated with Disney art, a “magic mirror,” other Disney features, and a Lego Disney Castle, all just waiting for our grandchildren to visit. The other front bedroom – our youngest son’s – became Anita’s office, but also a guest room, courtesy of a Murphy bed mounted to one wall. The front bathroom was remodeled with a new designer vanity and tile flooring. The entire downstairs ceilings were stripped of that awful 90’s popcorn ceiling, smooth-coated with plaster, and painted. All of the downstairs rooms were painted in shades of grey. My office was relocated upstairs to what was originally a bedroom for two of our sons, and also fulfills a guest bedroom role.

I was completely happy to be out of sight from the main floor, and relocated my work there. Since Auxano had been founded as a digital company in 2004, most of my work took place there.

Therein lies the problem.

My vocational title at Auxano is Vision Room Curator and Digital Engagement Leader, which is a really cool title, but functionally I read, research, and write – a lot of all three. Which involves books – lots of them (even in the digital reader age). And project files (I’m trying to go digital, but it’s taking awhile). More books, as in book towers – one for each of the 7+ years of SUMS Remix. And visual learning objects – lots of Disney items including a Sorcerer Mickey hat and Mickey hands; gas station memorabilia; Starbucks cups and barista training materials; pirate gear and props, etc. – all related to projects I’m currently working on and/or keeping updated. Then there’s special family photos, challenge coins and patches of my Air Force son’s career, and did I mention personal books?

My name is Bob, and I’m a horizontal organizer.

I like the things I am working on spread out on a surface in front of me, where they can beckon me to continue working on them. Efficiency experts and time management gurus live in a world of vertical file management and a digital, paperless world, but me – not so much.

As a horizontal organizer, I am at a situational disadvantage. The whole world is set up to help keep vertically organized people on top of things. On the other hand, all my work is on top of things – my desk, the tops of filing cabinets, bookshelves, the nearby futon (I’m getting better, Anita – I really am!), and the floor.

As you have no doubt heard, a messy desk spread thick with paper and stacked high with books is the sign of a genius at work.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

The relocation of my office from the main level of our home to the second floor has had many benefits, not the least of which is increased domestic tranquility – a phrase not exclusively limited to governmental issues by any means. Because of my tendencies towards horizontal organization – actually, more like a full-out embrace – my working office is out of sight, but not out of mind – the office must also remain a guest room (but give me a couple hours notice, please, to ahem – rearrange things).

Anita has gently, but, firmly, been suggesting for several years now something to the tune of “that mess office needs some work.” As with much of life, it was put off some, and then some more.

At this point I need to pause and give special thanks to my youngest son Aaron, who in his senior year in college pointed me to the book The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry. After he bought the book, read it, and wrote a paper on procrastination the day it was due, he gave it to me to read.

Through it, I was introduced to the concept of horizontal organization. I enjoyed learning about, and practicing, Structured Procrastination, To-Do Lists, Procrastination as Perfectionism, and other strategies for the serial procrastinator.

With that under my belt, I became aware of another book with a similar topic: Soon: An Overdue History of Procrastination, from Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. Author Andrew Santella explores a diverse group of individuals, from Charles Darwin to Leonardo Da Vinci to Frank Lloyd Wright, to ask why so many of our greatest inventors, artists, and scientists have led double lives as committed procrastinators. Here’s a couple of quotes:

In the process of trying to avoid one task, I was in fact completing many other tasks. Even procrastinators can become task-oriented, when the task they are oriented to is procrastinating.

Procrastination is really a kind of time travel, an attempt to manipulate time by transferring activities from the concrete past to an abstract future.

As noted in last week’s Friday post, Anita had had enough. In the genuine spirit of a combination birthday and Father’s Day gift, she said we would be redecorating my office. And, by the way, something had to be done about those books.

You saw the panoramic shot; that was then, this was next:

The entire office was crated, cataloged, and moved to first the garage, and then a storage unit. If you’re counting, that’s 42 crates as pictured above, plus another dozen or so boxes of various sizes.

Finally, a blank canvas:

Next week: The Big Reveal

How to Practice the One-Minute Pause

They are too alive to die, and too dead to live.

This haunting observation of most people in the Western world was made by the Korean philosopher Byung-Chu Han.

We all have our own stories of trying to stay sane in the day and age of mobile phones, connected watches, a twenty-four-hour news cycle blaring from our devices, unceasing demands from family, church members, and our team, and …

Do you feel weary?

Do you feel burdened?

You’re not alone.

The most common answer to the question, “How are you?” is, “I’m good – just busy.”

That answer comes from everywhere, bridging gaps of gender, age, ethnicity, and class. Empty-nesters working from home are busy, even with their kids and grandkids spread across the country. New parents are busy, with a new mom headed back to work while the new dad begins the first week of parental leave. Even middle-schoolers are busy trying to juggle three different platforms of distance learning while helping around the home while trying to stay connected with their best friend in the neighborhood two streets over.

You feel over-worked, over-booked, and over-connected – how can you reclaim your health and wellness again?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad by John Eldredge

In Get Your Life Back, New York Times bestselling author John Eldredge provides a practical, simple, and refreshing guide to taking your life back.After reading this book you will… 

  • Learn how to insert the One Minute Pause into your day
  • Begin practicing “benevolent detachment” and truly let it all go
  • Offer kindness toward yourself in the choices you make
  • Drink in the simple beauty available to you every day
  • Take realistic steps to unplug from technology overload

These simple practices and others are ready for the taking. You don’t need to abandon your life to get it back. Begin restoring your life here and now. Your soul will thank you for it.


According to author John Eldredge, there’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is.

We’re being swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us.

Email felt so efficient when it replaced the letter; texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t make our lives more spacious; we simply had to keep up.

Now we’re living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome.

We’re losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis.

God wants to come to us and restore our lives. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him.

The One Minute Pause is an absolute lifesaver: Simply take sixty seconds to be still and let everything go.

John Eldredge

As I enter the pause, I begin with release. I let it all go – the meetings, what I know is coming next, the fact I’m behind on everything, all of it. I simply let it go. I pray, Jesus – I give everyone and everything to you. I keep repeating it until I feel like I’m actually releasing and detaching. 

I give everything to you, God.

All I’m trying to accomplish right now is a little bit of soul-space. I’m not trying to fix anything or figure anything out. I’m not trying to relax everyone perfectly or permanently. That takes a level of maturity most of us haven’t found.

Them I ask for more of God: Jesus – I need more of you; fill me with more of you, God. Restore our union; fill me with your life.

I’ve seized the One Minute Pause as my sword against the madness. It sounds almost too simple to be a practice that brings me more of God, but it’s very effective. Because what it does is open up soul space, breathing room. And God is right there. Over time, the cumulative effect is even better. It’s reshaping the pace of my day. It’s training my soul to find God as an experience more common than rare.

John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad


According to author John Eldredge, the One Minute Pause can be used in many ways: for prayer or silence, to find your heart again, or to enjoy a moment of  beauty.

He suggests trying this for starters:

Pick one or two moments in your day when you know you are least likely to be interrupted. Maybe it’s the end of the day when you pull into your driveway. Don’t leap from the car; take a moment to pause. Turn off the engine, lean back, close your eyes, and just breathe. Try to let go of the day.

You can also set a phone alarm to remind you to take the One Minute Pause. Make sure the alarm notification is quiet and smooth, not jarring! You are not really sounding an alarm; you are inviting your soul to a gracious pause.

The One Minute Pause is the beginning of a new way of living, one simple practice that opens the door to many others.

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

The Renovation and Redecorating of a Disney Bibliophile’s Office

In a kind but exasperated voice, my wife informed me that my office was overwhelming.

And not in a good way.

Office, circa early 2021

You’ve probably noticed that books consume a good portion of my life, both vocationally and recreationally.

Add to that my Disney fanaticism, and you get the picture.

While my love of books and passion for reading hasn’t changed, the storage and display of those books is changing.

Putting action to words, my wife announced earlier this year that in a combination birthday and Father’s Day gift, she wanted us to renovate my office. Unstated, but clearly understood, was that something had to be done about all those books.

Thus began my office renovation project.

When you love books, of course you turn to books to learn more about the best ways to design and curate your Disney library on the occasion of an office renovation project.

While we lined up a contractor and began the arduous process of removing EVERYTHING from the office, I also began to do a little research into home libraries, using the above books.

Welcome to my office renovation journey.

Are You a Confident Leader?

In the months leading up to the year 2020, there was no shortage of social media posts, articles, sermons, and more talking about a “2020 Vision.” For many pastors, it was a dream topic to build a sermon series around – and many did.

A sampling of sermon topics in January 2020 would have shown an intentional look forward into a future of a year or two, or maybe even five years or more.

But when March 2020 rolled around, and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, the lofty visions of 2020 evaporated. Church leaders around the country and the world began to shrink their vision from the lofty goals of just a few months earlier to, “What are we going to do this weekend?”

Fifteen months later, though that immediacy has lessened somewhat, only to be replaced with even more troubling questions like these:

  • How long is this pandemic going to last?
  • Will we be able to return to normal?
  • What if normal never returns?

In just a few weeks, future thoughts became present realties, and many leaders find themselves stuck there today.

Even when treading water in reality, leaders can get mired in a flood of information and answers about what to do next.

The world around us is evolving at dizzying speed. Tomorrow refuses to cooperate with our best-laid plans—the future routinely pulls the rug from underneath us.

Although people yearn for a return to “normal,” or try to predict the “new normal,” there is no such thing as normal. There is only change. Never-ending, constant change. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but constant nonetheless.

Answers to vexing problems are no longer a scarce commodity, and knowledge has never been cheaper. By the time we’ve figured out the facts – by the time Google, Alexa, or Siri can spit out the answer – the world has moved on.

Obviously, answers aren’t irrelevant. You must know some answers before you can begin asking the right questions. But the answers simply serve as a launch pad to discovery. They’re the beginning, not the end.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One by Dan Reiland

You’re a good leader, but leadership is challenging and can rattle your confidence. Setbacks, challenges, and problems can cause you to second-guess yourself, doubt, or pull back. Your confidence may be stretched thin, but there is a way to strengthen it.

In Confident Leader!, Dan Reiland draws from his 39 years of leadership experience to share a practical, workable, and transformational process that results in your ability to become a more self-assured leader and achieve maximum success. Building unshakable confidence will positively impact your personal work performance, your belief in self, your support and approval from others, and your trust and reliance on God.

In this book you will learn how to:

  • Make deep foundational decisions about your core identity
  • Implement practical steps for deliberate character development
  • Incorporate daily, practical disciplines that transform your leadership ability

Together these essentials present a step-by-step plan to greater confidence, increased influence, less uncertainty, and more significant accomplishments. Learn how to become the most confident version of yourself today.


Leadership expert John Maxwell says that, in over fifty years of developing leaders, he has learned that very few leaders are naturally confident, and even less are consistently confident.

Author Dan Reiland believes that every leader struggles with confidence at some level.

On the other side of that struggle is cockiness at the worst, or over-confidence at best. Finding the right balance of confidence on this continuum is tricky, but essential in today’s climate.

The majority of leaders do not maintain a consistent quality of confidence. Their confidence goes up and down too easily, impacted by a wide variety of factors, such as personal performance, size of church, belief in self, support from others, approval from others, mistakes made, and trust and reliance on God.

Dan Reiland

There is a process, a road map, by which you can develop a more consistent and authentic confidence that will serve you as a leader.

Deep Foundational Decisions – There are specific decisions you can make that establish stability and certainty in knowing who you are and how you were designed to lead at your best. These five decisions set the foundation of your confidence.

  • Ownership – Take charge of your leadership confidence
  • Belief – Overcome the great confidence breakers
  • Identity – Value first who you are, then what you can do
  • Attentiveness – Hear and heed God’s voice
  • Soul – Embrace five core qualities of confident leaders

Deliberate Character Development – Your character is at the core of your confidence. Here are the five specific areas of your character that will strengthen your confidence.

  • Consistency – Lead yourself well before leading others
  • Authority – Accept it, develop it, and use it wisely
  • Adaptability – Look for ways to become the best version of you
  • Improvement – Aim for better, not bigger
  • Resilience – Handle pressure well and bounce back

Daily Practice Disciplines – There is a direct connection between competence and confidence. However, you can be competent, yet not confident. And you can be confident, yet not competent. Both are needed together. Here are five essentials that you will need to become and effective leader and increase your confidence.

  • Direction – Know where you are going and lead others
  • Focus – Stick to the game plan
  • Heart – Care genuinely about those you lead
  • Communication – Live and convey and optimistic message
  • Mentoring – Develop other leaders intentionally

Dan Reiland, Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One


Select a single idea from each of the three areas listed above, one that you would like to improve on. In other words, your greatest area of challenge in each of the three areas.

Using a chart tablet, write the idea across the top of the page. 

Viewing this idea as your destination on a journey, imagine you are moving toward it but encounter roadblocks on your journey. These represent the primary obstacles to completing your journey.

Identify at least three roadblocks you are facing on your journey to obtaining the idea at the top of the chart tablet. Use the following questions to help you identify the roadblock:

  1. What do the roadblocks look like?
  2. Who put them there, or keeps them there?
  3. What does the road ahead look like, with the roadblock gone?

Develop a plan to dismantle the obstacles. When you do, you will have cleared the way to complete your journey to achieving the idea.

Repeat this with the other two ideas.

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

The Hard Work of NOT Focusing On “What’s Next”

From Seth Godin:

What do you want to be doing 100 days from now?

What change do you seek to be making? With which skills? Surrounded by which people?

For that to happen, day 99 will need to different from today.

And so will day 98.

In fact, so will tomorrow.

If we keep focusing on ‘what’s next’ we might never get around to doing the work we need to do to get us to day 100.

A periodic visit to the 100 Acre Wood. Here’s the backstory.

Yes, Leaders are Readers!

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

At this stage of my life, I’ve gone way beyond book nerd.

What started as a boyhood practice grew into an adult passion, and is now a deliberate, daily practice.

The turning point came when I entered seminary – a friend who was in his last year of a doctoral program told me I needed to learn how to read.

I thought that I had that one pretty much covered; after all, I had been reading since before first grade.

I was wrong; he was right.

That book recommendation, and for decades now my go-to book on helping someone deepen their love of reading used to be “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler. It’s still a great book – but now I have a new recommendation:

Read to Lead, by Jeff Brown and Jesse Wisnewski.

With this book, Jesse and I have attempted to make the case that reading – specifically book reading – is the simplest and one of the most important habits you can develop, especially if your goal is to expand your audience and boost your career.

Jeff brown

It’s the common habit shared by many successful people throughout history. It’s responsible for unlocking limitless creativity and influence. It’s known to reduce stress, improve decision-making skills, and make you a better leader. What is it? Reading. And it’s the single best thing you can do to improve yourself professionally.

Reading more and better books creates opportunities for you to learn new skills, rise above your competition, and build a successful career. In Read to Lead you’ll learn

– Why you need to read like your career depends on it

– The five science-backed reasons reading will help you build your career

– How to absorb a book into your bloodstream

– A technique that can double (or triple!) your reading speed

– Tips on creating a lifetime reading habit

– And more!

If you want to lead a more satisfied life, have more intelligent conversations, and broaden your mind, you need to read to lead!

Reading the Table of Contents (itself one of the simplest but most overlooked starting place in reading a book) reveals the breadth and depth of advice and encouragement found in Read to Lead:

Introduction: Why Read a Book about Reading Books

Part 1 Why You Need to Read Books

  1. Why You Need to Read a Book Like Your Career Depends On It
  2. Eight Research-Backed Reasons Why Readers Do Better in Their Careers
  3. The Slow Death of Readers: Three Big Reasons Why People Are Reading Less
  4. The Eight Biggest Reading Excuses Holding You Back

Part 2 The Books You Need to Read

  1. Six Ways to Know What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Read
  2. Too Busy Not to Read: Nine Ways to Free Up More Time to Read
  3. How to Build Your Reading Plan

Part 3 The Smarter Way to Read Books

  1. How to Absorb a Book Into Your Bloodstream
  2. Double (or Triple) Your Reading Speed in Minutes
  3. How to “Read” a 220-Page Book in One Hour
  4. How to Create an Unchangeable Reading Habit
  5. The Key to (Nearly) Mastering Anything
  6. Fifteen Tips on How to Read Smarter
  7. Why You Should Join (or Start) a Book Club

Conclusion: Growing as a Reader and Leader

Pick any single chapter and you will increase your reading skill by the end of that chapter.

Read the book through, take its admonitions to heart, and you will change the trajectory of your life.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. I can think of no better start to deepening your love of reading than with “Read to Lead.

A Successful End (to Whatever You’re Doing) Starts by Beginning with Everything in Its Place

Part of a recurring series on 27gen: Chef Stories. Stories from the past, present, and future in my personal experience in various parts of the culinary world. This particular story is from a few years ago, when my son was entering his senior year at Johnson & Wales University in pursuit of a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. It’s the second part of a longer post begun last week.

In the last post, we saw “Poetry in Motion” by looking at efficiency. Today, it’s all about a successful end to whatever you’re doingby starting with everything in its place.

In the culinary world, it’s called “mis en place.”

French for “put in place”, this is what allows all the actions described yesterday to take place. It is the hours of work that start before the first meal is fired: washing, cutting, peeling, pre-cooking, weighing, portioning, and positioning of all the ingredients that go into the wonderful final product.

courtesy Rooster's Kitchen

courtesy Rooster’s Kitchen

Taken broadly, it is the slow simmering of the soups for the night; the baking and preparation of individual items that comprise the wonderful complexity of desserts. It even goes to the preparation of the wood fires that will later cook the wonderful meats that anchor the meal.

Mise en place doesn’t get any attention in the final review, but you wouldn’t have anything without it. It’s all those things that aren’t noticed till they’re not there. It’s the sauté chef reaching in the cooler knowing that he has all the right ingredients to prepare the dish just called out. It’s the pastry chef preparing 3 different kinds of ice cream for the desserts on the menu. It’s the fry chef making sure the oil is fresh and hot, ready for use. It’s the salad chef having everything ready to assemble a variety of salads from the same few ingredients, differing in presentation and dressing.

courtesy Rooster's Kitchen

courtesy Rooster’s Kitchen

It’s the dishwasher, knowing if he doesn’t get the dirty pans out and clean ones back, the whole kitchen grinds to a halt.

Mise en place is all about the knowing everything that is required to produce the finished meal, and making sure all the ingredients are ready to use when needed. It’s about thinking through things before they happen, so that when they happen, you’re one step ahead.

It’s all about being prepared.

Our evening at Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen was delightful on so many levels. The front of house staff were gracious in working with me to make sure we could have a front row seat to all the action; the wait staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive; the chefs prepared wonderful food while displaying their skills to an audience.

But it was more than just a meal – it was a demonstration of excellence from top to bottom, one that any organization could learn from.

Whatever your end product is – a worship experience, sermon, leadership class, playtime with kids, etc.

…it all starts with making sure you have everything in its place before beginning.

How to Practice Improv Leadership to Become a Better Leader

It’s easy to talk about enhancing performance, improving efficiency and being a more influential leader. So why don’t we do it more?

Maybe it is because leadership books often feel stale. It’s often a same-idea, different-author experience. Leadership is a set of abilities, and it can be learned and improved on a regular basis. But we have to seek that improvement.

Does boredom keep you from scheduling time on a regular basis to grow your leadership skills?


Anyone who’s learned the basics of an instrument can follow a chord chart or play from sheet music, but only musicians who have carefully developed their talent can improvise. Instead of being limited to the notes on the page, great improvisers draw on the theory and techniques they’ve learned in the past to create something original in the present.

The same is true of great leaders. Anyone can read a few books and apply the lessons, but only the best leaders can bring out the best in any person, in any situation. These improvisational leaders understand the key principles of connecting, coaching, and communicating and use these ideas to build strong teams.

In Improv Leadership, Stan L. Endicott and David A. Miller share five leadership competencies which allow IMPROV leaders to initiate powerful conversations, create memorable moments, and craft personal coaching strategies that help people grow. Improv Leadership cultivates teams of people who love their work (and each other), who perform at a high level, and who stop the disruptive carousel of staff turnover.

Stan L. Endicott and David A. Miller have worked together to identify the overarching competencies of effective leadership and develop concrete tools to help every reader become a leader who understands how to grow teams one moment and one relationship at a time. The five competencies of IMPROV Leadership are not rigid sequential steps, nor do they apply only to specific industries or fields. Instead, this book will meet the felt need for leadership growth with “evergreen” principles that can be successfully introduced into any situation.

You can’t predict every challenge you’ll face. There’s no playbook that covers every decision. But with practice in Improv Leadership you can lead well in every situation.


According to authors Stan Endicott and David Miller, improv is not making something up on the spot. Improv is bringing together many basic, well-known elements to form a complex whole that fits with the moment.

Your first thought when you hear “improv” may be in terms of music, but did you ever think that everyone improvises hundreds of times a day? It is called language.

The simplest, most routine sentence we utter rests on thousands of hours of experience learning words, grammar, and syntax. It comes by a little instruction and a lot of trial and error.

As a leader, your words have power with others. We have more responsibility for what happens and does not happen as a result of what we say.

No matter what problem you might encounter in your organization, you have a better chance of navigating it successfully with IMPOV leadership.

Stan Endicott and David Miller

The five leadership competencies of IMPROV leadership are:

Story Mining – Thoughtfully uncovering a person’s story and letting it shape the way you lead them. It is not about making people better. It is about making people known.

Precision Praising – Carefully crafting praise to inspire, motivate and even course-correct your team. It refers to the right words of affirmation given to the right person at the right place and time.

Metaphor Cementing – Using concrete illustrations to “cement” an idea in someone’s mind.

Lobbing Forward – Creatively challenging people to look beyond today to what might be in the future.

Going North – Using indirect influence to redirect a person’s perspective.

Stan Endicott and David Miller, with Cory Hartman, Improv Leadership


Use the following ideas and exercises by the authors to begin practicing the five leadership competencies of IMPROV leadership.

Story Mining

Answer the following for each person who reports to you directly.

  1. What are your team member’s children’s names? Grandchildren’s? (For bonus points, how old are they, or what grade are they in?)
  2. Where and how did your team member meet his/her spouse?
  3. Where did your team member grow up? How often do they go back there?
  4. Where else has your team member lived that had a significant impact on their life story?
  5. What is your team member’s most prized possession?
  6. What (outside of work) does your team member enjoy doing?
  7. What is your team member’s idea of a great vacation?

How did you do?

Precision Praising

Think about a time when someone praised you such that it changed the course of your story. With the help of the tool below, think about what was going on that made that moment of pride impactive, and look for clues of how you can create a similar moment for the people on your team.

  1. What precisely were you praised for? What were the details and specifics of the praise?
  2. How well did the person know you at the time? What was the scope and depth of your relationship with the person who praised you?
  3. Was there something unique about the timing of the praise? If so, what?
  4. Was there something special about the context or location of the praise? If so, what?
  5. Did anyone else hear the praise? If so, how did the presence of others influence the dynamics of the praise?
  6. What was the immediate impact of the praise in your life?
  7. How often have you remembered that moment in your life? What has been the long-term impact?
  8. Do you think the person would be surprised that you are talking about their praise now? Why or why not?

Metaphor Cementing

The greatest communicators use metaphors as a painter uses a brush. If we as leaders want to touch our people with a message that they cannot misunderstand and cannot ignore, we must learn to use the tool too.

As you think through the metaphors you are going to use in your next meeting, presentation, or one-on-one with a team member, use these three guardrails to stay inside of and make the most of those opportunities.

  1. Stand on Common Ground – Use a metaphor that both you and your audience understand.
  2. Line Up Your Shot – Make sure you have your words just right.
  3. Don’t Paint a Picture; Build a Gallery – Use a variety of metaphors over time so as to work the same concept from different angles.

Lobbing Forward

Committing to practice Lobbing Forward initiates a change in the leader before there is a change in the people being led.

  1. Lobbing Forward requires a leader to be humble.
  2. An established pattern of Precision Praising sets up Lobbing Forward well.
  3. You have to know your people well.
  4. Lobbing Forward is more often done in private.
  5. Use tried-and-true word choices.
  6. You can Lob Forward with entire teams as well as individuals.

Going North

Here are five fundamentals for Going North:

  1. Reveal common ground.
  2. Surprise with a gift.
  3. Disrupt the setting.
  4. Teach using story.
  5. Create a shared experience. 

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

Poetry in Motion: Efficiency Defined Through a Fine Dining Experience

Part of a recurring series on 27gen: Chef Stories. Stories from the past, present, and future in my personal experience in various parts of the culinary world. This particular story is from a few years ago, when my son was entering his senior year at Johnson & Wales University in pursuit of a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management.

Recently my wife, youngest son, and I were treated to absolute poetry in motion. A group of trained professionals were executing their craft, each one knowing his specific responsibilities as well as supporting the rest of his team. Years of practice were evident in their graceful moves, focused intensity, and clarity of purpose. We had front row seats, and the show was excellent.

No, we weren’t watching a ballet or dance company, or an athletic event – we were eating dinner, celebrating a special occasion.

This was not just any restaurant, but Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, where the “open kitchen” concept reigns.


courtesy of Rooster’s Kitchen

The kitchen is right in the center of the restaurant, and we had reservations in the prime observation spot – the Chef’s Counter – where all the action was just a few feet away.

The food was excellent: fresh ingredients, prepared in such a way to bring out the natural flavors, served by a warm and friendly wait staff. But this isn’t about the food, as good as it was. It’s about two fundamentals of the restaurant business that can be applied to your organization: efficiency and mise en place. Today let’s look at efficiency; next time, mise en place.

Rooster’s doesn’t have a large kitchen, but it is designed to function with efficiency. The sauté station anchors one half of the center; this is where constant motion is an understatement. Sauté is where the chef is juggling eight or ten pans at a time, making flames, making things jump.

Around the corner at the rear of the kitchen is the namesake of the restaurant: a wood fired grill and oven. The chef here grills all the meat dishes called out, sending them to the front to be paired with side dishes – some from the saute’ station, others from the other half of the kitchen center – the salad, soup, and fry station. To call these dishes “sides” is an injustice – any one of them (we had five among the three of us) could stand alone as a signature dish.

The front area is grand central station: here the expediter calls out the orders as they come in, checks on orders in progress, and makes the final touches as they head to the guest. The final touch is important – it may be the finishing touch of sauce, or a garnish, or a quick wipe of an errant splatter on the plate.

The corners of the kitchen: pastry chef, preparing delicacies to finish out a wonder dinner; meat chef, taking larger cuts prepared on the grill and finishing them to order; and the support staff, taking out dirty pans and bringing in clean ones and bowls, plates, cups and saucers for the chefs to cook and plate food.

A picture doesn’t do this justice – you would have to have a video camera to catch all the movement involved above. But I want to drive home the point:

courtesy of Rooster's Kitchen

courtesy of Rooster’s Kitchen

It’s all about efficiency: no wasted movement.

Everyone in the kitchen knew what was going on, what their job was, and how they can support the rest of the team as needed. The pastry chef would slip around the sauté station, helping the chef plate items as they came off the stove. Once, she literally held out a plate to her back, out of sight, and the chef plated the dish, while she was moving another one with her other hand.

The sauté chef helped out on the grill; the expediter helped out on saute’; the pastry chef started an item on the grill when that chef had to step away for a moment.

That is more than efficiency – it’s the solid work of a team that knows individual and team roles, to the point that they are one.

Can you say the same about the teams in your organization?

Coming Next Week: Part 2, A Successful End Starts with the Beginning