Leadership Lessons from the Vision of Walt Disney, Part One

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

In this first installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from select biography of Walt Disney, followed in the second installment by that of Jobs, giving you background on their excellent of use of “vision” and “communication” respectfully. Then, the third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts, with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is our intent that you will be inspired to begin 2021 with clarity.

A QUICK SUMMARYLead Like Walt by Pat Williams

Whether you are building a small business from the ground up or managing a multinational company, you can learn the 7 key traits for leadership success from one of the greatest business innovators and creative thinkers of the 20th century: Walt Disney. Whether you know him as the first to produce cartoons in Technicolor, the mastermind behind the theme park Disneyland, or the founder of the largest entertainment conglomerate, Walt’s story of creativity, perseverance in spite of obstacles, and achieving goals resonates and inspires as much today as it ever has.

Author Pat Williams began studying the life and leadership example of Walt Disney as he struggled to build an NBA franchise, the Orlando Magic. Since he was trying to accomplish a goal similar to so many of Walt’s—starting with nothing and building a dream from the ground up—he realized that Walt could teach him what he needed to know. And indeed he did.

Through Walt Disney’s leadership example, Pat found 7 key leadership traits that all great leaders must possess: Vision, Communication, People Skills, Character, Competence, Boldness, and A Serving Heart. Through never-before-heard Walt stories and pragmatic principles for exceeding business goals, you’ll learn how to build those skills and implement them to be effective in any leadership arena. As you discover the life of this great leader, you’ll realize that no goal is too great and no dream too daring for anyone who leads like Walt.


To many people today, Walt Disney is not seen as a man, but instead as a nameless, faceless entertainment giant which owns the intellectual properties of the Disney Studios, Pixar Studios, Marvel, LucasFilms, and Fox. While that is all true, the man named Walter Elias Disney rose from humble beginnings to found the studio that bears his name in 1923.

After several years of barely scraping by, and one disastrous setback, Disney put together a string of successes. By the early 1930s, Disney had reached what many industry leaders considered the pinnacle of success for an animated short features studio.

However, Walt Disney wasn’t at the top; he was just getting started.

I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true. – Walt Disney

In the spring of 1934, thirty-two-year-old Walt Disney decided to bet his studio on an idea everyone around him said was crazy. He was going to produce a full-length animated film.

Walt Disney’s wife Lily and older brother Roy tried to talk Walt out of his dream – but when they saw that he was totally committed to it, they gave up. Once Walt made a decision, no one could change his mind.

Within days, Walt gathered forty of his top animators. Opening his wallet, he handed each man some cash, then said, “I want you fellas to go have dinner and relax a little. Then come back to the studio. I have a story to tell you.”

The animators walked out of the studio, buzzing among themselves. After dinner, they gathered in a recording stage where Walt had set up folding chairs in a semicircle. The room was dark, like a movie theater, except at the very front. There stood Walt, under a single light bulb, bouncing on his heels, a secretive smile on his face. Once everyone was present, Walt began to tell the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Walt didn’t merely tell the story. He performed it, acting out every part. He became every character. His eyebrows arched, and his features twisted into those of the evil Queen. He tilted his face toward the bare light bulb, and its soft glow transformed his fact into that of Snow White. Each character had a distinct voice and personality.

Reach the end of the tale, Walt paused – then said, “That is going to be our first feature-length animated film.” If Walt had said those words at the beginning of his presentation, his artists would have thought he was crazy. Everybody knew there was no audience for an all-animated feature.

But after watching Walt act out the story before their eyes, they believed it was not only possible, but practically an accomplished fact! Walt had the whole picture in his head – all they had to do was animate it.

Pat Williams, Lead Like Walt


Not all visionaries are leaders, but all leaders are visionaries. You can’t lead people without a vision of where you are taking them.

What is your dream, your vision?

According to author Pat Williams, great leaders are people of vision. Without a vision, how will you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? Your vision is your definition of success.

Look at the quote by Walt Disney above: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”

Author Pat Williams breaks the quote down as follows:

  • “I dream.” Walt began with a vision, a dream of the future.
  • “I test my dreams against my beliefs.” Walt made sure his vision was consistent with his beliefs, his core values, and his integrity.
  • “I dare to take risks.” He acted boldly, betting on himself to win.
  • “I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” He focused all his energies, and those of his organization, on turning his dreams into reality.

At Auxano, we have developed some tools to help you assess your vision and make time to reflect, discern and articulateDownload the Vision Frame overview as a litmus test for your vision. If you cannot answer all five questions of the irreducible minimums of clarity, then schedule one day per month to work on your vision.

Learn more about the Vision Frame.

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

It’s Time to Read the Year Out

2020 was the year of reading for me.

2020 wasn’t the year I learned to love reading; that occurred long ago.

2020 wasn’t the year I read widely because I had to; that occurred first in college, and then, to an extent, in seminary and post-graduate studies.

2020 wasn’t the year I read because there wasn’t anything else to do, because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, lockdowns, and quarantines – though there was plenty of “extra” time because of those things.

2020 wasn’t the year I read because my job requires it, though that IS part of my job, and one I look forward to every day.

So why is 2020 the year of reading for me?

It’s best expressed in these thoughts from Anne Bogel in her great little book, I’d Rather Be Reading (on sale for Kindle for $1.99 through the end of the year!).

We are readers. Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives. Show me a cover of any book I’ve read, and it will take me right back to where I was when I read it.

Anne Bogel

Books are portals to all kinds of memories.

And so, 2020 is a year full of book-inspired memories.

In 2020, those books came to me like this:

  • Books acquired this year: 287
  • Books borrowed from the library: 173
  • Digital books acquired this year: 12

As I have always been clear to point out, I have not read every page of the 472 books that have been in front of me this year. 

With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me (see below), and knowing there is more to my life than reading, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book. There’s dozens of the total in which I only read the “highlights,” following methods I’ve learned over the years. In about 15 minutes, I can tell whether I will be reading the book, deep-diving into the book, skimming the book, or maybe just returning it (mainly library books).

If a book captures your attention after using whatever method of “quick review” you choose, you should read it.

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With those caveats in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2020 was 217 books.

For the curious, like picking your favorite child (I have four), or favorite daughters/son-in-law (I have four), or grandchildren (I have ten), I don’t typically make a “Best of” list for the year. I find some value in almost every book I read, and for me, that’s good enough.

I talked about that in a podcast with Bryan Rose. You can listen here.

A Little More About My “Book-Inspired” Memories from 2020

In my vocational role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book excerpt in which I develop solutions to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2020 alone means I have gone through over 100 leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 81 used in producing 27 issues this year. All together, we have published 161 issues, covering 482 books, since 2015. We have just released 6 collections, covering all 161 issues, available for purchase as a downloadable PDF. Find out more here.

Other parts of my role require reading current trends books, used for team research, Navigator support, social media content creation, and other content writing.

I have had a passion for Guest Experience for decades. It’s taken a more-refined shape over the last fifteen-plus years of client work, particularly through constant research in the area of customer experience books for application for churches. Through that, an ongoing project is building The Essential Guest Experience Library, currently over 300 volumes.

A project that has been in development for over three years just became public this year: First Place Hospitality. This is a movement to help church leaders “bring hospitality home” through members building bridges to their neighbors. In addition to research needed for weekly posts, white papers, tools, and social media content, I am also building The Essential Home Hospitality Library, currently at just under 200 volumes.

I am a Disney Fanatic, plain and simple (though my wife says there is nothing plain nor simple about it). From boyhood exposure to the magical world of Walt Disney in the early 1960s, to my first of dozens of theme park visits in 1975, and especially in conversations with current and former Cast Members, I am alway seeking to learn more about Walt Disney the man, and the empire which he started. Of course, that extends to building a Disney library, currently over 420 volumes and growing! A lot of that library contains excellent material that can be applied in Guest Experience, leadership development, and organizational improvement.

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction. A bulk of the library books listed above fit into this category. This type of reading also helps expand the subject libraries also mentioned above, and helps start new ones!

In these closing days of 2020, and the beginning of a new year just ahead, why don’t you give yourself a gift?

The gift of reading.

Be sure to check out my other websites for more information on how to “Read the Year Out!”

First Place Hospitality

Guest Experience Design

Can You Reimagine What It Means to Retire?

Many leaders view retirement – whether a few years or a few decades away – as a finish line.

But increasingly these leaders, especially for those who are closer to retirement, are finding that being too young to retire but too old to find a job has become a critical issue.

Retirement doesn’t have to be the last great thing a leader does. It can be the gateway to a leader’s greatest season of influence.

We may live ten years longer than our parents and may even work twenty years longer, yet power is moving to those ten years younger.

Are leaders in this age group facing a decades long “irrelevancy gap”?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder by Chip Conley

Experience is making a comeback. Learn how to repurpose your wisdom.

At age 52, after selling the company he founded and ran as CEO for 24 years, rebel boutique hotelier Chip Conley was looking at an open horizon in midlife. Then he received a call from the young founders of Airbnb, asking him to help grow their disruptive start-up into a global hospitality giant. He had the industry experience, but Conley was lacking in the digital fluency of his 20-something colleagues. He didn’t write code, or have an Uber or Lyft app on his phone, was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and would be reporting to a CEO young enough to be his son. Conley quickly discovered that while he’d been hired as a teacher and mentor, he was also in many ways a student and intern. What emerged is the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the “Modern Elder.”

In a world that venerates the new, bright, and shiny, many of us are left feeling invisible, undervalued, and threatened by the “digital natives” nipping at our heels. But Conley argues that experience is on the brink of a comeback. Because at a time when power is shifting younger, companies are finally waking up to the value of the humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that come with age. And while digital skills might have only the shelf life of the latest fad or gadget, the human skills that mid-career workers possess–like good judgment, specialized knowledge, and the ability to collaborate and coach – never expire.

Part manifesto and part playbook, Wisdom@Work ignites an urgent conversation about ageism in the workplace, calling on us to treat age as we would other type of diversity. In the process, Conley liberates the term “elder” from the stigma of “elderly,” and inspires us to embrace wisdom as a path to growing whole, not old. Whether you’ve been forced to make a mid-career change, are choosing to work past retirement age, or are struggling to keep up with the millennials rising up the ranks, Wisdom@Work will help you write your next chapter.


You don’t have to be on the other side of fifty to find the concept of becoming a “Modern Elder” relevant. The age at which we’re feeling self-consciously “old” is now creeping into some people’s thirties.

Digital platforms are disrupting virtually all industries, and the result is that more and more companies are relentlessly pursuing young hires, seemingly placing high DQ (digital intelligence) above all other skills.

The problem is that many of these young digital leaders are being thrust into positions of power with little experience or guidance.

At the same time, there exists a generation of older workers with invaluable skills – high EQ (emotional intelligence), good judgment born out of decades of experience, specialized knowledge, and a vast network of contacts.

Many of us feel like we’re growing whole rather than growing old. What if there was a new, modern archetype of elderhood, one that was worn as a badge of honor, not cloaked in shame?

With more generations in the workplace than ever before, elders have so much to offer those younger than them.

What if Modern Elders were the secret ingredient for the visionary organizations of tomorrow? What lessons must a Modern Elder learn?


If we’re too wedded to the past and to the costume of a traditional elder – making wise pronouncements from the pulpit – we aren’t likely to grow much of a congregation.

As we enter midlife, we embark upon a creative evolution that amplifies our specialness while editing out the extraneous. After a lifetime of accumulation, we can concentrate on what we do best, what gives us meaning, and what we want to leave behind.

Sometimes, reframing your identity is not an internal shift in your values, but an external rearranging of your life to once again give priority to that which is most life-affirming for you.


There is great value in adopting a beginner’s mind and how to use this fresh perspective to increase your ability to learn.

Our world is awash in knowledge, but often wanting in wisdom. To stay relevant, it’s not just about learning something new, it’s also about learning new ways to access the information at our fingertips.

Teaching and learning are symbiotic. You can’t be a teaching legend without living on the learning edge.


By leveraging your ability to collaborate, you can make something bigger.

With five generations in today’s workplace, we can either operate as separate isolationist countries with generation-specific dialects and talents coexisting on one continent, or we can find ways to bridge these generational borders and delight in learning from people both older and younger than us.


A byproduct of being seen as the elder at work is becoming the confidant of younger employees who want to bathe in your fountain of wisdom and are likely to be more candid with you as they don’t see you as a competitive threat.

While collaboration is a team sport, counseling is one-on-one, becoming a confident to your younger colleagues.

Smart companies know that while their competitors may outsource “counsel” to outside coaches who may offer some general wisdom, being a wise advisor can be so much more effective when an advisor is a wise elder who is in the trenches day to day with the advisee

Chip Conley, Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder


Author Chip Conley devotes extensive help to leaders who want to go through the four lessons listed above. In order to get a taste of these resources, set aside some time to consider each of the following:


Ask a minimum of a half-dozen coworkers, friends, or family to answer the following question: “When you think of me in good times or bad, what are the core qualities that I exhibit? What are the positive ones? And what are the more challenging ones?”

Before you read anyone else’s answers, answer these yourself, being as candid as you can, knowing you don’t need to share this with anyone else.

Can you identify your identity? What are the durable traits or qualities you want your reputation built on? What qualities are you ready to part ways with?

The capacity for change with a ballast of continuity defines the Modern Elder.


While it contradicts the stereotype that older people become more narrow-minded and set in their ways, there’s glorious evidence that post-fifty, many elders return to a childlike sense of wonder.

  • How can you become more curious?
  • What’s a subject – unrelated to your work – in which you could become one of the world’s leading experts?
  • How will your create necessary time in your schedule for wondering about the world?

Essential for a Modern Elder is the desire to experience something new and unexpected rather than regress into what is comfortable and familiar.


Your capacity to collaborate will improve if you create team norms that help everyone feel that the group is there to support you and the mission, as opposed to undermining you. Here are a few group norms that have proven to be effective:

  • Try to encourage everyone to participate in group discussions, especially those representing diverse demographics and viewpoints.
  • Lead by example by not interrupting teammates during conversations and giving credit to people for their earlier idea as you built upon it.
  • Call out intergroup conflicts so you can resolve matters in person.

As a Modern Elder, we have the capacity to be a “first-class noticer,” paying close attention to what is happening around us, and helping make sure everyone on the team is contributing.


You may learn that your true value comes in those times when you get the counselor role right. Here are some best practices in counseling:

  • Listen both to the story and for the story and beware of pre-judging.
  • Assuming it feels appropriate, self-reveal something about your history that will help others understand they’re not alone.
  • Prove your loyal – first and foremost by explicitly committing to confidentiality.

Spiritually radiant, physically vital, and socially responsible Modern Elders feel generative when they create the space for those younger than them to accelerate their learning by means of providing wise counsel.

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

These Are Not the Worst of Times; America Has Been Here Before

Over the first six decades of the twentieth century American had become demonstrably – indeed measurably – a more “we” society.

Over the past five decades America has become demonstrably – indeed measurably – a more “I” society.

By using advanced methods of data analysis to combine four key metrics of economics, politics, society, and culture into a unified statistical survey, authors Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett have been able to discern a single core phenomenon – a single inverted U-curve that provides a scientifically validate summary of the past 125 years of American’s story.

The Upswing traces the roots of today’s problems to the last time the same problems threatened to engulf our democracy. It contains an evidenced-based story about how we have arrived at our current predicament. The authors examined how economic inequality, political polarization, social fragmentation, cultural narcissism, racism, and gender discrimination each evolved over the course of the last 125 years.

Putnam and Romney Garrett argue that the state of America today must be understood by fist acknowledge that within living memory, each of the adverse trends they now see were going in the opposite direction. To a surprising degree century-long trends in economics, politics, society, and culture are remarkably similar, such that is tis possible to summarize all of them in a singe phenomenon:

The story of the American experiment in the twentieth century is one of a long upswing toward increasing solidarity, followed by a steep downturn into increasing individualism. From “I” to “we,” and back again.

Perhaps, according to the authors, the single most important lesson we can hope to gain from this analysis is that in the past America has experienced a storm of unbridled individualism in our culture, our communities, our politics, and our economics, and it produced then, as it has today, a national situation that few Americans founded appealing.

But, America successfully weathered that storm once, and the authors believe we can do it again.

If there were ever a historical moment whose lessons we as a nation need to learn, it is the moment when the first American Gilded Age (1870-1900) turned into the Progressive Era (1900-1915), a moment which set in motion a sea change that helped us reclaim our nation’s promise, and whose effects rippled into almost every corner of American life for over half a century.

Putnam and Romney Garrett hope that an awareness of the this moment may find the tools and inspirations needed today to create another American upswing – this time with an unwavering commitment to complete inclusion that will take us toward yet a higher summit, and a fuller and more sustainable realization of the promise of “we.”

Inspired and adapted from The Upswing: How American Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, by Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett

How To Communicate Clearly Through Vivid Thinking

Most church leaders, especially the senior pastor or teaching pastor, rightfully view their skills as a communicator to be one of the most important aspects of their position. From the weekly sermon to regular leadership meetings to training and development presentations to special, one off events, the spoken word is of paramount importance to church leaders.

But what if you realized that, by communicating only through words, you are effectively ignoring one of the richest methods of communication that draws on the most powerful part of your brain – your visual sense?

To be the most effective communicators we can be, leaders must learn to use the simplicity and immediacy of images to help clarify our ideas for both ourselves and others.


THE QUICK SUMMARY – Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam

Ever been to so many meetings that you couldn’t get your work done? Ever fallen asleep during a bullet point presentation? Ever watched the news and ended up knowing less? Welcome to the land of Blah-Blah-Blah.

The Problem: We talk so much that we don’t think very well. Powerful as words are, we fool ourselves when we think our words alone can detect, describe, and defuse the multifaceted problems of today. They can’t – and that’s bad, because words have become our default thinking tool.

The Solution: This book offers a way out of blah-blah-blah. It’s called “Vivid Thinking.”

In Dan Roam’s first acclaimed book, The Back of the Napkin, he taught readers how to solve problems and sell ideas by drawing simple pictures. Now he proves that Vivid Thinking is even more powerful. This technique combines our verbal and visual minds so that we can think and learn more quickly, teach and inspire our colleagues, and enjoy and share ideas in a whole new way.

The Destination: No more blah-blah-blah. Through Vivid Thinking, we can make the most complicated subjects suddenly crystal clear. Whether trying to understand a Harvard Business School class, or what went down in the Conan versus Leno battle for late-night TV, or what Einstein thought about relativity, Vivid Thinking provides a way to clarify anything.

Through dozens of guided examples, Roam proves that anyone can apply this systematic approach, from left-brain types who hate to draw to right-brainers who hate to write. This isn’t just a book about improving communications, presentations, and ideation; it’s about removing the blah-blah-blah from your life for good.


According to author Dan Roam, our default method of communication is words. Even when verbalizing a thought, we attempt to string words together in meaningful ways, because it’s the best way to share an idea. We also believe that the ability to speak well is the primary cornerstone of intelligence.

In reality, defaulting to using only words quickly leads us down the path of blah-blah- blah.

Roam defines blah-blah-blah as:

  • Complexity – which kills our ability to think.
  • Misunderstanding – which kills our ability to lead.
  • Boredom – which kills our ability to care.

Blah-blah-blah is the overuse, misuse, and abuse of language – anything we say that interferes with our ability to convey ideas.

The reason we are talking more and saying less, hearing more and listening less, learning more and knowing less is simple: We’ve moved off the center of balance between focusing on details and seeing the big picture.

The reason for all the blah-blah-blah is that we’ve simply forgotten how to use both of our minds. As we’ve become increasingly enamored of and reliant upon words, our verbal minds have become heavier and heavier, while our visual minds have gotten lighter and lighter. Now that we are facing some of the most difficult challenges of all time, we suddenly realize that we’ve lost half our minds.

Getting our balance back on center is simple: All we have to do is take a half-step back from our unshakable belief in the power of words and at the same time give our visual mind a kick in the pants. That’s what Vivid Thinking does.

Vivid Thinking stands for visual verbal interdependent thinking, which means actively forcing our visual and verbal minds to work together when we are thinking, leading, teaching, and selling.

It’s so simple to get our verbal and visual minds working together again that Vivid Thinking really has only three rules.

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 1: When we say a word, we should draw a picture (and vice versa).

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 2: If we don’t know which picture to draw, we look to vivid grammar to show us the way.

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 3: To make any idea more vivid, we turn to the Seven Vivid Essentials.

Dan Roam, Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work


To help you learn to practice Vivid Thinking, use the techniques below developed by author Dan Roam.

Rule 1

This is at the same time one of the easiest to understand and most difficult to practice. The next time you have an idea, instead of just talking about it, draw it out.

If you say, “ball,” draw a ball.

Learn to actively engage your visual mind each time your use your verbal mind.

Rule 2

“Grammar” may be a dreaded word to many people, bringing back early childhood memories. Yet the fact you are reading this sentence means it worked!

Grammar helps us use words to form sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, which can become a one-page article or a 500-page book. In the same way, Vivid Grammar is the set of rules used to compose a visual idea from a small set of pictorial elements. Learning to use this tool means that when you say a word, you will know which picture to draw to accompany the word.

  • When you hear a noun, draw a portrait.
  • When you hear an adjective of quantity, draw a chart.
  • When you hear a preposition, draw a map.
  • When you hear tense, draw a timeline.
  • When you hear a complex verb, draw a flowchart.
  • When you hear a complex sentence, draw a multi-variable plot.

Rule 3

Words are abstractions – the ultimate mental shorthand. When you know what they mean, words instantly call to mind ideas, images, feelings, and memories. However, we know that the words we use are distinct from the things they represent, and if we are unclear about what they mean, our audience certainly will be.

Roam suggests that you walk your idea through the Vivid Forest:

  • F – Your idea has Form.
  • O – Your idea can be expressed with Only the Essentials.
  • R – Your idea is Recognizable.
  • E – Your idea Evolves.
  • S – Your idea Spans Differences.
  • T – Your idea is Targeted.

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

How to Problem Solve with Design Thinking

Design isn’t just choosing the right images and fonts for your next website revision. It’s a problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of guests, team members, and partners in your mission. It’s a way of working that creates and refines real-world situations.

Design is the secret weapon of organizations that gives them a strategic advantage in figuring out what services their guests need and in defining the exact characteristics of every guest interaction. Design helps you understand how a guest accesses your website, what a guest is likely to do as they approach your campus, and gives you clues about creating a welcoming environment.

Design is the most important discipline that you’ve probably never heard of.

The right Guest Experience changes, implemented the right way, won’t just fall into your lap. You must actively design them. This requires learning – and then sticking to – the steps in a human-centered design process.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Design Thinking for the Greater Good by Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer

Facing especially wicked problems, social sector organizations are searching for powerful new methods to understand and address them. Design Thinking for the Greater Good goes in depth on both the how of using new tools and the why. As a way to reframe problems, ideate solutions, and iterate toward better answers, design thinking is already well established in the commercial world. Through ten stories of struggles and successes in fields such as health care, education, agriculture, transportation, social services, and security, the authors show how collaborative creativity can shake up even the most entrenched bureaucracies―and provide a practical roadmap for readers to implement these tools.

The design thinkers Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer explore how major agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Transportation and Security Administration in the United States, as well as organizations in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have instituted principles of design thinking. In each case, these groups have used the tools of design thinking to reduce risk, manage change, use resources more effectively, bridge the communication gap between parties, and manage the competing demands of diverse stakeholders. Along the way, they have improved the quality of their products and enhanced the experiences of those they serve. These strategies are accessible to analytical and creative types alike, and their benefits extend throughout an organization. This book will help today’s leaders and thinkers implement these practices in their own pursuit of creative solutions that are both innovative and achievable.


In today’s increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable environment, church leaders need to be involved in design thinking more than ever. Design is all about action, and churches too often get stuck at the talking stage.

Face it – despite all our planning and analyzing and controlling, the typical church’s track record at translating its rhetoric into results is not impressive.

Moments matter. And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance!

  • All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought.
  • All it takes is for you to think like a designer.

One of the biggest contributions of design thinking is to hold us in the problem space long enough to develop the kind of deeper insights into the problem that foster more creative ideas later on.

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach with a unique set of qualities: it is human-centered, possibility driven, option focused, and iterative.

A learning mindset, empathetic understanding of stakeholders, and an experimental approach to solving problems is what design thinking’s methodology and tool kit are all about.

How is design thinking going to do this? By providing the tools to answer a simple series of questions:

    • What is? explores current reality.

    • What if? generates ideas.

    • What wows? finds the sweet spot.

    • What works? launches and learns.

These four questions build bridges to more innovative solutions via a systematic, data-driven approach to creativity. This might sound like an oxymoron, but we don’t believe it is. By breaking the process into four questions, potential design thinkers can explore the “how to” in a way that feels safe and structured to both leaders who think in details and those who thrive in innovation and creativity.

These strategies are accessible to analytical and creative types alike, and their benefits extend throughout an organization.

Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer Design Thinking for the Greater Good


As a way to reframe problems, ideate solutions, and iterate toward better answers, design thinking shows how collaborative creativity can shake up even the most entrenched bureaucracies, providing a practical roadmap to innovative, achievable solutions.

Use the four-question design thinking process listed above, think of another future Guest Experience action you would like to implement, and write it on a chart tablet.

On four separate chart tablets, write the four questions. Spend at least thirty minutes discussing each question, and write down notes and highlights of each discussion on the appropriate chart tablet.

At the end of the discussion, select the top three items from each of the four questions. As a team, decide how you will proceed with this action, who will lead the effort, and when the target launch day is. Turn them loose on the “how.”

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny

Today is a follow on post to The History of America’s Future, which looked at Generations, a 1992 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Generations is a speculation by the authors that the history of America can be seen as a succession of generational cycles.

The Fourth Turning is one of their follow-up books, taking a DEEP dive into what the next “turning” could look like. Keep in mind that this was written in 1997, and uses past history to project a possible future.

A few quotes from the opening chapter sets the tone:

America feel’s like it’s unraveling.

Though we live in an era of relative peace and comfort, we have settled into a mood of pessimism about the long-term future, fearful that our superpower nation is somehow rotting from within.

Not long ago, America was more than the some of its parts. Now, it is less. Where we once through ourselves collectively strong, we now regard ourselves as individually entitled.

Yet even while we exalt our own personal growth, we realize that millions of self-actualized persons don’t add up to an actualized society. Popular trust in virtually every American institution – from businesses and governments to churches and newspapers – keeps falling to new lows. Public debts soar, the middle class shrinks, welfare dependencies deepen, and cultural arguments worsen by the year.

Wherever we’re headed, America is evolving in ways most of us don’t like or understand. Individually focused yet collectively adrift, we wonder if we’re headed toward a waterfall.

I first read these words when the book was released, and readily identified with them. Over the 20+ years since, I think they are even more prophetic.

Here is how Strauss and Howe set up this book:

At the core of modern history lies this remarkable pattern: Over the past five centuries, Anglo-American society has entered a new era – a new turning – every two decades or so. At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years, a unit of time the ancients called the speculum. Together, the four turnings of the speculum comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and destruction:

  • The First Turning is a High, an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays.
  • The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civil order comes under attack from a new values regime.
  • The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast er a strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants.
  • The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the new values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.

Each turning comes with its own identifiable mood. Always, these mood shifts catch people by surprise.

Strauss and Howe label The Fourth Turning as a book that turns history into prophecy, taking you on a journey through the confluence of social time and human life.

Part One – Seasons – Acquiring new tools for understanding self, life, family, society, and civilization. Learn about the cycles of life, generational archetypes, turnings, and history.

Part Two – Turnings – Revisit post-World War II American history from the perspective of turnings and archetypes. Gain new insight about why the first three turnings of the current Millennial Saeculum have evolved as they have. Read why this saecular journey must culminate in a Fourth Turning and what is likely to happen when it does.

Part Three – Preparations – Explore what you and the nation can do to brace for the coming Crisis. Learn how, by applying the principles of seasonality, we can steer our destiny.

An appreciation for history is never more important than at times when a saecular winter is forecast. In the Fourth Turning, we can expect to encounter personal and public choices akin to the harshest ever faced by ancestral generations. We would do well to learn from their experience, viewed through the prism of cyclical time. Through much of the Third Turning, we have managed to postpone the reckoning. But history warns that we can’t defer it beyond the next bend in time.

Part of a series looking at history and future through the lens of generations

How to Show Appreciation to Your Team by Building Two-Way Respect

As the leader of a team of three – or three hundred – do you think your team feels appreciated by their coworkers – and you?

Studies have shown that while we expect to get paid for the work we do, and we would all like to make more money, the number one factor in job satisfaction is not the amount of pay but whether or not the individual feels appreciated and valued for the work they do.

There is something deep within the human spirit that longs for appreciation. Without a sense of being valued by supervisors and coworkers, it can be easy to feel like you are a part of a machine or just a number.

While communicating appreciation to employees and colleagues may sound easy, there is more to it than just saying “thank you.”


Reward and recognition programs can be costly and inefficient, and they primarily reward employees who are already highly engaged and productive performers. Worse still, these programs actually decrease employee motivation because they can make individual recognition, rather than the overall success of the team, the goal. Yet many businesses turn to these measures first – unaware of a better alternative. So, when it comes to changing your organizational culture, carrots and sticks don’t work!

What does work is Dr. Paul Marciano’s acclaimed RESPECT model, which gives you specific, low-cost, turnkey solutions and action plans– based on seven key drivers of employee engagement that are proven and supported by decades of research and practice―that will empower you to assess, troubleshoot, and resolve engagement issues in the workplace:

Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work delivers the same proven resources and techniques that have enabled trainers, executives, managers, and owners at operations ranging from branches of the United States government to Fortune 500 corporations to twenty-person outfits to realize demonstrable gains in employee productivity and job satisfaction.

When you give a little RESPECT you get a more effective organization, with reduced turnover and absenteeism and employees at all levels who are engaged, focused, and committed to succeed as a team. In short, you get maximum ROI from your organization’s most powerful resource: its people!



Author Paul Marciano believes that as our level of respect grows for an individual, so does our level of engagement. Conversely, when we lose respect, we disengage. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to feel a sense of commitment to a person, team or organization that one disrespects.

Marciano goes on to say that the essence of being a powerful and effective leader is having loyal followers who willingly do what is asked of them. Such real and enduring power cannot be demanded or coerced. It comes from a lifetime of quietly caring about, respecting, and serving others.

In other words, a culture of respect.

The RESPECTTM Model is an actionable philosophy base on the simple principle that when people are treated with respect they engage and work harder to achieve the goals of the organization.

The RESPECTTM Model is defined by seven critical drivers that influence an employee’s internal assessment of respect and subsequent level of engagement.

Recognition: Employees feel acknowledged and appreciated for their contributions. Supervisors regularly recognize deserving team members, and people are rewarded based on their work performance.

Empowerment: Supervisors provide employees with the tools, resources, and training to succeed. Employees experience high levels of autonomy and are encouraged to take risks. Supervisors take the initiative to communicate with employees and ensure that they are equipped to succeed, not fail.

Supportive feedback: Supervisors provide employees with timely specific feedback in a supportive, sincere, and constructive manner. Feedback is delivered for the purpose of reinforcement and improvement – never to embarrass or punish.

Partnering: Employees are treated as business partners and actively collaborate in business-making decisions. They receive financial information, understand the big picture, and are given wide latitude in decision-making. Supervisors serve as advocates for their employees’ development and growth. Team members and departments actively communicate and share information with one another.

Expectations: Supervisors ensure that goals, objectives, and business priorities are clearly established and communicated. Employees know precisely the standards by which their performance is evaluated and are held accountable for meeting their performance expectations.

Consideration: Supervisors, managers, and team members demonstrate consideration, caring, and thoughtfulness toward one another. Supervisors actively seek to understand employees’ opinions and concerns and are understanding and supportive when employees experience personal problems.

Trust: Supervisors demonstrate trust and confidence in employees’ skills and abilities. Employees trust that their supervisor will do right by them. Leaders keep their promises and commitments and, in return, are trusted by employees.

Paul Marciano, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with Principles of RESPECTTM


Author Paul Marciano believes that people follow leaders they respect and by whom they are respected. Respected leaders inspire followers to engage in the work that needs to be done to fulfill the mission and vision of the organization. Many leaders, however, assume that respect should be automatically bestowed upon them based on their position.

In truth, leaders must earn respect by treating those around them with respect every day.

Using the RESPECT acronym above, spend focused time reflecting on how you as a leader are accomplishing – or not – each specific action listed. After reflection, rate yourself on a scale of one to five where one equals “This is missing in my leadership” and five equals “I consistently demonstrate this action.”

For every four or five rating, congratulate yourself in keeping up the high standard, but also consider how you might become complacent. List ways to become even better in these areas.

For each three rating, you are sitting on the fence. Review the actions, and list things you can do that will immediately put you on the way to a four and maybe even a five rating – and do them.

For each one and two rating, list actions that will help you move in a positive direction. Challenge yourself to implement at least one action in each of the areas each week, in order to be a leader who respects your team.

After a two-month period of taking the above actions, revisit the lists you have made, and note your progress.

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Follow These Five Steps to Deliver a Great Guest Experience

First impressions of your campus and facility last.

First impressions are automatic – taken in and recorded by our senses, often registered for later recall. More often than not, they make an immediate impact on our decision to participate and to return – or not. We may not agree with it or not, but the consumer mentality of the world we live in has moved full force into our church world. Our churches don’t compete with the “world” so much as the experiences of the world.

As you live your life day in and out, you are living the life of a consumer.

  • Where do you consume?
  • Where do you shop?
  • Who provides service for you?
  • Most importantly, why?

You may stop at your favorite coffee shop for a good cup of coffee – and the conversations you have with the barista and the other regulars in the shop. Your supermarket always has good value and a wide selection of the food your family likes. Clothes from a particular shop just fit better – and the sales associates are always helpful with suggestions. The point is, you have established expectations of each place and the people who work there.

Is it any different for Guests and attendees at your church?

If your goal is to create a space and an experience that will positively impact people, you must first plan and evaluate it from the perspective of its quality. You start that process by examining the daily places and routines in the offices, retail, and recreation spaces of the people you are trying to reach. The homes they live in, the offices they work in and the stores they shop in all communicate a level of expectation they have for their space.

Close your eyes for a moment and think about the last time you truly had a great experience with a company as a consumer, an experience that captured your heart, soul, mind, and spirit. What about it was special? Call it “X” – that “je ne sais quoi” that makes something so special.

Here’s another unique retail establishments that are game changers in the customer experience world.

But what do these organizations – and others who are providing exceptional customer services – have to do with your church’s Guest Experience?

I happen to think they are a timeless reminder that experience still matters.


Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a beloved deli with some of the most loyal clientele around. It has been praised for its products and service in media outlets far and wide, including the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Inc. Magazine, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, USA Today, and Fast Company. And what started out as a small deli has grown to a flourishing restaurant, catering service, bakery, mail-order operation, creamery, and training business.

Booming business and loyal customers are proof enough that the Zingerman’s team knows a thing or two about customer service. Now in Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, co-founder Ari Weinzweig shares the unique Zingerman method of treating customers, giving the reader step-by-step instructions on what to teach staff, how to train them, how to implement the training, how to measure their success, and finally, how to reward performance.


Seemingly small things like going the extra mile, remembering customer’s names, noticing a nice order and saying “thanks,” taking time to show a new customer around our place of business – those individual acts are still the things that make great service a reality.

Great service is still given – and will always be given – one customer at a time. They come in, are engaged, and are won over one by one.

In terms of translating what we’ve believed from the beginning into a model that genuinely works in the real world, there are five major parts to what we do. While many organizations do one part or the other, my belief is that all great service providers do all five well.

We Teach It

Without effective training, great service is just one more good idea that never really happens. We’re relentless about our service training. When someone finishes our training, they actually know what we expect with regard to service. And – through our classes, seminars, and training materials – we’ve given them a series of very tangible tools with which to make it happen. The more we teach it, the more effectively we can – and do – live it.

We Define It

Treating service as a generic, if desirable, concept isn’t going to help anyone improve the quality of their work. What helps is that we’ve given a clear definition of service – what we refer to as a “recipe” – that works.

We Live It

At the end of the day, this is what really counts. I think that what sets us apart is that after defining it and teaching it, we actually devote enormous energy to walking our talk. Mind you, we never get it perfect. But we constantly work at it, perfecting the alignment between the way we teach it, the way we define it, and the way we live it.

We Measure It

Service measurement provides the service world with the same sort of helpful data that financial statements provide you with for your money. Quite simply, measurement gives us a scorecard for service, a commonly shared language about how we’re doing, where we’re succeeding and where we’re falling short.

We Reward It

It’s imperative that we effectively recognize and reward those in our organizations who go out and give great service. Both formal and informal reward systems will go a long way toward helping to build the service-oriented culture and the effective service delivery we’re so committed to.

Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service


Using the five ideas listed above, convene a team brainstorming session. Write each of the five ideas at the top of a chart tablet, one idea per chart tablet.

With a blue marker, list as many activities as you can that you and your teams are currently doing with that idea. Repeat for each of the five ideas.

With a green marker, list as many activities as you can that you and your teams would like to do with that idea. Repeat for each of the five ideas.

On each of the five chart tablets in blue (current), circle the top three actions that you can make better. Assign a champion to each, and ask them to develop a timeline for implementation.

On each of the five chart tablets in green (future), circle the top three actions that you would like to begin. Assign a champion to each, and ask them to develop a timeline for implementation.

Ask for monthly updates in each of the areas being worked on.

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

The History of America’s Future

Sometime in the early 1990s, I became aware of a new book by William Strauss and Neil Howe, entitled Generations: The History of America’s Future, from 1584 to 2069. As a student of history, I eagerly dove into the book, studied it, and have revisited it often in the thirty years since.

In Generations, the authors speculate the history of America as a succession of generational biographies, beginning in 1584 and encompassing everyone through the children of today. Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern. The vision of Generations allows us to plot a recurring cycle in American history – a cycle of spiritual awakenings and secular crises – from the founding colonists through today and well into this middle of this century.

Generations come in cycles. Just as history produces generations, so too do generations produce history.

William Strauss and Neil Howe

From the book, a brief description of the four cycles:

Strauss and Howe labeled the four generational types Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. With one exception, they have always recurred in a fixed order. During a spiritual awakening, Prophets are moving into rising adulthood while Nomads are appearing as children; during a secular crisis, Heroes are moving into rising adulthood while Artists are appearing as children. Later in life, these generations trigger another social moment and thus keep the cycle turning.

The first and third types are what we call “dominant” in public life – Prophets through redefining the inner world of values and culture, and Heroes through rebuilding the outer world of technology and institutions. The other two types are “recessive” in public life, checking the excesses of their more powerful neighbors – Nomads as pragmatists, Artists as ameliorators.

The passage of four generations, Prophets through Artists, completes one full generational cycle over the course of four, twenty-two year phases of life (a total duration of roughly ninety years). From the 1584 Puritan birth year forward, the authors traced five such cycles through American history – of which three (Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War) are fully ancestral, a waning fourth (Great Power) comprises the eldest 28 percent of the American population at the beginning of 1991 (when the book was released), and an emerging fifth (Millennial – the name of the cycle, not the name of the generational cohort) includes the youngest 72 percent. Within these cycles, we identify eighteen generations, from John Winthrop’s Puritans to Jessica McClure’s Millennials – and a recurring pattern of awakenings and crises.

Keep in mind that this was written in 1991.

So, here we are in late 2020, and what does the history of America’s future look like?

From above: during a secular crisis, Heroes are moving into rising adulthood while Artists are appearing as children.

That would be today’s Millennials moving into rising adulthood, and Gen Z appearing as children and teenagers.

So, according to Strauss and Howe, a secular crisis looms.

That pretty much describes 2020, don’t you think?

Here is where the life cycle can help. The story of civilization seldom moves in a straight line, but is rich with curves, oscillations, and mood shifts. The ebb and flow of history often reflect the ebb and flow of generations, each with a different age location, peer personality, and lifecycle story. By viewing history along the generational diagonal, by searching the cycle for behavioral clues, we can apply the mirror of recurring human experience to gaze around the corner of current trends and say something instructive about the decades to come.

William Strauss and Neil Howe

Here’s a timeline visualization of the generational cohorts:

What do you think?

Looking ahead: more ideas from Strauss and Howe, a look back (and today?) to the Gilded Age, and more!

Inspired and adapted from Generations: The History of American’s Future, 1584 to 2069