The Rebirth of Aesthetics

aes – thet – ics – (noun) a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty

An idea is only an intention until it has been perfected, polished, and produced.

– Marty Neumeier

According to Marty Neumeier, Director of Transformation at the Liquid Agency, the same principles that activate other forms of art will soon become essential to the art of leadership. The more technological our culture becomes, the more we’ll need the sensual and metaphorical power of beauty.

aesthetics

Take a look at the chart below, and see how the aesthetics of the single word on the left inspires your curiosity of leadership through the questions on the right.

The Aesthetics of Leadership

Contrast – How can we differentiate ourselves?

Depth –  How can we succeed on many levels?

Focus – What should we NOT do?

Harmony – How can we achieve synergy?

Integrity – How can we forge the parts into a whole?

Line – What is our trajectory over time?

Motion – What advantage can we gain from speed?

Novelty – How can we use the surprise element?

Order – How should we structure our organization?

Pattern – Where have we seen this before?

Repetition – Where are the economies of scale?

Rhythm – How can we optimize time?

Proportion – How can we keep our strategy balanced?

Scale – How big should our organization be?

Shape – Where should we draw the edges?

Texture – How do details enliven our culture?

Unity – What is the higher-order solution?

Variety – How can diversity drive innovation?

What beautiful thing are you creating in your organization today?

When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

– Buckminster Fuller

inspired by and adapted from Marty Neumeier’s The Designful Company

The Designful Company
Advertisements

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

ChurchWorld leaders need to think like designers.

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

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

The designful organization inserts a third activity: making.

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

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

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

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

One that you can’t afford to ignore.

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

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

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

How are you putting hands to work in your church?

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

The Designful Company

Less is Almost Always More, Even When We Ask for More

The bread aisle at the grocery store confounds me.

courtesy Mike Mozart, CC jeepersmedia/15026803517

courtesy Mike Mozart, CC jeepersmedia/15026803517

I just wanted to buy a loaf of bread to make a sandwich – I didn’t really want to wade through 7 long shelves of every imaginable type of bread possible.

My grocery store is just like your grocery store: when you stand in any aisle in any retail store in the U.S., you will be inundated with choices. Whether you are buying cereal, candy, TVs, or jeans, you’ll likely have huge number of items to choose from. Whether it’s a retail store or a Web site, if you ask people if they’d prefer to choose from a few alternatives or have lots of choices, most people will say they want lots of choices.

This is true in ChurchWorld, too.

Too Many Choices Paralyze the Thought Process

The book Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar details research on choice. In graduate school, Iyengar conducted what is now known as the “jam” study. She decided to test the theory that people who have too many choices will not choose at all. In a booth set up in a busy grocery store, Iyengar and her associates posed as store employees. They alternated the selection on the table: half the time there were 6 choices of fruit jam and half the time there were 24 jars of jam.

When there were 24 jars of jam, 60 percent of the people coming by would stop and taste. When there were only 6 jars of jam only 40 percent of the people would stop and taste. More choices were better – right?

courtesy Chris Martino, CC chrismar/4596518235

courtesy Chris Martino, CC chrismar/4596518235

Not exactly.

You might think that people would taste more jam when the table had 24 varieties – but they didn’t. People stopped at the table, but they only tasted a few varieties whether there were 6 or 24 choice available.

People can only remember 3 or 4 things at a time; likewise, they can decide from among only 3 or 4 things at a time.

The most interesting part of Iyengar’s study is that 31 percent of the people who stopped at the table with 6 jars actually made a purchase. But only 3 percent of the people who stopped at the table with 24 jars actually mad a purchase.

More people may have stopped by, but less people purchased.

The study may have proved that less is more, but why do people always want more choices?

Information is addictive.

Dopamine, a chemical created and released in our brains, is critical in all sorts of brain functions: thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking, and reward. Dopamine also causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your search for more information. A fascinating topic, but it will have to wait for later!

It’s only when people are confident in their decisions that they stop seeking more information.

Application for ChurchWorld Leaders

  • Resist the impulse to provide large number of choices
  • If you ask people how many options they want, the will almost always say “a lot” or “give me all the options.” If you ask, be prepared to deviate from what they ask for
  • If possible, limit the number of choices to 3 or 4. If you have to offer more options, try to do so in a progressive way. Have people choose first from 3 or 4 options, and then choose again from that subset.

inspired by and adapted from 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, by Susan Weinschenk

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

A short note about this occasional design series:

ChurchWorld leaders are designers. They create actions, processes, and services that people use to engage in life-changing decisions. Designing without understanding what makes people act the way they do is like exploring a new city without a map: results will be haphazard, confusing, and inefficient. If leaders know a little more about the psychology of design, their audience will benefit from that design.

Leaders Curate Ideas

You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room.

That’s a warehouse.

What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls. Someone says no. A curator is involved, making conscious decisions about what should stay and what should go. There’s an editing process. There’s a lot more stuff off the walls than on the walls. The best is a sub-sub-subset of all the possibilities.

It’s the stuff you leave out that matters.

So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential. Pare things down until you’re left with only the most important stuff. Then do it again. You can always add stuff back in later if you need to.

The inspirational words above come from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37signals. If you don’t own it, you should.

The artwork below is by illustrator Mike Rohde.

Be a curator

Both are important to me, as they represent the role I began at Auxano four years ago today – the Vision Room Curator.

My role has expanded in many ways since 2012 – but at the heart of everything I do is the concept of curation. But I don’t curate things – I curate ideas, represented in the image above by the light bulbs. There’s a lot of ideas floating around in the world today – but only a few need to be turned on.

Being a curator may be my vocational role, but it’s also something every leader needs to practice.

What will you curate today?

 

 

 

What If Leaders Thought Like Designers?

Then they would be familiar with these three words: Empathy, Invention, and Iteration.

Empathy –  design must start with establishing a deep understanding of those we are designing for. Leaders who thought like designers would put themselves in the shoes of their team or client. More than just “customer-centered” (that’s internal and external customers), the idea here is to know the “customer” as real people with real problems, not seeing them as statistics or targets or a cog in the machine. It involves understanding both their emotional and “rational” needs and wants. Great designs inspire – they grab us at an emotional level. Yet we often don’t even attempt to engage our customer or team at an emotional level – let alone inspire them.

courtesy annetteleach.com

courtesy annetteleach.com

Consider one of my favorite metaphors – the bridge. Now go to New York City with me and look at the bridges there: the Manhattan, the George Washington, the Williamsburg, and others – and then there is the Brooklyn Bridge. The others offer a route across the water. The Brooklyn Bridge does that too, but it also sweeps, symbolizes, and enthralls. It has, like other design icons such as the Sydney Opera House, become a symbol of the land it occupies and an inspiration to generations. Translate that same feeling to leading people, and you can begin to grasp empathy.

Invention – design is also a process of invention. Leaders who thought like designers would think of themselves of creators. Many people have talked about the “art and science” of leadership, but to be honest we focus mostly on the science aspect. All to often leaders play the role of scientist, investigating today to discover explanations for what has already happened, trying to understand it better. Designers invent tomorrow – they create something that isn’t. To get to growth, it is necessary to create something in the future that is different from the present. Powerful futures are rarely discovered primarily through analytics. Analysis is an important role, but it must be subordinate to the process of invention when the goal is growth.

Great design occurs at the intersection of constraint, contingency, and possibility

– Richard Buchanan, former Dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design

 When leaders start the growth conversation with the constraints of budget and the hard road to success, we get designs for tomorrow that merely tweak today. Great design starts with the question “What if anything were possible?

courtesy en.structurae.de

courtesy en.structurae.de

To illustrate, let’s go back to New York City, this time to Central Park, one of America’s great public spaces. In 1857, the country’s first public landscape design competition was held to select the plans for this park. Only one plan – prepared by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux – fulfilled all the design requirements. Others were stymied by the requirement that crosstown vehicular traffic had to be permitted without marring the pastoral feel of the park. Olmstead and Vaux succeeded by eliminating the assumption that the park was a two-dimensional space. Instead, they imagined the park in three dimensions and sank four roads eight feet below the surface.

Iterate – Leaders who thought like designers would see themselves as learners. Leaders often default to a straightforward linear problem-solving methodology: define a problem, identify various solutions, analyze each, and choose one – the right one. Designers aren’t nearly so impatient,or optimistic. They understand that the successful invention takes experimentation and that empathy is hard won. So is the task of learning.

courtesy ikeainalmhult.com

courtesy ikeainalmhult.com

The IKEA way of business we know (and love!) today didn’t originally start out that way. Almost every element of IKEA’s legendary business model – showrooms and catalogs in tandem, knockdown furniture in flat parcels, and customer pick-up and assembly – emerged over time from experimental response to urgent problems. “Regard every problem as a possibility,” was IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’s mantra. He focused less on control and “getting it right” the first time and more on learning and on seeing and responding to  opportunities as they emerged.

A bridge, a park, and a business model – they share fundamental design principles:

  1. Aim to connect deeply with those you serve
  2. Don’t let your imagined constraints limit your possibilities
  3. Seek opportunities, not perfection

Is there a way for ChurchWorld leaders to think like designers?

inspired by and adapted from Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to fit ChurchWorld realities

updated from an earlier post

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

In today’s increasingly fast-paced and unpredictable environment, church leaders need to be involved in design thinking more than ever.

Pause Button: If you are a ChurchWorld leader and believe that you don’t need to concern yourself with design thinking, you should probably take a look at Why Design Thinking and What if Leaders Thought Like Designers. Just saying…

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. In the business world, researchers estimate that only somewhere between 10% and 60% of the promised returns for new strategies are actually delivered. Having been around ChurchWorld for over 30 years, my observation is the reality would be between 10% and 30% – tops. Practices that consume enormous amounts of time and attention most produce discouraging results. All the empty talk is making it harder  and harder to get anything to actually happen. Churches expect the staff to be member-focused while the majority watches. When a staff or volunteer actually takes a risk, they are punished if it doesn’t succeed. Ambitious growth goals aren’t worth the spreadsheets they are computed on. Getting new results requires new tools – and design has real tools to help move from talk to action.

Design teaches us how to make things feel real, and most church rhetoric today remains largely irrelevant to the people who are supposed to make things happen

Church elders and staff can make plans, bring on new staff, invest in the latest conference success story – but they can’t change the organization without a lot of help. The only people who will care enough to help are those for whom strategy is real. Things that feel real to people are both interesting and personally significant. They are experienced, not just pronounced. While leaders are showing growth spreadsheets, designers are telling stories. We have a lot to learn from design about how to tell a story that engages an audience, captures the experience dimension and makes the future feel real. Look at any presentation created by anybody at a design firm and compare it with the Death by PowerPoint presentation you are forced to sit though by your organization. Enough said.

Design is tailored to dealing with uncertainty, and ChurchWorld is obsessed with analysis that assumes a stable and predictable world

That would be the world we don’t live in anymore. The world that used to give us puzzles but now dishes up mysteries. And no amount of data about yesterday will solve the mystery of tomorrow. ChurchWorld is designed for stability and control and is full of people with veto power over new ideas and initiatives. They are the “designated doubters.” The few who are allowed to try something new are expected to show the data to “prove” their answer and must get implementation right the first time. Designers have no such expectations. They thrive on uncertainty and are enthusiastic about experiments and patient with failure. Design teaches us to let go and allow more chaos into our lives. Designers have developed tools to help them actively manage the uncertainty they expect to deal with.

Design understands that products and services are for human beings, not target markets segmented into demographic categories

It is easy in ChurchWorld to lose sight of the real people behind the masses surrounding our campuses. The reality of human beings and their hopes and hurts fades as they are tabulated and averaged into categories, reduced to the status of preferences in an analysis paper. Lost within that reality is the deep understanding of needs – often ones that aren’t even articulated – that are the starting point for real ministry. This messy reality is something that designers understand well. They master the skills of observation, of understanding human beings and their needs, while typical ChurchWorld leaders learn mostly to evaluate, an activity that rarely involves the kind of empathy that produces fresh insights.

If you want efficiency, you get everybody who thinks the same way and they’ll get to a decision quickly. And that works 80 percent of the time. But for that 20 percent of the time when you need something disruptive, innovative, and creative, you’re going to have to put up with a little bit more ambiguity.

Jeremy Alexis, Illinois Institute of Technology

Who are the designers on your team?

inspired by and adapted from Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to fit ChurchWorld realities

Designing for Growth

Design Details Make the Story

Walt Disney had the idea that Guests could feel perfection. A story from Disney “design guru” Imagineer John Hench describes it well:

I once complained to Walt about the construction of some new stagecoaches. Walt had asked that the cab be suspended by leather straps as early western stagecoaches had been. I thought that this was too much and told Walt, ‘People aren’t going to get this, it is too much perfection.’

‘Yes, they will,’ he responded. ‘They will feel good about it. And if they don’t understand it, if you do something and people don’t respond to it, it’s because you are a poor communicator. But if you really reach them and touch them, they will respond because people are okay.’

I knew then that Walt expected us to give our Guests good information in both design and story.

courtesy abcnew.com

courtesy abcnews.com

Disney Institute Programming Manager Bruce Jones continues that line of thinking:

Disney Imagineers like John Hench say attention to detail and exceeding Guests’ expectations is so important. It’s also why Disney over-manages.

Over-managing is a driver of consistent business results and an effect of the alignment of an organization’s values and vision. The goal: be intentional where others are unintentional — over-managing the things most companies ignore or under-manage is what differentiates you. 

As I’ve written before, the secret to Disney “magic” is simple: it’s attention to detail.

Easier said than done in any organization, but the Disney organization certainly leads the way for others to follow.

Disney Imagineers excel at transforming a space into a story place. Every element they design works together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, landscaping, water elements, and modes of transportation. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.

Look for all the rich details in this photo from Hollywood Studios.

Look for all the rich details in this photo from Hollywood Studios.

The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney themed show, its greatest source of strength. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea. Walt Disney knew that if details are missing or incorrect, Guests won’t believe in the story, and that if one detail contradicts another, Guests will feel let down or even deceived.

This is why he insisted that even details others thought no Guest would notice – like leather straps on the stagecoaches – were important. Inappropriate details confuse a story’s meaning.

How do you pay attention to the details in your organization?

inspired by and adapted from John Hench’s Designing Disney

Designing Disney