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
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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

It’s Up to You to Make the Brick Click

Christmas morning found the following under our tree:

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The story of our family fun putting it together is recounted elsewhere, but our week-long adventure reminded me of a great book on a recent success story of LEGO – and the lessons we can learn from it.

The LEGO brick is deceptively simple. By itself, it has almost no value and worse, no use. Only an engineer can appreciate the creative value of those knobs on top and the hollow tubes underneath.

LEGO brick patent drawing

Snap two or more of them together, and you’ve suddenly opened up a world of almost infinite possibilities. Google LEGO creations and be prepared to be amazed:

  • A functioning supercomputer (1,000 bricks plus electronic parts)
  • A full-size Rolls-Royce aircraft engine (152,000 bricks)
  • A detailed recreation of the 2012 London Olympics (over 250,000 bricks)
  • A life-size two-story house with working toilet and shower (3.3 million bricks)
  • A full-scale replica of the Star Wars X-Wing fighter (over 5 million bricks)

In the fifty-five years since it was patented, the LEGO brick has ignited the imaginations of millions of children and adults – and become a universal building block for catalyzing creativity.

What was the secret behind LEGO’s decades of success?

LEGO owes much of its enduring performance to a core set of founding principles that have guided the company for over eighty years:

  • Values are Priceless
  • Relentless Experimentation Begets Breakthrough Innovation
  • Not a Product but a System
  • Tighter Focus Leads to More Profitable Innovation
  • Make It Authentic
  • First the Stores, Then the Kids

Even so, at the height of its success toward the end of the 1990s, LEGO stumbled and almost became a statistic – another failed company. They began to confuse growth with success, literally selling their LEGO systems around the world. Unfortunately, the company’s rapid globalization was not accompanied by sufficient innovation. Technological advances also began to change the nature of play – VCRs, video games, cable TV, computers, the Internet, which claimed an increasingly larger share of the core market of LEGO – children.

Determined to rebound from successive years of loss, the executive team embarked on an ambitious initiative for reigniting growth. The effort was oriented around some of the world’s most popular strategies for developing new products and services.

Seven Innovation Strategies

  • Hire diverse and creative people
  • Head for blue ocean markets
  • Be customer driven
  • Practice disruptive innovation
  • Foster open innovation – heed the wisdom of the crowd
  • Explore the full spectrum of innovation
  • Build an innovation culture

LEGO heeded the proclamations of management strategists and adopted the seven truths of innovation – all of them. For a time, the strategy worked. For a company that was struggling to catch up with a world that was passing it by, there was in inherent logic in the LEGO Group’s pursuit of the seven truths.

But LEGO had placed a lot of big bets in just a few short years. The company was trying to expand on so many fronts it was in danger of losing its focus and discipline. Individually, the seven truths have worked for other companies. Collectively, they almost pushed LEGO into bankruptcy.

The most difficult challenge in business is not to invent an innovative product; it’s to build an organization that can continually create innovative products. It took LEGO seven years and played out in five stages.

The result? LEGO emerged from its near-death experience as the world’s most profitable and fastest-growing company. From 2007 to 2011 through the worst of the global recession, LEGO profits quadrupled, far exceeding the giants of the toy industry, Mattel and Hasbro. From 2008 to 2010, LEGO profits grew faster than Apple, despite competing in an industry with few entry barriers aggressive competition, fickle customers and no patent protection on its core product – the LEGO brick.

LEGO achieved those results not by breaking with business convention but by building within it.

They operated “inside the box”.

Excerpted and adapted from Brick by Brick, by David Robertson with Bill Breen

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick is the story behind that seven year journey to success. Sometimes radical, but always applicable, Brick by Brick contains real-world lessons for unleashing breakthrough innovation in your organization.

The excerpts above have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom contained in Brick by Brick. Leaders in organizations of all sizes, profit or non-profit, will benefit from the lessons it contains. It digs into the LEGO Group’s practical approach to everyday innovation and shows how your organization can do the same.

It’s about LEGO’s reinvention of innovation – making continuous innovation less of an abnormality and more of the new normal.

A warning – like every LEGO set, Brick by Brick‘s principles require you to bring your own imagination and experience to the game to figure out what’s best for you and your organization.

It’s up to you to make the bricks click.

How to Use a Brain Trust to Spark Creativity on Your Team

In our fast-paced digital life, church leadership teams need to be creative in order to deal with the changes coming their way today – or they risk irrelevancy tomorrow.

Creativity then, becomes a constant process for every ministry area of any church rather than an occasional requirement for the worship pastor at Christmas or only limited to those “creative” churches.

Like farmers and their crops, leaders cannot dictate creativity, but they are called to cultivate creativity. Thinking and acting creatively doesn’t just happen because a leader desires it or orders it to happen. With the right environment, resources, mindset, and vision, your team will be able to develop the required motivation to be creative on their own.

How can I unleash the creativity of my team?

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Solution: Create a Brain Trust

THE QUICK SUMMARY

Creativity, Inc. is a book for leaders who want to lead their teams to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made.

It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation through joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, and the emotional authenticity. In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Among the many necessities for creativity is the freedom for a team to share ideas , comments, and critiques with one another. The flip side of that freedom is the danger of being too critical, or that critical comments are taken the wrong way.

How can leaders walk the fine line between encouraging open, honest dialogue among their team while at the same time avoiding negative, destructive criticism? 

Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process – reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds a soul.

One of Pixar’s key mechanisms is the Braintrust, which we rely upon to push us toward excellence and to root out mediocrity. The Braintrust is our primary delivery system for straight talk. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another.

It’s not foolproof – sometimes the interactions only serve to highlight the difficulties of achieving candor – but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal. The Braintrust sets the tone for everything else we do.

Participants in the Braintrust do not prescribe how to fix the problems they diagnose. They test weak points, they make suggestions, but it is up to the director to settle on a path forward.

People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. In order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while. Soon, the details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction.

No matter what, the process of coming to clarity takes patience and candor.

The Braintrust differs from other feedback mechanisms in two ways:

  • It is made up of people with a deep understanding of the process at hand and who have been through it themselves;
  • It has no authority – the director (leader) has to figure out how to address the feedback.

We believe that ideas only become great when they are challenged and tested.

– Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

A NEXT STEP

Does your leadership team debate, disagree, discuss, dump—or do you dialogue?  The group dynamics of a team can make or break your effectiveness as a leader.   Imagine what could happen in your ministry if you could lubricate your team’s communication skills.

Engaging the methods of dialogue results in two-way, open communication that generates an uninhibited flow of ideas in a “braintrust” environment.

Dialogue relates to more than communication—it involves creating an environment of trust, discipline and commitment to a common purpose where teams “think together.”

With an understanding of the basics of dialogue, the team must relentlessly:

  • Practice listening to hear, not to react
  • Practice asking to explore ideas, not to judge
  • Practice advocating an idea that focuses on the question at hand, not to defend a position

The core of dialogue is that there is understanding and discipline on the team that the question –the problem at hand—always remains the focus of the dialogue, with the church’s vision as primary filter. It works because individuals put aside egos, assumptions, emotions and agendas to focus on the question for the good of the whole–the collective vision of the church or ministry. In a true “Braintrust” dialogue, ideas get affirmed or challenged, not people.

Auxano, the consulting group I work for, has developed a hands-on tool to use in collaborative meetings that not only reinforces understanding of dialogue and team dynamics, but personally engages each individual to enter into productive, healthy collaboration and apply what they have learned.

We call it the Collaboration Cube.

Our Collaboration Cube takes these ideas to an experiential level that not only encourages team involvement in dialogue, but gives them the ability to apply it. The cube is used by the facilitator to guide the group, and by team members to communicate within the Braintrust.

Imagine creating a “Braintrust” at your church: a unified team that can work together and support decisions because they are results that people really care about and they evolved from a shared experience. What could you do with that kind of cohesive culture?  Give this method a try and watch the collective intelligence of your team and your decisions increase with results for your ministry that are unprecedented.

Read more about the Collaboration Cube, or visit our online store to purchase them


Closing Thoughts

Creativity and innovation are the life blood of a thriving ministry. But even the most creative team can become stale or fall into a rut of the same old same old. Your actions as a leader will determine if your team stays the same, or is constantly reinventing itself.

Taken from SUMS Remix, Issue 15-3, May, 2015


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 “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

You can find out more information about SUMS Remix here.

Subscribe to SUMS Remix here.

Behind the Scenes at Pixar: How to Manage a Creative Organization

Over the years, Ed Catmull, president of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, has developed a deeply realistic philosophy of how to best manage a creative organization.

Managing a creative organization entails a constant balancing act between the potentially opposing goals of encouraging creative freedom and ensuring an orderly process and consistent financial results.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that it people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group.

Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Pixar’s mechanism to collaboration is the Braintrust, which they rely on to push them toward excellence and to root out mediocrity. According to Catmull, the premise of the Braintrust is simple:

Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid.

The Braintrust is not foolproof, but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal.

Phenomenal, as in:

Pixar16

17 movies released since Pixar began in 1995

14 No. 1 Box Office hits in a row

Over $10.7 billion in ticket sales

Which makes it all the more strange to hear Catmull give his opinion about 1 common theme of all Pixar movies:

Early on, all our movies suck.

Catmull says that phrasing is blunt, but he chose it because saying it any softer fails to convey how bad the first versions really are.

Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process – reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.

No matter what, the process of coming to clarity takes patience and candor.

When questioned about the Braintrust being like any other feedback mechanism, Catmull elaborated:

There are two key differences. First, the Braintrust is made up of people with a deep understanding of storytelling, who usually have been through the process themselves. Second, the Braintrust has no authority. The director does not have to follow any of the specific questions. It is up to him or her how to address the feedback.

If the foundation of the Braintrust is candor, its supporting framework is that the directors must be ready to hear the truth. Candor is only valuable it the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary, to let go of things that don’t work.

People need to be wrong as fast as they can. – Andrew Stanton, Pixar director, screenwriter, producer, and occasional voice actor

Leaders who resonate with ideas like the Braintrust but fear they would never work at their organizations should note Stanton’s encouragement:

You can and should make your own solution group. Here are the qualifications: The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. I don’t care who it is, the janitor or the intern or one of your most trusted lieutenants: If they can help you do that, they should be at the table.

 That’s advice any organization would do well to take.

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Look for Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc

 

They Made It – We Borrow It

There is no such thing as a truly original idea. – David Kord Murray

Great thinkers throughout history have understood this and used it to their advantage.

courtesy ledenergy.ca

courtesy ledenergy.ca

Connecting to and building on other people’s ideas and insights can compensate you better than the exclusivity of building something from scratch. Why try to come up with an original idea when someone else has already done the hard work for you? All great innovators cast a wide net to incite creative thought by looking beyond their category and into analogous organizations around the world.

Good ideas are everywhere, but only you can make them relevant to your world.

Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking, calls this process World Mining. She encourages us to mine deeply to:

  • Seek external inspiration internationally from other companies’ successes, from outside experts, and from creative consumers
  • Identify valued benefits delivered by analogous categories that speak to potential brand promises, brand characteristics, or product experience
  • Review innovative products that are changing competitive landscapes in other categories
  • Assess new technology as a basis for interest

David Kord Murray espouses a similar train of thought in his book Borrowing Brilliance. It will challenge you as it examines the evolution of a creative idea. It also offers practical advice, taking the reader step-by-step through Murray’s unique thought process. Here are the six steps:

  • Defining – define the problem you’re trying to solve
  • Borrowing – Borrow ideas from places with a similar problem
  • Combining – Connect and combine these borrowed ideas
  • Incubating – Allow the combinations to incubate into a solution
  • Judging – Identify the strength and weakness of the solution
  • Enhancing – Eliminate the weak points while enhancing the strong ones

Read a quick summary of the six steps here. You can also get more information here.

Any pool of ideas or existing assets, no matter how divergent from your own organization, can unlock new and even revolutionary areas of discovery and innovation.

The key to finding and borrowing rich resources is becoming attuned to the environment and seeing beyond what’s in front of you, whether you’re just an engaged consumer or looking at other cultures.

Set yourself on the lookout for threads and connections when you observe your surroundings, ask yourself questions, and free your mind.

Somebody probably made it first – it’s up to you to make it better.

inspired by 

Red Thread Thinking, by Debra Kay with Karen Kelly

Borrowing Brilliance, by David Kord Murray

Red Thread ThinkingBorrowing Brilliance

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?