Books and the Genius of Thomas Edison

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


As one of America’s foremost inventors, Thomas Edison was certainly adept at questioning the world around him.  In order to better understand the natural world, Edison was constantly developing new context by asking different questions. And the framework for formulating these challenging questions?

Edison readbroadly.

I didn’t read books – I read the library.

 Thomas Edison

Among Edison’s first steps when undertaking a new collaborative effort was zeroing in on reading material with themes aligned to the subject matter he was evaluating. This often meant plowing through textbooks and papers spanning diverse scientific topics. But he also read fiction and fantastical works that were completely unrelated to the subject of his endeavors.

Edison believed feeding his mind diverse perspectives through the written word was critical to prevent specifically shaping or tainting his perceptions in any one direction as he began his questioning process.

Thomas Edison LibraryAn ardent lover of books and newspapers, by 1887, when Edison was 40, his personal collection at his laboratory exceeded 10,000 volumes. Though seemingly small by today’s standards, it was one of the top five libraries in the world during the late nineteenth century.

Drawn from the reaches of acoustics, botany, electricity, mathematics, photography, chemistry, materials sciences, and physics, Edison shared the resources of his library with his employees, encouraging them to continually stimulate their own thinking and questioning skills.

Reflecting on his love for storytelling and the deft use of language, Edison’s library also embraced extensive works of classical Greek literature plus a vast collection of Shakespeare. He particularly valued science fiction novels by pioneering French writer Jules Verne for the flights of fantasy and freedom from logic they spurred.

We can link Edison’s reading to many of the provocative questions he asked. Diligently recording his queries and insights in the notebooks that were ever-present at his side, Edison returned to these deep, probing questions again and again. His intentional gathering of questions became a pivotal spur for experiments and hypotheses that he later introduced when working jointly with his team.

Edison’s voracious reading created a constant stream of ideas, insights, and inspiration that led him to breakthrough solutions. His never-ending quest for greater depth and breadth of knowledge helped him develop an unprecedented approach to experimentation in service of innovation.

Through reading, Edison “cross-trained” himself in multiple disciplines, using books as a pathway into new fields of endeavor. (Innovate Like Edison, Gelb and Caldicott)

Just as Edison’s hours of reading in his library sparked questions to be pursued via new hypotheses and experiments, your own reading endeavors can yield serendipitous yet brilliant questions from angles you least expect.

For Your Consideration

  • When was the last time you reached for a new hardcover book or bought an e-book?
  • How frequently do you change the types of materials you read?
  • Do you follow the same reading routine over and over again?
  • Why not experiment and select three new bloggers to track over the next month?
  • Why not take a reading retreat?
  • If you were to shift your reading list so that it looks something Edison might devise, what would be on it?

Material from this post adapted from Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott and Midnight Lunch, by Sarah Miller Caldicott

 

 

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Design Your Life

Your divine design, as expressed in Ephesians 2:10, is more knowable than you realize. You are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance, that you should walk in them.

With the right tools, courageous dialogue, and an experienced guide, you can accelerate progress in articulating your life vision and aligning your life vocation.

Auxano Founder Will Mancini and pastor Dave Rhodes have developed those tools: Younique, a life-long process of discovering and living out your unique life call.

Once you read through this “appetizer,” read more about how you can and should know your Life Younique: your God-given identity and your God inspired dreams. Then, you can discern and design the practical next steps to get there.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

At last, a book that shows you how to build – design – a life you can thrive in, at any age or stage.

Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking.

In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

As you look around your office, home, or the coffee shop where you are reading this, you will realize that everything surrounding you was designed by someone. And every design started with a problem.

The same process that created the things around you can be applied to designing something far more important – your life.

Like the unique lamps or furniture, a well-designed life will have a look and feel all of its own. You can use design thinking to create a life that is meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling.

You never finish designing your life – life is a joyous and never-ending design project of building your way forward.

A well-designed life is a life that makes sense. It’s a life in which who you are, what you believe, and wheat you do all line up together.

A well-designed life is a marvelous portfolio of experiences, of adventures, of failures that taught you important lessons, of hardships that made you stronger and helped you know your self better, and of achievements and satisfactions.

A well-designed life isn’t a noun – it’s a verb. Just keep building your way forward. Design isn’t just a technique to address problems and projects – it’s a way of living.

Good design always releases the best of what was already there and waiting to be found and revealed.

Life design revolves around five simple things you need to do:

  1. Be curious – there’s something interesting about everything. Endless curiosity is the key to a well-designed life. Nothing is boring to everyone.
  2. Try stuff – With a bias to action, there is no more being stuck – no more worrying, analyzing, pondering, or solving your way through life.
  3. Reframe problems – Reframing is a change in perspective, and almost any design problem can use a perspective switch.
  4. Know it’s a process – Awareness of the process means you don’t get frustrated or lost, and you don’t ever give up.
  5. Ask for help – Radical collaboration means that you aren’t alone in the process.

You can apply some of the five mindsets virtually anywhere, on any given day. The opportunities to live into being curious or to try stuff are endless.

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Designing Your Life

A NEXT STEP

Write the five mindset phrases above, each to a single journal page. On a weekly basis, work through the following steps.

Be Curious – choose a new or new-to-you topic which you have just heard about in terms of your ministry area. Reflect on the following questions:

  • What would someone who is interested in this want to know?
  • How does it work?
  • How did it used to be done?
  • What is the most interesting thing about it?
  • What do I need to learn more about?

Try Stuff – choose a new ministry topic or event in the near future. Reflect on the following questions:

  • How can we try this – even on a small scale – this week?
  • What would we like to know more about?
  • How do I go about finding out?
  • What will we learn when we expand the scale?

Reframe problems – choose a recent ministry event that has concluded. Reflect on the following questions:

  • What perspective am I viewing the event from?
  • How can I change to a completely different perspective and view the event?
  • What other perspectives could other people have about the event?
  • In describing the event from other perspectives, what new information did I learn that will be helpful the next time?

Know it’s a process – choose a ministry idea that someone on your team has talked about but not yet implemented. Reflect on the following questions:

  • List all the steps leading up to, and following after, the idea.
  • What would happen if you didn’t think more than one step ahead?
  • What’s the worst thing that can happen? What would you do?
  • What’s the best thing that can happen? What will you do?

Ask for help – identify a ministry action or event that you have been thinking about, but is not yet public. Find a peer you can talk to about your ideas, using these questions:

  • Describe the idea in five minutes, then ask for five minutes of feedback.
  • List the individuals and/or groups that would be involved in launching this idea. Are you connected to, and in conversation with, all of them?
  • Keep an “ask-for-help” journal, and right down questions you want help on. Each week, identify people who can help you, and ask them for help.

By keeping the mindsets as an active orientation in your daily life, you will soon see how they can help you continually design your life.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 80-1, issued November 2017.


 

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<<

How to Read Effectively to Deliver Powerful Leadership

Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading.

As a boy in elementary school, I remember with fondness the Weekly Reader Club, a newspaper of sorts as well as an opportunity to buy books. My parents, especially my dad, were always happy to accommodate my asking for books to buy and bring home.

I recently gave new meaning to that idea, creating a Wednesday Weekly Reader series, in which I post a portion of the SUMS Remix book summaries I create as Vision Room Curator for Auxano.

 

Reading is my passion – but I don’t just read for reading’s sake.

The leader learns to invest deeply in reading as a discipline for critical thinking.

Al Mohler

leaderslibrary

Reading, for me, is a chance to have an ongoing conversation with the author. The image above, taken from a new addition to my reading list, reflects the inside cover of almost every book in my library.

  • The large green Post-it® notes are for writing down important ideas from my reading of the book.
  • The smaller yellow Post-it® notes are for bookmarking important ideas in the pages of the book itself.
  • The four symbols are my “shorthand” for use while reading, indicating additional action needed.
  • I also usually highlight sections in various colors.
  • And on occasion, I will write longer notes in the margins.

When I’m finished with a book – particularly one that has really engaged me and caused me to think – the result looks something like this:

hatchbooknotes

I’m an active reader, working on becoming a more critical thinker, which will help me become a better leader.

What – and how – are you reading?

Inspiration Comes from Things That Are Infused with Life

The word inspire means “to breathe into or upon; to infuse with life by breathing.” When we say, “I am inspired,” it has a deeper significance than we think. We are “breathing in” the living environment of ideas, enthusiasm, and energy that comes with the creative process.

If we look in the Bible, we see the same idea. In Hebrew and Greek the words for “spirit” are the same as the words for “breath” and “wind.”

WheatWind

In fact even in English our word “spirit” comes from Latin word meaning breath. “Inspiration” and “respiration” have the same root. This is no mistake. From the earliest times people could see the connection between breath and active life. When a person’s body stops breathing, it also becomes inactive and dies. Breath is the outward manifestation of activity and life. This intimate connection between breath and active life is the reason why the same word is used for both “spirit” and “breath” in Hebrew (ruach) and in Greek (pneuma).

Inspiration comes from things that are infused with life.

In creating, Disney’s Imagineers always work from a basis of their training, exposure to others’ work, their research, and their life experience.  Working together, they are inspired by their collective histories, training, experience, predecessors, and mentors.

When we are inspired, ideas that are living inside us will find a way to be expressed.

Thistle

Here’s an exercise from the Imagineers: Select a creative challenge – painting, writing, inventing – anything that requires creativity. Now, make a list of creative souls that could inspire a solution: artists, scientists, inventors, musicians, writers. Select one or more people from the list, reflect on their talent, research their work, and let them breathe life into your thinking and imagination.

Now, find your own answers by letting your imagination soar with multiple solutions.


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

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

The Disney Imagineers

 Imagineering logo

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?

 

 

 

Activity is Not Necessarily Accomplishment

Deep in the countryside of Tuscany, there is an olive grower who makes exceptional olive oil. When asked why it was so good, he simply said:

“There are two reasons – When I pick and what I pick. Nothing else matters.”

He begins his harvest in September, when common sense suggests that your trees should be left alone. In September, the olives are green and hard. Most people pick in late November or December.

“Ten to twelve weeks later, the olives are swollen and full of juice. The more juice you get, the more oil you can bottle, the more money you make. But for me, that olive is bloated – pulpy and full of water. As a result, the oil is thin. You have volume, but no intensity. For me, intensity is everything. For me, less is more. My oil is very, very intense.”

Reading this story from Heat, by Bill Buford, I am reminded of John Maxwell’s Law of Priorities:

Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment.

In Ephesians 5:15-17, Paul advises us to:

  • Analyze our lifestyles (5:15)
  • Utilize the present (5:16)
  • Prioritize what is important (5:17)

Every leader, every day, gets the same amount of time.

Not every leader gets the same results.

Priority = intensity

World Class Leadership Takes Place Off the Court

Yesterday the 2016 version of March Madness kicked off.

College basketball is not my favorite sport, although spending 6 years in between supporters of the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats, and now in my 21st year of ACC basketball craziness, I do get excited as the tournament rolls around in March.

My wife (who is actually the biggest sports fan in our house) and I do a bracket each year just to see who gets closest to the winner.

So as the tournament gets going in earnest, my thoughts are on…

John Wooden.

John Wooden and his historic UCLA dynasty won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, including 88 straight games. Named Coach of the Century by ESPN, his honors and milestones cover 2 pages.

But it’s not his basketball coaching skills that draw me in – it’s his philosophy of world-class leadership that takes place off the court.

Practicing character-based leadership before the term was invented, John Wooden consistently led his legendry teams to victory and has since taught countless business leaders his fundamentals for achieving and sustaining success.

Coach’s Pyramid of Success is one of the most popular and effective motivational tools around.

Pyramid of Success

Corporations use it. Speakers laud it. Books have been written about it. Coach Wooden talked about it as often as he could. Many of his former players point to the Pyramid as the key to their personal success, both on and off the basketball court.

When Coach Wooden talked about the Pyramid, he always started at the cornerstones of industriousness and enthusiasm. He moved up the Pyramid one block at a time. Before reaching the top (success) he always talked about the mortar elements of faith and patience.

Sounds like a good plan for success to me.

The past is for reference; the future for dreamers. The present moment is where you create success: make it a masterpiece.

John Wooden

 

Using a Systems Thinking Approach to Innovation

How a conversation with Flik reminded me that innovation and systems thinking aren’t mutually exclusive.

AK-Flick1

If you’ve never seen A Bug’s Life, it was the 2nd Pixar film released following the amazing debut of Toy Story. If you haven’t seen it at all, or recently, I recommend you watch it for pure enjoyment and the lessons it contains.

Flik is a entrepreneurial ant (that paradox is a leadership book in itself!) whose latest invention is a machine that allows ants to do more faster, thus satisfying the demands of their grasshopper overlords. It works for a while, but then disaster strikes and Flik has to scramble to come up with new solutions to save the colony.

That’s all the storyline I’m going to give you; I hope it whets your appetite to view the movie.

A recent encounter with a life-sized Flik at Disney’s Animal Kingdom brought to mind this fact:

When you’re working on a project, things always go smoother when you have the right tools at hand.

If your mind is working on something innovative, the same is true. The mind is full of ideas from past experiences and from observations gained through conversations, movies, television, etc. While you may chose to rely on your subconscious mind to access these ideas, why not take a more structured approach, using specific tools and techniques?

In her book “The Seeds of Innovation”, Elaine Dundon has created a systems thinking approach to innovation. At first those two thoughts seem contradictory, but in reality it can become a very powerful synergy. For example, here’s a “toolkit” you can dive into when you are faced with a challenge in your ministry.

Rummaging in the Attic – elements of previous solutions or ideas can prove to be very valuable fuel for jump-starting your idea engine. Find old ideas, dust them off, and reconnect them in new ways to your current problem or opportunity.

Cultivating Obsession – a great way to find new ideas it to become obsessed with the challenge that confronts you. It means you have to immerse yourself in the challenge, to seek out all the information you possibly can. Obsession will lead to better insights.

Analyzing Frustrations – one of the most fertile areas for identifying new ideas is discovering what frustrates others about the current problem. Focusing on what is not working will sometimes be the origin of a new breakthrough idea.

Identifying the Gold Standard – no matter what the challenge you are facing, someone else has already been down that road. Seek out these people or organizations that have solved a similar challenge in an outstanding way. Make a list of the elements of the process or program that made it work for them, and relate this list to your situation.

Adopting and Adapting – great ideas already exist all around you. Find them out and adopt them as your own. Look within the category of your opportunity, but also look outside the box. Innovators look beyond the borders of their own situation to find new ideas to adopt and adapt.

Combining Ideas – innovative thinking is a little like a cake you bake: take a little of this, a little of that, put them together and you have a delicious dessert. Creative thinkers are aware of the objects and ideas around them and look for new connections by combining diverse ideas and objects.

Finding Similarities – think of other challenges that might be similar. Draw analogies to similar situations, let your mind wander, and you will most likely discover a new connection from an unlikely source.

Breaking Down the DNA – what if your problem is overwhelming? Break it down into its component parts and focus on it bit by bit. Analyzing every step in the process will allow you to discover new answers.

Listing and Twisting – this is actually a follow-on step from the previous one. Once you have listed the steps in the process, you can “twist” them around to find new ideas.

Become a Visual Thinker – something happens when we move away from a linear process of thinking and start to doodle or draw. I’m a big fan of this method; I have a 4’ x 8’ whiteboard on my office wall that I’m constantly stepping up to and sketching out an idea. It seems that your subconscious mind takes over and new connections begin to appear.

Whether you use a process like the ones above, or just pull up a chair with a cup of coffee in hand to think, the point is that innovation is a process. You know where you are; hopefully you know where you want to be. Let your imagination run wild in the space between, and before long you and your team will have a plan to move forward.

Isn’t About Time You You Made the Ordinary Extraordinary?

Anyone can dream…

But Disney’s Imagineers dream and do.

Since 1952, the Walt Disney Imagineers have been turning impossible dreams and schemes into magical rides, shows, and attractions for Disney theme parks around the world.

What is their magic?

It’s all about making the ordinary extraordinary.

Take this building in Hollywood Studios, for instance…

HS012914Bldg2

It’s a beautiful building, right?

Not really…

HS012914Bldg1

It’s really just a facade – an excellent example of how the Imagineers use a combination of imagination and engineering to make magic come to life at Disney.

Disney’s Imagineers are a highly creative group – one that isn’t slowed down by the impossible.

There are hundreds of stories about Imagineers who didn’t realize what they were capable of until they started doing it. They don’t want your fear of taking the first step get the best of you – they want to let your project get the best of you.

Imagineers try and fail and keep trying until they make magic.

Isn’t it time you got started?

Go ahead. Tackle that creative challenge head-on. Allow the spark of an idea to ignite your creativity and passion. Make the ordinary, extraordinary.

Don’t just sit there – dream and do!

 

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

TheImagineeringWorkout

The Disney Imagineers

Imagineering logo