How Environmental Immersion Leads to Creative Inspiration

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

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

Here’s an example from one of my projects:

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

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

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

And it doesn’t stop with pirates.

There’s the Disney wall in my office…

 

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

Anchored by a Disney library of over 230 books (and growing!), I am literally immersed in all things Disney. As I research and work on various projects – especially Guest Experiences – I find great inspiration through the many resources at hand. My immersion is not limited to the visual and tactile – at any given time, the soundtrack of a Disney movie, or the background music from one of Disney’s theme parks is playing in the background.

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

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

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

Research leads to inspiration.


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

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

written by The Disney Imagineers

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Unleash Your Team by Cultivating a Creative Spark

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.

If you desire to unleash the creativity of your team, try cultivating a creative spark.

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THE QUICK SUMMARYCreative Confidence

Too often, companies and individuals assume that creativity and innovation are the domain of the “creative types.”  But two of the leading experts in innovation, design, and creativity on the planet show us that each and every  one of us is creative.

In an incredibly entertaining and inspiring narrative that draws on countless stories from their work at IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and with many of the world’s top companies, David and Tom Kelley identify the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, and in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems.  Creative Confidence can your team be more productive and successful in fulfilling their responsibilities.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

French chemist Louis Pasteur is quoted as saying “Chance favors the trained mind.” You can lead your team to think the same way, by being prepared to be creative.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your efforts to encourage your team’s creativity could be as simple as a change in perspective, or as complex as a new working environment. It’s probably going to be somewhere in-between.

The point is, your team’s creativity can be influenced by specific actions you take. Their claim to fame probably won’t be on the same level as discovering the principles of vaccination or pasteurization, but it could be just as meaningful to your organization.

Sometimes, your team just needs a spark to fire up their creativity.

The creative spark needed to come up with new solutions is something you have to cultivate, over and over again. One way to begin is to consciously increase the inspiration you encounter in your daily life.

Effective strategies to help you get from blank page to insight include:

Choose Creativity – To be more creative, the first step is to decide what you want to make it happen.

Think like a Traveler – Like a visitor to a foreign land, try turning fresh eyes on your surroundings, no matter how mundane or familiar. Don’t wait around for a spark to magically appear. Expose yourself to new ideas and experiences.

Engage Relaxed Attention – Flashes of insight often come when your mind is relaxed and not focused on completing a specific task, allowing the mind to make new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Empathize with Your End User – You com up with more innovative ideas when yo better understand the needs and context of the people you are creating solutions for.

Do Observations in the Field – If you observe others with the skills of an anthropologist, you might discover new opportunities hidden in plain sight.

Ask Questions, Starting with “Why?” – A series of “why?” questions can brush past surface details and get to the heart of the matter.

Reframe Challenges – Sometimes, the first step toward a great solution is to reframe the question. Starting from a different point of view can help you get to the essence of a problem.

Build a Creative Support Network – Creativity can flow more easily and be more fun when you have others to collaborate with and bounce ideas off.

– Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence

A NEXT STEP

At your next team meeting, review the list of strategies above. Select one activity that you will lead your team in each week. Have each team member note how they are applying the principle individually in a personal creativity journal.

Each week, devote 30 minutes of your team meeting to discussing that week’s strategy.

  • How has the strategy worked in improving team creativity?
  • What new directions has the strategy unveiled?
  • What current activities has the strategy revealed that need to be “stopped”?
  • How could the strategy be modified to improve creativity even more?
  • How will your team adopt this strategy into their creative cycle, without it getting “stale?”

At the end of the 8-seek experiment, schedule a one-hour meeting with your team to decide and commit on strategies that will become a regular part of their creative process.

At periodic occasions throughout the year, check-in with the team to see how the strategies are working, or if they need to be modified or abandoned.

 


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 15-1, 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.

How to Increase Your Team’s Productivity by Modeling Your Own

You have a pretty good sense that most of your team has too much to handle and not enough time to get it done – you may not have a sense of how much you are contributing to the problem.

In our fast-paced, get-it-done-now culture, the fact is that almost everyone on your team could use some help in increasing their personal productivity. Why not show them how by modeling effectiveness in your leadership?

By its very nature ministry makes the “I’ve gotten something done today” feeling elusive. For many church leaders, there are no edges to their work – it’s not easy to tell when the work is finished, because it really never is. Most of your team have at least half a dozen things they are trying to achieve right now – today! And a pastoral need could arise at any moment to make that to-do list completely irrelevant.

To give your team practical help for personal productivity, blaze the trail by modeling a rock-solid work routine.

 

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THE QUICK SUMMARY

Are you over-extended, over-distracted, and overwhelmed? Do you work at a breakneck pace all day, only to find that you haven’t accomplished the most important things on your agenda when you leave the office?

The world has changed and the way we work has to change, too. With wisdom from 20 leading creative minds, Manage Your Day-to-Day will give you a toolkit for tackling the new challenges of a 24/7, always-on workplace.

Manage Your Day-to-Day shows you how to build a rock-solid daily routine field in a constant barrage of messages, find focus amid chaos, and carve out the time you need to do the work that matters

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The biggest problem we face today is “reactionary workflow.” We live our lives pecking away at the many inboxes around us, trying to stay afloat by responding and reacting to the latest thing: emails, text messages, Tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts, etc.

Because we are constantly connected to family, friends, and our co-workers, we have become increasingly reactive to what comes to us rather than being proactive about what matters most to us. Being informed and connected becomes a disadvantage when the deluge of information overwhelms your ability to think and act.

It’s time to consider a change in your routine – one that will maximize your creative potential by allocating your best time of the day to it, and then allowing all the other “stuff” to come later.  

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

The Building Blocks of a Great Routine

Of course, it’s all well and good to say buckle down and ignore pesky requests, but how can you do so on a daily basis?

Start with the rhythm of your energy levels. Certain times of day are especially conducive to focused creativity, thanks to circadian rhythms of arousal and mental alertness. Notice when you seem to have the most energy during the day, and dedicate those valuable periods to your most important creative work.

Use creative triggers. Stick to the same tools, the same surroundings, even the same background music, so that they become associative triggers for you to enter the creative zone.

Manage to-do list creep. Limit your daily to-do list. A 3” by 3” Post-It© is perfect – if you can’t fit everything into that size, how will you do it all in one day? If you keep adding to your to-do list during the day, you will never finish – and your motivation will plummet. Most things can wait till tomorrow – so let them.

Capture every commitment. Train yourself to record every commitment you make (to yourself and others) somewhere that will make it impossible to forget. This will help you respond to requests more efficiently and make you a better collaborator. More importantly, it will give you peace of mind – when you are confident that everything has been captured reliably, you can focus on the task at hand.

Establish hard edges in your day. Set a start time and a finish time for your workday – even if you work alone. Dedicate different times of day to different activities: creative work, meetings, correspondence, administrative work, and so on. These hard edges keep tasks from taking longer than they need to and encroaching on your other important work. They also help you avoid workaholism, which is far less productive than it looks.

– Mark McGuinness, Manage Your Day-to-Day

A NEXT STEP

Over a period of five weeks, commit to experimenting with each of the 5 Building Blocks, one each week. As you use each building block during your work day, evaluate moments of increase or moments of distraction, and modify that particular Building Block to drive effectiveness.

After one month of using the building blocks, make an honest assessment of your work routines by asking the following questions:

  • Do you feel that your work is more productive?
  • Can you list specific ways that your work is more productive?
  • What building block was the hardest to implement? Why?
  • What building block was the easiest to implement? Why?

After you have completed your personal assessment, ask a close colleague or two the same questions. Compare their answers to yours, and make any adjustments needed.


Closing Thoughts

Becoming effective in your own work habits will serve as both an inspiration and guide for your team. By demonstrating an effective, balanced role model, you are leading your team to effectiveness of vision, not just managing their output of activity.

Taken from SUMS Remix, Issue 16-3, June, 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.

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:

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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

 

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.”

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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.

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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

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?