Simon Says, Be a Designer

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing conditions into preferred ones.     – Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate

If we take Simon’s description but simplify the language and tone, we end up with a new definition powerful enough to recast the way organizations think:

Design is change.

According to Simon, anyone who tries to improve a situation is a designer. You don’t need a Master of Fine Arts degree and 9 years of experience at a design studio to engage in designing.

You just need to find a situation worth improving and then work through the creative process.

And of course, ChurchWorld leaders don’t have any of those situations, do they?

Marty Neumeier, writing in The Designful Company, reminds us that leaders are designers, too, since leading is the act of moving people from an existing situation to an improved one.

According to Neumeier, while everyone uses design thinking in some situations, certain people are particularly suited to it. They tend to be:

  • Empathetic – able to understand the motivations of individuals and form strong emotional bonds
  • Intuitive – a shortcut for understanding situations. While the logical mind works through sequential steps, the intuitive mind is good for seeing the whole picture
  • Imaginative – new ideas come from divergent thinking, not convergent thinking
  • Idealistic – creative personalities are notorious for focusing on what’s wrong, what’s missing, or what they believe needs to change.

Designful leaders are energized by the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with constant change. Designful leaders don’t accept the hand-me-down notion that cost cutting and innovation are mutually exclusive, or that short-term and long-term goals are irreconcilable. They reject the tyranny of “or” in favor of the genius of “and.”

When you look in your leadership mirror, do you see a designful leader?


inspired by and adapted from The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier

The Designful Company


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

The 3rd Discipline of Guest Experiences: Design

Organizations that want to produce a high-quality Guest experience need to perform a set of sound, standard practices. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, in their book Outside In, have developed six high-level disciplines which can be translated into Guest experiences: strategy, Guest understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture.

An overview of all six Disciplines can be found here. These disciplines represent the areas where organizations that are consistently great at Guest experiences excel.

If you want to deliver a great Guest Experience, these disciplines are where you need to focus, too. 


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

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

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

The human-centered design process starts with research to understand Guest needs and motivations. It’s all those activities in the discipline of Guest Understanding. Analysis is next – synthesizing the data into useful forms. The next phase is ideation, which is just what it sounds like – coming up with ideas. After that, it’s time to prototype – ranging from a simple redesigned Guest survey to a full-scale mock-up of your typical Guest experience on the weekend. Next, these prototypes are put into action with real people while you observe the results. Finally, you must document the features of the resulting product or service that has evolved.

Design Practices

  • Follow a defined Guest Experience design process any time a new experience is introduced or an existing experience is changed in some way
  • Use Guest understanding deliverables and insights to focus and define requirements for projects that affect Guest Experiences
  • Engage Guests, team members, and partners as part of the experience design process
  • Use iterative ideation, prototyping, and evaluation as part of the experience design process
  • Identify the set of complex interdependencies among people, processes, and technologies that shape interactions with Guests (the Guest Experience Ecosystem)

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

I will be happy to discuss Guest Experience initiatives for your church and partner with you to design a WOW! Guest Experience.

Application to ChurchWorld

  1. Guest interactions need to be designed, not left to chance
  2. Design is an activity best done with people, not to them
  3. Prototyping can help keep ideas alive while you create buy-in

Design will stretch your skills and challenge your old ways of working.

Next: How do you know when your design work is having the effects you intended? That’s where the measurement discipline comes in.

Want to know more about the Guest Experience in your church?

  • Learn why the Guest Experience matters here
  • Contact me here
  • Read up a little here

Where is your Red X?

In this case, literally.

The one that says “You Are Here.”

red x

Exciting the subway in the middle of a city or stepping off the elevator onto a strange floor is momentarily disorienting: you scan the space to figure out where you are and find clues that will lead you where you want to go. This scanning is similar to searching for an article in a magazine or perusing the home page of a website to figure out how it is organized and how to read a specific section.

All these reflex actions are about wayfinding.

 – Christopher Pullman, design consultant and senior critic at Yale University School of Art

Wayfinding pays a very important part in ChurchWorld – from the design of your website to the design of your graphic pieces to the design of your building (notice the common word – design.) If you are a ChurchWorld leader and don’t think you are or need to be a designer, I invite you to join me in a conversation that started here.

People will always need to know where they are, how to reach their destination, what is happening there, and how to exit.

Yesterday, I enjoyed spending some time with Zach and Benjamin from The Avenue Church in Waxahachie, TX – they were visiting Elevation Church’s Uptown campus. Zach is the Associate Connections Minister there, and he and I had some great conversations about Guest Experiences, specifically wayfinding.

Increasingly, my discussions with church leaders about Guest Experiences include the issue of wayfinding – most of the time in a physical sense of the spaces they are using, renovating, or preparing to build. Sometimes, it’s just a dreaming conversation, but even that is a great place to start!

For the next few days, I want to dive into the topic of wayfinding in ChurchWorld – I hope you will enjoy the journey!


part of the 2013 GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey

Leaders Need to Work Out of Both Sides of Their Brains

After my design thinking diatribe in yesterday’s post, maybe it’s time for a little balance in the ever-present battle between the linear, analytical left brain and the chaotic, creative right brain. There is an unavoidable but healthy tension between creating the new and preserving the best of the present; between innovating new ideas and maintaining healthy existing ones. As a leader, you need to learn how to manage that tension, not adopt a wholly new set of techniques and abandon all of the old. It’s not that many analytic approaches are bad – it’s just that in many organizations, it’s all they’ve got.

The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)future we’re living in will require multiple tools in the leader’s tool kit – a design suite especially tailored to starting up and growing new ventures in an uncertain world, and an analytic one suited to running established organizations in a more stable environment.

What leaders need is not a right brain transplant that throws the old left brain tool kit away – they need to be taught some new approaches to add to the tool kit they’ve already got. Business as usual can help leaders do things designers have trouble with. Design needs business thinking for good reasons:

Novelty doesn’t necessarily create value

The flip side of the defense of the status quo because of its familiarity is the pursuit of novelty only because it’s new. How many times have you seen (or have been guilty yourself) ChurchWorld leaders who have attended the latest conference and returned to their church to try the latest and greatest geewhizjimmyhawthingy guaranteed to (fill in the blank) your church?

Even value creation is not enough

Churches, in order to survive, must care about more than just creating value for the existing organization. It is an important, but insufficient, first step. To survive long-term, churches need to be able to execute and capture part of the value they create in a duplicatable process that accomplishes their mission and reproduces their “product” – disciples. While doing creating and innovating, they must in Jim Collins’ words “remain true to the core.” This requires solid businesslike thinking: can we translate a new and innovative idea from small experiment to a significant part of the organization’s being without messing up the recipe?

How many more stylish worship environments or new group ideas do any of us need?

Cool stuff is great, but design has the potential to offer so much more. Design has the power to change the world – not just make it pretty or more functional. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do it. The discipline of design should address our most challenging problems, not just pretend to make us better or fulfill our dreams.

Part of an ongoing adaptation of Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to fit ChurchWorld realities

An Idea Everyone Will Like

There’s no such thing as a truly original idea.
I don’t know who said it first, but it’s something I really believe! I’ve found a fascinating book by creativity expert David Kord Murray that takes that saying to the outer limits.
Over the last month I’ve been working on a project related to innovation and design in ChurchWorld, and this line of thought resonated a lot with me.
Borrowing Brilliance will challenge you as it examines the evolution of a creative idea. It also offers practical advice, taking the reader step-by-step through Murry’s unique thought process. Here are the six steps:
  1. Defining – define the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. Borrowing – Borrow ideas from places with a similar problem
  3. Combining – Connect and combine these borrowed ideas
  4. Incubating – Allow the combinations to incubate into a solution
  5. Judging – Identify the strength and weakness of the solution
  6. 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 at this website. But don’t stop there – by all means pick up a copy of the book and explore it deeper – and you will find yourself looking at creativity in a whole new light.

Got a challenge staring you in the face, and looking for a solution. Why not follow the steps above by “borrowing some brilliance” and formulate your own unique solution?