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.

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Practice the Process of Inspiration to Generate Ideas

An exceptional concept depends on good process as well as pure inspiration.

One of my favorite shows at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is Mickey’s PhilharMagic. In the image below, notice the music notes in the background circling around the showcases in the gift shop at the exit from the theater. They’re not random. If you hum them, you will get the opening to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – one of the most memorable sights and sounds from Disney’s Fantasia, and the core idea in Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

WDW Apr16 MK MickeyPHM

That’s the magic that “Process Practice” can produce!

Being aware of the design process and knowing what phase the team and the idea are in is a big part of the show producer’s job. You probably aren’t a producer, but all leaders have a role in pulling various people and resources together in creating something – which is the role of a producer.

Inspiration generates ideas, and the process helps to shape efforts in a way to keep the team moving towards a fully developed idea.

It’s time for you to “get” it…

  • Get going. Toss a bunch of ideas out. Direction often comes from joyous chaos.
  • Get excited. Brainstorm. Dream. Take tangents. Notice where ideas go, what’s cool about them, and incorporate this into the design.
  • Get committed. Set up a regular project meeting time, discuss ideas, or just sit and stare at the wall. Ideas will come either way.
  • Get doughnuts or cookies and some toys. Brainstorming sessions go better when food or toys are around.
  • Get different opinions. Listen to someone else’s point of view and listen for things that improve the design.
  • Get confused. Ask yourself hard questions that you can’t answer.
  • Get unstuck. Try a different direction. Throw out an impossible action. Debating a wrong answer can help reveal the correct one.
  • Get your hands dirty. Build a rough model or stage a reading. You will learn more from this than from any debate, and you’ll learn it in time to fix things.
  • Get reactions. Show the idea to others. Listen to what they say, especially if it isn’t what you want to hear.
  • Get it on paper. Take everything you’ve learned and write a description of the goals and details of the design. If you write convincingly, you’ve probably got a good idea.

If everyone is comfortable with the process, the team members have the freedom to generate the best ideas for their project.


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

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

Imagineering logo

The Disney Imagineers

Sue Bryan, Senior Show Producer

 

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

It’s Always Easier When You Work With Someone Who’s Been There Before

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the size and complexity of some tasks you undertake.

…like planning a week-long visit to Walt Disney World.

That’s the place I found myself in five years ago, when my wife and I began planning a Walt Disney World trip for our 22-year old daughter, as a delayed college graduation gift.

I had been to the Magic Kingdom once. As a senior in high school. For a day. In 1976. A long time ago…

Some things had changed a lot, and my memory wasn’t that good about the trip anyway. Being the research kind of guy, I began looking online at various websites about 9 months prior to the trip. I also checked out some guide books from the library. But the hands down, absolutely best way to plan a trip to Disney World is to use a travel planner. Better yet, a travel planner whose specialty is the Disney Empire, and is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.

Enter Annette at Small World Vacations. When some good friends found out what we were going to do, they heartily recommended I get in touch with Annette. I’m so very glad I did! She walked me through the basics, helped me choose the best options for a fun week, made great recommendations for things to do and places to eat, and generally helped created a great week for us.

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This picture pretty much speaks for itself.

Through her services, we were able to get a fabulous room in a great resort, get all the dinner reservations we wanted, and plan plenty of surprises for our daughter. Annette’s service didn’t stop in the preplanning, either. When I had a couple of questions just before I left, she was quick to answer them. And waiting for us when we got back was an email welcoming us home and wanting to know how our week went.  And so, over the last five years, in preparing for many return trips to Walt Disney World, my first call has always been to Annette. Whether it’s a year in advance (planning a week-long trip for my immediate family of 13) or a week before (a last-minute change in schedule allowing me a day in the parks), the help and guidance of an expert is invaluable.

Planning is easier when you work with someone who’s been there before.

This takeaway doesn’t just apply to planning to go to Disney – I also found out it applied to what Disney itself does in their development for future attractions. While they are reluctant to just “copy” what has worked in one Park and transfer it to another, they do learn valuable lessons and apply a continuous learning cycle to all their operations.

The takeaway also applied to how they staffed Disney World prior to its opening in 1971: a year before the Park opened, they hired several hundred college sophomores for seasonal work; the next year, they went after juniors, and the following year, when the Park was really hitting its stride, they hired seniors. The best of this experienced group were offered entry-level management positions after graduation, and many went on to achieve high-level positions all across the Disney companies.

How do you take advantage of experience in planning and staffing at your organization?

 

Oh, there’s one other thing: Even with the best of outside help, you still have to do the work yourself.

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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…

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It’s a beautiful building, right?

Not really…

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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

Leading Forward by Looking Back to the Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow in recent years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club

Do You Have 3D Guest Experience Vision?

On a recent trip to the theater while wandering around the lobby prior to the movie, and during the previews, there were several references to upcoming 3D movies.

I was reminded of the recent 3D movies I had seen, as well as the 3D magic I experienced in Mickey’s PhilharMagic while on a recent field trip to the Magic Kingdom. 3D movies use the latest technology to show a film in 3 dimensions, giving a richness and depth to the movie.

courtesy orlandosentinel.com

courtesy orlandosentinel.com

Of course when I think of Disney my first thoughts are Guest Experiences, and it didn’t take me long to put the two trains of thought together:

Do you have a 3D Guest Experience at your church?

These 3 dimensions are not length, width, and depth, but 3 representations of time: past, present, and future. A wise Guest Experience leader recognizes the importance of all three:

  • Past is history
  • Present is reality
  • Future is opportunity

History – Every past success and failure in your Guest Experience can be a source of information and wisdom – if you allow it to be. The wise Guest Experience leader learns both from success and failure. Don’t be satisfied with your successes, and don’t be dismayed by your failures. History is important: it is not a rock to hold on to, but a bridge to the future.

Reality – No matter what a Guest Experience leader learns from the past, it will never tell you all you need to know for the present. The wise Guest Services leader is constantly gathering information from many sources about what’s going on in the here and now – because that’s where we are at. They ask others on their team, they talk with their peers; they look to other leaders for insight. Wise Guest Experience leaders also become students of the Guests they are seeking to minister to.

Opportunity – Wise Guest Experience leaders see tomorrow before it arrives. They have a vision for a preferable future, they understand what it will take to get there, they know who they will need to be on the team to be successful, and they recognize obstacles long before they become apparent to others.

Most 3D movies require the viewer to wear special glasses but even then the view was only an illusion of multiple dimensions.

Wise Guest Experience leaders will understand the three dimensions of past, present, and future, and realize they are not an illusion, but a powerful force that will help them lead their Guest Experience Teams with real depth and dimension.

Lead your Guest Experience Teams with 3D vision, and you will exceed your Guest’s expectations every time.

>> Want to learn how to improve the Guest Experience for your church? Fill out this form and I will contact you.