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 200 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 can be heard.

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 wold 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

Imagineering logo

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It’s Highly Possible that You’ve Already Had Your Next Best Idea

Most of us attach the word “audit” to “IRS” and the word association isn’t pleasant.

The general definition of an audit is an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project or product.

The term most commonly refers to audits in accounting, internal auditing, and government auditing, but similar concepts also exist in project management, quality management, water management, and energy conservation. (from Wikipedia)

Debra Kaye, writing in Red Thread Thinking, wants to give new meaning to the word audit by attaching it to your ideas instead of your tax returns.

There’s plenty of information, products, materials, and technology that can be looked at in a fresh way, modified somehow, and used again.

We’ve all experienced deja vu – looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling – almost knowing – that you’ve seen it before.

It’s time to flip that phrase.

William Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine and author of Practically Radical, writes that it’s time for the best leaders to demonstrate a capacity for vuja de’. It’s looking at a familiar situation (say, being a leader in ChurchWorld for decades, or designing and delivering a weekly worship experience for years) as if you’ve never seen it before, and with that fresh line of sight, developing a distinctive point of view on the future.

You can’t do big things anymore if you are content with doing things a little better than everyone else, or a little differently from how you’ve done them in the past.

It’s time to look at your organization and your calling as if you are seeing them for the first time.

We all have ideas that never went anywhere. It’s time to unearth old notes from previous development projects. Are there innovations or ventures that you started to work on and then abandoned for some reason?

It’s time for an “idea audit” to see what’s in the back of your hard drive, filing cabinet or closet. When you reassess what’s already there you can uncover what’s worth revisiting.

What should you be looking for in an idea audit? Most organizations and innovators have or can find hidden assets in their past ideas and efforts, including:

  • Existing old technologies that have accessible benefits that can be enhanced and revealed to new constituents
  • Underleveraged technologies or products that could be valued in categories that were not previously considered or by new or niche groups of consumers
  • Unreleased products or too quickly discarded product concepts that could be potential winners, but that went astray because the going-in insight or platform wasn’t properly tweaked
  • Undervalued distribution networks that can be reawakened with partners who want to be where you are
  • Consumer perceptions and sluggish brand equity that can be refreshed to awaken new revenue

In short, open your eyes fresh and look anew.

Look at your resources – every false start, tool, prototype, note, gadget, materials, formula, recipe, or report available – from a different perspective.

Maybe it’s even time for a little Vuja De’.

Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar. – Andrew Wyeth

 

inspired by:

 Red Thread Thinking, by Debra Kaye with Karen Kelly

Practically Radical, by William C. Taylor

 

Great Design is…

Utterly unexpected. A brilliantly designed product or service is clever and amazing. Think anything Apple.

Amazingly competent. A well-conceived product excels at what it does. It is functionally flawless. Think a Ziploc bag or Google’s home page.

Aesthetically exquisite. At the pinnacle of great design are products so gorgeous you want to hug them. Think a Porsche 911.

Conspicuously conscientious. Consumers (especially those under 30) are demanding socially responsible products and services that reflect a sense of stewardship for the environment and a passion for making a difference. Think Prius.

Unfortunately, design is still an afterthought in most organizations. Great design is less about genius than empathy – and it’s often the tiniest things that make the biggest difference.

– from Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now

Designing takes place in the uncomfortable gap between vision and reality.

Marty Neumeier, The Designful Company

Design is not just about products, even though that is often our first and only thought when it comes to design.

Design is change.

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

For ChurchWorld Design Thinkers (aka Leaders)

  • What are the thoughtless little ways we irritate our members and Guests and what can we do to change that?
  • What are the small, unexpected delights we could deliver to our members and Guests at virtually no cost?

Design Thinking Matters.

courtesy richworks.in

courtesy richworks.in

 

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

Effective Collaboration Requires Separating Critical and Creative Thinking

Effective teams do not just agree on vision, they own it and align every ounce of energy and effort toward accomplishing the vision. As a leader, you can sense the difference between your team liking the vision and your team leading toward vision.

In most instances, simple agreement feels like an invisible wall sits somewhere within the team. A divide of mistrust, misunderstanding, or missed input often exists in the origination of the vision. This always leads to misalignment and missed opportunity in the execution of vision.

Every busy week brings a fresh truckload of glass bricks for your team to stack on this invisible wall. No one has ill motives. No one intends cement separation, but the walls go up without conscious notice as the pace of ministry continues.

The good news is that it’s NOT rocket science to take down a wall. Haven’t you noticed it’s easier (and usually more fun) to demolish than it is to build? What your team needs are sledgehammers to take down these hard-to-see barriers.

How do you tear down your team’s invisible walls? To help your team build ownership and collaboration at the source of your vision, learn to separate critical and creative thinking.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Hatch! by C. McNair Wilson

Most Corporate Brainstorming Isn’t Brainstorming… not even close. (Usually what’s going on is playful arguing with snacks on the table.)

McNair Wilson spent a decade inside Disney – mostly at Disney Imagineering designing theme parks. His teams hatched so many ideas he was invited to teach his methods through Disney University. His “7 Agreements of Brainstorming” will assist your team in launching world-class products, services, and programs. You will create competition-crushing concepts using brainstorming that works! (And you can keep the snacks on the table.)

Whatever’s next for your organization, why not make it best? HATCH! is a highly entertaining book filled with the author’s witty drawings and scores of examples of McNair’s 7 Agreements in use by big corporations and small non-profits.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The problem with brainstorming is that everyone thinks they already do it.

The reality is that nobody knows how to brainstorm anymore. It’s not your colleagues’ fault – or yours. Nobody knows how to brainstorm anymore because it is likely every model we have seen contains significant roadblocks to actual innovation.

Far too often, the “way you’ve always done it” is the wrong way – the least productive and the most frustrating.

According to former Disney Imagineer C. McNair Wilson, real brainstorming is both fun to do and very productive- all at the same time.

Done right, brainstorming produces amazing results because “we are smarter than me.”

Start your brainstorming by separating Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking. Both must be done, but they must be done separately if anything of lasting value will be accomplished.

Creative thinking is idea generating, imagining, wondering out loud, dreaming, “what-iffing.” The decidedly different activity of Critical Thinking is not so much thinking negatively as it is thinking with analysis, focus, intentionality, and purpose.

You will have made huge strides toward powerful Creative Thinking once your team embraces and agrees to this important distinction: Creative and Critical Thinking are not part of the same activity and do not, cannot, must not occur simultaneously. It doesn’t work. They cannot occupy the same space. They are the beginning and end of the process whether it is five minutes or five months. Folding them together means doing neither activity effectively. And it is not brainstorming.

You cannot be fully, actively, creative if you are simultaneously thinking critically.

It is vital that you learn to postpone judgment, evaluation, and analysis until you and your team get everything out of your head and up on the wall. You are hatching a plan. Every chicken, eventually, leaves the egg. During Creative Thinking you are offering thought fragments, whims, notions, doodles, bits, and pieces.

The key to Creative Thinking is to learn not to care. That is to say, get to a point where you learn not to care of your ideas make sense, are possible, or if they fit into the project budget. You will care about all that later. This is true for all the ideas that flash through your mind during Creative Thinking.

  • Don’t deliberate, divulge.
  • Don’t analyze, add.
  • Don’t decide, confide.
  • Don’t edit, say it.

You cannot possibly know when a tiny, fleeting thought will be just the spark to ignite a bonfire of creativity in other team members.

C. McNair Wilson, Hatch

A NEXT STEP

Auxano developed a team collaboration tool that we use with every church team. The Collaboration Cube specifically addresses this need for separation between creative and critical thinking.

The Cube is built around the three modes of good collaboration: Blue Sky, Discuss/Challenge, and Decide/ Commit. Each mode represents the ground rules for how the team is interacting at any given time. A facilitator, team leader, or team member can use the Cube to signal a shift or recommend a change of the team’s mode.

Blue Sky mode is the classic brainstorming time where it is critical to generate a great volume of ideas while delaying judgment or critique. The basic principle of creativity is that great ideas are generated through many ideas. While many teams are familiar with the general idea of brainstorming, few practice it, because of the discipline required to suspend judgment, or Critical Thinking. Use the Cube to strengthen this mode of Creative Thinking.

Discuss/Challenge is the default mode where four Critical Thinking roles are put into play and where feedback and pushback are openly discussed. Discuss/ Challenge is the dominant mode that occurs during collaboration. Remember, each role is a default style that each team member tends to play, but during collaboration, each person can pass in and out of each role as collaboration progresses to Decide/Commit.

Decide/Commit is the mode signaled by the facilitator when moving toward a consensus decision or clarifying final action steps. In this mode a leader is able to “land the plane” on the meeting or session. This is the time when the facilitator or leader senses that enough dialogue and “ah-ha moments” have occurred to move toward a meaningful conclusion. When it comes time to Decide/Commit and you poll your team, use this definition of consensus: “Consensus is not when 80% of people feel 100% good about an idea; consensus is when 100% of the team feels 80% good about an idea.”

Visit collaborationcube.com to learn more and to purchase Cubes for your team.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 50-3, issued September 2016.


 

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. Each Wednesday I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt here.

It’s Up to You to Make the Brick Click

Christmas morning found the following under our tree:

legocastlefb-1

 

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

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

LEGO brick patent drawing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Innovation Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

They operated “inside the box”.

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

Brick by Brick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I unleash the creativity of my team?

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Solution: Create a Brain Trust

THE QUICK SUMMARY

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

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

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

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Braintrust differs from other feedback mechanisms in two ways:

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

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

– Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

A NEXT STEP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We call it the Collaboration Cube.

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

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

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


Closing Thoughts

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

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


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

You can find out more information about SUMS Remix here.

Subscribe to SUMS Remix here.