Why Most Successful Leaders Practice Design Thinking

Because design thinking is actually a systematic approach to problem solving.

Find a leader who is innovative in any organization, and he has likely been practicing design thinking all along. It starts with the people we serve and the ability to create a better future for them. It acknowledges that we probably won’t get that right the first time. It does not require super powers.

It’s time for Design Thinking in your organization.

Design thinking can do for organic growth and innovation what TQM did for quality – take something we always have cared about and put tools and processes into the hands of leaders to make it happen.

Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, Designing for Growth

Design Thinking isn’t just choosing the right images and fonts for your next website revision. It’s not about renovating the physical spaces of your organization.

In the old days, designers and design thinking were an afterthought, the people and process at the end of the production. Engineers would hand over something that was functionally effective and have the designers make it look good. Those days are over.

Today, design is about experiences as well as products. It’s about services as much as it is hard goods.

It’s a problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of “customers,” team members, and partners in your organization’s mission. It’s a way of working that creates and refines real-world situations.

The Design Thinking Toolbox explains the most important tools and methods to put Design Thinking into action. Based on the largest international survey on the use of design thinking, the most popular methods are described in four pages each by an expert from the global Design Thinking community.

If you are involved in innovation, leadership, or design, these are tools you need. Simple instructions, expert tips, templates, and images help you implement each tool or method.

  • Quickly and comprehensively familiarize yourself with the best design thinking tools
  • Select the appropriate warm-ups, tools, and methods
  • Explore new avenues of thinking
  • Plan the agenda for different design thinking workshops
  • Get practical application tips

The Design Thinking Toolbox will help innovators master the early stages of the innovation process.

What challenge are you facing today that could use the discipline of Design Thinking?


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

How to Reframe Problems and Develop New Solutions

We are living in an age of disruption. According to Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor, 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. The most effective leaders don’t just rally their teams to outrace the “competition” or outpace prior results. They strive to redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with copy-cat thinking. 

What sets truly innovative organizations apart often comes down to one simple question: What can we see that others cannot?

If you believe that what you see shapes how you change, then the question for change-minded leaders in times of disruption becomes: How do you look at your organization as if you are seeing it for the first time?

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. 

Henry David Thoreau

When you learn to see with fresh eyes, you’re able to differentiate your organization from the competition (and your “competition” isn’t the church down the street). You’re able to change the way your organization sees all the different types of environments around it, and the way your others see your organization.

This mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. We live in a world that is less black and white and more shades of gray world, not a black and while one. Seeing in this way means shifting your focus from objects or patterns that are in the foreground to those in the background. It means thinking of things that are usually assumed to be negative as positive, and vice versa. It can mean reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least.

In a season filled with uncertainty, how can you cultivate a sense of confidence about what lies ahead?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Stephen M. Shapiro, Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems

Unprecedented access to infinite solutions has led us to realize that having all of the answers is not the answer. From innovation teams to creativity experts to crowdsourcing, we’ve turned from one source to another, spending endless cycles pursuing piecemeal solutions to each challenge we face.

What if your organization had an effective systematic approach to deal with any problem?

To find better solutions, you need to first ask better questions. The questions you ask determine which solutions you’ll see and which will remain hidden.

This compact yet powerful book contains the formulas to reframe any problem multiple ways, using 25 lenses to help you gain different perspectives. With visual examples and guidance, it contains everything you need to start mastering any challenge.

Apply just one of the lenses and you will quickly discover better solutions. Apply all of them and you will be able to solve any problem, in business and in life.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages. 

Mark Twain

According to author Stephen M. Shapiro, the process for driving better results doesn’t start with great ideas – it starts with better questions.

When faced with disruption and myriad challenges, we crave answers. It’s a natural human instinct.

But having answers is not the answer.

Asking different and better questions is the key to finding better solutions.

By using “reframing lenses,” you will see your problems and opportunities more clearly, and come up with creative answers that will boggle your mind.

Reframing lenses are a powerful tool that transforms complex problems into simple and practical solutions.

By changing the questions you ask, you can uncover answers that were previously hidden from sight. And the tool to help you reframe those questions – and shine light on invisible solutions – are twenty-five lenses.

Stephen M. Shapiro

How do we systematically challenge our assumptions? Using the lens of “reframing” will help you bring your assumptions to the surface. The process of reframing requires that you systematically question the direction you are going.

To help you sift through the lenses, they are grouped into five categories, with five lenses per category:

Reduce Abstraction – Make questions more specific when they are too broad.

  • Leverage
  • Deconstruct
  • Reduce
  • Eliminate
  • Hyponym

Increase Abstraction – Make questions less specific if the challenge is too narrowly defined.

  • Analogy
  • Result
  • Concern Reframe
  • Stretch
  • Hypernym

Change Perspective – Look at the question with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Resequence
  • Reassign
  • Access
  • Emotion
  • Substitute

Switch Elements – Swap multiple factors to get new ideas.

  • Flip
  • Conflicts
  • Performance Paradox
  • Pain vs Gain
  • Bad Idea

Zero-In – Ask the best question to help solve your problem.

  • Real problem
  • Real business
  • Insights
  • Variations
  • Observation

Stephen M. Shapiro, Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems

A NEXT STEP

Use the following ideas from author Stephen Shapiro as a way to begin reframing problems through the use of the lenses listed above. Even without having access to the book and complete definitions and explanations of the lenses, you will be able to see how valuable they can be in overcoming challenges.

Identify an issue, problem, opportunity, or challenge that you want to address. As you are doing this, remember to always bring your assumptions to the surface.

Write down your challenge on a chart tablet in the form of “How can we…”

Once you develop your first iteration of your “How can we” question, you can apply lenses to help you reframe it. Review the list above to see which lenses fit best. Or, better yet, try all of the lenses and force them to fit. You will find that every lens can be applied to any challenge, although some might be more difficult.

Write down as many variations as you can. Try to do it at least six times. A half dozen variations using at least six lenses. More is better as it stretches your thinking.

There are a couple of things to look out for as you go through this process. For starters, avoid jumping to solutions. It is so tempting to fry to find answers before you have created a great list of questions: Stay in the challenge formulation phase.

Also, it is valuable to apply one lens more than one time to a given problem. It is all too easy to find a quick reframe and move on. It takes more discipline to find multiple variations from a single lens.

Recognize that questions beget more questions. Sometimes when you ask a question, you might need to answer another question in order to move forward. Although answering an insight question might not provide a solution, it should provide information that will help you further reframe your primary question.

The point is that it is important to practice reframing. As you go through this process, ask which of the reframed questions seems to create the greatest results. Different questions will create different solutions, which will result in different levels of value.


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

How to Lead with Flash Foresight

We are living in an age of disruption. According to Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor, 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. The most effective leaders don’t just rally their teams to outrace the “competition” or outpace prior results. They strive to redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with copy-cat thinking. 

What sets truly innovative organizations apart often comes down to one simple question: What can we see that others cannot?

If you believe that what you see shapes how you change, then the question for change-minded leaders in times of disruption becomes: How do you look at your organization as if you are seeing it for the first time?

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. 

Henry David Thoreau

When you learn to see with fresh eyes, you’re able to differentiate your organization from the competition (and your “competition” isn’t the church down the street). You’re able to change the way your organization sees all the different types of environments around it, and the way your others see your organization.

This mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. We live in a world that is less black and white and more shades of gray world, not a black and while one. Seeing in this way means shifting your focus from objects or patterns that are in the foreground to those in the background. It means thinking of things that are usually assumed to be negative as positive, and vice versa. It can mean reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least.

In a season filled with uncertainty, how can you cultivate a sense of confidence about what lies ahead?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible by Daniel Burrus

Flash Foresight offers seven radical principles you need to transform your organization today. 

From internationally renowned technology forecaster Daniel Burrus—a leading consultant to Google, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, and many other Fortune 500 firms—with John David Mann, co-author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Go-Giver, comes this systematic, easy-to-implement method for identifying new business opportunities and solving difficult problems in the twenty-first century marketplace.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

According to author Daniel Burrus, all of us have had fleeting glimpses of where things might be heading. We have all said, “I knew I should have done that,” or “I knew that would happen.”

That’s hindsight, and it happens because you don’t typically know ahead of time when your hunch is accurate and when it’s not.

What if you could make a distinction and learn to develop glimpses of the future that are reliable foresight, and not just those that are simply hunches?

Flash foresight is a blinding flash of the future obvious. It is an intuitive grasp of the foreseeable future that, once you see it, reveals hidden opportunities and allows you to solve your biggest problems – before they happen.

Daniel Burrus

Flash Foresight is a sensibility, a skill you can develop, refine, and strengthen. 

Flash Foresight is what you get when you combine a shift of perspective, a willingness to get down on your hands and knees and look at things from a fresh point of view, with a grasp of where current trends of change are taking us in the future. It’a about transforming the impossible with a glimpse of the possible.

Flash Foresight Triggers

1. Start with certainty (use hard trends to see what’s coming).

2. Anticipate (base your strategies on what you know about the future).

3. Transform (use technology-driven change to your advantage).

4. Take your biggest problem and skip it (it’s not the real problem anyway).

5. Go opposite (look where not one else is looking to see what no one else is seeing and do what no one else is doing).

6. Redefine and reinvent (identify and leverage your uniqueness in new and powerful ways).

7. Direct your future (or someone else will direct it for you).

Daniel Burrus, Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible

A NEXT STEP 

Using the following ideas below from the author as starters, set up a team meeting with the express purpose of practicing flash foresight.

First, create seven chart tablets, with the word or phrases in bold below as headers.

Next, read the paragraphs below under each section as the launching point for a ten minute discussion of that section. As your team responds to the prompt, write all ideas on the chart tablet. Complete each chart tablet the same way.

Next, at the end of ten minutes, take one minute and identify the top three ideas/actions that would impact your church the most. Circle and number them accordingly.

Finally, review all chart tablets, and on a new chart tablet, write the top three ideas/actions from each of the seven sections. As a group, determine which single one idea/actions from each section that you agree is the most important. Create seven teams of three leaders – one from your team and two other individuals in your church – to research each idea/action more thoroughly, and report back to your leadership team in one month. At that review meeting, force rank the seven ideas/actions, and plan to launch the most important one within two weeks.

Start with certainty

Typically we limit ourselves by looking at all the things we don’t know and all the things we can’t do. Instead, create the habit of starting with a list of things you can know and do. Don’t let yourself get boxed in by the word can’t. Every time you bump into something you aren’t certain about, put that to the side and keep focusing on the things you are certain about. What are our certainties?

Anticipate

Being preactive means anticipating the future before it happens. Being anticipatory, instead of reactive, allows us to change fro the inside out, instead of being forced to change from the outside in. How can we begin to anticipate the future?

Transform

Change means doing the same thing, only with difference. Transformation means doing something completely different. It’s no longer enough to change; no matter what field we’re in, we need to transform. There is no organization that is not going to transform dramatically and fundamentally over the years ahead – whether or not we want it to. What does radiation transformation look like for your organization?

Take your biggest problem and skip it

A difficult problem can easily become a roadblock so large that it seems impossible to get around. The result is often procrastination and paralysis. The key to unraveling our biggest problems is to recognize that they are typically not our real problem. Skipping our biggest problem, instead of trying to solve it, sets our minds free to discover and engage with the real problem. What problem do we need to skip for now?

Go opposite

One powerful way to trigger a flash foresight is to take note of where everyone else is looking, and then look in the opposite direction. Looking where no one else is looking helps you see what no one else is seeing, and then do what no one else is doing. What are some opposite directions we should consider?

Redefine and reinvent

Reinventing our organizations based on the visible changes taking place has always been a powerful strategy, but today it has become a continuous imperative. Reinvention is not the same as adding a twist or a new feature; once something is reinvented, it never goes back to being the way it was before. What do we need to reinvent?

Direct your future

To a certain extent, our vision of the future is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Change your view of the future and you direct your future. Our vision of the future drives our choices and our behaviors, which produce our outcomes and shape our lives. We become what we dream. Which means that if we want to know what we are becoming, we need to ask, what are we dreaming?


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

How to Practice the One-Minute Pause

They are too alive to die, and too dead to live.

This haunting observation of most people in the Western world was made by the Korean philosopher Byung-Chu Han.

We all have our own stories of trying to stay sane in the day and age of mobile phones, connected watches, a twenty-four-hour news cycle blaring from our devices, unceasing demands from family, church members, and our team, and …

Do you feel weary?

Do you feel burdened?

You’re not alone.

The most common answer to the question, “How are you?” is, “I’m good – just busy.”

That answer comes from everywhere, bridging gaps of gender, age, ethnicity, and class. Empty-nesters working from home are busy, even with their kids and grandkids spread across the country. New parents are busy, with a new mom headed back to work while the new dad begins the first week of parental leave. Even middle-schoolers are busy trying to juggle three different platforms of distance learning while helping around the home while trying to stay connected with their best friend in the neighborhood two streets over.

You feel over-worked, over-booked, and over-connected – how can you reclaim your health and wellness again?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad by John Eldredge

In Get Your Life Back, New York Times bestselling author John Eldredge provides a practical, simple, and refreshing guide to taking your life back.After reading this book you will… 

  • Learn how to insert the One Minute Pause into your day
  • Begin practicing “benevolent detachment” and truly let it all go
  • Offer kindness toward yourself in the choices you make
  • Drink in the simple beauty available to you every day
  • Take realistic steps to unplug from technology overload

These simple practices and others are ready for the taking. You don’t need to abandon your life to get it back. Begin restoring your life here and now. Your soul will thank you for it.


A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

According to author John Eldredge, there’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is.

We’re being swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us.

Email felt so efficient when it replaced the letter; texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t make our lives more spacious; we simply had to keep up.

Now we’re living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome.

We’re losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis.

God wants to come to us and restore our lives. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him.

The One Minute Pause is an absolute lifesaver: Simply take sixty seconds to be still and let everything go.

John Eldredge

As I enter the pause, I begin with release. I let it all go – the meetings, what I know is coming next, the fact I’m behind on everything, all of it. I simply let it go. I pray, Jesus – I give everyone and everything to you. I keep repeating it until I feel like I’m actually releasing and detaching. 

I give everything to you, God.

All I’m trying to accomplish right now is a little bit of soul-space. I’m not trying to fix anything or figure anything out. I’m not trying to relax everyone perfectly or permanently. That takes a level of maturity most of us haven’t found.

Them I ask for more of God: Jesus – I need more of you; fill me with more of you, God. Restore our union; fill me with your life.

I’ve seized the One Minute Pause as my sword against the madness. It sounds almost too simple to be a practice that brings me more of God, but it’s very effective. Because what it does is open up soul space, breathing room. And God is right there. Over time, the cumulative effect is even better. It’s reshaping the pace of my day. It’s training my soul to find God as an experience more common than rare.

John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad

A NEXT STEP

According to author John Eldredge, the One Minute Pause can be used in many ways: for prayer or silence, to find your heart again, or to enjoy a moment of  beauty.

He suggests trying this for starters:

Pick one or two moments in your day when you know you are least likely to be interrupted. Maybe it’s the end of the day when you pull into your driveway. Don’t leap from the car; take a moment to pause. Turn off the engine, lean back, close your eyes, and just breathe. Try to let go of the day.

You can also set a phone alarm to remind you to take the One Minute Pause. Make sure the alarm notification is quiet and smooth, not jarring! You are not really sounding an alarm; you are inviting your soul to a gracious pause.

The One Minute Pause is the beginning of a new way of living, one simple practice that opens the door to many others.


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

Are You a Confident Leader?

In the months leading up to the year 2020, there was no shortage of social media posts, articles, sermons, and more talking about a “2020 Vision.” For many pastors, it was a dream topic to build a sermon series around – and many did.

A sampling of sermon topics in January 2020 would have shown an intentional look forward into a future of a year or two, or maybe even five years or more.

But when March 2020 rolled around, and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, the lofty visions of 2020 evaporated. Church leaders around the country and the world began to shrink their vision from the lofty goals of just a few months earlier to, “What are we going to do this weekend?”

Fifteen months later, though that immediacy has lessened somewhat, only to be replaced with even more troubling questions like these:

  • How long is this pandemic going to last?
  • Will we be able to return to normal?
  • What if normal never returns?

In just a few weeks, future thoughts became present realties, and many leaders find themselves stuck there today.

Even when treading water in reality, leaders can get mired in a flood of information and answers about what to do next.

The world around us is evolving at dizzying speed. Tomorrow refuses to cooperate with our best-laid plans—the future routinely pulls the rug from underneath us.

Although people yearn for a return to “normal,” or try to predict the “new normal,” there is no such thing as normal. There is only change. Never-ending, constant change. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but constant nonetheless.

Answers to vexing problems are no longer a scarce commodity, and knowledge has never been cheaper. By the time we’ve figured out the facts – by the time Google, Alexa, or Siri can spit out the answer – the world has moved on.

Obviously, answers aren’t irrelevant. You must know some answers before you can begin asking the right questions. But the answers simply serve as a launch pad to discovery. They’re the beginning, not the end.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One by Dan Reiland

You’re a good leader, but leadership is challenging and can rattle your confidence. Setbacks, challenges, and problems can cause you to second-guess yourself, doubt, or pull back. Your confidence may be stretched thin, but there is a way to strengthen it.

In Confident Leader!, Dan Reiland draws from his 39 years of leadership experience to share a practical, workable, and transformational process that results in your ability to become a more self-assured leader and achieve maximum success. Building unshakable confidence will positively impact your personal work performance, your belief in self, your support and approval from others, and your trust and reliance on God.

In this book you will learn how to:

  • Make deep foundational decisions about your core identity
  • Implement practical steps for deliberate character development
  • Incorporate daily, practical disciplines that transform your leadership ability

Together these essentials present a step-by-step plan to greater confidence, increased influence, less uncertainty, and more significant accomplishments. Learn how to become the most confident version of yourself today.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Leadership expert John Maxwell says that, in over fifty years of developing leaders, he has learned that very few leaders are naturally confident, and even less are consistently confident.

Author Dan Reiland believes that every leader struggles with confidence at some level.

On the other side of that struggle is cockiness at the worst, or over-confidence at best. Finding the right balance of confidence on this continuum is tricky, but essential in today’s climate.

The majority of leaders do not maintain a consistent quality of confidence. Their confidence goes up and down too easily, impacted by a wide variety of factors, such as personal performance, size of church, belief in self, support from others, approval from others, mistakes made, and trust and reliance on God.

Dan Reiland

There is a process, a road map, by which you can develop a more consistent and authentic confidence that will serve you as a leader.

Deep Foundational Decisions – There are specific decisions you can make that establish stability and certainty in knowing who you are and how you were designed to lead at your best. These five decisions set the foundation of your confidence.

  • Ownership – Take charge of your leadership confidence
  • Belief – Overcome the great confidence breakers
  • Identity – Value first who you are, then what you can do
  • Attentiveness – Hear and heed God’s voice
  • Soul – Embrace five core qualities of confident leaders

Deliberate Character Development – Your character is at the core of your confidence. Here are the five specific areas of your character that will strengthen your confidence.

  • Consistency – Lead yourself well before leading others
  • Authority – Accept it, develop it, and use it wisely
  • Adaptability – Look for ways to become the best version of you
  • Improvement – Aim for better, not bigger
  • Resilience – Handle pressure well and bounce back

Daily Practice Disciplines – There is a direct connection between competence and confidence. However, you can be competent, yet not confident. And you can be confident, yet not competent. Both are needed together. Here are five essentials that you will need to become and effective leader and increase your confidence.

  • Direction – Know where you are going and lead others
  • Focus – Stick to the game plan
  • Heart – Care genuinely about those you lead
  • Communication – Live and convey and optimistic message
  • Mentoring – Develop other leaders intentionally

Dan Reiland, Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One

A NEXT STEP

Select a single idea from each of the three areas listed above, one that you would like to improve on. In other words, your greatest area of challenge in each of the three areas.

Using a chart tablet, write the idea across the top of the page. 

Viewing this idea as your destination on a journey, imagine you are moving toward it but encounter roadblocks on your journey. These represent the primary obstacles to completing your journey.

Identify at least three roadblocks you are facing on your journey to obtaining the idea at the top of the chart tablet. Use the following questions to help you identify the roadblock:

  1. What do the roadblocks look like?
  2. Who put them there, or keeps them there?
  3. What does the road ahead look like, with the roadblock gone?

Develop a plan to dismantle the obstacles. When you do, you will have cleared the way to complete your journey to achieving the idea.

Repeat this with the other two ideas.


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

How to Recognize – and Avoid – Problem Blindness as a Leader

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?

SOLUTION #1: Avoid problem blindness

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath

So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We stay downstream, handling one problem after another, but we never make our way upstream to fix the systems that caused the problems. Cops chase robbers, doctors treat patients with chronic illnesses, and call-center reps address customer complaints. But many crimes, chronic illnesses, and customer complaints are preventable. So why do our efforts skew so heavily toward reaction rather than prevention?

Upstream probes the psychological forces that push us downstream—including “problem blindness,” which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst. And Heath introduces us to the thinkers who have overcome these obstacles and scored massive victories by switching to an upstream mindset. One online travel website prevented twenty million customer service calls every year by making some simple tweaks to its booking system. A major urban school district cut its dropout rate in half after it figured out that it could predict which students would drop out—as early as the ninth grade. A European nation almost eliminated teenage alcohol and drug abuse by deliberately changing the nation’s culture. And one EMS system accelerated the emergency-response time of its ambulances by using data to predict where 911 calls would emerge—and forward-deploying its ambulances to stand by in those areas.

Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Author Dan Heath believes that with some foresight, we can prevent problems before they happen, and even when we can’t stop them entirely, we can often blunt their impact.

Of course, there are barriers to this line of thinking, and the first of those barriers is profoundly simple: you can’t solve a problem you don’t see, or one that you perceive to be a regrettable but inevitable condition of life.

Problem blindness is the first barrier to upstream thinking. When we don’t see a problem, we can’t solve it. And that blindness can create passivity even in the face of enormous harm. To move upstream, we must first overcome problem blindness.

Problem blindness, also know as inattentional blindness, is a phenomenon in which our careful attention to one task leads us to miss important information that’s unrelated to that task.

Inattentional blindness leads to a lack of peripheral vision. When it’s coupled with time pressure, it can create a lack of curiosity. I’ve got to stay focused on what I’m doing. 

The escape from problem blindness begins with the shock of awareness that you’ve come to treat the abnormal as normal.

Next comes a search for community: Do other people feel this way? And with that recognition – that this phenomenon is a problem and we see it the same way – comes strength.

Something remarkable often happens next: People voluntarily hold themselves responsible for fixing problems they did not create. The upstream advocate concludes: I was not the one who created this problem. But I will be the one to fix it.

Dan Heath, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

A NEXT STEP

How can you, personally, move upstream? Consider your own problem blindness, Which problems have you come to accept as inevitable that are, in fact, nothing of the kind?

A hallmark of work by both author Dan Heath as well as his brother Chip is the excellent resources they provide. One of those is a book club guide.

Here are a few questions drawn from that guide, relating to the topic of problem blindness. Set aside some time to both reflect and act on them,

  1. Problem blindness is the belief that negative outcomes are natural or inevitable. Do you think your organization suffers from problem blindness? If so, in what areas?
  2. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” is a quote often used in leadership circles. Does this idea resonate with you? What examples do you see in your organization?
  3. When people reflect on our society 50 years from now, what areas do you think they will be shocked by, areas that we are suffering from problem blindness?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 142-1, released April 2020

You can purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix – learn more here!

Leading Forward by Looking Back: 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

Walt Disney – and the company he founded in 1923 – was no stranger to adversity and even failure.

The setbacks, tough times, and even failures of Walt Disney are well-documented. In every case, he led the company bearing his name to greater success in spite of adversity.

Today is a sobering, disconcerting time to be a Cast Member of any Disney organization. In the last week I have had several conversations with both current and former Cast Members, and to a person, there has been one trait that stands out.

Optimism.

Even when it is hard to see in the increasing numbers of Cast Members laid off, the curtailment of operations, the postponement of work in progress, and the likely cancellation of future planning, optimism is the underlying strength of the Walt Disney Company.

So where did that come from?

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 through the 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. Over the past three years alone, I have spent over 70 days on Disney properties from coast to coast – and on the oceans. My Disney library numbers over 400 volumes – the oldest released in 1939; the newest coming hot off the press next week.

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.

Of course, when Korkis wrote the book, he could not have anticipated the  uncertainty caused by the disruption to the Disney “kingdoms” around the world by the pandemic.

Disney will emerge a greatly-changed organization – and future generations of families – and leaders – will benefit from it. After all, Walt Disney himself went through countless setbacks, and even failures, before the launch of the Walt Disney Company in 1923…

…and look what that has brought to the world in the almost-100 years since!

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

Become a Better Leader Through Balancing Differences

Leadership training and development in our military takes place on two fronts. First, officers identify, build, and utilize the skills that will allow individuals and teams to effectively and efficiently achieve their goal. Second, officers focus on training methods and techniques that will allow those same individuals and teams to practice effective combat and leadership skills in the fields.

The same types of leadership training and development can also serve leaders in your organization – beginning with you.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

With their first book, Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin set a new standard for leadership, challenging readers to become better leaders, better followers, and better people, in both their professional and personal lives.

Now, in The Dichotomy of LeadershipJocko and Leif dive even deeper into the unchartered and complex waters of a concept first introduced in Extreme Ownership: finding balance between the opposing forces that pull every leader in different directions. Here, Willink and Babin get granular into the nuances that every successful leader must navigate.

Mastering the Dichotomy of Leadership requires understanding when to lead and when to follow; when to aggressively maneuver and when to pause and let things develop; when to detach and let the team run and when to dive into the details and micromanage. In addition, every leader must:

  • Take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission; yet utilize Decentralize Command by giving ownership to their team. 
  • Care deeply about their people and their individual success and livelihoods, yet look out for the good of the overall team and above all accomplish the strategic mission. 
  • Exhibit the most important quality in a leader―humility, but also be willing to speak up and push back against questionable decisions that could hurt the team and the mission.

With examples from the authors’ combat and training experiences in the SEAL teams, and then a demonstration of how each lesson applies to the business world, Willink and Babin clearly explain THE DICHOTOMY OF LEADERSHIPskills that are mission-critical for any leader and any team to achieve their ultimate goal: VICTORY.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The most difficult – and essential – element of leadership requires finding the balance between opposing forces that exist for every leader.

The list of dichotomies is infinite. Because for every positive behavior a leader should have, it is possible to take that behavior to the extreme, where it becomes a negative. Often a leader’s greatest strength can also be his or her greatest weakness. But knowing and understanding that these dichotomies exist is the first part of keeping them from becoming a problem.

A good leader builds powerful, strong relationships with his or her subordinates. But while that leader would do anything for those team members, the leader must recognize there is a job to do. And that job might put the very people the leader cares so much about at risk.

The key is balance, maintaining an equilibrium where your team have the guidance to execute but at the same time freedom to make decisions and lead.

There are limitless dichotomies in leadership, and a leader must carefully balance between these opposite forces. But none are as difficult as this: to care deeply for each individual member of the team, while at the same time accepting the risks necessary to accomplish the mission.

This dichotomy reveals itself in the civilian sector as well as the military. This is one of the most difficult dichotomies to balance, and it can be easy to go too far in either direction. If leaders develop overly close relationships with their people, they may not be willing to make those people do what is necessary to compete a project or a task. They may not have the wherewithal to lay off individuals with who they have relationship even if it is the right move for the good of the company. And some leaders get so close to their people that they don’t want to have hard conversations with them – they don’t want to tell them that they need to improve.

On the other hand, if a leader is too detached from the team, he or she may overwork, overexpose, or otherwise harm its members while achieving no significant value from that sacrifice. The leader may be too quick to fire people to save a buck, thereby developing the reputation of not caring about the team beyond its ability to support the strategic goals.

So leaders must find the balance. They must push hard without pushing too hard. They must drive their team to accomplish the mission without driving them off a cliff.

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, The Dichotomy of Leadership

A NEXT STEP

In order for leaders to find the balance described above, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin had developed two checklists: one with common symptoms resulting from a leader being too close to a team, and the other which indicates a leader might be too hands-off with his team.

Reproduce each of the two lists below on separate chart tablets, and review them first by yourself. Add to the lists as needed.

Then, bring the sheets into your next team meeting for a general team discussion about this dichotomy of leadership.

Too Close to Your Team

  1. Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
  2. Creativity grinds to a halt.
  3. Even in an emergency, the team will not mobilize and take action.
  4. The team shows a lack of initiative; members will not take action unless directed.
  5. An overall sense of passivity and failure to react.

Too Far Away from Your Team

  1. Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do and how to do it.
  2. Lack of coordination between individuals on the team and efforts that often compete or interfere with each other.
  3. Initiative oversteps the bounds of authority; individuals and teams carry out actions beyond what they have authorization to do.
  4. The team is focused on the wrong priority mission or pursuit of solutions that are not in keeping with the strategic direction of the team.
  5. There are too many people trying to lead.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 119-2, released May 2019


 

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

How to Harness the Power of TNT

Positive Learning from Negative Feedback

Leaders in all sizes and types of organizations often face negative feedback and criticism – and many have problems dealing with it.

Maybe it’s time to blow criticism away with “TNT”.

Recently I was reading HBR.org and came across a great article by John Butman entitled “The Benefits of Negative Feedback.”

I recently gave a lunchtime “author’s talk” at Children’s Hospital in Boston and, although I thought the talk went well, somebody in the audience didn’t like it at all. On the evaluation form, the person in question wrote a single word in the comment box: CONFUSING.

Thank you, whoever you are. While everybody else gave me good marks and said nice things, which I appreciated, my critic forced me into self-examination. Was he the only one forthright enough to speak up, or was he the only one not paying enough attention to get it? What was confusing? The ideas? The presentation?

His thoughtful suggestions contained in the article on dealing with negative feedback reminded me of a simple but powerful tool that I use whenever I receive criticism.

It’s called TNT, and I learned it over twenty years ago from Sue Mallory, a training instructor for the Leadership Network. I’ve been using it in every shape and form since then.

Are you ready?

The Next Time.

That’s right – once something has been said or done, you can’t do anything about it – for good or bad! Why should you beat yourself up and let it drag you down?

But you can learn from it and apply that learning to The Next Time the situation presents itself.

Here’s a great example: A presentation I gave at a national conference in Dallas TX. I was no stranger to the conference – I’ve been speaking at it for over ten years. The topic was not new to me even though it was the first time I had presented it in its current form. I had prepared adequately – or at least I thought.

As it turns out, I had mistakenly assumed that the attendees of this year’s conference attending my session would be the same as in prior years, and I neglected to gauge the makeup of the audience before I launched into the presentation.

Over half of the session’s attendees were from a technical background, when I had expected most of them to be from a church ministry staff background. The presentation was only 5 minutes old before the quizzical looks and a few responses to my questions made me realize a mid-course correction was required!

Fortunately, I have a background (albeit several decades ago) in the technical production aspect of church ministry, and I was able to shift on the fly to orient the presentation more in that direction. The formal evaluations I received backed up the comments from several attendees following the session, indicating the midstream switch was a success.

Looking back, I could have avoided the situation by noting what other sessions were being offered at the same time (and thus gauging potential attendance) as well as taking a quick audience poll to see who was present (to adjust the presentation at the beginning).

But it happened, and I couldn’t change a thing.

There’s always The Next Time.

What about in your leadership position? How will you use the power of TNT in evaluating an event or lesson or sermon that got some negative feedback in order to provide a positive launching point for improvement in the future?

Don’t let the negatives get you down – instead, blow them away with TNT.

Are You Leading Followers or Leading Leaders?

Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. military accelerated the ongoing and gradual process of searching for the best people available to lead – regardless of sex. As a result, female career military officers began to advance into very visible leadership roles: the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Navy, the first female in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level, and the first woman in U.S. military history to assume the rank of a four-star general.

They didn’t want to be “female leaders”—they just wanted to lead.

These women were wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. But they were also military leaders, warriors, academics and mentors in their own right.

As the military has evolved to develop an appreciation for the potential of women to serve in the most challenging of positions, it is also time for the American public to see these women for what they bring to the fight: brains, strength and courage.

They are leaders.

No one does leader development better than the military. Behind winning our nation’s wars, its primary purpose is to develop leaders. This happens through organized leader development programs, like institutional schooling and courses, but mostly through personal interaction and example. It’s the unit-level leaders out there who are making the critical impact in our armed forces.

Falling in the period around Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) and Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), this SUMS Remix honors three female leaders who demonstrated principles of leadership development that all leaders will find helpful in leading their own organizations.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – A Higher Standard by Ann Dunwoody

On June 23, 2008, President George W. Bush nominated Ann Dunwoody as a four-star general in the US Army-the first time a woman had ever achieved that rank. The news generated excitement around the world. Now retired after nearly four decades in the Army, Dunwoody shares what she learned along the way, from her first command leading 100 soldiers to her final assignment, in which she led a 60 billion dollar enterprise of over 69,000 employees, including the Army’s global supply chain in support of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What was the driving force behind Dunwoody’s success? While her talent as a logistician and her empathy in dealing with fellow soldiers helped her rise through the ranks, Dunwoody also realized that true leaders never stop learning, refining, growing, and adapting.

In A Higher Standard, Dunwoody details her evolution as a soldier and reveals the core leadership principles that helped her achieve her historic appointment. Dunwoody’s strategies are applicable to any leader, no matter the size or scope of the organization. Packed with guiding principles, A Higher Standard offers practical, tactical advice that everyone can use to lead and achieve with maximum success.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

It’s happened once again. You’ve lost a key leader and find yourself filling in and doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing. So, once again, you promise yourself that this year will be different. You’re going to conquer the challenge of leadership development and build a deep leadership bench- a pipeline for developing leaders – for your ministry. But what practical next step can you take to really build a church leadership pipeline?

Why is leadership development a reoccurring problem for so many? In short, it’s a lack of intentionality.  We know leadership development is important, but few leaders integrate it into their weekly routine. And even fewer develop an intentional plan that ensures an ongoing reproduction of leaders. It’s just too easy to be distracted by the urgent and allow the development of leaders to take a back seat to everything else. We feel stuck and we’re too busy to develop leaders, but we need more leaders to get all the work done.

Our legacy will be measured by the depth and quality of the leaders we develop.

One of the most important jobs a senior leader has is to develop leaders or to “build the bench.” It is common in sports to “build the bench,” where a versatile bench is often the determining factor in whether a team survives the rigors of a demanding season while building a team for the future. In your organization, do you have “players” ready to step in when inevitable changes occur?

The temptation is to put building a bench on hold while focusing on imperative day-to-day duties. Without consciously taking time to build your bench, you run the risk of hurting your organization for generations.

Beyond the structured leadership program there’s an informal mentoring process that truly makes the Army special. The most important leadership lessons I learned throughout my career came directly from someone who took the time to teach, coach, and share ideas with me. Sometimes it happened in a classroom or a war zone, but just as often it happened during a run or at dinner.

I had many great role models at crucial stages of my career. They helped develop me – and countless other soldiers – without bullying tactics. They didn’t care about my gender – they cared about me. They pushed me physically and challenged me mentally. In the military, you can’t achieve your best without sound mind and body. Most important, they put their faith in me and put me on the bench.

Ann Dunwoody, A Higher Standard

A NEXT STEP

One of the most fundamental things you must do in a growing church is to build a culture of leadership development. If you wait until the need is pressing then you are already behind. Talk, pray, prepare, and lead as if God is going to bring growth. Doing so will cause you to work with your current leaders to begin producing new leaders for the future.

To understand your current state of leadership development, download this Leadership Development Assessment and complete it. Review your score and evaluate it in the categories listed.

The following quote from the U.S. Army Field Manual on Leader Development serves as a good conclusion, reminder, and challenge for you and your church:

Army leaders are the competitive advantage the Army possesses that technology cannot replace nor be substituted by advanced weaponry and platforms. Today’s Army demands trained and ready units with agile, proficient leaders. Developing our leaders is integral to our institutional success today and tomorrow. It is an important investment to make for the future of the Army because it builds trust in relationships and units, prepares leaders for future uncertainty, and is critical to readiness and our Army’s success.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 93-3, released May 2018.


 

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

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<