Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thrice:: Come All You Weary

I love this song! Performed live by Dustin Kensrue, the lead singer and guitarist for Thrice. Take a moment to listen and enjoy...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What are the Rules of Brainstorming?

I’ve had the privilege of working and brainstorming with a lot of incredibly talented people over the years; daring people, risk taking people, entrepreneurial types with creative appetites that never fill. These are artists, film makers, business people, preachers, musicians, graphic designers, internerds, super-shreds, and even a few random strangers who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I love dreaming and scheming with creatives and have enjoyed seeing the product of some of these sessions when they hit the street.

My experience with these people has helped form a set of guidelines that I use in leading and shaping creative spaces to brainstorm. I don’t hold to these with a tight-fisted rigidity, however, brainstorm sessions are markedly different when I ignore any of the guidelines. Sometimes these guidelines are explicitly expressed so that everybody knows and understands the “rules,” other times – with seasoned creatives – the guidelines are implicit and embedded into the conversation; everybody just knows.

  1. Be Careful Who You Brainstorm With
There are certain people who have a tendency to stir creativity, give life to a thought or concept, and who are ok with wide-open reckless imagining. There are other people, often calling themselves realists, who are especially gifted at putting out the fires of the creative process. At some point, these realists do come in handy offering valuable insights; however, they are rarely helpful in the beginning stages of brainstorming. Make sure that the people you invite into your dialogue are generous with their imagination.  
  1. The Environment is Important
Simply, get out of the boardroom*. A bunch of suits sitting around a big board table trying to drum up the next slick marketing campaign, initiative, or whatever, does produce results; but maybe not the best. The environment does influence how we think and live – the study of human geography clearly shows this. I’ve found that getting out of places that encourage systematic, top-down, and structured cultures and into places that are more fluid, relational, experimental, and playful generates a culture of creativity that far surpasses the boardroom. Some of my favourite places to brainstorm and imagine are brewpubs, apr├Ęs-shred patios, the forest, crowded public spaces, and in my living room with people that I like.

*One other note re: leaving the boardroom: turn your mobile device off and stop worrying about your twitter account, noisy emails, and text messages. Give your attention to being present with your thoughts and where they might lead.
  1. Practice Imagination
Once you’ve got the people and the place nailed down, begin with some exercises in imagination. Don’t link these warm-ups to the project. Make them fun and eccentric, and go out of your way to show how an idea can blossom into something never imagined just moments before. This helps people to loosen up and begin thinking wildly without the controls and limitations that so often ambush a brainstorm session.
  1. Mix and Match Opposites
Mixing and matching opposites, experimenting with apparent contradictions, messing around with the taboo and the prude, turning propositions into metaphors, and using unconventional mediums go a long way in helping ideas develop and form. Plus, it’s a Canadian metric ton of fun to peer around corners and feel out nuances and subtle connections. If we look hard enough, we begin seeing that everything seems to be connected to everything else. This requires creatives to have good eyes, listen with attentive ears, and delve into seemingly unrelated disciplines of thought and practice. When the curious brainstormer pokes and prods around with ambiguities, new ideas are likely to be unleashed.        
  1. Where There is Smoke, There is Fire
If a thought or an idea sparks an interest, follow the idea and flesh it out until the thought becomes ridiculous…and then follow it a little further. Over and over, I have found that out of some of the very weirdest, wackiest, and worst ideas come the very best. The endurance to follow these ideas from horrible-to-great requires some creative hop-scotching and a singular dedication to this: Do not prematurely evaluate ideas. Leave that to the realists (aka CFO’s and accountants) and wait for a good level-headed strategy session later on. Critical evaluation of ideas is important, but it is for a later time.
  1. Have a Safe Word
Finally, build into the brainstorm a place of refuge for anyone who feels like their idea is being unfairly attacked. Make it fun, light, add an action to it, but whatever you do, make sure that your creative team feels safe to explore. The safe word or action should be decided on beforehand and respected when it is used. Safe words provide a moment of pause that helps everyone to recalibrate and begin moving forward again.

Brainstorming with daring creatives is a tremendous amount of fun, tends to look more like fun than work, and is likely to produce more results at a consistently higher quality more often. Happy brainstorming!

Friday, September 10, 2010

If the the entire world lived in a village of 100 people...

A number of years ago, a credible organization endeavored to build a profile of the planets' population by shrinking the population from 5.7 billion people down to a village of 100 people. In the years since, the world population has grown to about 6.8 billion, however, my guess is that the village profile would look very similar. This village of 100 people would look like this:
  • Fifty-seven Asians, twenty-one Europeans, fourteen North and South Americans, and eight Africans.
  • Seventy would be non-white.
  • Seventy would be non-Christian.
  • Fifty percent of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of six people.
  • Those six people would be citizens of the United States.
  • Seventy would be unable to read.
  • Fifty would suffer from malnutrition.
  • Eighty would live in substandard housing.
  • Only one would be college educated.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Leading from Collaborative Spaces

Most who have visited the office space of Christian Life Community Church have uttered comments of surprise as to how chaotic and unordered it seems to be. In fact, most visiting and out-of-town pastors who come through our office usually make a comment very similar to… “Interesting, you guys actually get work done here?”

What makes our office space unique to many offices spaces – whether they are church, business, or other social sector office spaces – is that we don’t actually have offices. Rather, we have what some might call a “team room” or a “commons area” where all of us – lead pastor right through to our yearly apprentices – share a common working space with no walls, doors, sound proofing, or cubicles. Our desks are open, side by side, and within elbow space of everyone else in the office.

Admittedly, this does cause some tension from time to time when one person needs some quiet and another feels like whistling or, for example, when some mysterious team member keeps ‘borrowing’ all the best pens. However, the benefits of our shared work space are amazing. Let me share just three of those benefits with you.

1. Shared Space is Collaborative Space

A major benefit of the shared space at CLCC has been the weekly, daily, hourly times of collaboration with other team members. As pastors we are constantly trying to solve problems, find solutions, and innovate new forms of community and communication. So often, the solutions we are looking for are needed in “real-time” meaning that we need real conversations with real people, right now. The simple proximity of having other people around allows for many impromptu meetings through-out the day without having to leave your desk. Not only that, it is not uncommon for a team member to overhear a conversation in another part of the room and quickly pipe in with a thought or an idea that shapes the rest of the conversation and informs the decision. We believe that decisions and innovations are better in community than they are alone. Our space allows for it to happen.

2. Collaborative Space is Casual Space
Not only does our office function as a work space, it doubles as a place where real friendships, conversations, and familiarities develop. This means that it’s not uncommon for our children to be running around the office exploring its nooks and crannies, that I can proudly wear my stinky bike commuter clothes all day long, and that hundreds of non-work related jokes, stories, and conversations happen all the time. The effect has been that our team has a sense of safety and freedom to express real concerns and have real opinions without the guardedness found in organizations where people don’t really know each other. Collaborative space – especially for lead leaders – takes the concept of the “Walk Around Manager” and evolves it to an “Every Moment Manager” where casual interactions with the rest of the team happen all the time.

3. Collaborative Space is Creative Space
One of the best parts of collaborative space is that it is a breeding ground for creative ideas and innovative solutions. For any organization, the ability to create, dream, and innovate together should be very close to the core of its organizational values. Collaborative spaces jump-start the creative space and inspire people to imagine. This happens for a number of reasons: (1) A diversity of people with their widely different worldview and opinion force us into seeing, thinking, and even believing differently, (2) Mixing and matching seemingly opposite ideas have regularly produced breakthroughs in science, music, education, film, etc., teaching us how to live with duality, and (3) These spaces tend to breakdown the “hierarchy of imagination” opening the doors to ideas not found in the board room. These creative spaces are especially important for Christians whose belief is in a God who, not only is creative, but who has imaged us to be co-creators with Him. Creativity is a natural result of a maturing spirituality. The church, of all people and places, should be among the most creative entities on the planet.

Finally, collaborative spaces are not just open spaces with a bunch of people crammed into them. Collaborative spaces are intentional spaces that motivate a culture of shared learning, shared discovery, communal accountability, and a deep driving commitment to a common mission or cause. I believe that collaborative spaces are part of what is going to be commonly known as “best practices” in team leadership. Here, we applaud differences, honour the curious nonconformist, respect the odd and quirky, allow opposites to live side-by-side, and embrace a collective imagination as a means to lead us forward. Who are the people in your collaborative space?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

VOTE: Embers Logos

With the changing of the seasons, summer to fall, comes the inception of a new weekly gathering of twenty-somethings for worship, teaching, and discussion. You are warmly invited to Embers.

Embers, its name derived from an ancient church tradition, was a time that Christians came together at the changing of each season to reflect and be thankful of the season they just came through and to look forward in prayer, feasting, and fasting in preparation for the season to come. It was a time to slow down and pause, marking the transitions of their year with thankfulness, reflection, and joy.

Wednesday nights at Embers, you are invited to abandon the rush and business of life and to find some rest in a community of worship. Every approaching season, each new journey or project, whether it is a move, schooling, or a relationship, they all come with unforeseen promise and peril. Embers is meant to be a time of rest and reflection for these transitions of your life, my life, and our churches life. Join us as we move from season to season.

That said, we are eager to know what your favourite Embers logo is. Please take a couple of minutes to browse them, decide what your top two logos are, and then post your vote on my Facebook page. Thanks for your participation!

Logo #1: The City

Logo #2: Press Play

Logo #3: The Tree

Logo #4: Ink Blot


Beginning Wednesday, September 29th, Christian Life Community Church will be hosting a weekly gathering of worship, teaching, and discussion geared primarily to the twenty-something crowd but open to all ages.