Five (and a half) Resources to Boost Your Creativity (especially you, pastor)

Creativity Resources

Creativity Resources

If you know me at all, you’d know that I think more creativity in any field is a good thing, especially ministry. Creativity unlocks new approaches and new ideas, as well as improves existing ones. It’s almost an issue of stewardship, since it involves (I believe) reaching the full potential of our resources.

Seth Godin writes in Linchpin that we should approach our daily work like it’s a treasure: “It’s our one and only chance to do something productive today… A days’ work is your chance to do art, to create a gift, to do something that matters.”

Now, Seth Godin didn’t write any of the Gospels in my Bible, but there is some wisdom in this. Any vocation can benefit from additional vision and creativity, including ministry, whether in discipleship conversations, preaching, or even arranging our schedule.

Here are a few resources that can jump-start your creative journey.

  1. Sometimes we get bogged down with solving the same problems with the same solutions (which isn’t really solving them at all, is it?). Thinkertoys, by Michael Michalko, is a collection of creative brain exercises to help you examine problems and opportunities from radically different perspectives. The exercises will seem odd and counter-intuitive, but they bear much fruit over the long run.
  2. Are you bringing your best energy to the most important part of your day? Manage Your Day-to-Day is a collection of short essays and articles from business and thought leaders (including Seth). It’s a very hands-on, “tactical” book that can help you reevaluate how you are spending your time. The chapters are short enough to read in 10 minutes, and they include summer pages and key takeaways. This book is really, really critical to putting all of the theory into action.
  3. I think everyone should have a collection of poetry nearby. This may be a little out there, but poetry engages a different part of our brain than prose, and in order to bring all of our resources to bear on our challenges, we should be willing to stretch our creative muscles (i.e., our brains) a little. I picked up an anthology of works by Rumi, who is a widely respected Persian poet and mystic from the 13th century. I read 3 or 4 poems a week, always out loud (the way poetry is meant to be read), just treasuring the way the words are strung together. (Note: you don’t have to understand poetry it to benefit from it.)
  4. These two works are combined into one resource: PresentationZen and The Naked Presenter, both by Garr Reynolds, are invaluable works on public speaking or “presenting” (read: “Preaching”). The quality of our message—whatever that message is—is repeatedly compromised by our inabilities to clearly and effectively communicate it. What’s more, our tendency is to add more— more slides, more images, more bells and whistles (animations? ugh)—when a better approach would be to take away. Clear the deck, so to speak. Provide space. Clarity. Reynolds ruthlessly shows how to arrange thoughts and information in ways that shout by whispering.
  1. Lastly, I present the lowly Moleskine sketch book. Early on when I began preaching, I instinctively began using sketches (as opposed to
    Moleskine // Jonah Sketch

    Moleskine // Jonah Sketch

    outlines) to develop my thoughts. As Mind Mapping has shown, our brain doesn’t work linearly, it works through “webs”, and to the degree that we try to visualize our problems with an outline or some other “linear” display, we are actually working against our minds. My sketchbook allows me to work with the brain’s natural tendencies, rather than against them. The next time you are trying to map a project or construct a talk, try sketching the ideas first, rather than outlining them. (Obviously, a nice white board works well too.)

These are just a few tools and tricks that help me approach my work from a more creative space. If you have any others, feel free to share them here.

 

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Weapons of Mass Production :: The “135 Principle”

You should see my “To Do” list…

Currently, it runs 11 pages.

This is not a source of pride for me; it’s simply a picture of what my priorities are.

I don’t know how long your list is, but let me as you this…

How many things do you try to accomplish on a given day? 

One of the things I’ve realized lately is that there’s a serious disconnect between what I think I can accomplish on a given day (given an 11 page long “To Do” list) and what I actually can accomplish. I used to wake up and be determined to make some serious dents in that list, but over and over again, I’d end up at the end of the day frustrated and discouraged, because the list just seemed to actually get longer not shorter. It was pretty demotivating.

vsco_0What if the problem is not with my work ethic, but with my expectations? Would it not feel more motivational if I actually was clear (and reasonable) with what I wanted to get done?-

I’ve been trying to re-frame my thinking about my daily productivity, based on something that I’m simply calling the “135 Principle.”

It’s based on the premise that in a given day, you can really only accomplish one really big goal, three medium-sized goals, and five small goals. 

  • The “1” could be that very significant, highly creative project you’re working on that needs the best of you over multiple hours. It’s the centerpiece of your day, the “mission” of that day.
  • The “3” could stand for the thirty-minute standing conversation you need to have with a co-worker regarding an upcoming meeting or event. It could be the set of instructions you need to write up, or the recap conversation or email you need to craft.
  • The “5” could represent phone calls or informational emails; things that are still proactive, but not necessarily time- or resource-intensive.

Sophisticated language, I know, but this was significant because I realized that I’d actually been operating in something like a 5-8-15 paradigm, and there simply is not enough time to do those things. 

And when we “fail”, over and over again, to accomplish things, most of us stop referring to our lists, because we become subtly aware that they don’t mean anything. When you constantly feel like you are unable to accomplish your list, a trigger starts to go off in your brain to avoid it. It’s a drain; it’s a sign of failure.

What something like the “135 Principle” can do is to help you manage your expectations and complete your tasks on a given day, which can give you a minor sense of accomplishment and some motivation to get up and accomplish the next day’s tasks.

 

It’s about momentum.

 

NEXT WEEK: I’m starting a new series on Jesus (surprise!) Stay tuned!

 

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Actually, Cover Bands DO Change the World…

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

One of the great slogans in the Seth Godin/Linchpin world (which I actually enjoy poking around in) is, “Cover bands don’t change the world.”

It’s a call to be unique to seek to strike out to do something bold and new in the world, to be disruptive, to reach for something that’s never been done.

It’s also obviously a bit of a slap in the face to anyone who may be a feeling slightly more conservative or iterative. Folks who are not as “disruptive.”

(It’s also an insult to cover bands, but who’s counting?)

As usual, the truth behind the slogan is a bit more cloudy, because in a sense cover bands have changed the world, and actually continue to do so, primarily because many of the most iconic and world-changing bands in rock history started out as cover bands.

Beatles? Cover band.

Stones? Covered blues.

The Who? They called their versions of Motown songs they covered, “Maximum R&B”.

The Band? Started out playing rockabilly covers in honkey tonks all over the midwest.

James Brown? yup.

(Now, I get that these artists are all “old guy” bands, but I’m taking the approach that the verdict is still out on how much Arcade Fire, The National, Coldplay, etc. are going to change rock and roll. That being said, I know the Black Keys at least know blues really deeply, and I’ve heard at least a couple covers from them.)

Now,I get what Seth is saying: you really do need to find your own unique voice. But here’s the deal: all these artists who later changed the world were cover artists for a significant and formative time in their career.

So what’s the point? Well, I’m not just being contrarian. Being in a cover band has its advantages, and in fact provides critical experience for working your craft.

Because when you’re in a cover band, you get to learn

You get to learn what makes a great song…

You get to learn how to work in a group with others…

You get to learn how to work a crowd…

What gear works in a bar, versus in your bedroom…

What outfit looks ridiculous on you…

Don’t get me wrong: aspiring to something great is absolutely critical and something to be encouraged.

But before you change the world you might want to be good at your craft. Lots of bands start out wanting to change the world, but their ambition greatly (and almost tragically) outstrips their ability.

So maybe you’re in a “cover band” right now…

… Maybe the organization you’re in isn’t as wildly creative as you’d like;

… Maybe the position you’re in isn’t the perfect fit;

… Maybe your platform isn’t in front of the “right people” yet.

If this is the case, than here’s what you do:

  • You get better. 
  • You dig in and learn. 
  • You figure out how to with others (particularly a drummer who doesn’t keep time well and a singer who doesn’t always sing on pitch).
  • You learn what “excellence” looks and feels (tastes and sounds?) like. 

Your “cover band moments” are not wasted. They can be the crucible, the workshop that helps you develop and hone your craft for the moment when the world comes calling, and needs you to give something to it.

… Now go practice.

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The Second Shot ALWAYS Comes

I was listening to the Fresh Air interview with Ben Affleck (it’s really good, IMO), and he was talking about some advice he received as a first-time/inexperienced movie director. Early in his career, he was told, “Know what your second shot will be.”

Affleck explains that a first-time director always knows what his first shot on a movie set will be; in order to avoid looking like a fool, you map it out, you agonize over the details, you go over everything in your head so you can gain the amount of respect and collateral that you will need to complete the film.

However, as Affleck explains, the first shot gets over pretty quick, and it’s at that point that everyone turns to you and says, “Well, what now?”

ffffffft……………..

I believe that this is where a lot of us get hung up. When we are starting something new—a recording project, a teaching series, mentoring someone. We focus tremendous amounts of creative time and energy into the first meeting, the first writing session, the first song, etc., but then something remarkable and troubling happens.

The second meeting/song/Sunday comes rolling around.

And we are shocked, and then sent scrambling to try and write and prepare and execute.

Whenever we start a new project, put some muscle behind what is going to come second as well.

(Incidentally, this is also helpful to remember whenever someone asks you to get involved in a project or movement… There’s always a second shot/meeting/song/gig. Oftentimes, we have the resources—time, energy, ideas, etc.—for the first meeting, but before you become involved you should ask yourself, “WHEN this project continues, will I have the capacity to remain committed? Do I have the resources to help with the ‘second shot’?” 

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Do All The Work in Your Head

I was watching the finale of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, where they were in Brooklyn, NY.

Anthony ended up at Brooklyn Fare, which looked like one of the most unique restaurant experiences I’ve seen in a long time.

Mostly, because there are only 18 seats.

At one point, Anthony Bourdain looks at his friend Eric Ripert and says, “All the hard work for this took place in the chef’s head.”

Amazing food; 18 seats.

They know how many portions to produce, and when to serve them. Some of the biggest variables in the restaurant business, handled immediately.

In the chef’s head.

Way ahead of time.

Sometimes, when you want to do something amazing, the best way to start is in your head. 

  • What variables can you control?
  • What waste can you eliminate?

If you know ahead of time precisely how you will shape the experience, you can get about the substance of what you want to create: in Brooklyn Fare’s case it’s the food, but it can be anything…

  • the book
  • the worship gathering
  • the melody
  • the life

Control what you can control, so you’re free to delight people.

This is your moment of inspiration

Hey everyone… Just a short film from Behance, a network and platform to view and post creative work.

Get on with it, folks!

Weapons of Mass Production, Pt 1

Something different today…

As a pastor, I have to balance my life between efficiency and love.

This is not easy, because these two concepts are nearly mutually exclusive.

But that’s my reality.

I have to cultivate efficiency because I’m a part of an organization, I lead a team of busy people, and we try to accomplish various things.

I have to “get things done.”

I have to cultivate love because as a pastor I’m charged ultimately with trying to help people cultivate the Spirit of God in their lives.

Most of the time it involves long conversations, sometimes sitting in silence with people as they cry.

This is seldom “efficient.”

Looking at the efficiency side of things first, I thought I’d list some of my most helpful tools. I’m not naturally organized and linear; I’m actually rather distracted, and can be more than a little spacey. I need tools and techniques in my life to help me “ship” and to be present—physically, emotionally, spiritually—when I need to be present.

I need efficiency in order to love.

So here are a few:

  • Getting Things Done. This book forms the backbone of how I organize my life. In a very concise nutshell, everything that you have to do in your life—pick up groceries, finish the TPS report, learn songs for band practice, etc.—is taking up mental energy that you need for the most important/creative work that you have to do. So you get it out; you write everything down in a brain dump, and then you organize it and begin to tackle it. If you’re just getting started in productivity, or looking for a new way to organize your life, take a look at it.
  • OmniFocus. This app is my primary day-to-day task manager, and integrates well with Getting Things Done (GTD). They make it an iPad and iPhone version, as well as a desktop version as well. It syncs—fairly seamlessly—in the cloud and so my tasks are always with me. Very, very powerful, but very helpful (and also pretty beautiful, especially on the iPad and iPhone). The Omni Group make very, very good software. Everything I have to do goes in here, from writing exercises, to meetings, to events, to weekly worship planning.
  • Evernote. Evernote is critical to grabbing ideas, storing pdfs, sermon ideas, meeting agendas, even songwriting ideas. I use Evernote for anything that I want to have readily available. It’s powerful and simple. A great, great tool; make sure you get the mobile version(s).
  • Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” Talk at Google. Merlin is passionate about productivity; he is also irreverently funny and brilliant. This talk (it’s almost an hour long, btw, so set aside enough time) has the capacity to radically change your approach to email. I’m still struggling to get to “Inbox Zero” myself, but it definitely woke me up to some of the pitfalls of email, and how I’d been using.
  • Moleskine notebooks. Part of the GTD system is capturing all the ideas that have the potential to drain your creative energy and distract your and writing them down so you don’t have to think about them. In order to do that, keeping various notebooks on hand is important. My primary notebook is 8×5 1/2 (alternating between squared and blank pages), but I also use 8×5 1/2 cahiers for various bible studies and class notes, a reporters notebook for my car, and finally an extra large notebook that I use as a sketchbook for larger-scale creative brainstorming.
  • Moleskine year calendar. Though I use iCal for my day-to-day calendar, when things get really crazy I reach for a paper calendar. I find that my relationship between me and my calendar changes when I actually have to write things down: I remember more things, but I also get more critical about what I’m doing. I’m somehow more emotionally present to a paper calendar, and that forces me to examine what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. The large calendar also allows me to see my week at a glance and to easily identify blocks of time that are either being used or are “unseized.”

There are so many tools out there, but these are the ones I keep in my box. These are my efficiency tools.

Do you have any that you share?