Three Ways I Process Ideas

Perhaps this has happened to you…

You read a Tweet…you hear a message…you read a book, blog post or article…it gives you an idea, encourages you, prompts you to want to take action on the idea…

If you are like me, that thought can soon become lost in a sea of other thoughts and ideas and, as great as it may have seemed at the time, the idea never becomes reality in your life. Weeks, months, or even years later you may even hear the same idea again and remember that you never did anything with it the first time…

I often am asked:  How do you capture great ideas and make them useful in your life?

Here’s a simple system I use…there’s nothing extremely genius about this, but for me it had to become a habit to be successful. Others will have better systems, but this is what I do:

Record it – You are more likely to remember ideas that you write down. I’m always impressed (and slightly nervous) in the restaurants when the waiter doesn’t write down my order, but while this may work for short-term activities, it doesn’t for long-term. Find a system of recording the ideas that come to you. Right now, for me, that’s Evernote. I actually wrote an eBook about how to use it. Find it HERE.  I have used notepads, notes on my iPhone, notebooks, etc. It doesn’t matter what you use as much as that it be a tool you have easy access to throughout the day. Use the napkin method if that’s all you have, but I find having the same tool with me each time an idea comes to me helps me keep up with the ideas better. Ideas hit you randomly, so be prepared to record them as they come.

File it – Part of saving ideas is to have a system to process them effectively. This is an extra step where many people fail, but it is where I take my recorded notes and place them in a file that makes sense to me. One single idea can easily become a blog post, for example, but the sooner I get the idea in a specific file the better chance it has of becoming something useful. For me currently, Evernote allows me to do this seamlessly. If I have a thought for a blog post, I start a file that is for that specific post. New ideas for that same post can be placed straight into that specific file. If the idea is for a future sermon message, I have a file for that message. I have a file for staff meeting notes, lead team meeting notes, etc. The key here is to decide where it needs to go and to use file names that make sense and I will use and remember later. I also have a random file for notes that aren’t yet assigned to a specific use and I periodically go back to this file to attempt to place them in a useable file, but my first attempt is for ideas to immediately be placed in a useable file. (Prior to using Evernote, I took my handwritten notes and typed them into a Word document or Google document filing system. Again, Evernote make this seamless for me right now, but the key is to file them somewhere.)

Use it – The final step for me is to take the files of ideas, notes, and questions and work through the file until it becomes something of use. Again, for me, that could be a blog post, sermon message, meeting I’m attending, or even an email to someone, but I will process that file to make something of it. If I’m looking for a blog post for the next day, for example, the first place I go to is my list of files that I have saved. Normally I have a couple dozen of these waiting for me at any given time. I’m okay having long-term files, but I like to either do something with the file or delete it in a reasonable period of time. This means at some point during my week I discipline myself to look through my list of files and either update them, add thoughts, complete them into something, such as a blog post, or delete them. I have found that with this type of system I tend to gather more notes and ideas than I can use, so it’s okay not to do something tangible with every thought I have, but recording them in this way helps me ensures that I give ample time to process ideas instead of forgetting them.

That’s my system. What works for you? How do you keep ideas from being wasted?

When I Say I and When I Say We

I was talking with someone the other day about my early experience with church planting before anyone was on our team.  As I told my personal story, I kept using words such as “our” and “we”.  Towards the middle of the conversation the person stopped me and asked, “Who’s ‘we’?”  I was talking about me the whole time, (although I usually just answer my wife and I) but I confused him with my verbiage.  I wasn’t trying to be confusing.  It’s just a habit I’ve formed.  I have come to realize over the years that a team vocabulary is a large part of encouraging healthy teams.  I love teams and team-building so much that I’ve disciplined myself to always talk in a collective sense.

I cringe when I hear leaders use the words “I”, “me, and “my” when referring to their team, their church or organization.  To me it always sounds so controlling, prideful, and even arrogant.  As an example, Ben Reed is our small groups pastor at Grace Community Church.  He’s an amazing leader.  I would give anything to have been where he is at his age when I was that same age.  When I refer to him, I don’t say “He’s my small groups guy”.  He’s not!  He’s our small groups guy.  I don’t want to portray to him or others that I control him. I want the perception to be that “we” together are part of a team effort.  I would be limiting his potential if I refer to him in a possessive sense.

I understand it may seem to just be semantics, but to me it’s an important issue for leaders to think through, perhaps bigger than to whom some give credence.  If we truly want to create a team environment, then we must develop team vocabularies.

There are a few times when I use the personal words, such as:

  • When offering a pointed direction… “I am asking you to do this for the team…”
  • When offering an opinion that may not be shared by others…  “I think we should…”
  • When asking a question or stirring discussion… “I wonder if we could…”

When I am speaking on behalf of the team or referring to team members, I try to use a collective term…My advice is to default to words like “we” and “our” whenever possible…even if people have to ask you who the “we” is to whom you are referring. The more we talk like a team the more our environments will feel like a team.

What do you think?  Have you had a leader who abused team vocabulary as described?  Do you need to change the way you say things?

Every Organization Needs Some Good Bad Ideas

I love a good bad idea…don’t you?

The truth is…in a healthy organization…there really are no bad ideas…at least not in the organizational sense.

Here’s what I mean…

If you have someone on your team who is coming up with ideas…who is trying to do their best for the organization…who understands and buys into your vision…then every idea he or she has holds the potential to be a good idea.

Even the so-called bad idea usually triggers another better idea, which often leads to the best idea…

It launches discussion…it generates momentum…it spurs dialogue…

Sometimes the best ideas start because someone offered what others at first thought was a bad idea.

Effective brainstorming often involves a lot of bad ideas that help shape the best ideas.

Part of healthy team building is creating a culture where all ideas can come to the table, no idea is dismissed, and there is a freedom to critique, scrap and improve ideas.

If you start labeling bad ideas you shut down team member’s willingness to share more ideas…

Great leaders learn to welcome all ideas…bad ones and good ones…knowing that it encourages idea generation…and that ideas are a lifeline of a growing, healthy organization…

Perhaps the bad idea you’ve been tempted to dismiss is an open door to your next masterpiece idea.

What do you think? Does your organization welcome bad ideas?  Have you seen one bad idea stir a discussion that led to a good idea?

Preparing to Recover in the Moment

Yesterday morning I was scheduled to do the welcome at Grace Community Church. After the first song, I was scheduled to come on stage, welcome people to the service, and we would continue worship. It was that simple. Before the second service, I was in a meeting in another part of the building. All of a sudden I thought to look at the time. The service had started and I was late. I jumped up and started running for the auditorium. I arrived just in time to hear one of our worship leaders covering for my absence. I was mortified. Thankfully, Dustin covered for me.

The incident, however, served a purpose, because I was reminded of an important principle. No one on our team should be irreplaceable.

Is your staff prepared to recover in the event of a no-show? Do you cross train for every position?

Things can happen. People get sick. People leave the team…sometimes quickly. Scattered brained pastors get distracted.

Take a minute to review your organization. Where are the positions that would still be empty if key people aren’t in their place? What changes need to be made in your organization, so you can continue in spite of any absences?

4 Times a Leader Should Strategize on Making a Decision

This post continues the thought of strategic thinking in the moment. To completely understand this post, make sure you read the first two posts in this series HERE and HERE.

Strategic thinking comes naturally for me. I have tons of weaknesses, but thinking in a strategic sense is not one of them. If anything, I’m so strategic that it becomes a weakness. I’m not sure, however, that all leaders naturally think strategically. For defining purposes, I’m using the word strategy to involve thinking through the how, when, where, who and what questions when making a decision.  

As a leader, I am very familiar with the “gut call” of leadership; where a leader must make quick, decisive decisions.  (I even wrote about that concept HERE.)  All leaders, however, if they want to be successful, must use strategy when making decisions.  Developing loyal followers and protecting the organization’s future demands strategic thinking, so all leaders must learn to think strategically. Often that comes through discipline, if not through personal wiring. Thankfully, not all decisions a leader makes requires using strategy, but when it does…

Here are four times the leader must think strategically:

The answer is uncertain – I love risk, but the leader must weigh the risk with the future of the organization. Ultimately the leader has responsibility for the success of the organization, so a leader has to make final calls as to whether or not a risk is worth the risk. That requires strategic thinking.

The issue affects more than the leader – One flaw in leadership is when the leader thinks only about how he or she views the decision and not how the decision affects other people. The wise leader thinks strategically to determine the people aspect of a decision.

The issue is subject to resistance – Most change is subject to resistance, but if a decision is automatically going to involve a battle for acceptance, then a leader must strategically plan the way the decision is introduced and implemented.

The issue changes an agreed upon direction – When people get excited about a direction the organization is going and they invest their heart and energy into heading in that direction, they are naturally more resistant to a change in the direction. Good leaders think strategically how this change will be received and how it should be communicated so people transfer enthusiasm for the new direction.

Leaders, what do you think? Are you strategically thinking through important decisions?

Followers, have you seen these areas backfire against a leader who fails to think strategically?

What would you add to my list?

Iron Sharpens Iron – Learn From Your Team

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

This verse has inspired me over the years, but recently I saw it in a different context for my life.  I’ve often seen this verse helpful to remind me to build accountability and mentoring into my life, which I have consistently done.  I am a wisdom seeker, so I am continually looking for nuggets of advice to help me be a better person, leader, father, husband and friend.  I think it may have even another application for me today.

One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make is failing to learn from the people on their team.  We tend to think the best ideas are outside our organization, so we learn from many sources, but many times the best ideas for the organization are already with us.  I love to attend conferences, I read tons of books, I follow numerous blogs of great leaders, but the fact is God has surrounded me with great leaders with whom I work. I need to make sure I’m learning from them.

Here’s a gentle reminder.  If your organization hires sharp people, which I hope it does, learn from them. Allow their “iron” to sharpen your iron.

What have you learned from the people on your team?

Organizational Tip: Give Permission to Be Spontaneous

Recently I attended the Story Conference in Chicago. It was a two day conference for the creative-minded packed full of the best ideas available to communicate our story to the world.  It was a well-planned and scripted time and Ben Arment, the conference founder, is to be commended for the event.

The greatest moment for me, however, happened in a split moment.  To understand the moment you need to know that the conference venue, Park Church is strategically located in the heart of Chicago. They have a beautiful renovated building. The worship center can be made extremely dark, but there are windows in the room that face the city. At one point, we were singing a worship song about spreading the news of Jesus to the world and suddenly the curtains opened to the city of Chicago. In a split second, we had the vision that our mission was clear.  We were to take the love we have for Christ to the people outside the walls of the auditorium.

I was talking with one of the leader’s of the conference after this experience and he told me that it was a split second decision to open the curtains.  It wasn’t planned.  The greatest moment, for me at least, wasn’t scripted ahead of time.  It reminded of an important life and leadership principle.

We must always allow time and grant permission for the spontaneous moments to occur…the interruption…the unplanned bursts of genius. I’m a planner, but spontaneity can often be the spice of life.  All of us need to leave margin enough in our calendars for God-moments and times of spontaneity. 

Here’s my question:  Is that easy or difficult for you to allow margin for the unexpected to occur?

Daniel Pink – Author of Drive on What Motivates #Cat10

Daniel Pink, author of the recent best selling book Drive, shared a message on motivation; specifically what motivates people.  When people are motivated, they achieve more, do better work, and our more satisfied people.

Daniel then shared what research shows motivates people best:

Money is a motivator – People must be paid fairly.  Once you pay people enough, additional money doesn’t appear to increase motivation. The goal should be to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.

After you’ve solved the money issue, three things drive motivation.

Autonomy – People want to be engaged in their organization, not by being managed or controlled, but by having a sense of freedom to do their work. They need autonomy over their time, tasks, team and techniques.

Mastery – We all have a desire to get better at stuff.  Instead of annual performance reviews, teams should work together to continually set goals and self-evaluate their results.  People should own their destiny.

Purpose – People need a genuine and honorable purpose they are seeking to attain.  When it’s all said and done, ask yourself, “What’s it all about?”

Daniel encouraged us to Tweet: “Carrots and sticks are so last century. For 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

BTW, Andy Stanley’s leadership team just went through the Drive book.  That’s good enough encouragement for me.

This is a good reminder of what it takes to lead people well.

Upon which of these do you need to improve in your leadership?

Do you agree with Daniel’s assessment of encouraging motivation?

Positional Versus Relational Authority

I was sitting with a staff member recently who presented me an idea. I had reservations about the idea instantly. It was actually a “red flag” idea and I knew it. I love ideas, however, and I’m consistently encouraging our staff to dream, take risks, and improve upon what we are doing. So I listened intently and we discussed the pros and cons of the idea. The next day this staff member came back to tell me and he had thought about our discussion, had changed his mind and was going a different direction. I was thrilled with “his” decision.

This story illustrates an important leadership principle difference between positional versus relational authority.  The wise leader knows the difference is huge.

In that instance I used relational authority. I had the ability because of my position to squelch the idea instantly. I could have stopped his plan. I could have killed a dream. In doing so, however, I would have also risked injuring a relationship and stalling someone’s personal growth. He may never have brought me another idea. He may have quit trying. He may have even decided I no longer supported him. Coming to the decision on his own gave him confidence in the direction he was going and allowed him to see me as a mentor not a detractor of his leadership.

Many times I could demand something because of my position, but most times the issue is better resolved if I encourage something because of my relationship. In my experience, there are times for both types of authority to be used, but the majority of the time relational authority works better in creating healthy organizations, healthy teams, and healthy team members. The wise leader learns which is best at the time.

Do you see the difference? Which are you providing most to your organization: Positional or Relational Authority? Which are you receiving?

Developing a Leadership Vocabulary

Great leaders are always learning. Part of that processing is developing the appropriate leadership vocabulary to help the organization and it’s team members achieve the greatest success.  Great leaders learn to say…

“Yes” more than “No”…

“Why not” more than “How come”….

“Our” more than “My”…

“We” more than “I”…

“Thank you” more than “I wish you hadn’t”….

“Let’s do it” more than “We’ve never done it”…

“Go for it” more than “Stop that”….

“I encourage you to” more than “I command you to”…

“What do you think” more than “Here’s what I think”…

“How can we” more than “This is the way”…

“Works with me” more than “works for me”…

Great leaders understand the power of their language. It develops the culture of the organization, team member’s perceptions of their individual roles, and the overall health and direction of the organization. Great leaders, therefore, choose their words carefully.

How is your leadership vocabulary? What would you add to my list?