Friday, August 05, 2011

Embracing the Whole Picture

"We are grateful that he gave so much time coming to the poorer nations ... simply to teach us the Bible." Ajith Fernando about John Stott

Most people latch on to a specific idea and make it their life's mission. We are told at every turn to focus our efforts in order to create something truely unique and to get the attention of an increasingly distracted audience. So in the interest of efficiency and focus, we "zoom in" on what we believe we can offer to the world.

There is great value in focused work, but I worry that our persistent focus, and the pride that it so often brings, is causing us to lose site of the larger picture. We have all met those individuals who act like their cause or idea is the most important one in the world - to the exclusion of all others.

We need a broader more balanced approach to our efforts as innovators and Generous Minds. This was one of the main lessons that I took away from watching the interactions online after John Stott passed away recently. In the articles, videos and quotes that I saw, I got a sense for a man who saw the whole vision for the church so clearly. And this larger vision allowed him to focus in on specific ideas or efforts at certain times. But I get the sanse that he never lost the larger perspective on God's heart for His creation.

I think that is why so many of the reflections about John Stott speak about humility. Because his identity was not wrapped up in his particular agenda, God grew him into a humble man who was there to serve those around him. The quote from Adjith Fernando at the top of this article embodies that so powerfully.

Our best efforts can look like self-serving agendas and personal passions to the outside world. I would encourage you to read David Brook's article about John Stott to see how he was viewed differently than so many in the Christian world.

As I read David Neff's article at the time of John Stott's 90th birthday, I got another insight into this amazing servant of God. David zero's in on John's discipline. Incidentally, I saw a tweet from Billy Graham's grandson, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, talking about John's discipline as well.

Not only did John Stott see the bigger picture and enter it with humility, but he was extremely disciplined in his very specific ministry efforts. I believe these factors held in creative tension were part of the reason that he is known as one of the fathers of modern evangelicalism.

Do we bring the balance between "big picture" and "focused effort" along with the "humility to serve" and "discipline to achieve"? These things will seem to pull us in very different directions at times. But all these things are important to God and He will give us the ability to embrace each for the benefit and blessing they bring to our labors.

Take some time to read the quotes from John Stott that I curated from twitter and the commemorative video that has been watched by over 10,000 people.

"We should travel light and live simply. Our enemy is not possessions but excess." John RW Stott

“God’s church means people not buildings, and God’s word means Scripture not traditions." -John Stott”

“The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross … not the scales.” (John Stott)

"The Gospel isn't good advice to men but good news about Christ; not an invitation to do, but a declaration of what God has done." John Stott

"Christians need to look like what they're talking about"-John Stott

"Until you see the cross as that which is done by you, you will never appreciate that it is done for You" - John Stott

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building Trains or Train Tracks

As many of you know I am currently investing much of my energy in creating innovation around publishing - specifically eBooks. This is a market that is changing dramatically each and every day. I call it the Wild West of book publishing. So in a space as in flux as publishing, how do you innovate intentionally?

Well, I got a key insight wen reading Kristin Butler's post on 7 Platforms that are Changing Publishing. This article is a must read even if you are not involved in publishing because of the creative innovations it highlights. So here is my thought for the day. When you are in a dynamic and changing field your innovation will either change the train or the train tracks. (Most of the innovations in the article are train innovations.)

If your innovation changes the train tracks, you are talking about the infrastructure that the whole new industry is riding on. In the eBook world the train tracks are the platforms (ie Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Google) that allow you to buy, access and read your books.

If your innovation changes the train, you are talking about products and services that ride on that infrastructure and utilize it to deliver things to customers at their point of need. In the eBook world a great example (listed in the article I mentioned above) is The Domino Project - an innovative publishing effort spearheaded by Seth Godin and delivered via Amazon's system.

As I considered this reality, it became clear that building train tracks is hard work. And beyond the huge time and money it takes, you have to win or you are relegated to the junk pile. When trains were a new innovation, there were different widths for train tracks in various parts of the world. But sooner or later most of those variations disappeared because people needed to get goods everywhere and various sizes and types of tracks were not a good idea (unless you wanted to keep people out).

Because of this, the players that can afford to innovate at the train track level will be very few and will involve incredible risk, investment and mass adoption. The area of innovation with much more room for creativity and the ability to build niche audiences is in the work of building trains. Once the train tracks are set, you can build all kinds of trains. Trains for circus animals . . . trains for coal . . . trains for people. The potential is only limited by the demands of those wanting to use that infrastructure.

This means that if you don't want to risk it all to set the standard for the train tracks you can still be a key part of the innovation in your industry. You can identify a group of people who want to use that infrastructure and build a train that will serve them well.

Even though the idea of building the infrastructure is a sexy one, the implementation is brutal with many harrowing stops and turns. But train building, while difficult and challenging, is much more likely to lead to success.

Can you identify the train tracks and trains in your area of innovation? What will be your focus?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Innovators Beware

This week two high level leaders have fallen. The IMF's Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger have been in the news for alleged sexual crimes in the first case or an affair in the second.

As I saw all the media around these two situations, I can't help but think about the impact that our choices have on our life's work. We can be highly successful innovators and leaders, but if we make the wrong choices in any area of our life, those innovations are at risk.

But so often we convince ourselves that the decisions in our lives are not that connected. We think that somehow we can indulge in one area of life and keep discipline and structure in another area. But that is not the case. Our actions and decisions all impact each other and define who we are.

If you are working on an important Kingdom innovation right now, are you watching out for the other areas of your life? Are you asking God to protect you from harmful decisions and costly mistakes? Don't consider yourself immune. Instead depend on God for all areas of your life - not just the innovations you are risking so much to birth!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What are you Hungry For?

Our minds imagine that those innovators who are very successful have an almost animal-like drive to accomplish their goal. They are focused, passionate and never satisfied with less than success. This is the picture that so many of us paint of successful innovation. And some of this caricature is valid.

But what about contentment? What about resting in Christ as you develop and design your innovation? To the world, that seems like a weak response to the challenges we face. But that is exactly what God calls us to do.

But what does contentment in light of innovation look like. One example is the story of Ron Pritz at OC International that we are highlighting on the Generous Mind Blog. Here is a man who gets to steward a 2 million dollar gift for the ministry and help OCI to innovate and do new projects, and what does he talk about? Contentment.

Most of us in his shoes would be focused on impact, results, opportunities and innovation. But if our heart is not focused right with Jesus in light of these things, then our innovations will not honor Him.

I hope you will read Ron's guest post and I am sure that you will be blessed by it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Innovation as a Means of Grace

Innovation is simply seeing out ahead of the present, identifying a need and creating a unique way to meet it. The problem usually comes in the first part of that definition. When we try to see out ahead, sometimes we have moments of amazing clarity and see things as they will become. Other times we miss it entirely. Still other times we think our vision will happen more quickly than it does.

More and more I have been focusing on the process of innovation in the lives of those involved. We usually judge an innovation as successful by what it accomplishes in financial return or human progress. But what if we were to begin measuring how it changes the innovator? I think you would find a much lower rate of failure among innovative efforts if one of the prime criterion's for success was the growth and development of the innovator.

The term "means of grace" refers to an activity that is part of the process that Jesus uses to reclaim our hearts and grow us closer to Him. Any activity can be a means of grace if God chooses to use it that way.

But I think that innovations are very likely to be used as tools by our Heavenly Father because innovative efforts require risk and great effort. In those moments of innovation we are extremely vulnerable and our protective layers are peeled away as we strive and struggle to accomplish the task in front of us.

In those moments, Jesus can show us many things. He can grow us up, tackle self-deception, give us new insights, and so on. So here is the question. If you are in a time of innovation in your life, are you offering this unique time of your life up to God and asking Him to grow you close to Him as you work? I would challenge you to consider that approach to your efforts and you may just find that even if your innovation never makes it to prime time, that you have gained more eternal benefit than you could ever imagine

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

7 Ways to Stop a Movement

I found this great thought on Twitter that I had to share with you: "7 things stop a movement: big buildings, big programs, big personalities, big control, big money, big meetings, big policies." (via @floydmcclung) Isn't it amazing that the very things which are most likely to kill new ideas and movements are the very definition of success for many of us? Is that true for you? As you think about your innovation and the movement that you are seeking to start around your idea, consider how you are defining success. If you are dreaming about someday sitting in a corner office of a big building presiding over big meetings, you have not made the shift to a leaner and more networked dynamic that define innovations today. You may be wildly successful with your idea and always work out of your home. So don't buy into those old ideas of success and kill your innovation in the process. Be willing to redefine how your innovation might grow and develop into a movement.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Innovators can Learn from a Snake

I don't know if you have followed the drama in New York this week, but it seems that many people are caught up in the news story about a missing Egyptian Cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo. It is probably a mixture of fear and humor that keeps this story alive, but today I want to talk with you about an innovative individual who stepped into the Cobra's news cycle and started something viral. Someone, realizing the opportunity for humor and attention, set up a Twitter account called @bronxzooscobra soon after the story hit the national headlines. They proceeded to share humorous short posts about what the cobra might be doing in New York City without the proper supervision. That simple twitter feed went from a few thousand followers on Monday to over 100,000 followers by the end of the day on Tuesday. What caused that kind of growth and what can we learn from our friend the cobra? Here are a few key things that the cobra's twitter crew did right: 1. A Real Event: They realized that as long as the cobra was loose it would be a story. This meant that they could tie their humor and content to a real event with real drama. 2. Authenticity: The people running the twitter feed are obviously from New York. Their content is authentic to the city with mentions of bakeries, famous people in New York and so on. 3. Quality Content: The writing is good and the humor is hilarious. That is the most important differentiator. They are not just posting random thoughts. The humor and the writing are well thought out and done in such a way as to appeal to different audiences in the city and around the world. So the next time you want to launch a viral marketing campaign to engage people with your new innovation, make sure to take these three pointers from our friend the cobra!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Engaging in Crisis

I'm sure that each of you has been watching the huge tragedy in Japan over the past 48 hours. It is to incredible to even imagine. In these moments when I can't even get my head around what has happened somewhere in the world, my question as an innovator is to ask, "What unique and intentional approach should I take in my response?"

Are you asking that question?

Well, I thought I would share my approach in hopes that it encourages you to identify how God will have you respond. From my perspective, in a moment like this I need to connect with God about what is going on and then connect with man in response.

So our family will be reading and praying through the Operation World entry for Japan and asking God to be with the people of that country this weekend. You can see a shortened version of the entry here:

Then we will be reaching out through an organization called CRASH Japan. One of our Innovation In Mission group members is a part of this effort on the ground in Japan. It is a group within Japan set up to do relief and development work and is uniquely positioned to reach out to their own people and be a light in this dark time. If you are interested in CRASH Japan, please click here:

Blessings as you take an innovative approach to your response.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New innovations are changing how we read

Some innovations bring dramatic changes our daily routines, but others modify what we do and help us to carry on some of the same activities in different ways. Both types of innovation have their place. Today I would like to talk about an innovation that fits in the second category.

As many of you know I work at a Christian start-up helping publishers and authors to bring their content into eBook format in an interactive environment. Our endeavor is called Novo Ink and I have had the privilege to bring hundreds of powerful resources online in the last few months.

But one of the projects I am most proud of (and one of the reasons I have not been blogging as much) is launching this week. It is our first Enhanced eBook that we are releasing. And it is a big one. We have partnered with David C. Cook to release Francis Chan's book Crazy Love in an enhanced edition.

Now other people are doing enhanced eBooks, but I want to talk about how we did ours and how these resources will change how we read. Most enhanced eBooks are a lot like DVD's with an "extras" menu of interviews, images, cut scenes, etc. However, that isn't going to change reading - that simply throws more information at info-saturated readers.

In this product I got to work with the editorial team at David C. Cook and we brainstormed how to bring video, audio and web resources into the book in a way that helps the reader gain clearer understanding, new insights and different perspectives. So instead of clunky transitions between an intro video and starting the book as it has always started, we integrated the new resources throughout the chapters. The team at Cook did a great job selecting video/audio/links that really bring home the ideas that Francis is sharing and allow you to see them in a new light.

In the end this version of Crazy Love has 10 videos, 9 audio clips and over 50 web links to videos, resources and devotionals. All that content relates directly to what is going on in the book and provides a rich ecosystem for Francis' idea.

These enhanced products, if done organically, will allow you to connect with the author, hear from them, interact with resources that they care about and learn in a deeper way. This innovation doesn't change the fact that you will read Crazy Love, but it will change what you get out of it and how you share it.

I am so excited to share this innovative product with each of you who have been a part of this "Innovation in Mission" journey for so long. I hope you will take the time to check it out and buy a copy to read. I have spent a lot of time with Francis (or so it seems from the amount of time with this content :) ) and I know that this resource will be a blessing as you seek to grow in your love for Jesus. Click here to check it out.

So as you consider your next innovation, ask yourself the question: "Is this innovation designed to change everything or is it focused on modifying an existing process." The answer to that question will be a very significant "ah-ha" moment on your journey!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Innovators Admit Failure

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. ~Henry Ford

We have become very good at hiding our failures. We hide them by blaming others, spinning the facts, avoiding the subject or finding a new project to focus on. However we hide them, we do ourselves and those around us a disservice.

I know why we hide them. Our culture has trained us to believe that failures mean personal weakness, ineptitude and humiliation. We believe as nonprofits that donors will only support us if we ride one success after another in the journey towards our charitable cause. We also struggle to believe that people will still value us if we have failed in our ministry efforts. We tend to think that failure is a sign of God withholding blessing because of our mistakes or miscalculations.

But below the cultural dogma of success and the misunderstanding of God's blessings, we really do know that failures are good for us . . . don't we? Sure we do. We know that failures help us understand the problem we are seeking to solve and give us new insights into what to try next. We know this because we see it in life. When a baby first tries to walk, there are many failures that slowly lead to learning and then to success. When we learned to ride a bike or drive a car, there were many crashes or grinding of gears before we masted the skill. Most of the time those teaching us did not reject us for those things or think less of us. Instead they encouraged us to persevere and learn from the challenge.

So, in the end, our efforts to hide our failures keep us from learning and growing with those around us and identifying new solutions. There is a new web site called that is seeking to help nonprofits get beyond this struggle. The site has been put together by Engineers Without Borders Canada and they are putting out a challenge for nonprofits to share their failures in an effort to learn from each other and create new and better solutions.

This is a powerful idea because it provides each of you with a chance to share a failure and see how that bit of learning will help others. I believe it is also cathartic because we can confess to each other our struggles and our failures and ask for their help and prayer.

Now here is the big question: "Will you be brave enough to selflessly share your failures with others?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Make it work before you make a splash

Seth Godin had a great post today about launching innovations. Read here. His basic point is that some of the greatest innovations in our time launched in obscurity and then became known as they delivered value.

This sounds very practical and obvious, but have you noticed that we don't operate this way. Instead we tend to launch our innovations with as much fanfare as we can afford. If you stop and ask yourself why we do this, a few things come to mind:
1. We are insecure about our idea and we need others to affirm our efforts and sacrifice.
2. We think that if people know early they will be involved in our innovation.
3. We want to stamp our name on the idea before someone else takes it.
4. Our boss, investors, or board tell us we need to make the launch a big deal.

I'm sure there are other reasons as well, but these come to mind.

So next time you are in the planning stages for an innovation launch, consider taking the humble, quiet approach to your innovation and build success based on service rather than PR.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Are you providing Access or Process?

The currency of a knowledge economy is each individual’s learning and growth. Every time we click the mouse, interact with friends or read a book, we are receiving information and growing as we apply it. With the explosion of information technology and, more recently, social technology, we are seeing thousands of innovations focused on helping us take advantage of all the data and networks available to grow in our Christian lives.

In this post I want to share with you two schools of thought when it comes to learning innovations. I am defining learning innovations very broadly to include all those efforts that inform and develop a believer as they grow in their faith. As I share about these two approaches, it is necessary to generalize. These labels can be helpful or harmful depending on how they are used. They are a powerful tool when they help us to understand ourselves and our efforts. At the same time they can be very harmful if they put us in boxes that limit our potential for ministry. So my hope is that these generalizations will give you a framework for understanding your efforts and the efforts of others.

School 1: Access
This group of innovative projects focuses on giving people access to information, ideas, opportunities and experiences. If you talk with these pioneers their heart is to see people engage with the information and use it to bless their families, communities and the world. A great example of this is the Joshua Project—a site that provides access to information about unreached people groups. Their focus is stated clearly on their site,

“Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Christ. Accurate, regularly updated ethnic people group information is critical for understanding and completing the Great Commission.”

School 2: Process
This second group of innovative projects focuses on helping people develop as individuals and believers as they are involved in a process or activity. When you interact with these gifted innovators, they bleed discipleship and mentoring and desire to see people grow in Christ. A great example of this is Monvee—a site focused on helping you assess and track your spiritual growth. They describe their focus this way,

Monvee exists in order to help people discover what is getting in the way of their spiritual growth and then craft a plan to address it. We believe every person who follows Jesus has what it takes to grow their relationship with Him in new and fresh ways. Monvee combines solid theology with innovative technology to deliver a tool that connects people with resources, ways to spend their time, powerful experiences, and relational connections that fit the unique way God designed them to grow.”

Both Access and Process are critical to Kingdom Innovation. However, if you are not clear on which type of innovation your project is designed around you will struggle to stay focused. They key is not to think about one as better than the other, but to understand how they are different and how Access or Process will drive your ministry efforts. This is one of those “Both/And” situations where it is critical to understand what each side brings to the effort and utilize them accordingly.

A good way to think of Access and Process is by considering Bloom’s Taxonomy. This famous chart has helped those involved in education and countless other fields to understand the progression towards learning. Bloom’s taxonomy says that learning starts with knowledge, moves on to comprehension, expands into application, formulates analysis and finally leads to synthesis.

As I have thought about innovators who focus on Access or Process, this chart has been very helpful. As you look at this chart, the Access Innovators live in the initial two areas of learning: knowledge and comprehension. They are focused on getting information to people in creative and user-friendly ways. They also focus on application as a way of measuring the impact of the information on the end user.

The Process Innovators tends to assume that the first two are happening. They really launch from application and focus on helping people achieve synthesis. The Process group is looking for ways to use creative new methods to help people grow and develop in their spiritual lives, relationships and ministry. They measure success based on the developmental progress they see in the lives of those using their tools.

So the application step is held by both groups and becomes the key point of continuity. In many ways the application step in Bloom’s taxonomy is the engine that keeps the entire process moving. It provides the impetus for someone to gain knowledge and then it provides the experience that begs for deeper understanding.

The greatest blind spot for both groups of innovators is that they assume that the other part is happening. This is each camp’s weakness. Process people fail to see the importance of access to critical information at the right moment in a person’s spiritual life and Access people assume that people will continue on to apply, analyze and synthesize the knowledge they are uncovering.

Once you have identified which camp your innovation fits in, here are some next steps to keep you focused and intentional:
1. If the DNA of your innovation is Access or Process, then own it! Don’t feel you have to do both to be of value to others and the Kingdom. Instead make sure that your mission statement and core values reflect the camp that is the driver behind your idea.
2. While you own your focus, don’t marginalize the other. Resist the “Either/Or” mentality and embrace the “Both/And” approach.
3. Don’t assume that the other part of the equation is happening. Partner with innovators in the other camp so that those utilizing your services will have ways to move up the ladder from knowledge all the way to synthesis.
4. See yourself as part of a whole process that is bigger than your service. If you are an Access innovation, find ways to make the information you are assembling available and useful to those working on the Process side. Likewise, if you are a Process innovation, find ways to utilize the processes that people are going through to provide ideas and data for the Access innovations to include.
5. Make sure as you build the framework for your innovation, that you design pathways to the other camp. So if you are an Access innovation, you need to provide clear ways for people to move beyond comprehension to application and analysis. If you are a Process innovation you need to make sure that people have a way to equip themselves with the knowledge and comprehension necessary to jump into application.

Another Twist
Now that I have taken some time to describe innovations in each of these groups and how they tie together to serve the believer as they seek to grow in their faith, I want to share a game-changing idea. These two camps exist because of the dualism of the 20th Century. We separated the acquisition of knowledge from the development of people using that knowledge. So from where we sit today, these two camps are very real. But do they have to be? Is it possible to design innovative solutions that provide both Access and Process in one coordinated approach?

Take a look at the life of Jesus. He told parables (information) to large crowds and then moved into the advanced phases of Bloom’s taxonomy in private with His disciples. He sent them out to apply what they had learned. Then in His last days He pushed into analysis and then allowed the Holy Spirit to bring synthesis as the disciples began to better understand their faith and their task.

Would it be possible to leave behind these categories and create innovations that move someone along the entire process of learning? Can we develop intentional and incarnational strategies that look at the whole scope of learning and guide individuals and communities through that process?

So start where you are, understand where your innovation fits, and then consider how your efforts could become more holistic as you grow in your understanding of the learning process.