Take Your Creative Team to Mars…

rightkindofcrazy.jpgMaybe we need a little more crazy within the church. Part of moving there in our creativity is expanding the sources of “inputs” into our process. A great way to push into this is by exploring the creative process from different perspectives.

That’s where Mars comes in.

In August of 2012, millions of people around the world watched as the rover Curiosity landed on the planet to begin a new phase of exploration. It was a journey nine years in the making and only accomplished through strenuous effort and innovation from hundreds of brilliant, innovative minds. Ultimately the rover was able to reach the surface through an never before attempted maneuver. It was lowered to the surface of the red planet by a sky crane powered by booster rockets. It sounds like something out of an IronMan movie, but it was actually birthed through the minds of engineers and scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

Engineer Adam Steltzner was at the center of of these efforts and though he doesn’t look like a typical engineer, he was the perfect leader for this intense 2.5 billion project with so many unknowns.  He has now written his own account of this journey in his new book, The Right Kind of Crazy.  (You can read an excerpt here.) Part personal memoir, scientific insights, creative process and leadership lessons, it is a recommended read for those involved in innovation and creative problem solving. That is where the book really shines. right kind of crazy

One key concept that is helpful for church creatives he calls,  holding onto doubt. Here’s how he describes it:

“I recognized that I had to learn to hold onto that open question. I called it holding onto the doubt. I had to be able to sit beside that open question without feeling anxious, without rushing. If I did that my answers were better [because] I more deeply understood the question.

This is not analysis paralysis. I’m not talking about waiting until you have 100% certainty in the answer. These are fuzzy questions for which there won’t be a final analysis until Mars, and you’ll have to invest billions of dollar to get there. Those are the questions I love. Frequently the answer lies inside the question, like a bud waiting to bloom. When you’re up against a question that subtle, you have to hold onto the doubt and really sit long enough in its presence to let [the answer] unfold in front of you.”

Holding onto doubt is an amazing concept as we run through creative process with our teams. In the hurry to have an idea we can execute, there is the temptation to settle or to fail to properly process. Through our 2-4-6 weekly process, we put a natural barrier around settling. It forces us to hold onto doubt.

Don’t fall into that trap. Steltzner calls this staying “in this dark room”.

When you are up against an impasse, a creative block, an inability to find a solution, you can become very anxious. You feel like you’re in this dark room, this black state, and you don’t know where the exit is. Sometimes you don’t find the exit until you’ve given up trying. It’s not that you’ve given up hope, or resigned yourself to always being in the dark room. It’s that you’ve let go of your preconceived notions about what that solution was going to be. You’ve got to be open to a broader set of solutions.”

Learnings for Creatives:

  1. Don’t release the doubt around an idea too soon…if ever. When you do you will miss holes or enhancements on the idea.
  2. Be aware of those on your team due to “wiring” who will not want to wrestle with doubt. It will make them uncomfortable. Don’t let them hijack the role of doubt on your creative.
  3. Bringing a TEAM into the dark room is preferred over going there in ISOLATION. The dark room alone is a scary place to be.

Grab the Book Here

Listen to the Accidental Creative Podcast with Adam Steltzner Here.

Adam Steltzner, engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and author of “The Right Kind of Crazy” (written with William Patrick). He tweets @steltzner.

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