Create! a ★★★★★ book review

If I were to copy anyone, I’d copy Ken Wytsma. He is lead pastor of Antioch in Bend, Oregon, president of Kilns College (where he teaches philosophy and justice), creative advisor for non-profits and founder of the Justice Conference. Additionally, he is the author of three great books. His latest, Create vs. Copy, digs deep into the theology and practice of creativity. So yeah, I’m overawed and would love to copy Wytsma. Only I couldn’t (and shouldn’t).

9780802413499Create vs. Copy doesn’t have much to say  about copying, outside its introduction and first chapter (SPOILER ALERT: don’t do it!). Wytsma’s focus is on creating. Creativity leads us to blazes trails, innovate, and try new things(14). Copying does not (although there is space for creative borrowing).

The book unfolds in two parts. Part one presents a theology of creativity. Part two explores the practices which bring creativity to life. Of course it isn’t quite that neat. Wytsma’s thoughtfulness about the ‘why’ behind the creative process underpins his practical suggestion; practice bleeds out of his theology.  The whole book is an invitation toward creative action.  Here is a closer look at what to expect:

Part 1

In chapter one, Wytsma quotes Genesis 1:27, observing the one aspect of God’s nature described in the verse is this: God creates (24). So Wytsma identifies creativity as part of what it means for us to bear God’s image. This means all of us:

Yes, artists, but also everyone else. While artistic ability is a talent few possess (and/or cultivate with time and hard work), creative capacity is something all of us are born with. Put another way, artists are skilled with unique talents, but creativity is part of what makes us human. (27)

Chapter two, “Continuous Creativity,” begins with Wytsma’s  reflections on the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Increased Entropy) which states “All closed systems tend to move toward a state of greater disorder and dissipated energy” (37). Wytsma connects this with our experience:

This dissipation is familiar in nearly every area of life.  If not renewed, donor bases will erode over time. Congregations will shrink. Family dynamics will tense up. Relationships will fade. Leadership strategies become stale and ineffective. Even our bodies and minds lose their vigor (38).

But entropy characterizes closed systems and creativity is our means to crack them open to allow life back in (39). Wytsma links the work of ongoing, continuous creativity to our image bearing and Gods redemptive plan: God created the world, is in the process of creating, and will create a new heaven and a new earth (42-43); we were created as creative, are creating and are reaching forward with our creative potential. Wytsma closes this chapter with practices for incorporating creativity at home and work (48-52).

Chapter three gives shape to how creativity brings life to our decaying systems. A closed system leads to narrowing horizons, creativity is aimed at making space for life to flourish (51-53). The process is organic: a narrowing horizon is a fear-inducing-context or problem requiring a solution; by responding with intentional creativity (a pattern of life emerging from a nourished imagination) innovation occurs (67).  Chapter four describes the outworking of this theology of creativity and innovation in our globalizing world.

Part 2

In chapter five, Wytsma explores the ways imagination helps us see what is and what should be. As we age, our capacity to imagine possibilities is constrained by our culture and peer group (110).  Our creative impulse atrophies, but Wytsma contends, through its exercise, we can reignite our creativity (114).

Chapter six probes the role of imagination in creative process. The comprehensive imagination names our ability to understand the relevant data for seeing  current problems (120-121). Our artistic imagination helps us envision what could be (122). Our practical imagination helps envision and enact solutions which will work, leading to innovation (122-123). Wytsma also identifies challenges to our imagination (i.e. knowing what ideas to ‘prune’ and convincing people that imagination isn’t the purview of the few).

Chapter seven identifies the process of intentional creativity as both movement and alignment (136). Movement means doing something. “Our natural response to change is to buck against it, to dig in our heels, to wish things would stay the way they are or go back to the way they used to be” (136-137). But inaction leads to the dissipation of entropy, and our best ideas will come in the midst of our work. Drawing on Robert Epstein, Wytsma suggests we sharpen our creative skills by taking notes of new ideas, seeking out challenging tasks, broadening our knowledge, and surrounding ourselves with interesting things and people (138-140). Yet undirected creativity without healthy constraints won’t get you where you want to go (142). Our creativity is aligned when we  understanding our role in “God’s creative, redemptive work” (143). Wytsma observes, “When our values guide our whole creative process—imagination, intentional creativity, and innovation—something beautiful happens” (147).

The final chapter discusses ‘generous creativity’: the  ways in which creativity is collaborative, ‘in-processs’ and is aimed at relationship more than results. One example of creative-collaboration is how each chapter is punctuated with Paul Crouse’s stunning illustrations, making this book  practical AND beautiful. A brief conclusion summons us to creative action (don’t just be a copier or a critic).


 

I was predisposed to like this book. I am artistic and have read Wytsma’s previous books appreciatively. I also love the interactive aspects like the additional reading suggestions from Ken’s blog and reflection questions appended to each chapter. But this book  was also very helpful for me. Despite my love of creativity, my last leadership role was in an entropic system where I failed to lead a process toward vitality.  I didn’t know how to lead innovation. Wytsma gives shape to how the creativity makes space for life to flourish. As a rookie pastor this would have saved me a lot of grief (in a way  vision-casting exercises didn’t).

According to Wytsma, all of us have the capacity and ability for creativity; however he favors leadership in his examples. He states, “Those who create blaze trails, take risks, and try new ways. . . . They lead. . . .Copiers by definition, will always follow” (14). Creativity is defined as leading; copying means following. Maybe so, but not everyone leads (processes or people).  More ought to be said about creative following. For leaders and artists, creativity is explicit. It is what they need to do in order to thrive in business, art and life. In other vocations creativity is implicit. How does creativity play out in the lives of accountants (creative accounting isn’t good, right?), nurses, housekeepers, or whatever?  Creativity is essential to all our image-bearing,  so I wish there were more examples from ordinary lives.

None of this detracts from my enjoyment. This was a fun,fruitful read which pushed me to think and act with more creativity in ministry and life.  I give this five stars and recommend it for leaders, artists, innovators, and yes, copycats, followers and ordinary folk. It calls us to embody the spacious and life giving. ★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of Create vs. Copy as part of the launch team for the book. I was asked for my honest review. The book is slated for release on March 1, 2016 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and can be ordered directly from the publisher’s website.

 

Innovation’s Dirty little Secret: a book review

When we consider the life and impact of innovators (such as the late Steve Jobs), we are amazed by their vision and the ideas they had. But Larry Osborne says that innovators have a secret: most innovations fail. Well, actually that isn’t much of a secret. You knew that already, right? What serial innovators are able to do is fail forward without letting their failures derail them. Osborne tells the tale of why serial innovators succeed where others crash and burn and describes how to foster a culture of innovation.

Osborne is a pastor of North Coast church in San Diego County, California (the book jacket identifies this as ‘one of the most innovative churches in America’).  Osborne draws on his own experience as a leader and the insights from business leadership literature.  Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail  is meant to be applicable to either a business or ecclesial context.  Osborne does not offer a business plan or detailed instructions on how to implement this in your church. What he does do is identify some of the crucial elements of success through innovation.

The book unfolds in seven parts. Part 1 is about exit strategies. Serial innovators do not succeed through backing high-risk innovations. They do not put all their resources into an idea that could fail. They experiment before implementing significant changes. They hedge their bets.  Part two talks about how successful innovation is not about being  ‘avant-garde’ and endlessly creative. It is about finding the right solutions to the problems you face in your organization. Part three describes the importance of knowing your mission (i.e. through a mission statement) and having a bias for action . Osborne also  advises finding a champion to make a straight path for you (a John the Baptist figure, preparing them for your innovation) and the importance of planning in pencil (holding plans loosely).

Part four discusses the problems which undermine innovation.  Osborne mentions four problems: the price of failure,  group-think, surveys, and past successes.  Failures are fatal to our success when we fail publicly, overhype our innovations, and fail repeatedly in the spotlight.  Osborne advises humility and tact in implementing innovations–creating an experimental culture without over promising results on every innovation. On the other hand, he does not trust group-think or surveys because they tends towards the status quo. Innovation  tends to be the product of one mind and lead people somewhere they’ve never been (or thought of).

Part five discusses other organizational and personal challenges to innovation. Leaders cannot grow an organization beyond their competency.  in order for new innovations to happen, structural changes, adjusted expectations, and new advisers will all play a part in helping your church or organization become what they

Part six discusses the necessity of vision for the success of your organization. Osborne contrasts ‘vision’ with ‘mission’ by describing vision as your detailed business plan (mission is a pithy statement which describes what you are about).  The final section, part seven, talks about creating a legacy of innovation that goes beyond ‘just us.’

Osborne offers practical advice for vision casting and implementing new programs and opportunities into the life of your church (or business). I am glad I read this book because I gained some insights and some language to describe innovation in ministry.  I didn’t necessarily think it was the most eye-opening business book. Most of the information in said in other business-leadership books (i.e. Jason Jennings, Jim Collins, Steve Covey, John Maxwell, etc). What Osborne does is relate leadership concepts and innovation to his role as pastor. This gives this book a broad appeal; however I felt that it was missing the hard data of some of the best business books and the theological reflection of the greatest church leadership books.

However  the take away for me is the emphasis on ‘small risks’ and ‘hedged bets.’ This seems to me to be good practical advice for success in leadership, ministry and life.  Culture is always changing and there is no one-size-fits-all ministry plan (or business plan). Change is inevitable and that means an effective witness means trying new things to reach a community. The lab-learning small risks allows for the opportunity to discover which innovations will be impactful. This will be a good book to read and discuss as a church leadership team.  I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross-Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.