How To Simplify Any Problem

Catching a cloud

It was the early 1970’s. 8-tracks, pet rocks, and waterbeds were all the rage. The Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin, and Bread were playing on the radio. And Irish Spring from Colgate-Palmolive, with its green stripe of freshness, was top of the soap charts. Meanwhile, the marketers at Procter and Gamble were working hard trying to create a copycat product with it’s own green stripe of freshness.

Irish Spring

After several failed attempts, creative manager Min Basadur suggested that his team at Procter and Gamble weren’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking, “How can we make a better green stripe bar than Irish Spring?” he asked the question, “How might we create a more refreshing soap of our own?”

 

This led the team to explore other themes of freshness including that which comes at the seacoast. From this came the coastal blue and white striped soap named “Coast.”

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Min Basadur went on to become a consultant who has taught the concept of How Might We to companies over the past four decades. The question is key in what has become known as Design thinking, which is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions.

Here are some steps we can use to help us better understand the question of How Might We?

Step 1: Define the area you want to explore, whether it is a current problem or an anticipated problem.

Example: This meeting is going to be boring.

Step 2: Reword the statement into a “How Might We?” question.

 

  • How suggests that we do not yet have the answer. It helps us explore a variety of possibilities instead of acting on what we suppose the solution should be. It pulls us out of inactivity and helps us begin thinking.
  • Might emphasizes that our responses are only possible solutions, not the only solution. It also allows for exploration of multiple possible solutions instead of merely settling on the first that comes to mind. It allows for any idea to be brought to the table, no matter how outlandish.
  • We immediately brings in the element of a collaborative effort. It suggests that the solution lies within our collective teamwork instead of within one person’s influence and creativity. 

 

Example: This meeting is going to be boring…How might we make this meeting interesting?

Using How Might We questions helps us take a negative statement and turn it into a positive question which helps us find a solution. 

Step 3: Use brainstorming techniques to come up with as many solutions that you and your team can imagine to your How Might We question.

Examples:

  • We might make the meeting more interesting by involving the attendees in discussion?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by utilizing visuals in the presentations?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by limiting the length to one hour?

Step 4: Prioritize the best ideas, build on them, and work them into next steps, sometimes involving their own How Might We questions.

Example: How might we actively involve the attendees in our meeting in interesting and lively discussion?

How Might We? is a question which can help simplify and bring clarity to almost any problem. Granted, it might simply bring more questions to the table, but most often, those questions are relevant questions.

So, next time you encounter what seems to be an unsolvable problem, try developing it into several How Might We questions. If you do, you’ll suddenly be thinking from a positive viewpoint, pointing yourself towards solutions instead of dwelling on the negative problem.

* For further study on How Might We, including the full story of Coast, see The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use article by Warren Berger from Harvard Business Review.

 

Why I Choose To Be Thin-Skinned

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King David was a king, a warrior, and a man after God’s own heart.  He was also an artist, a musician and a writer. Who else but a sensitive person with an artistic heart could have written so many heart felt psalms? Who else but a talented artist could have played so skillfully that demons fled from Saul as he listened? The church needs artists today. We need people who cry when listening to beautiful pieces of music. We need people who stop running so frantically and see the beauty, hurt, and awe around us. We need people who pay more attention to God’s creation than business plans. We need people who feel deeply and have the ability to communicate those feelings to the rest of us.

Rory Noland, in The Heart of the Artist, writes that “Everyone with an artistic temperament has been told at some point in his or her life to develop a thicker skin. That’s nonsense! The world doesn’t need more thick-skinned people. It needs more people who are sensitive and tender.” I agree with Rory’s sentiment for the most part. I suggest that artists, in the church, need to be thin-skinned people when experiencing beauty and hearing from God but then be willing to put on spiritual full-body armor when experiencing evaluation, criticism, and spiritual warfare.

I am a firm believer that God determines what He wants someone to do by who He made them to be. I also believe that everyday, as we grow closer to Him, experience life’s victories and defeats, learn new skills, and tolerate pain and resistance, that we are in a constant state of becoming.  So, the two questions are, “Who did God create you to be?” and “How has God being creating you recently?” 

Did He create you to be an artist of some kind?  Then keep reading.

The world pushes artists of all kinds down from the time they are young.  Think about it.  Adults ignore or laugh at children’s artwork when presented to them, kids taking artistic lessons are often downplayed by those in sports leagues, Jr. High students are merciless in their teasing of classmates trying to express themselves in any creative way, high school and college standards weed out those who simply want to create art for enjoyment, and then adulthood comes along and presents us with the immediate priorities of financial obligations, thank you very much. I know, I know. Life happens and people have to grow up and find real jobs in order to stay alive. That’s true, but what fun is life if there isn’t some kind of beauty we can experience along the way? What good is the money we make if we are numb to art and beauty?

I want to encourage artists, especially those in the church, to not be afraid of your own sensitivity. Feel what’s going on around you. Experience it. Live it. Make it a part of you.  Then communicate it to the world around you in beautiful, unique ways. Write, sing, sculpt, paint, draw, play, act, compose, speak, direct, form, whatever…

Just don’t stop. 

If you do, it’s not just you who loses. 

It’s all of us.  

 

My Last Drink of Alcohol

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My last drink of alcohol was New Years Eve, 2002. I was on a mission trip in Indonesia standing between a seminary professor and an international missionary in a worship service. Since I didn’t speak the language, I had no idea the church was actually using real wine for communion that evening. I was given a small piece of bread and a small glass of what I assumed was grape juice.
It wasn’t.
I realized as it was halfway down my throat.
Ironically, my last drink was also my first. That’s difficult for most people to believe, especially since I live in New Orleans. Let me explain.
As a child, I was never really around alcohol. My parents didn’t drink, so it was really a non issue for me. When I was in Middle School, we moved to a dry county in Arkansas where the closest alcohol for sale (legally) was across the Texas or Oklahoma line at, what my grandfather affectionately called, the beer joint. Even though it was popular, I never really had the desire to put forth the effort to get to one of these establishments. They were far away, I never had the money, and quite frankly, I would have rather had a Coke.
It was about that time that I began hearing about others I knew who had problems with alcohol. I even heard one of my relatives tell my dad, “I just can’t stop. It’s got a hold on me.” As a young teen, I vowed that I would never let alcohol or drugs control my life.
Then, at 16, I gave my life to Jesus and started reading the Bible seriously. I learned that the Bible actually doesn’t condemn drinking. Paul writes the following in Ephesians 5:18: Do not get drunk with wine. That leads to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. That floored me. Had I been wrong? Should I have joined the drinking crowd? I wasn’t sure.
 
This actually created a mental and moral crisis for me as a teenager. The Bible actually seemed to condone drinking in this scripture. As long as someone didn’t get drunk, what was the problem with drinking alcoholic beverages? Then, to make matters worse, Jesus changed water in wine at a party where scripture seems to share that a few of the people attending (not Jesus) might actually be a little hammered.
I wondered at the time, should my situation determine my convictions? I wasn’t sure if the right decision was found in a cultural thing or a context thing or something else completely.
Then, a friend showed me Colossians 2:16-17, where Paul writes: So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ Himself is that reality.
I told him that I understood his point, and that I would try not to condemn or criticize him if he chose to drink alcohol. However, I also to him that I didn’t think he was really concerned with this because of his relationship with Christ, but was trying to justify his life choices.
To my surprise, he agreed.
Later, I came across 1 Corinthians 10:23. In that scripture, Paul writes: You say, “I am allowed to do anything” but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.
 
I decided once again, as an older teenager, that for me, drinking alcohol was not beneficial. I’ve held that conviction now for 30 plus years. I understand that many others, probably most people, don’t share my personal conviction. That’s fine. I still want to be friends and won’t let this issue stop us.
However, since I’ve taken my last (and first) drink of alcohol, it’s time to move on to other dilemmas which can be spoken to from 1 Corinthians 10:23. Most of them have to do with what I put into my body (junk food, soda, cake) and what I put into my mind (certain movies, books, videos). As I wrote earlier, alcohol has really always been a non-issue for me. However, I don’t have quite the same tenacity when it comes to donuts, Coca-cola, and sit-coms.
Praise the Lord for His grace and mercy.

What God Thinks About You

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When I was in college, I attended a large student conference in North Carolina. One day, as I was waiting for my friends, an older woman struck up a conversation with me. She asked me if I was enjoying the conference. For some reason, I told her I was really disappointed because I hadn’t been selected to sing the solo with the choir for that evening’s worship service.

She replied, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of that it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this it still belongs to the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16) Do you know why I stopped to talk with you?”

“No,” I replied.

“I wanted to tell you that each night when the choir sings, I watch you worship and it encourages me. You are unique and loved by God.  He doesn’t want you comparing yourself to others. He wants you to rejoice in what He’s given you.”

I walked away encouraged.

That evening, I was surprised to see that very woman introduced as the keynote speaker.  She walked to the podium, looked out at 1500 college students and said, “You are unique and loved by God.”

I noticed a girl on the front row wiping her eyes.  She needed that message as much as I did.

We all spend so much time comparing ourselves with others that we forget that God loves us just as we are and made us that way on purpose.

So, before I go, let me remind you – You are unique and loved by God.

 

*Warren Wong Photo courtesy of Unsplash 

Lesson Learned from Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall became a Supreme Court Justice in 1967. As the first African-American justice, he was attributed with the following quote: The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis. 

Today, as I ponder his words, I have to wonder, “Do I retain my compassion in times of crisis?” No, I don’t. Instead, I often freak out and become completely self-centered?”

However, as Christians, we are called to live differently.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

We all struggle with selfishness. If we say we aren’t, we’re not being truthful. The truth is, we could all spend the rest of our lives learning how to clothe ourselves with compassion, not to mention kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Let’s get started.

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Most days, it’s go, go, go. It’s moving on, pushing forward, forgetting what is behind, and pressing on to what is ahead. I get it. If you don’t look ahead, you live in the past.  

But today, at this marker in my life, I look back, and realize how long the path has actually been. I see the wild, unusual trajectory of my life’s journey so far and think, “How did I end up here? It feels like I just got started.”

But I didn’t. I’ve actually been at this whole life thing for quite awhile.

A student once asked Billy Graham, “What’s the greatest surprise you have found about life?”

He answered, “The brevity of it.”

I agree with him. It has been short and it seems to be getting shorter by the year. When I look back, I see that I’ve come a long way, but all I can really think about is all the duties I still need to fulfill, all the people I still want to meet, and all of the journeys I still want to take.

But time is short.

Very short.

If that’s the case, then I want to do what’s most important with the rest of my life.

Jesus once said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

So now, as I look back, it looks pretty good. But it sure is nice to know there’s more assignments and adventures ahead of me.

*Photo courtesy of Unsplash Mike Rawlings

Loss

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I woke up this morning feeling a great sense of loss. This is something that happens at some point to everyone, I suppose. I tried to shake it off with prayer, activity, and even with strong wishing, but it’s still there.

So, I did some research on it.

Google describes loss as a noun and defines it as the fact or process of losing something or someone. That’s a pretty simple explanation. Unfortunately, dealing with loss is not quite so simple. It’s definition implies that loss ends once the object or person is gone. In my mind, that’s only the beginning of loss.

John Steinbeck, in The Winter of Our Discontent, wrote the following: It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.

I found that to be true after my wife and I lost our baby to miscarriage after ten years of marriage. A few people, while trying to comfort us, said, “This is a big blow. It must hurt so much to not have a child.”

I would often reply quietly, while screaming my lungs out inside my head, “We’re not sad because we don’t have a child. We’re sad because we once had a child and no longer do.”

So, what do I do this morning with my sense of loss? Do I squelch it? Do I try to think about something else? Or do I take the time to experience it?

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, shared the following words: Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?

Something within in me fights against that kind of logic though. Something says, “Suck it up and be happy. You shouldn’t feel this way if you’re have Jesus as your Savior and Lord.”

But there’s a flaw in that type of thinking as well. Jesus experienced terrible loss, much greater than I will ever know. Isaiah 53:3 says He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

I think C.S. Lewis is right in what he is saying. There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. We can attempt to delay it or deny it, but we cannot destroy it. It’s going to find us in the end.

So, here’s my resolution for today. If I’m going to feel loss and grief today, I’m going to do it while holding the hand of the One who was acquainted with the deepest grief. He’s also the God who wants me to live life more abundantly and wants my joy to be full. He knows the way, not around, but through loss and I will follow Him.

Don’t You Dare Stop

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What’s the first thing we learn about God?

When we read the first five words of the Bible, we don’t learn that God is loving or forgiving or convicting or beautiful, even though He is all those things. Instead, we read:  In the beginning, God created…

He created the heavens and the earth. He made the plants and the sky and deepest of oceans. He made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. And then, He made us in His image, a true work of art.

If we’re made in God’s image, then we are creative.

Most of us believed this when we were children. We created joyfully. But then something happened.

Someone laughed at our creations. We saw the creative work of others and thought we could never rise to their level. People started praising the creative efforts of younger people and forgot about us. Our friends gave up on their creative pursuits and pressured us to join them. We experienced loss and decided to set it aside for a few days. Then, of course, we were distracted by bills, tv, family, work, social media, traffic…  and suddenly, we quit trying to be creative. It became easier to just exist.

 

 

Then, years later, we look back at our creative desires and chuckle, wondering why we ever pursued creativity in the first place. However, somewhere, deep inside of ourselves, we don’t laugh. We ache and long for yesteryear, because we realize we’ve lost a vital part of who God made us to be.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can be creative again. It may be different from our earlier creative pursuits, but it’s time to take our first steps. It’s time to create something. It doesn’t matter if the creation is music, clay, words, paint, furniture, string, or bacon, it’s time for us to get out there and create.

 

Then, after we start, we can’t stop. We have to keep trying, keep improving, keep living, and keep creating. We can’t dare stop.

It’s who God made us to be.

 

Abraham Lincoln Is Alive and Well

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Imagine for a moment that you are in Washington D.C. at the national mall. You walk past the reflection pool and make your way up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Slowly, you walk up to the large statue of Abraham Lincoln. You pause and remember the man that many people consider the greatest president to have ever served. Suddenly, the statue begins to move and, to your surprise, it starts speaking to you. At first, you wonder if he’s some sort of zombie statue who might devour you, but then, you realize that he, the real Abraham Lincoln, is really there, in person, speaking through that statue, desiring a one-on-one conversation with you. What you thought was going to be a personal memorial for a deceased man has suddenly become an interaction with a living president.

This is not unlike what often happens when we encounter Jesus. We think of Him as the One who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, but we often don’t anticipate it going any further than that. We often memorialize Him and certainly don’t expect any personal interaction with Him. But then, when He speaks to us, we are totally blown away. It’s often, at that point that we remember that He’s alive and well, not wanting to destroy us but desiring a strong, real, meaningful, personal relationship with each of us.

Don’t settle for a knowledge of Jesus. Get to know Him.

The Holy Spirit On Bourbon Street

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I know a lady who moved to New Orleans after her marriage fell apart. For years, she had lived a holy, set apart lifestyle. However, upon her move, she decided to embrace the ways of the sinful world. She stopped attending worship services and life groups and started frequenting bars and night clubs. Late one evening, while in a bar on Bourbon Street, she was approached by a man who offered to buy her a drink. In the midst of their conversation, the man smiled and asked, “What are you doing here, Honey? There’s something good shining out from you and you’re trying to cover it up.”

Once the Holy Spirit enters us, He is there working in and through our lives even when we’re purposefully trying to sin.  In a similar fashion, the spiritual gifts we receive from the Lord are alive, working through us from the time of our salvation to bring about the purposes of the Lord. They are within us, working to accomplish the Lord’s will even if we are not purposefully activating them. In other words, the spiritual gifts we receive from the Lord are permanent. They cannot and will not be withdrawn, rejected, stolen, spoiled, re-gifted or returned.

God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. Romans 11:29