Monday, January 31, 2011

Another thought about Imagineering

I'll go on with the next installment of creative/innovative thinking ("Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate") in the next few days, but I came across this story which I thought would help explain the concept of imagineering.
The basic idea is this ... when creating a new idea, begin with an old idea ... I don't mean "old" in the sense of outdated ... I mean old in the sense of "prior." Use other ideas as building blocks for a new idea. Find a way to combine technologies to create something new, or maybe find new applications for existing technology (e.g., sometimes medicines designed for one purpose are found to discover other uses, which is how a certain medicine designed to control blood pressure was found to have other uses, but I'm not telling that story).
At Methodist Hospital here in Houston, Dr. E. Brian Butler had a hunch. Dr. Butler is the chairman of radiation oncology at Methodist. His hunch was that the 2-D black-and-white images created from CT scans, X-rays, MRIs and other tests could be combined and layered to create 3-D images. So he asked some gaming engineers if they could help him. He said to them, "I use radiation to kill cancer. I want to figure out where to drop my bombs on the enemy, and where not to. Can you help me figure out how to do that, in a 3-D simulated environment?" "Sure," they said. "You want sound effects?"
Now doctors use video game technology -- including Wii and PlayStation controllers -- to "travel" inside a patient's body and preview the landscape in 3-D before surgery. The images are shown on a 16-by-9-foot screen in a room that Dr. Butler and project co-developer Paul Sovelius dubbed "Plato's Cave."
"When I show my patients a photo of the thyroid gland in a book, there's no real depth of understanding," says Dr. Eugene Alford, an otolaryngologist and facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Methodist. The 3-D images shown in the Cave, however, make more sense to patients. "Fade out the skin, then see the muscles; fade out the muscles, see the arteries and veins of the neck, the windpipe, and how they relate to the thyroid gland," Alford points out. Now, perhaps even cooler yet, they take the 3-D experience to the patient's bedside using the iPad.
Notice how 3-D computer gaming technology combined with the older 2-D medical technology to create something entirely new (and cool!).
It just makes me wonder what new ideas are waiting to be discovered that can help the church do a better job communicating the gospel and making disciples. Some creative mind ought to be able to combine technology and incarnation (or some other combination) to help us find better ways to fulfill the Great Commission. I'm not that smart, but maybe you are.
The source for the story on what's going on at Methodist Hospital is the January, 2011 issue of Continental's flight magazine. There's even a great story on how Memorial Hermann's autism clinic is using iPads (I've just gotta get one of those) to help autistic children learn to organize their thoughts and learn the names of things.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Become an Imagineer

Imagineer. I don't recall ever hearing the term until I heard the late Dr. Randy Pausch use it in his famous Last Lecture. I had a fair idea what an imagineer was, but I took time to look it up anyway. Any imagineer is "a person who devises and implements a new or highly imaginative concept or technology, in particular one who devises the attractions in Walt Disney theme parks."
As I am using the term, though, I think of an imagineer as someone who uses his or her God-given gift of imagination. Imagination may be one of the most powerful tools in our mental arsenal. Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Though known for his use of logic, Einstein also said, "Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere."
When it comes to thinking differently, not just any kind of imagination will do. What's needed is a well-informed imagination. That brings me to the third step in thinking creatively.
Let me review what I've said before (for those who haven't read my prior posts). When faced with a significant challenge and you need to think differently, step one is to define the problem. The way you define the problem sets the stage for the way you will develop a solution. Step two is to learn from others. Brilliance is borrowed, so go exploring. Find out what others have done to solve problems like yours. Don't limit yourself to just folks who have the same problem you've had. Be intensely curious. Look at what folks have done in other fields. See what you can borrow from them to solve your problem. What you learn from others becomes the basis for your well-informed imagination.
That leads us to step three: imagine and construct a new idea.
For centuries manuscripts were produced the same way. A scribe would carefully and meticulously copy a manuscript by hand. It was a long, laborious, expensive process. Books were rare. Only the very wealthy could afford them. Consequently, not much was written and not many could read.
Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the world with the invention of the printing press (see and for more background).
Johannes Gutenberg was a goldsmith whose invention of mechanical movable type printing started the printing revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period. But where did he get the idea for movable type printing? “In 1448 Johannes Gutenberg combined the mechanism for pressing wine and punching coins to produce movable type, which made printing practical.” (Cracking Creativity, 114)
The Wikipedia article says: “Among his many contributions to printing are: the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink; and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the agricultural screw presses of the period. His truly epochal invention was the combination of these elements into a practical system which allowed the mass production of printed books and was economically viable for printers and readers alike."

Charles Darwin combined ideas from various disciplines in the development of his concept of evolution. While many naturalists noted the differences between species, Darwin noted their similarities, for example the similarities between the human hand and a bird's wing. But this was not enough to give him the idea of evolution. He borrowed key ideas from others. He was influenced by Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology in which he said geological formations developed naturally over long periods of time. Add to that ideas influenced by Thomas Malthus' Principles of Population in which he said populations tend to grow beyond their natural resources and are "checked" by natural processes (starvation, disease, conflict) and you have the basis for Darwin's theory of evolution.
As we look at what will be needed to reach the vast, diverse, unreached population of Houston with the gospel, we will need to pray earnestly and think creatively. If we continue just doing what we've done, maybe just trying harder, we will fail to fulfill our Great Commission responsibilities. I believe, as I always have, that the church is the basis for reaching our city with the gospel. But doing things as we've always done them isn't enough. We need to think differently, creatively, about the kinds of churches we start and about the ways we start, fund, and support them. We need to move from addition to multiplication. We need to think more creatively about church leadership, about leadership development, about evangelism, and about every aspect of our work.
So what can we learn from others? From social media? From broadcasting? From medicine? From the Salvation Army? From the U.S. Army? From al queda? From social enterprise? From business? From the Mormons? From musicians? From IMB and IBM? And how can we use what we learn as components to create new ideas? To paraphrase the wedding ditty, instead of something borrowed, something blue, we want to use something borrowed to make something new.
Feliz año nuevo!
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Step Four: Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate (coming in February)