Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate

One writer described our culture this way: "This is the age of the half-read page, and a quick hash and a mad dash; the bright night with the nerves tight, the plane hop and the brief stop, the lamp tan in a short span, the big shot in a soft spot, the brain stain and the heart pain, the cat naps 'til the spring snaps and the fun's done!" Pass the Valium, please.

When our kids were growing up Sandra and I had a cassette tape of children's songs we played for our boys. One song played so many times I recall the words now, many (many) years later: "Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry. When you get impatient you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God is patient to. Just think of all the times he had to stop and wait on you."
I suppose as an adult that song had more meaning to me than it did to our kids, but they got the message -- patience is a godly virtue. Unfortunately, it is not something most folks seem to practice ... especially when things aren't going well.
I mention this because I've also discovered patience is critical to the creative process ... and that's what I've been writing about for some time.
Jesus told a story about a man who scattered seed on the ground (Mark 4:26-29). After a time the seed begins to sprout and grow. He doesn't know how; it just does. He waits patiently until the plant (crop) fully matures before he harvests it. Jesus tells this story in reference to the kingdom of God, but, like any good story, there are layers of meaning. I even think there are lessons here for us on how to think creatively and be innovative.
Notice what the farmer does ... he gives the plant time to grow before he harvests it. That's what we need to do with ideas. We need to give them time to grow, to mature, to season. It's pretty obvious how you do that with a plant, but how do you do that with an idea?
Pray. 'Nuff said. Seriously. Pray, ask God to work through your heart and mind to formulate new, creative ideas.
Give your unconscious mind time to work. We have this sense, sometimes, that great ideas come like blinding lights on the road to Damascus. That's rarely true. Usually the really creative ideas come after we've spent time working on a problem, finding out how others have solved it, playing around with ideas, then focusing our attention on something else for a while. The process is much like the farmer planting the seed below ground and giving it time to sprout, establish its root system and begin to grow. Sometimes to solve a problem I have to get away from it, go running, sleep on it for a while. How many times have you had it happen that you worked on a problem, couldn't solve it and woke up in the middle of the night with the answer (or some version of that story)? It's the way God made us. We've got to give ideas time to grow in the soil of our subconscious mind before they sprout into really creative ideas.
Sometimes, like the farmer, we've got to work the soil to bring forth a crop. The farmer needs to clear out the weeds, loosen the soil, fertilize when appropriate, water if needed. Sometimes, even with ideas, we've got to work the soil if we want to bring forth the good fruit. Dr. Blaine McCormick is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University knows how to work the soil for a good idea. In his book At Work with Thomas Edison he says he will give a problem to his students and tell them they must come up with a list of at least 40 ways to solve the problem. After they've done that, he will ask them to identify their best idea. Almost always the best ideas come somewhere between number 16 and 32 on the list. Good ideas take time to develop!
Why even mention this? Why send this word out to churches? Simple. This year we are focusing on re-designing UBA "to mobilize churches to take on lostness." If we are not careful, in the name of trying to do something creative and new, we will just keep on doing the same old things we've always done. We will repackage our ideas, give them a new name, think that putting concepts on the internet rather than printing them out on a mimeograph machine (anybody remember them?) make them modern. It doesn't. Consequently, we will keep getting the same lackluster results we've been getting.
No, the really creative ideas come after hard work and lots of prayer. Like seed, ideas grow when the conditions are right. Our job is to do all we can to make the conditions right. Define the problem. Learn from others. Play around with our ideas. Give them time to develop. Next step, be discerning.
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
Step Five: Be Discerning (Cast a Critical Eye)