Monday, March 8, 2010

Collect the Dots so you can Connect the Dots

This past weekend I led a team in a ministry planning weekend for a church client. Our purpose, over one and a half days, was to look at their past, take a snapshot of their present, and project possible futures. Having previously reviewed their vision work of the past few years, our team was able to focus on their physical campus and expansion opportunities.

Preparation for the weekend event included hours of research, interviews, and conversations with church leaders and local officials. Our team sifted though all this information, prepared an agenda reflecting the assignment given to us by the church, and proceeded with the weekend.

As we went through the first several hours, thought kept popping into my head: Collect the dots so you can connect the dots. After jotting it down, I forgot about it until the weekend was over and I began reviewing my notes. As luck would have it, I was also revisiting a great book from 2009, Alan Webber's "Rules of Thumb." Once again, while looking for something else, I came across the phrase above. It was an appropriate footnote to the past weekend's events, and I wanted to highlight some of Webber's thoughts on "Context":

Information is a commodity but context creates value.

What we’re looking for from others – and what we should hone as our own capability – is a convincing, compelling vision of how the world works.

What’s valuable is having your own point of view and having the confidence to express it. Anything else is available 24/7 on the Web and everywhere else – which makes it worthless.

Context is how we all add value. But how do you develop the practice to know what you know, to see how you see the world?

The answer is that context comes to those who develop their way of seeing and making sense of the world.

Context only comes with practice.

  • If you don’t watch the news regularly and get into a shouting match with the TV set, you’re not practicing. They’re not telling you the news; they’re telling you how they see the news. You’re entitled to tell them back.
  • If you don’t check multiple web sites for news and analysis daily and register your profound disagreement with their takes on the events of the day, you’re not developing your own context. Your job is to use their reports as a whetstone to sharpen your own analyses.
  • If you don’t clip one or more newspapers – either the paper or electronic versions – and then work at assembling the clips into your own take on how the world works, you’re not building your mental muscles.

The point of the exercise is to collect the dots so you can connect the dots.

Become a context creator – someone who can connect the dots in ways that make sense, provide insight, deliver meaning, and produce ways of seeing the world that leads to new solutions that work.

No matter how many raw facts you know, they’re only as valuable as the context within which you put them. That’s why context is more important than content and always will be.

Our team succeeded in creating context this weekend. Yes, there was a lot of information. But God honored the process, and the result was excitement about potential - not contentment with the status quo.

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