Category Archives: teaching

help people see how their help can help.


That’s how much our church owes the bank.

It’s a mortgage. We doubled the size of our building a few years back, with classrooms and offices and youth space and a gym. The people here did a great job of seeing what they needed and planning it and raising funds.

But this isn’t a story about the building. It’s a story about the number.

We are in the middle of a capital campaign. On the first Sunday of the campaign we wanted to tell the story clearly and simply. We wanted to tell the amount.

In early drafts, we talked about the fact that we had said $1.3 million in one place and $1.2 million in another. As we started to decide which it was, we agreed that the best thing to do–the simplest line to draw in the sand–was the loan balance as of the Friday before.


And so we showed that number on the screen, read it a couple of times. It’s a long number to read.

It’s also a very powerful number to show to a group of people who are all ages and socioeconomic levels. I didn’t understand how powerful until I watched the video.

Sitting still, listening to my own voice, I realized that if we had said that we were raising $1.3 million, most people watching would have struggled a bit with how much they could give, how much their little bit would matter.

As soon as we needed $144.44, everyone could see that they could help with at least forty-four cents. Everyone. Even the person with only two quarters in their pocket.

When you have a big project, see if there’s a way to simply describe it so anyone could say, “my little bit matters.”


If you are curious, here’s the video.


Script the critical moves

We’re a month into 2010 and we’re drowning.

We had wonderful things we wanted to accomplish, goals we set, 3 words we listed. And now, five weeks later, we’re wondering what happened.

  • Wanting change is easy.
  • Changing is hard.
  • Listing options for change is easy.
  • Picking one is hard.
  • Getting lost in the details of a solution is easy.
  • Picking just one thing to do that will make a difference is hard.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath recognize just how hard that is. In the third chapter of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, they tell us that having too many options paralyzes us into continuing with how we do things already. (I’m blogging through conversations about this book. Here’s my post on chapter two: finding bright spots.)

The solution?

In this chapter, it’s to script the critical moves. Because options and ambiguity confuse people, the Heaths say, if you want to help people change, clearly identify what you want people to do.

They look at research among doctors, grocery stores, abusive parents, a Brazilian railroad, and kids in a small town in South Dakota.  Throughout those stories, they show us that “clarity dissolves resistance.”

Over and over we ask people to change, we tell people to change, we encourage people to change, but we don’t carefully identify a simple clear step to change. And our brains get confused.

Be healthy.

Develop networks.

Love God.

And then when people ask how, when we ask ourselves how, we have huge lists.

water glassEat better. (More coffee, less coffee,  more carbs, no carbs, more meat, less meat, more fats, less fats, the right kind of fats). Drink more water. Exercise. (how many times a day? What muscle groups? What are muscle groups? How far? How fast? Who is right?).

No wonder so many of us give up in frustration.

I’m working on the health thing this year as part of my 3 words. I wanted something simple to start.

So one of my approaches this year is to drink three extra glasses of water. Some days I even line them up on my desk.

Three glasses.

I’ve got a couple of other projects I’m working on now, projects that involve helping people to change. This concept, “scripting the critical moves”, is changing how I’m thinking about them. It demands way more reflection and conversation and clarification and time.

But what if it works?



Above and following is an affiliate link for the book. If you order it, I’ll get a little money (but it won’t cost you extra.)  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

I also need to tell you that the copy I have is an advance copy I was sent because I requested it. I requested it because I was a fan of their previous book, Made to Stick. However, I will be buying my own copy when the book comes out in February. (And a handful of copies for other people.)

finding bright spots

“What did you learn about God this week?”

conversationThat’s how I used to start conversations with a friend I’ve been mentoring for awhile. I could have started with “So how have you failed this week” or “did you follow through with reading your Bible every day.”

But I didn’t. I was more interested in knowing what he was learning than with checking up on certain behaviors.

He reminded me of that question the other day as we were talking about Switch, the new book by Chip and Dan Heath. As we started our 2010 meetings for coffee and hot chocolate and conversation, we decided to work our way through this book.

Helping people change

Why? Because both of us are interested in helping people change, including ourselves.  As Chip and Dan point out, “Ultimately, all change efforts boil down to the same mission: can you get people to start behaving in a new way?” (p 4) We need counsel. And this book is it.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard is a book about bringing about change, particularly when change is difficult. They identify three critical elements of any process or program of change: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Said in less vivid language,

“For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but theur hearts and minds. The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently.” (p 5).

As we work our way through the book over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some notes here from our conversations. (If you want a brief overview, go to this video review of Switch as a whole from Chris Brogan.)

Finding Bright Spots

Their first strategy for directing the rider, for engaging the head, is to find bright spots. In moving toward change, rather than spending so much time on what’s wrong or how it happened or who is at fault, someone making a switch will look for what is working, for some example of the kind of behavior you want.

Chip and Dan identify the Miracle question: “If a miracle happened overnight and your problem were solved, what’s the first small sign that would make you think the problem was gone.” And then they identify the Exception question: “When was the last time you saw the miracle, even for a little bit.” (from p 36-39).

We all know about positive reinforcement: looking for good behaviors and reinforcing them. Dan and Chip seem to be going beyond simple care plans and behaviorism. They say, in essence, “engage the people you are helping to change in the process of identifying the good behaviors. Help them think about how things could be better, different.”

Going back to my question above, here’s how it illustrates the “bright spots” approach:

My friend has had plenty of accountability. He knows the rules and the principles. I’m not interesting in helping him keep spiritual rules. What I’m most interested in is helping him learn, in this case, about God in a relational way.  When I help him think about his learnings, regardless of how they came about, I can help him think about how he learned that idea or fact or principle. I’m helping him find successes in growing in relationship, even if it comes in failing at certain behaviors.

But it’s easy to see failures

As we talked, he said “This assumes that there are bright spots.”

I understand his comment. As we look at behaviors, we constantly focus on failures, in ourselves and in others. We run our heads into the wall, thinking “I’ll never get this. I always fail.”

Even as I’m writing this post, I got an email from a friend, remarkably gifted in caring. He’s struggling with believing that to be true.

I understand that struggle. So do you.

But if we are going to change ourselves and the people around us, we need to look for the bright spots that show that we are changing, that there are starting places that are working.

So what do we do?

If you want to stop wasting time browsing on the Internet, finding a bright spot means “Make a list of 2-3 times you turned off the computer and were incredibly creative.” If you want to help your kids stop fighting, finding a bright spot means “make a list of 2-3 times they cooperated.” If you want to get people to be more proactive about accessibility, invite them write definitions of what accessibility means to you.”

As we keep reading, I’ll keep testing the approach that Chip and Dan describe. I’ll let you know what we learn.

For now, what didn’t I explain very well about bright spots?


Above and following is an affiliate link for the book. If you order it, I’ll get a little money (but it won’t cost you extra.)  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

I also need to tell you that the copy I have is an advance copy I was sent because I requested it. I requested it because I was a fan of their previous book, Made to Stick. However, I will be buying my own copy when the book comes out in February. (And a handful of copies for other people.)

Understanding why Web 2.0 works.

There were ten of us in the room.

I gave the other nine people pieces of paper. Each got one 12″ by 12″ piece of fancy paper, the kind that you see in scrapbooks. Each got several pieces of smaller plain yellow or slightly fancy blue paper, the kind that will stick to other paper.

I asked them to take one of the small pieces of paper and write a few words. I said, “In a few words, write what you think social media is.”

I waited. This is a group that has heard the phrase, most of them. It is also a group that doesn’t understand the phrase. They’ve never, most of them, really talked about it. That’s why I’m here.

Then I said, “Put that on your scrapbook page. Now, give me a few examples of social media.”

Then I said, “Answer this question: Have you ever created a web page?”

Each person had three small pieces of paper on a larger one.

I walked over to the head of the group. “Read your first note.”

He did.

I looked across the circle to the junior member of the group. “What do you think about his definition?”

“Great!”, she said.

“Write that on a little piece of paper and sign it.” She did. I carried it across the room and stuck it on the bottom of his definition.

I looked for a person who I knew understood social media. “What do you think of that definition?”, I said.

“I’d add this,” he said.

“Write it down,” I said. He did. I carried it back and attached it to the first two notes.

While he was writing, however, the junior staff member said, “Can I add to mine?”

“Write on another one,” I said. She did. I stuck it on the end of the list.

I looked at the person next to the guy who got it. “What do you think of his addition?” “It’s good,” she said. “Write it down.” She did.

Then I told them a story. It is a good story.

To help me explain the story, I handed them a color copy of a scrapbook page I had created. It looked sharp, bright, almost professional.

After the story, I picked up the color copy of a page I handed out.

“This is a traditional webpage. It looks great.” I picked up the page with sloppy list of notes stuck on it. “This looks awful compared to mine. But it is yours. You created it. You created the conversation. You can add to the conversation.”

I pointed to a picture on my page.

“If my friend wanted to look at this picture and tell me he likes it, there is no way for him to add to the page. He would just have to use a Sharpie on his computer screen. On the other hand, on your page, you could have a picture and someone could talk about it and someone else could and someone else could.”

A copy of a scrapbook page or a scrapbook page that can involve lots of people. Underneath the technology, creating a conversation makes sense.

The technology isn’t the why, it’s the how.

I think they got it, by the way.

8 ways to give away lens cleaner

As you approach the training session, it’s clear that everyone already knows this material. At least they think they do. It’s a safety procedure that has been around forever, but people are still getting hurt. It’s the history of the company that gets reviewed at an annual retreat. Or, like tonight, it’s the Beatitudes.

Lots of people have heard of the Beatitudes, the beginning of the sermon on the mount, the words of Jesus in Matthew that start, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” People who barely remember Sunday School, people who went to Mass occasionally, people who have memorized the whole Bible, these are people who think they know this text.

glassesTonight I will be talking with a small group of guys about these words. And I thought, “where do I start?” And then I remembered that I wrote a post about “8 ways to get invited back.” I listed 8 things that speakers can metaphorically give away. One of them is lens cleaner.

Think of the too-familiar subject matter as a pair of glasses. They give the group members a way to look at the world around them, to understand how the organization sees things. Sometimes glasses get smudged, we lose our ability to focus. We need to clean them off.

Here are 8 ways that help.

1. Have them take off the glasses so they (the glasses themselves) become the focus. You can’t really see smudges. They are too close to the eyes. You just aren’t able to see clearly. In order to see that there is a problem, you need to take your glasses off and look at them.

Tonight, we’ll read slowly through the Beatitudes. We’ll talk about the images. Rather than using them to look at how to live, we’ll look at them. That will help us see where they have gotten blurry for us.

2. Rub gently so you don’t make permanent scratches. It’s possible to rub so hard with the wrong kind of cloth that the glasses are ruined. You don’t use sandpaper. You don’t use acid.

I could get in their faces, complaining about everyone who has ever taught them before. I could, in the process, undermine the very idea of teaching. It won’t help. It will hurt.

3. Do a before and after vision test to find out what they really see. If I look at a light before I clean my glasses and then look at it after I clean them, the difference is evident. If I never looked ahead of time, however, I wouldn’t know that there was a problem. If I never looked afterward, I’d never believe there was a change.

We’ll start tonight by saying, “what do you remember of these, without reviewing?” We’ll start by saying, “what do you think it means to live by these?” After our conversation, we’ll say, “how does that help?”

4. Help them understand why the glasses get smudged. I grilled burgers last night. Today my glasses are smudged with grease spatter. It always happens. I always forget.

Tonight, we’ll talk about how we pile expectations on these words that Jesus likely never intended. As we bring agendas to the text (“Christ followers are supposed to be wimpy – see that ‘meek’?” “poor in spirit. That means that you can have as much money as you like as long as you stay spiritually humble.”) we end up in peculiar places, places Jesus never intended. By moving slowly, looking the words, we’ll see how to go back to the words.

5. Usually, the glasses themselves are fine. Most of the time, we don’t need a new set of glasses, we just need to clean them.

I will not walk in tonight and say, “Toss out those words, those ideas. We’re starting over. Blessed are the greedy.”

6. Teach them that they can clean their glasses themselves. You don’t have to go to the optical shop to have your glasses cleaned. You can learn to do it yourself. It may take practice, but you can learn.

This group has been meeting for awhile. I’m doing what I can to model this process of looking carefully, of being thoughtful, of taking your time to look at the things you usually look through.

7. Remind them that they can build cleaning their glasses into their schedule. I always forget. I end up squinting. I end up with headaches. I wouldn’t need to, if every morning when I put them on and started looking at the world around me, I spent a couple minutes cleaning my glasses.

8. Have them put their glasses back on. You have clean glasses. Very nice. They are useless for seeing unless you put them back on. You have to take the focus off the glasses and use them to focus on life. The goal of life is not clean glasses. The goal is to live, seeing clearly.

Tonight, we’ll close by talking about how things look now, how things can look tomorrow morning. We’ll practice looking through.

So that’s it. 8 ways to help an audience clean their glasses, renew their vision about your organization, project, group, goal. If it helps, let me know.

For a discussion of this text in Matthew, see “what counts as” and “dear friend” from my blog

For another in this series, see “8 ways to give an audience a kit.”

8 ways to give an audience a kit.

This is the first in an occasional series expanding on the 8 ways to get invited back post. I talked about several things to give audiences that will let you have another chance to speak.

Lots of people really like Ikea. Good design. Functional products. When people buy from Ikea, they often get boxes. Several boxes. These boxes don’t look like what they see in the store. They look like boxes full of boards and bags.You get a kit. A very simple kit.

Many of us grew up building cars. Small cars. From Revell. We could never afford a real Mustang, but we could build one. Paint it. Keep it on our shelf.  We got a kit. A more complicated, less expensive kit than the Ikea.

Whether we want the look of fine furniture or the delight of owning a model of a dream, lots of people want kits.

a thinking kitLots of people want life kits, too. They go to a presentation wanting to learn how to build their own success, their own model of your project, your story, your company. They attend a workshop promising that they will “walk away with a website/book idea/practical hand-on applications.” They take a class to learn math formulas or programming shortcuts. They want to build a resume.

They don’t want to do all the hard work of measuring and cutting and drilling and stamping from scratch. They know that they will still look like you, but that’s fine. They want something that works.

(Lest you think this is something I am ridiculing, one of my best examples is what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Jesus, in the middle of a longer teaching, says “here’s a prayer model.” It can be used as is. It can be expanded on. It has proved to be pretty durable.)

If you are doing that for people, you are giving them a kit. To make that kind of presentation successful, whether it lasts 15 minutes or a day or a semester, here are 8 guidelines:

1. Provide all the necessary pieces.

Every board. Every screw. Every necessary idea or relationship or reference or example or theorem needs to be included in your presentation to give to your listeners. Whatever you want them to be able to build, whether it’s a plastic car or a business plan or a dream, has to made available to them.

2. Include adequate directions.

This is a linear kind of presentation. First you find this piece, then you add this piece. You aren’t trying to be creative, you are trying to be clear. So please be clear.

3. Make sure they are in the language of the kitbuilder, not the designer.

Ever read translated directions? They make us laugh. Then they make us cry. Use words that your audience knows. This isn’t the time to impress, it’s the time to not lose anyone.

4. Provide spare parts of the kind most likely to get lost.

A good kit always has some spare bolts or nuts or washers. A speaker giving a kit gives repetition.  At those points where people are most likely to be confused, repeat. If they are likely to drop the line of thinking, pick it up for them with a clarification, a reconnection to your theme.

5. Have someone who understands test the kit.

Many of us hate to do a presentation more than once. I understand. But you’re trying to give away understanding. You are trying to give success. So have someone who knows what you are talking about listen and critique.

6. Have someone who doesn’t understand test the kit.

What? Present again? Exactly. If you are going to help 30 people build this kit, this model, you need to have someone who is like them in ignorance test it. Otherwise you will frustrate 30 people.

7. Include a picture of the completed kit.

There are some jigsaw puzzles that come in plain white boxes. The challenge is the point. In most cases, however, you want to give your audience a picture of what the business plan or the prayer or the lifeplan will look like, sound like. That way, they can see whether they are getting it right.

8. Show how it can be customized.

Once you have clearly shown how to assemble the kit, show them how to make it their own. What kind of paint works best? What wears out? What do you with the geometry when you are measuring a lot rather than a piece of paper? How does this scale?


Do you give people kits when you speak or teach? How do you make sure the audience understands? What kind of kits are you giving?

the noble art of saying nothing new

Everything has already been said.

That’s how it seems sometimes. And there are some people who are just stuck explaining. It’s not terrible creative, they think, to explain what a policy means. It’s simple (and nothing to celebrate) to explain why a rule exists or how to apply someone else’s story to your life.

The self-denial is not at all admirable, however.

Think for a moment of an interpreter, standing between heads of state, helping each understand the other, bringing a sense of peace and understanding. A critical role, right? Think of a translator, taking a peace treaty written in one language and painstakingly finding the right word, the right nuance so it says the same thing in another language. Incredibly sensitive, right?

Though we usually think of translators and interpreters as moving between languages, sometimes we find them in business and church and organizations moving between the language of formal structure and the language of real people, the language of board and the language of client, the language of “Thus saith” and “you know how when you feel ___ and you want to ___? We’re helping with that.”)

When you are an organizational translator, a customer service interpreter, you are removing confusion and adding humanity to the rules and stories of an organization.

Looking at the confusion on someone’s face, a translator starts with a simple question: “Would you like to know what that means?” Then the translator connects what the person knows with what the organization or text says.

Not everyone can be an interpreter or a translator. Good translators have lived in both worlds. They are able to find equivalent words, yes, but they are also able to find equivalent stories, similar experiences, metaphors than illuminate the intent as well as the technical meaning. They aren’t trying to change anything about the rules or the policy or the guidelines. They are trying to remove the misunderstanding.

(However, a good translator may go back to the policymaker and say “this isn’t at all clear to anyone, even me.”)

Recently it worked for a wise saying I shared with a friend: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” became “Think flattery before the knife in the ribs vs an elbow in the ribs from your wife.”

Occasionally it’s “Jane, can I talk for a minute? Jim, here’s what she means.”

There will always be people who speak the language of stuffy, of legal, of technical, of formal, of structure (and if you think that everyone understands what you say or that “this is self-evident” or “that’s obvious”, you are one of these people.) There will always be people who don’t understand. And there will always be opportunities for interpreters to help the latter stay alive long enough to connect to the organizations they need.

Including your business. Including your church. Including you.

everyone knows that pt 2 – intelligent questions

I’ll admit it. I was a bit snarky when I wrote about adapting what we teach for different learning styles and intelligences. But sometimes snarky in the service of thinking is helpful.

It is easier, however, to tell people what they ought to do than to show them how they could do. So, at the risk of being religious-sounding, I’d like to offer an example of adapting instruction to differences in thinking and learning.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be talking with a group of people about what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Many of you have heard of it, have heard it, or have even said it.

Here are some questions that use and challenge multiple intelligences (to use Howard Gardner’s term) to stimulate different kinds of thinking about this familiar text.

  • When was the first time you heard it? When was the last?
  • When you think of these words, what color comes to mind?
  • If you watched the Ken Burns special on National Parks recently, which park could you see this prayer being repeated? (When Jesus was teaching it, everyone was on a hillside, sitting on rocks, on the ground).
  • Is this a speech or a conversation? What difference would that make?
  • As you listen to the words, is there a sequence of requests (I ask A. You do A. I then ask B. You do B).
  • In the text, there is an us (“Give us this day our daily bread”). That suggests that there may be several people involved in this prayer. When Jesus is saying it for the first time, where are they sitting? Are they looking at each other? Are they all repeating it together or taking turns? And is he suggesting that it be an individual or a group conversation?
  • Is Jesus writing a formula, an equation of some sort?
  • Do you think that Jesus is describing how he talks to his Dad? Does that change how you think of the tone of voice of this prayer?
  • Think of all the musical versions of this text. Now, think of doing your own. Does it make more sense as a Bach anthem or as improvisational jazz? What instrumentation would you use to arrange it for your life?
  • Read it out loud. If you were talking to someone across the room, how loud would you say it? Try that. If you were talking to someone right next to you, how would you change your voice? Try it. If you weren’t talking to anyone but yourself, how would that sound?

As you read through the questions, it was likely that you read some and thought “Who would think that” and read others and thought “Oh, that’s easy.” That’s the point. We are different. Now, imagine that all the questions were of the kind that you don’t understand. That’s what we do to parts of our audience/group/congregation/whatever when we don’t take the time to think about how people learn or we ask questions that are comfortable to us.

And if you are interested in helping people understand how to talk to God, for example, or whatever you are teaching, doesn’t that time investment make sense?


For more on this particular text, see my posts at starting with Our Father in heaven

but everyone knows that

Sometimes I think that. I get ready to write a post and think, “But everyone already knows that.” I think, “But that is summarized in a bunch of places.” I think, “It must be summarized somewhere, right?”

I’m sure it is.

But maybe someone reading your posts, listening to your teaching, working in your office has never heard of what you are saying.

For example, everyone knows that there are seven different intelligences, right? Some people are word smart. Others are math (logic), or people, or body, or music smart. Others learn best by talking to themselves or by seeing diagrams.

And everyone knows that if you want to help people who are people smart learn, you won’t put them in a lecture, you’ll put them in a study group. Right? And if you want to help people who think visually, you will give them a picture, help them create a diagram, show them a photograph and given them silence to let them listen to it.

tough neighborhoodAnd everyone knows that you aren’t weird just because you have to take a walk after listening to three conference presentations in a row, just because walking helps you figure out what someone just said.

Everyone knows that stuff, right?

Which is why no one makes the primary way to deliver content in a  conference the words anymore, right? Which is why no one ever says, “I know that I should have more interaction, more movement, more scent or music or poetry…but in the interest of time I’ll just talk.”

Which is why if you are teaching people about loving one another, you would always actually help people to sing together and work together and play together and listen together and talk together and see together and dance together.

Everyone knows that we shouldn’t do that, right?

So I suppose it shouldn’t trouble me that the measure of knowing is a change in behavior.


If you don’t know that, here’s Howard Gardner’s “theory of multiple intelligences”.

And for a previous post in this series on learning and teaching, see “so what, exactly, do you want them to learn?

One way to start a small group.

Last spring, Nancy and I decided to start a small group.

If you are in church circles, that is a code phrase for “people getting together to talk about spiritual things and is the most important thing in the church ever and everyone should be in one and if you aren’t or your church doesn’t have a massive program of small groups you are a complete spiritual failure.”

If you aren’t in church circles, that means a group of people getting together regularly to talk about something that matters to them. Think book club.

We asked about 12 people from our church if they would like to meet for six Saturdays from 6-8 pm in a lounge space at the church to eat soup and talk about six basic spiritual practices: praying, fasting, silence, service, celebration and confession.

And people said yes. And showed up.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. We just asked. We didn’t worry about some big program, or everyone in the church doing it. We wanted to get to know some other people.
  2. Having a limit on the number of weeks let people know that it was a limited commitment. That helped a lot.
  3. We had food together. The hour we spent eating together (and cooking for each other) was delightful.
  4. I had questions that would foster conversation, but we didn’t stick to the questions. Each week we looked at a few paragraphs from the Bible. Sometimes people would have additional questions about what it meant. Sometimes people would talk about what they had previously been taught. Sometimes people would ask each other questions.
  5. I did more talking at the beginning of the study than in later weeks. I worked hard to ask more than tell, to deflect answering until other people answered. But I still struggle with talking too much and with not creating a safe space for everyone to talk.
  6. Not everyone wants–or needs–to talk.

Have you ever started this kind of group? What has worked? What was the coolest thing? And what more would you like to know about our group or about leading/teaching? (I working on a list of specific teaching things as a post for next week.)