top Contact btm



Welcome to the Transformational Economy

August 11, 2017 — by Steven Chaparro


There is a lot of talk these days about ‘experience’ and its role in design and business. Whether it is applied to user experience, customer experience, or even employee experience, there is a growing desire by brands to create remarkable customer interactions which are memorable and life-changing.

Crossfit as Church?

Remember the “Welcome to the Experience” Economy?

This topic of experience, however, is not a new one. As a formal idea, it was introduced almost twenty years ago. In 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore wrote a Harvard Business Review article called, “Welcome to the Experience Economy” which was followed by a book in 1999.

They described the concept of the Experience Economy by outlining The Progression of Economic Value. This principle describes how the values by which consumers base their purchases have evolved, or progressed, over the last century. Let’s use a cake to describe the idea:

  1. The Commodities Economy was described as an agrarian-based economy in which traders farmed natural products and brought them to market. The cake consumer would purchase the raw ingredients and bake the cake from scratch. The cost to make this cake was at its cheapest.
  2. The Goods Economy was an industrial-based economy in which manufacturers made standardized products and made them available to users. The cake consumer would purchase these cake-mix products to bake the cake. The cost to bake the cake in the good economy is slightly higher.
  3. The Service Economy was a service-based economy in which providers delivered on-demand, customized services to their clients. The cake consumer would go to the local bakery to purchase a baked cake which they can personalize with a frosted greeting. The consumer trades cost for convenience.
  4. The Experience Economy is an experience-based economy in which stagers staged personal and sensational moments for their guests. Currently, we are in the Experiences Economy. The cake consumer is no longer satisfied with a commoditized product, or even service. They are willing to pay an exponentially higher price for a shared experience. Parents-turned-party-planners now choose Chuck E. Cheese or Disneyland to enjoy entertainment, community, and memories to enhance the birthday cake experience.

An early pioneer of the experience economy was Walt Disney, a man before his time. While his early storytelling success was based on being a cartoonist and then as an animated film visionary, he soon grew wary of two-dimensional stories that could only be observed from a screen.

He began to imagine a three-dimensional, story-driven experience in which the audience members could be transformed into participants, or even guests. The question became, “What would it look like to create stories in which the guests could interact with the characters and the environments?” The answer was the development of Disneyland, the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

The “Be Our Guest” anthem has become the cornerstone of Disney’s experience-based approach. They understand that every guest touchpoint must be as intentional as if it were a scene in a film. From the user experience of the website, the customer experience of ticket purchase, the parking of a car, the walk/ride to the gates, the walk down Main Street, the interaction with the characters, the first view of the castle…I think you get the picture. Every interaction is strategic, designed and layered with back story.

In fact, Disney story and experience-driven legacy inspired and informed the development of our ideology and methodology at Visioneering Studios to create stories through spaces. Our principals, current and past, were trained at The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Imagineering, and AECOM, a significant Disney consultant.

The Upside and Dark Side to Experience-Driven Design

People are willing to pay for experiences because they offer a benefit and stimulation to consumers. People also base the value of experiences on their ability to cause them to tell stories about them. Lastly, people like experiences because they put the individual consumer, the “Me,” the I,” at the center of the attention. It’s like pulling up a chair at a table and being served a feast.

But the consumption aspect of experience is part of the problem. This is the dark side of experiences — even experiences can become commoditized. Most experiences are remarkable, but only for the space of time in which they are being experienced. When an experience is consumer-based, it’s based on consumption. You are no longer impacted when you are no longer consuming it. It’s like food with empty calories — you know that Snickers Bar that is delicious in the moment, but fleeting in its impact.

I say that it’s time to move beyond a consumer-based approach to experiences. It’s time to move beyond the experience economy. In the words of Christian songwriter, Lanny Wolff, “I’m so tired of being stirred but not being changed.”

 So, what’s the answer?

Welcome to the Transformation Economy

Even Pine and Gilmore predicted that the next era would be the Transformation Economy, in which the “Yodas” of the world will guide aspirants through experiences which result in sustained change in their lives. People are willing to pay for experiences that have the potential to change the way people live, work, and play.

In fact, there is evidence that this transition is already happening in culture. Through the advances made by technology, it is widely acknowledged that we are more globally connected, yet more locally disconnected. People are looking for deeper reasons to connect.

Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile of the Harvard Divinity School released a study called “How We Gather.” In it, the researchers were interested in understanding why Millennials specifically are moving away from church attendance. The research uncovered six themes emerge: the desire for community, personal transformation, social transformation, purpose-finding, creativity, and accountability. The argument is made that the Church is not providing strong enough alternatives in these areas of life, so they are in search of other communities which do provide this.

One of the ten case studies cited as emerging communities is Crossfit. In fact, there is this growing idea of ‘Crossfit as Church.’ Crossfit provides a sense of community where the “Me” of the Experience Economy transitions to the “We” of the Transformation Economy. In addition to community, Crossfit is a place to undergo personal transformation and accountability. It is very common for a ‘cross-fitter’ to be called to explain why they missed a workout.

With this in mind, we are proposing a transformation-experience approach. How can we re-imagine the future of spaces in which we gather — where we live, work, and play? This is the future.

The Architecture of Transformative Experience

We believe that the future of design is Transformational Experience. We say future because we believe that strategic design anticipates where our future is headed. We say design because we believe that design is the process of envisioning and creating an experience that transforms. We say experience because…

  1. We believe that experience should be Emotional – Brian Solis, a futurist, says that “Experience is an emotional response to a moment.”
  2. We believe that experience should be Holistic – “Experience is the sum of our interactions with the world around us.” –Gensler
  3. We believe that experience should Transformative – Truly transformative experiences leave the person forever changed by them. Going from an experience to an encounter.

The challenge becomes… how can we create spaces which elicit emotional, holistic, and transformative experiences? In future writings, we will explore how space can facilitate transformative experiences.


How to Speak the Language of Your Future

January 6, 2017 — by Steven Chaparro


What would happen to your organization if you moved from speaking the language of the past to speaking in the language of your future?

language of your future

It happens to the best of them. Innovators mesmerize the world with their disruptive thinking. They change their industries.

But, before they know it, these game-changing services, products, and experiences slowly become the status quo. What once spread like viruses have become so widely accepted that they have become common. The market becomes immune to the idea. They are viruses with no potency. Even their competitors embrace their ideas so that the market can no longer distinguish between the innovator and the iterator.

Markets change, so companies need to change. But, what if the real problem is not solely about thinking different, but that is also about speaking different. What if they moved from speaking the language of the past to speaking in the language of their future?

Think different.  Work different.  See different.  Speak Different.


The Language of Your Future

Last year, I watched the film, Woman in Gold and it completely rocked me.  It tells the biographical story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee. Altmann was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Austria during World War I.

The setting of the film takes place almost sixty years after World War II, while Altmann is in her eighties. She decides to embark on a legal battle with the Austrian government to retrieve a priceless painting of her aunt by a famous artist, Gustav Klimt. During the war, the piece had been seized by the Nazi’s, then later claimed by the Austrian government as a cultural artifact of the state.

In a very poignant scene set during World War II, a window of opportunity opens for Maria to flee to America for asylum. She is torn between obtaining freedom and showing loyalty to her family, as her parents are too ill to make the trip.  To claim her freedom would be to ensure that she would never again see her parents. Her parents admonished her to see America as the homeland of her future, “…and from now on, we speak in the language of your future.”  They literally changed from speaking in Austrian German to English. It symbolized the changing of her future.


Language as a Weapon of Mass Disruption

For leaders of organizations, understanding the power of language as a tool of disruption to the status quo is critical. Many leaders are disruptive visionaries, but only in the vacuums of their heads. They settle for familiar language and fall into a comfortable culture. Yet, powerful visions which do not adapt to changing environments and lack clarity will fall on deaf ears and dormant hearts.  It is a matter of adapting, or dying.

Thinking different is not enough.  Thinking differently should lead to speaking differently, which should ultimately lead to acting differently. Language is a weapon of mass disruption.

Here are four ways that language leads to true transformation:

Perspective – Disruptive language helps people see different. 

Dave Ramsey is a personal finance expert with a nationally syndicated radio show.  He preaches a gospel of financial freedom through debt elimination, relentless savings, and wise spending.  To communicate this uncomfortable message, he intentionally uses strong language (i.e. stupid, idiotic, crap, etc.) to “rattle the cages” of his listeners.  This helps them to see the reality of their financial situation.  They are then left with no other viable option but to think and act differently. For Ramsey, to change mindsets and behaviors, we need to see things different.  Language is his weapon.

Mindsets – Disruptive language helps people think different.

In 1997, Apple was operating at a loss in both finances and market share.  After ousting Steve Jobs in 1985, they recognized they needed their zealous founder back at the helm.

Jobs responded by recrafting the company structure, product line, culture, and brand.  That same year, they released the now-famous ad, Think Different.  This ad not only reset the market’s perspective of the brand, but renewed corporate culture. These new images and stories became the language of their future.

Communication – Disruptive language helps people speak different.

In 2012, John Legere became the CEO of T-Mobile, a struggling cell phone carrier.  Legere proceeded to reinvent both himself and the company to become the third largest wireless carrier. Personally, he grew out his hair and traded in his suit for a leather jacket and magenta t-shirt. Culturally, Legere changed the way he and the company spoke.

In 2013, T-Mobile launched the Un-carrier movement by publishing the Un-carrier Manifesto in which they declared, “We are not like other wireless companies.  Why would we be? They are in the phone company business.  We’re in the change-the-phone-company business.”


Action – Disruptive language helps people act different.

Duarte, Inc. is a leading communication design and strategy firm. Two of their principals, Nancy Duarte (CEO) and Patti Sanchez (Chief Strategy Officer), recently published a book, Illuminate – Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, which describes how disruptive language helps people act differently.

They describe leaders as “torchbearers” with visions of how their organizations need to reinvent themselves in order to thrive in the changing economic landscape.  Their mission is to effectively paint a picture of “what is” and “what could be” and then sound the call for their fellow “travelers” to join them for the journey.  As examples, they cite movements of change that have taken place at Interface, Rackspace, charity: water, Chick-fil-A, Apple, and their own firm, Duarte, Inc.

This journey is called a “venture scape” and includes five stages; Dream, Leap, Fight, Climb, and Arrive.  Of course, when you “arrive,” you can’t rest on your laurels, but you must recognize that it is time to (re)Dream.  Successful torchbearers understand the value of disruptive, yet clear, language to answer the call and then re-answer the call at each stage of action.

After all, language is not disruptive if it fails to both ignite and sustain action. Take the first step; change your language: change your future.


Five Ancient Leadership Archetypes

July 22, 2016 — by Steven Chaparro


How Our Future Is Informed by Five Ancient Leadership Archetypes

Lately, I have been mulling over the principle of ‘five-fold’ leadership found in Biblical writings. (Now, just because I used the “B-word”, don’t shut me out…yet.) It has become blatantly apparent to me that this concept also has powerful implications for the practice of business leadership. One thing I have learned in life…the future shall be informed by the ancient.

How Our Future Is Informed by Five Ancient Leadership Archetypes
Tomorrowland : Photo courtesy of Disney

Alan Hirsch is one of the most influential thinkers and mission-strategists in the present-day Christian church. He is a counter-cultural voice, even for the Church, who challenges the status quo to consider the fact that the cultural influence of the Christian Church is in decline. He argues that in order to address cultural changes, it is important to return to the most basic fundamentals of the movement. Hirsch suggests to return to the ancient writings of the Apostle Paul to recover leadership principles required to envision and navigate the future of movement.  These are lessons from which any movement leader can learn.

The Apostle Paul is considered to have been divinely inspired when he wrote more than half the books in the New Testament. His influence in charting a theological path for the Christian church is without question.

Around the years 60-62 AD, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Contained within these writings was a description of five models of leadership, or five-fold ministry:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)


How Our Future Is Informed by Five Ancient Leadership Archetypes

In his book, The Forgotten Ways – Reactivating the Mission Church, Hirsch describes this five fold model of leadership as APEST, an acronym for Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers, as follows:

  1. “APOSTLES” extend the gospel.  They are always thinking about the future, bridging barriers, establishing the church in new contexts, developing leaders, networking trans-locally.
  2. “PROPHETS” know God’s will.  They bring correction and challenge the dominant assumptions we inherit from the culture…they question the status quo.
  3. “EVANGELISTS” recruit.  These infectious communicators of the gospel message recruit others to the cause.
  4. “SHEPHERDS” nurture and protect.  Caregivers of the community, they focus on the protection and spiritual maturity of God’s flock, cultivating a loving and spiritually mature network of relationships, making and developing disciples.
  5. “TEACHERS” understand and explain.  Communicators of God’s truth and wisdom, they help others remain Biblically grounded to better discern God’s will, guiding others toward wisdom, helping the community remain faithful to Christ’s word, and constructing a transferable doctrine.

It is important to understand that the primary purpose for these leaders gifted in these five areas is to equip members of the movement. Their gifts, or specialties, are not designed to operate in a silo of focus, but rather to empower others to learn and then carry out the real work.

So, let’s imagine for a moment (or several), that these same areas of giftedness in the church can also be applied as archetypes in the marketplace.

Here is what I mean;

  1. THE PIONEERS (Apostle) are the most entrepreneurial of the archetypes. They are constantly thinking of how they can launch new solutions to old problems, create new products, or build new companies. They see possibilities long before anyone else can, they connect the dots between disparate ideas, and they are not afraid to take great risks in the hopes of great reward. These are the founders, inventors, creatives, and explorers of the world.
  2. THE FUTURISTS (Prophet) are the forward-thinking and strategic leaders. If the Pioneers want to take their movement from A to Z, then the Futurists will challenge them to think about charting a road-map to get there. It is very common for there to be tension between the Pioneers and the Futurists. The Futurists hate duct-tape solutions because, while they take care of the immediate need, they actually represent a dysfunction in team and strategy. These are the management consultants, analysts, trend spotters, and strategists of the world.
  3. THE RAINMAKERS (Evangelist) are compelling communicators. They have ability to build rapport, discern the true need of their audience, communicate a value proposition that resonates, and convert ‘browsers to buyers’. Their ability to add to the fan-base and bottom line of the movement is unequaled. These are the sales professionals, storytellers, marketers, and recruiters of the world.
  4. THE SHERPAS (Shepherd) guide and steward their teams through a journey. They have been around a while so they have suffered some brain damage and battle scars along the way. This experience and expertise will help to inform the people they guide. They understand that there is an end-goal and they will provide guidance, confidence, and tools to get there. These are the managers, consultants, and advisors of the world.
  5. THE TRAINERS (Teacher) provide plans and instruction.  Think of a personal trainer who helps you on the road to physical fitness.  They will assess you, inform you, keep you accountable and address your questions.  They love to see results in your life.  Their payday comes when you are able to achieve your results even if they have to slap your wrist a time or two.  These are the coaches, instructors, teachers, and sages of the world.

When you’ve been around a while, you will understand that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’.  It pays to learn from models of leadership from the past.  They greatest leaders are also learners.

Which of the five archetypes above most resonates with you?  It’s entirely possible to exhibit a hybrid of archetypes in your leadership based on your context. What are your thoughts about this idea of a five-fold model of leadership?

.   .   .   .

Photo courtesy of Disney

Originally published at on July 17, 2016.


The Dark Side of Magnetism

July 18, 2016 — by Steven Chaparro


Becoming a Contagious Christian

We all admire that person with a magnetic personality.  We love to watch those TED Talks which leave our minds reeling with new ideas and inspiration.  We are awed by this magnetic ability to both attract  and capture the interest of a finicky audience.  However, we must be careful not to forget that magnetism has a dark side as well.


Darth Vader - Dark Side of Magnetism
Dark Side of Magnetism


Anyone who has been in architecture school like myself remembers the ‘crits’.  These were the critiques in which we presented our designs to a panel of design educators and professionals.  They were brutal.  We all have our battle stories and some of us are still being treated for PTSD.  I remember one professor told us that every good presentation will elicit either positive or negative comments.  If you received a strong emotional response from either end of the spectrum, it was deemed a successful presentation because you weren’t afraid to push your idea to its limits.

However, if all you heard were ‘crickets’, it was a good sign that your presentation was bad.  You played it safe.  The same principle applies to any presentation, messaging, or branding your company conveys to your audience.  Think of it in terms of a magnet.  Because of its polarity, magnets have the ability to both attract and repel.  This is a good lesson for communicators and marketers.  When a message attracts, its magnetism,  or the ability to produce “maximum impact” can be measured.  For example, Bill Hybels writes in his book, “Becoming a Contagious Christian”, that Maximum Impact is the product of High Potency, Close Proximity, and Clear Communication.

When a message repels, it can be equally forceful.  If on one side you achieve maximum positive impact, you are bound to make another group of people equally upset.  Your message will also push away people acting to weed out the people who are not, in fact, your true audience.  You can’t please everyone.  In fact, this repulsion just may be a sign that you are on the right track.

Trying to please everybody is impossible – if you did that, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You’ve just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.” – John Lennon

So, if you have a conviction that your message has the power to transform an organization, a community, a culture, an entire generation, then don’t be afraid of negative feedback.  Embrace it.  It’s the sign of a truly magnetic message.

Don’t be that guy who only hears crickets.  Be the one who relishes both the cheers and the jeers.  Be magnetic.

Photo from
Originally published at on July 17, 2016.


7 Key Strategies for Developing Collaborative Genius

July 8, 2016 — by Steven Chaparro


“Genius is a team sport.”

– Tim Sanders, Author

Developing a culture of collaborative genius using both art and science.

Collaborative Genius
creative genius

When an organization is young, it is understandable if it’s growth is driven by the genius of its founder.  It may even be acceptable that the culture and creativity be driven by an individual person or a single perspective.

However, as the organization matures, it usually becomes decidedly clear that organizational myopia will stunt its growth.  In order for it to be healthy, sustainable, and prone to growth, the organization must be driven by a host of voices, perspectives, and strategies.  We like to call this a collaborative genius.  At Visioneering Studios, we have identified seven key strategies for developing a culture of collaborative genius using both art and science.

  1. Data-Driven (information) – this is the science aspect of leadership employing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to analyze your business and give you the metrics required to make strategic decisions.  When I was an executive at Hovnanian Enterprises, I was trained to “inspect what you expect”.  It does no good to expect great results if you do not inspect the metrics of the business.  How will you know if you are satisfying your customers unless you carry out customer surveys?  How will you know how much it takes to acquire a new customer without determining the Client Acquisition Cost (CAC)?  How will you know your sales conversion rate unless you track all your leads through the entire sales funnel? Providing the data to these questions will free your team to make decisions with confidence.
  2. Culture-Driven (people) – the greatest strength of any company is its culture.  Peter Drucker is famously credited with saying that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A good leader must be very intentional about his role as the Chief Cultural Architect to envision, design, and build an organization around its values.  This can be crafted and implemented by its hiring and leadership development practices, the design of its workplace environment, and its priority to corporate social responsibility.  It’s one thing to understand the customer journey, but it’s another thing to understand the journey of your team members.
  3. Story-Driven (marketing) – this would very much reflect our creativity and thinking to arrive at new ways to tell the stories of our clients and our firm. Gone are the days when a company focuses on telling stories of how it is the hero of their stories.  Any good corporate storyteller understands that the customer is the true hero of this story.  Telling stories where the company is cast as the guide commissioned to meet the needs and aspirations of the customer-heroes will reap dividends.  Doing this well is the challenge.
  4. Stewardship-Driven (finances) – Dave Ramsey, a well-known finance guru, often speaks about the value of a budget, not only for our personal finances, but especially for business leaders. He defines a budget as “…telling your money where to go”.  Just as my father-in-law has a very specific place for every single tool in his garage, every dollar in our budget must have a place to go.  Some entrepreneurs see a budget as a financial straight-jacket, but it is a framework, or a defined sandbox, in which you can play.  It is important to count and manage the costs…all costs.  Time, Talent, and Treasure
  5. Process-Driven (Journey) – we never begin a process with preconceptions.  We understand that the journey is our destination. When I was in architecture school, I was taught to avoid beginning a design project with a pre-conceived outcome.  To do so would defraud the potential of the design.  Each line we drew would inspire the next line.  In that way, the outcome would inevitably be richer than any perception would have netted.  If you establish a process as your focus, then the customer hero will enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.  There is much discussion these days about the customer journey and employing strategic design to create a remarkable customer journey brand experience.
  6. Democracy-Driven (Evangelism) – Even at Visioneering Studios, we understand that individual Visioneers have certain specialties and strengths, but we also believe that everyone is a creative, everyone is a storyteller, and everyone is an evangelist in their own rights.  This mindset is at the core of collaborative genius. It then become part of the role of the specialists to equip the greater team to become part of this collaborative genius.  How can the procurement team think of creative ways to cut costs?  How can the IT tell the story of the firm on their personal social media channels?  How can the designer be equipped to evangelize her firm during a shared elevator trip?
  7. Innovation-Driven (Disruption): Even creative thought leaders run into the danger of becoming the status quo if their story doesn’t change with the times. If a company doesn’t disrupt itself, it will be disrupted.  It must undergo a continuous movement of change.  In their new book Illuminate, Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez of Duarte, Inc. write that every company must go through continuous cycles of Dream, Leap, Fight, Climb, Arrive, and (re)Dream.  This innovation curve is more about continuous disruption that it is initial disruption.  Some would argue that Apple has moved from a company of innovation to a company of iteration.  This is dangerous territory.

From the science of data to the art of story, it is imperative for any organization take on the approach of a collaborative genius to build a sustainable future.  By bringing in multiple perspectives, you will be equipped with the information you will need to take the make creative and scientific decisions.  As Tim Sanders writes in his recent book, Dealstorming, “Genius is a team sport.”


Empathy: The Story of Human Connection

January 7, 2016 — by Steven Chaparro



By Steven Chaparro, Project Executive, Visioneering Studios

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes in an instant?” -Henry David Thoreau


There is nothing more powerful in the human experience than the connection between two people;  a mutual appreciation and sharing of personal stories. This is empathy.  To be empathetic is to understand what causes someone to laugh or to cry, or what incites them to dream or to give up. This ability is not always innate while some are better at it than others.  It requires an intentional effort and can be the product of experience.

In the world of design, there is a principle called design-thinking which has been made famous by the innovation consultancy, IDEO. It is a human-centered approach to problem solving which empowers individuals and organizations to become more creative and innovative.  It begins with empathy, but is further carried out with acts of defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing in a continuously looped process.

“Everyone Has a Story…If We Bother to Read It”

Empathy itself begins by understanding someone’s story. About five years ago, I recall being moved by this video, ‘Every Life Has a Story’ produced by Chick-fil-A, a national restaurant chain.  It was filmed as an internal training tool to teach their employees about customer empathy and how this helps to create great customer experiences.

They say that “Everyone Has a Story…If We Bother to Read It” is a pretty powerful statement. It eliminates assumptions, it erases pre-conceived ideas about customers and the reasons for their behavior.

Three years later, the current CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, wrote a blog post in which he shared this video produced by the Cleveland Clinic expressing the same idea of empathy and the human connection.

At Visioneering Studios, we employ the same approach, although our language may be different.  Our simplified approach includes envision, design, and build. As part of the envision phase, we begin with a ‘blank canvas’ mindset so we don’t carry with us the baggage of pre-conceived notions or solutions. We believe that as the process unfolds, the product will emerge.

Visioneering Studios is a story-driven firm.  Much of this comes from the training camp known as Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and development division of the of The Walt Disney Company.  Several of our principals spent years working as, or working for, Imagineers.  We believe that every design begins  with the story of our clients. We assume the posture of cultural anthropologists to first inquire, listen, observe, and experience their lives so that we may create in response.

For example, some of our clients are churches who ask us to come alongside them to help them envision the future expression and capacities in their physcial environments.  We begin by drafting tailored questionnaires which are very comprehensive.  After we review their responses, we meet with their leadership team onsite for what we call a ‘recon (reconnaissance) day’ in which, we take their responses and go deeper with a form of active listening. After processing this information, we then schedule and conduct a ‘Bluesky’ workshop in which we are embedded, onsite, with the client over a period of five straight days.

“Empathy is really important.  Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.”  -Jane Goodall

For a church client, we attend their worship services and experience what a first time guest (user) might encounter.  What do they see when they approach the site entrance?  How are they directed to a parking space?  How easy is the walk from the parking lot to the entrance?  How are they greeted?  Is the way finding signage helpful or confusing?

In the software world, this would be called user experience, or UX . How is the guest going to experience the physical environment?  This entire experience must be designed or curated in an intentional manner.

For us, this entire experience begins with story, and the story is informed by understanding the client’s unique people, place, and passions.  We ask the following questions;

  1. People: What is unique about the people on your team and in your community?  Is there a cultural or value system that has developed into the organizational DNA?  Additionally, what is unique about the people (users) that use your product (facilities) or services (spiritual development)?  What are the demographic and psychographic profiles of both the people that are already your guests (users) compared to the profiles of the people within your target community (market)?  What is your market penetration?  For a church, it may be odd to use these business or UX terms, but they are directly applicable.

  2. Place: What is unique about your specific place (i.e. site, neighborhood, city, or region)?  We focus a great deal on place-making in our practice, which extracts and incorporates the social, cultural, economic, political and historical context of a particular community.  Rather than looking at the design challenge from the ‘four walls in’, or architectural perspective, we look at it from the ‘property lines out’, an urban planning focus.  What does this mean particularly for our client?  For a church, the questions might be whether this is an urban, suburban, or rural environment.  Are there industries that are moving into the region?  Are there trends indicating shifts in the makeup of the area over the next 5-10 years?  What are the cultural, entertainment, or educational assets in the community and how can we compliment them?

  3. Passions: In order for any company or organization to thrive, there has to be some unique value proposition or distinction that separates it from others.  What are the values, social causes, products, or services that you feel your organization is best suited to deliver like no other?  We tend to refer to this as an ‘organizational calling’ or a ‘brand promise’.  To say that a church should be focused on the spiritual development of its users is too vague.  For some, the focus may be elder care by partnering with an assisted living facility, if not developing on their own.  For others, it may be job training and creation by creating a coffee shop which trains ‘hard to hire’ individuals.  Yet, others may have a unique passion for special needs children.  Every organization has unique passions that do not always reveal themselves from the top leadership, but they bubble up organically from the bottom.

When design is initiated and informed by an empathetic, or a human-centered, approach, the product will always be informed by the process.  While I was in architecture school, I first learned to draft manually (Yeah, I’m that old).  It was invaluable training though, as we were told to never begin a design exercise with a pre-conception, or an idea, of what the end product would look like.  To pre-conceive is to defraud the end user of a better solution.  The process informs the product.  In fact, we say that our process is the product.

It all starts with empathy.  It starts with stories.


My Top 4 Podcast Addictions

October 17, 2014 — by Steven Chaparro

top 4 podcast

I’ve got to admit…I’m a podcast junkie. I especially crave for those, which intersect the worlds of design, architecture, and urbanism. I know…I’m a real urbanerd.

My addiction is so bad that so much of my data plan is consumed by downloading podcasts…regrettably, and most likely, while I’m untethered from a Wi-Fi connection. I go on digital binges while I’m on my walks, bike rides, or especially, while I’m commuting to/from work. It’s a real problem, but I succumb to them thinking that one day…one day I will have use for all of these great stories.

So, what are my podcasts of choice? Well, let me give you a peek behind the curtains of my ether world, my podcast library.



This is one of my worst podcast addictions, rather, my absolute favorites. When I discovered 99% Invisible, it was a monthly podcast, which was great, but that’s a long time in between shows. Then, in 2013, it successfully completed a $375,000 Kickstarter campaign to launch into a weekly format. Nice! So, when every Tuesday rolls around, you bet your life I’ve got my ear bud IV injecting digital goodness into my ears!

99% Invisible is self-described as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible that shapes our world.” The show’s creator/host has probably one of the greatest-sounding names in radio: Roman Mars. He was named by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in 2013. As strong as his name sounds though, his style and delivery is very demure. He tells stories that “reveal something surprising about the built world”, pursuing the “cool thing inside of the boring thing.”



design matters 2


If I have ever experienced podcast withdrawals, it’s been with Design Matters. Back in June, the shows terminated production. I kept going back to my podcast feed to check on new episodes and found that they had stopped. I finally had it and reached out to its host and creator, Debbie Millman, on Facebook. Under the guise of “Hey, I really love the show…” I popped the burning question, “Where are all the new shows?!”

She graciously thanked me for my “kind words” and informed me that Design Matters was produced in seasons and that the new season would commence in October.

October? Are you kidding me? What was I going to do until October?

Well, it’s October now. It’s all good!

Debbie Millman is the President and Chief Marketing Officer of Sterling Brands, a leading brand consultancy. She also serves as the Chair and Founder of the Masters Program in Branding at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In 2005, she started a radio show in which she interviewed her design heroes as a way to learn anything about and from them. Design Matters was the first podcast on design on the Internet, ever. Part of the Design Observer media channel, it has produced over 200 interviews with artists, designers, architects, and though leaders. If you love design and want to learn from the greats, this show is a requirement for your weekly fix.




DnA: Design & Architecture is a “multi-platform exploration of who and what matters in our designed world – on radio, podcast, blog and at public events.” Hosted and Executive Produced by Frances Anderton, a frequent speaker and writer on architecture and design, this podcast focuses its discussion on the Los Angeles region. It is a show of KCRW, a public radio station based out of Santa Monica, CA.

Here’s my only problem with this show – it doesn’t have a reliable release calendar. It’s like a girl who is told by her new beau that he will call, but never tells her when. That’s kind of the way I feel about this show. I will probably refresh my podcast feed later today to see if there is anything waiting for me.



the urbanistTHE URBANIST

My good friend and fellow urbanerd, Sean Benesh, introduced me to The Urbanist. Produced by Monacle 24, and hosted by Andrew Tuck, this show is about “the people making city life better, from dedicated mayors to hi-tech businesses.” Produced as a very high-quality audio magazine by producers from around the globe, it really brings to the forefront the conversations urbanists are having at both a local and global context.

So, there you have it, my podcast of choice. Check them out, the first one is always free, I promise. Let me know what you think. In fact, if you love podcast as well, comment below and share your favorite shows.


The Magical World of Room 10

September 4, 2014 — by Steven Chaparro


Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience a magical place.  This encounter taught me a powerful lesson about the power of ‘story’ to enhance experiences and to transform mere spaces into memorable places.  This place was Room 10.

Let me explain.

Yesterday was the first day of elementary school for our two sons, Ethan and Brendan.  Just as with other families across the country and throughout history, weeks of school shopping and anticipation had led up to this big day, the first day of school.


To divide and conquer the morning, my wife, Michele, and I each took a child to find their classrooms.  Ethan and I found his class lined up next to their modular classroom.  He did not recognize any of the other students in his class, but evidently, this was a high-achieving bunch of kids who had already spent a couple of years together.

There was some apprehension, but he soon filed into his new third-grade classroom with a couple of smiles and waves.  Other than that, it wasn’t all that dramatic of a send off.

But, Brendan’s first grade class was a very different story.

Michele took Brendan to go locate his first-grade classmates on the other side of the playground.  The students lined up, two by two, where their legendary teacher, Mrs. Schack, was positioned on the playground.  She asked the parents to stick around and join the children as they entered in the classroom.

I made one immediate observation; there were twice as many girls as boys.  That probably didn’t mean anything, but I filed that little factoid for later consideration.

Led by their new teacher, the children marched across the asphalt playground, through the grassy courtyard, under the porch-covered walkway, and into the100-year hallway.  The hallway was packed and the air was hot.  Our little caravan found its way to a doorway just outside a room with a sign that read, “Room 10”.


There, Mrs. Schack asked everyone to pause as she prepared to address the expectant crowd.  As Mrs. Schack began to speak, she did so without raising her voice nor did she speak in that falsetto voice that some adults use when speaking to children.  Her tone and volume spoke of respect for herself and for her audience.

She began by expressing joy for the start of a new year with a new group of students.  She made a very bold promise; she proclaimed that the children were about to have one of the very best years of their lives; it would be magical.


She then instructed the children to separate into two lines up against the opposite hall walls when she spoke the word ‘marshmallow’.  She would then call out the names of each child; their respective parents would file through the colonnade of children, join hands with their child, and enter the doorway into the magical world of Room 10.

To make this moment even more magical, she had a special pop-up doorway constructed just inside the actual doorway.  It was more than a beautifully decorated prop painted in a Narnia-fashion; it was a portal into another world.

The experience was beautiful.

Mrs. Schaack quietly yet dramatically uttered the word, “Marshallow”, and the children parted into two waves like the Red Sea.  When Brendan’s name was called, Michele and I joined hands, walked through the mini-human colonnade to find our little guy expecting us with the most heart-melting smile.  We joined hands and walked through the magical doorway into Room 10.


As we all entered, the parents lined up against the walls of the classroom while each child identified the desk with their names written in giant letters.  No more kindergarten group tables, they had their own desks!  This is an epic paradigm shift, believe me!

As the last family entered the room, Mrs. Schack entered the classroom proudly.  She reiterated her “one of the best years of your life” promise.  She affirmed the children’s intellect and capacity by declaring that they would henceforth be referred to as “scholars” as opposed to students.  I swear I saw some little shoulders pull back and chests push out proudly.

She picked up a packet of learning cards on which “Levels 4-6” was written.  She said, “you are starting first grade, but you will be learning at grades fourth through sixth.”

That’s what I’m talking about, go big or go home!

She continued by praising the presence of the parents and family members.  She informed the children that they were valued by this community of adults who were now part of what she called the “family of love”; all invested in the welfare and future of this village of children.


I can tell you how much I appreciated how she curated this first-day experience.  It told a story of what the young scholars should expect for the rest of the year.  I began to think about the power of story in creating a memorable experience and create a sense of place.  I call this spatial storytelling.

I realized that this grade-school experience in Room 10 could be replicated in other realms of life whether you are a schoolteacher, an architect, a business owner, a filmmaker, a church preacher, or a community stakeholder.  How could we tell stories to create this sense of place?

Here are three elements of powerful spatial storytelling;

  1. Passion:  Great spaces are brought to life when they evoke emotion.  Great stories do that.  They present a picture of a desired destination or outcome and give a reason why people should care about it.  Mrs. Schack saw herself as a guide into a world of wonder, a steward of young minds; to her, it’s a cause and a sense of calling.  What can your space, your business, your community do to tell your story?

  2. People:  Mrs. Schack understood that the heroes of this story were her new young scholars, but she also included the parents as part of this ‘family of love’.  Schoolhouses are beautiful, hallways are great, classrooms are wonderful, but without this wonderful cast of heroes, there is no story.  Who is the hero of your community, your business, or your church?  Listen to them; they will help you write the best story.

  3. Place:  As I look back to my school days, I have both fond memories.  I remember the historic brick schoolhouse of Washington Elementary in Holland, MI and Mid-Century school of White Hills Elementary in East Lansing, MI.  However, I don’t remember them though as bricks and mortar or post and beams, I think of them as the places where I grew up, where I made friends, and where I began to form my identity.  That is what ‘place’ gives you.  Place is about memories, people interacting with people, and people interacting with spaces.  What can you do craft that sense and story of place in your work?

So, let’s be intentional with our spaces.  Let’s leave our audiences with a story, a sense of expectation, destination, affirmation, community, and place.

 We all have a Room 10 in our lives.  What’s yours?


Chasing Rabbits to a Land of God’s Wonder

August 25, 2014 — by Steven Chaparro

rabbit-hole display

This past month, I planned for a business trip to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Little did I know that it would be a trip to a land of God’s wonder; one that would lead me to chase a rabbit down a hole and an encounter with a dormant dreamer nursing a dead dream.

In the days leading up to the trip, I searched the Internet for stories relating to the past work of Visioneering Studios.  For some reason, my search led me to a video posted by David Docusen, the Lead Pastor of Center City Church, which is situated in the Uptown neighborhood of Charlotte.  His story immediately wooed my curiosity.

Here’s why:

One, he lived in and pastored in Charlotte, the city I was about to visit.  Two, he planned to bring an Ebenezer’s Coffee to the site of an abandoned firehouse in Uptown Charlotte.  Third, as a pastor, he had a passionate vision for a facility, not necessarily a church building, that would be an asset to the whole city: spiritually, economically, and communally.

Even without having ever met him, his vision led me to believe that there was a kinship to be developed between us.  I was captivated so much that I decided to reach out to him to see if there was a chance we could meet during my trip to Charlotte.  I found him on Twitter and tweeted my interest in meeting with him to learn about what God was doing with Center City Church and Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.

I had no expectations, no allusions, just a deep and nagging curiosity; kind of like when Alice chased that rabbit down the hole.

Shortly thereafter, I received a tweet back from Docusen agreeing to meet at a local coffee house the next week.  I was relieved.  My fear of coming off as a weird Twitter troll appeared to be unmerited.  The light at the end of that rabbit hole was coming into focus.

After arriving in Charlotte, I began a full week of training.  During the first day, someone mentioned that the former mayor of Charlotte, Patrick Cannon, had been arrested on charges of corruption.  I am not sure how the story came up in conversation; it just did.  I quickly filed that bit of information in the “Useless” folder.

The next day, I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was going to meet Docusen for coffee.  “You know,” I explained.  “He’s the one bringing Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse to Charlotte.”

His response was a wide-eyed and declarative.  He quickly explained that the coffeehouse project had not gone through.  Oh, man.  What was this rabbit getting me into?

When I got back to my hotel room, I did a little more research.  I learned that the Center City Church had the firehouse property under contract.  Escrow was due to close on November 20, 2013.  According to a blog post written by Docusen five days thereafter, that day came and went.  No closing.  No explanation.

This confirmed it.  The dream of bringing Ebenezer’s Coffee to Charlotte was dead.

Curse that rabbit!

Alrighty, then.  How in the world was I going to approach this subject in our coffee meet up the next day?  This HAD to be a pretty touchy subject for Docusen.  You think?!

I had an idea, though.  I would just avoid the topic of Ebenezer’s all together.

The next evening, Docusen and I met at the Central Coffee Co.  He apologized for being a tad late because he had just finished a conference call with one of his members who was preparing to launch as a missionary.  Good alibi?  Check!

Docusen, by all appearances, was a young, unassuming guy.  He wore a backwards Detroit Tigers cap, an Orlando Magic t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.  Not your typical pastor, so I liked him already.  Remember…we were destined to be kindred spirits.

David Docusen2

I learned that he and wife, Dara, have four kids, three boys and one girl.  He was born in Michigan where I was raised (Go Tigers), and then moved to Orlando when he was eight years old.  Upon graduation from Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL, he began his ministry as a youth pastor for a mega-church.  Lots of students.  Big church.  Big budget.  Not a bad way to cut your ministry teeth.

Later, he and his family answered the call to help a friend plant a church on the north side of Charlotte.  There, he learned a lot, too: things to do again, things never to do again.  Within eighteen months, he felt the call to plant a different kind of church in a different neighborhood, Uptown Charlotte.  This would be a church at the center of the city: Center City Church.

You have to understand, Docusen is a bold visionary with a type-A personality.  He was raised in very entrepreneurial family, so his affinity to dream big is part of his DNA.  This couldn’t be more evident in his pastorate with Center City Church.

First, he had always told his church that they would never build a church building that only served the church one day a week.  When they would build, it would serve as a hub for the community: one that would not only bring spiritual renewal, but one that would also contribute to the economic and community welfare of the city every day of the week.

He was inspired by the vision of Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC.  About 8 years ago, Batterson’s church came across an old building, which he envisioned as the location of a coffee house that would double up as meeting space, a concert venue, and the location for his church to meet.  This was the original Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.

Docusen struck up a friendship with Batterson and began to see how this vision coincided with his vision for Uptown Charlotte.   Thus, the dream for Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, Charlotte was born.

The dreaming was the easy part though.  Making it happen was like chasing rabbits.

Almost everyone Docusen cast the vision to was immediately on board.  Over the next several years, he found five potential sites for Ebenezer’s.  They were all old urban buildings that were begging for a design intervention.  Mysteriously, and disheartenedly, they all fell through.

The most recent site was the most promising.  It was the historic Fire Station No. 4 located at 420 W. 5th St.  As people begin to hear about the vision, they wanted to help.  An architect brought life to the vision; a 2,000 sf coffeehouse on the first floor, a 300-seat multi-use venue on the second floor, and a roof top terrace overlooking the city on the third floor.

The historic Fire Station #4
The historic Fire Station #4
Ebenezers Coffeehouse - Charlotte
A rendering of the planned Ebenezers Coffeehouse – Charlotte

A secular investor, while he did not share the spiritual beliefs of Docusen, was moved by the vision to the point of agreeing to donate the nearly $1 million required to purchase the building.  Others pledged $2 million to build out the project.  But, as Docusen explained, November 20, 2013 came and went, and with it the dream of Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.

Then, why did Docusen take my request to meet almost ten months later?

That was a question that both his assistant and his wife posed to him.  He himself didn’t know the answer to that question; he just did.  Maybe he saw that same rabbit I did.

As we talked, it was evident to the both of us, what while Docusen’s dream of Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse died on that November day, God’s plan for Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse was still alive.  It was a classic example of the birth, death, and re-birth of dreams that we see so vividly modeled in biblical stories.

Here are some lessons that became clear to us during the course of our conversation:

  1. Our dreams are not always God’s dreams.  We have to check our motives for our dreams.  They may smell more like us than they do God.  It’s important to place all of our dreams at the altar of God.  That’s not to say that they are not derived from God’s inspiration, but doing the right things for the wrong reason is iniquity.
  2. The death of a dream is sometimes more about a death of self.  When a dream hurts so much when it dies, that’s probably a sign that it means too much to us.  Dreams themselves can become idols.  Sometimes God will take us through a process of grief to clear the way for redemption.
  3. Dreams are to be held loosely.  In architecture school, they teach us never to begin with the end mind.  In other words, never pre-determine what the design will look like; you forfeit its creative potential.  The same thing goes for dreams.  God gives us glimpses of what is possible, but we must be flexible to course correct as He reveals more of His Master-Plan.  Sometimes our dreams are too small.

So, whether you are a risk-taking business owner, a visionary pastor, or an idealistic parent, don’t be discouraged when your dreams take a dive into a grave.  If you’re flexible to His process, you will know that He is working out His plan for your life.

So, while you wait on God, keep on dreaming.  In fact, keep on dreaming bigger, and…don’t be afraid to chase rabbits down holes.  Almost always, they will lead you into God’s land of wonder.

It’s a pretty cool place to explore.

Photo Credit: A window display from Fortnum and Mason in London depicts Alice and the rabbit.  Other photos by David Docusen.


Six Ways to Love Your City

August 8, 2014 — by Steven Chaparro



 What do you do when you live where you don’t want to live?

Let’s frame this question with a story; the story of a Jewish people taken captive thousands of years ago.

In the sixth century B.C., the kingdom of Judah was overthrown by the Babylonian Empire.  These Jewish citizens were exiled to the city of Babylon, a place foreign in language, customs, and religion.  This was the last city in which the Hebrews would ever hope to live.

The story describes how God sent a prophet named Jeremiah with an odd message.  You’d think it would be a message laced with promises of liberation, but instead, it was a word of concession.

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.  Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” -Jeremiah 29:5-7

So, I ask again, what do you do when you live where you don’t want to live?

There is a reason you live in your city.  You may live in suburbia yet prefer urbania.  You may choose to tolerate its weather, its geography, its people, or its lack of culture and entertainment.  If that’s the case, then here are six things we can learn from Jeremiah’s message.

  1. Build.  Whenever I go and visit my mother, she says, “Take off your shoes, stay for a while.”  To buy or build a home means you are planning to stay.  It represents a commitment to the city and an investment in its future.
  2. Plant.  The hard work required to plant a garden indicates an appreciation for laying down roots and planning for the long-term.  You may have eyes for another city, but while you’re here, enjoy the fruit of your labor.
  3. Marry.  You don’t start a life-long relationship unless you decide its time to settle down.  The importance of marriage and family is paramount.  To change a country, you must change it’s cities.  To change cities, you must change its communities.  To change communities, you must change families.
  4. Multiply.  When you decide to start a family, you are making a conscious decision to live for someone else; a life of selflessness.  When you begin to have children, your care-free lifestyle is over.  Some are not willing to make this sacrifice; they either delay having children, or they have children but fail to be parents.
  5. Work.  Work is not always easy.  Anything worth-while will cost you time and effort.  However, after the “planting and harvesting” seasons, you are able to reap the fruit of your labor.  The great thing about work though, is that you are not the only one who benefits.  When people work, it affects families, communities, cities, states, and nations.
  6. Pray.  You may not like where you live, but understand this, when your city is blessed, you are blessed.  So, pray for it.

You have been called to your city.  Your future may take you to another city, but until then, live in it, love it, and pray for it.


This post was first published on UrbaSmyth.

Photo: Union Station by Ed McGowan