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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.”


It’s Not The Idea

January 11, 2014 — by Tim Cool

In a recent sidebar article in the Outreach Magazine, author and CEO of Ideation Consulting, Charles Lee wrote an article that made me pause and reflect on some realities of leadership….in church, business and even in the development of our ministry facilities.


Leader vs. Manager vs. Practitioner

September 29, 2012 — by Jody Forehand

I have worked with dozens of ministry leaders that were great preachers, teachers and Bible scholars. They know their profession, are well educated and engrained in their specific practice. They love the church. They love God. They love preaching and teaching. But they cannot cast a vision or manage their way out of a brown paper bag. They are practitioners.