Think Different: How to Craft a More Creative Message

Think Different posters
A single conference with over 100,000 attendees. The annual National Association of Broadcasters event is incredibly large. It meets every year in Las Vegas because Vegas is the only place in America with enough hotel rooms to house that many people.

I first went in 1998 as a young church media director. One of my lasting memories is not a keynote, workshop or the expo floor (though it is quite impressive). Rather, my team and I had taken a shuttle bus from the hotel, and when we arrived at the main entrance, we were greeted with banners that hung from the roof of the convention center almost to the ground. They must have been 50 feet high. There were several, each a close-up (or maybe close-huge) of a notable figure, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Albert Einstein, and Pablo Picasso. On each banner, below the Apple logo, sat two words: “Think Different.”

The “Think Different” campaign carried Apple to re-emergence after its dark period in the 1990s. Here is the original, shortened version of the campaign copy:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Think Different is important for other reasons. It’s a wonderful example of a shift, first articulated by the artists for our time, agency creative directors. It gives us a clue to a different kind of thinking. Rather than the closed system, convergent thinking of analysis, its connotes an open system, divergent thinking of possibility. Convergent is closed; divergent is open. Convergent is about finality. Divergent is about possibility.

Convergent (n.): coming closer together
Divergent (n.): tending to develop in different directions


A Story of Possibility

If you read the whole story, Jesus’ apostle Peter wasn’t always The Rock. He started out more like The Weed. The gospels portray a real character: a leader, but impulsive, a poor decision-maker, and a little dense.

Peter struggled with faith and doubt. What would it have been like to be buddies with God Incarnate–especially when, living the story as it happened, you weren’t for sure if he was really the Messiah, or just a charismatic and cool but severely deluded friend? Called to something great, Peter broke down when it mattered most, unable to summon the courage to risk himself in support of his teacher. He felt betrayed by Jesus’ unexpected decisions, and failed Jesus in return.

Peter’s story is all over contemporary culture. We share the experience of hope and failure in relationships, in work, and in our dreams. Where is God when we fail? Are we left alone? We fail, and we fear failure, so we cope in various ways, often lashing out. Kind of like Peter.

I put my trust in you as far as I could go
But In the end it doesn’t really matter.
– Linkin Park

Of course, that is not the end of the story. Like in any good third act, Peter finds redemption. Jesus appears on the shore, where Peter and his friends had returned to their fishing jobs. They take a walk, and Jesus issues a life-changing challenge: if you really love me, then feed my sheep. Become the rock of the early Jesus movement. We -the world – knows the rest of the story. Perhaps, it was only because of his failure and betrayal that Peter was able to come back and say yes with conviction. He finally understood the stakes, and what was required of him.

What happens when we tell Peter’s story?

Most creativity in worship fails because we don’t let story do its work. We rush to the “point,” telegraphing knowledge and leaving nothing to the imagination. Story is not a means to prove a point. Resonance finds the story in the message, and then makes it universal. Peter’s character arc is ours, as well; this is what I mean about letting story juxtapose rather than illustrate. When we see ourselves in Peter’s story, we’re changed. We think of the possibilities. We accept our screw ups. We find hope.

A good place for compelling communication of our message using Jesus’ method is through our imagination. This suggests a faith congruent with mystery. Perhaps children are Jesus’ ideal of faith not because of their naiveté, but because of their openness to imagination. A truth that moves beyond facts to wisdom engages the ambiguity of mystery.

Everybody in the world was once a child. So in planning a new picture, we don’t think of grown-ups, and we don’t think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget and that maybe our pictures can help recall.
– Walt Disney, 1938, as quoted in The Pixar Story


Learning to Think Different

Story is the language of imagination. It invites us to a divergent thinking that opens up a variety of possibilities. And possibilities offer us a future.

Of course, this is easier to describe than to pull off. We’re grown ups raised on the convergent thinking of the scientific method. We were told to find the final answers. We need be reminded to pause at the possibilities.

Consider the differences:


Convergent Thinking  Divergent Thinking
Evaluation Imagination
Knowledge Surprise
Deduction Provocation
Judgment Discovery
Criticism Invention
Assessment Prediction

The kind of truth that emerges from this sort of thinking doesn’t contradict the truth of deductive analysis; it co-exists. Mystery and story don’t get in the way of facts; they live next to facts, sometimes sharing the same stories and sometimes independently revealing truth, each in their own way. Messages that resonate captivate the person who hears our story by the divergent thinking of imagination.

Perhaps, I could add another line to the list. Word is convergent, Image is Divergent. Of course, there are many instances in which words are divergent, and in which images are convergent, but on the whole, mass printed words have a high degree of correlation to apologetic, while images have a high degree of correlation to art. So while I hesitate to reduce words, as they have been reduced, it is unmistakable that the rise of image encourages us to think differently.

While it’s sad that I need to state this in the life of the church, images spark our imagination. If you want to craft a more creative message, consider story, presented with image.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director @peachtreepres. Tickle monster. Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon, 2015).

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2 Comments on “Think Different: How to Craft a More Creative Message”

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