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Dr. Len Wilson is one of the smartest thinkers and communicators I know. He’s also quick to laugh and is always a delight to talk to. A conversation with Len is always fascinating.

A few years back, Len wrote a book called Think Like A Five-Year-Old, which is all about our innate creativity, how it gets lost, and how we can regain it. He recently published a follow-up book, Greater Things.  So that’s what our conversation in the podcast is about.



Len is the head honcho at Invite Resources and Invite Publishing. 

You can get his book Think Like A Five Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things here at Invite Resources. 


Greater Things: The Work of the New Creation can be purchased here.

In the podcast, Len makes a reference to Sir Ken Robinson. His Ted Talk on creativity can be seen here.  A delightful animation of a talk of his can be seen here.


This is computer generated. Expect a few errors.

An Interview with Dr. Len Wilson – S01E03

Rob Hello, friends. My name is Rob Webster, and I cannot wait for you to meet my friend Len Wilson today on Episode Three of The Story that Writes Us. I have a guest here with me today named Len Wilson. Dr Len Wilson I should add. And Len, we’ve known each other for 20 plus years, I think, and I don’t know how to describe your title or who you are, what you do now because I’ve known you through all sorts of different phases of your life.
Rob Why don’t you tell everybody what do you, what are you doing now.
Len Sure. Well the main gig is that I’m publisher of Invite Resources which is a now 18 month old Christian publisher based out Plano, Texas here. And I’m also on staff at Saint Andrew United Methodist Church. My title there is director of Innovation and Strategy. And basically I’ve got a bunch of really great colleagues who got to know me and said, Here’s your best gifts.
Len So just set up a world for yourself. And so that’s what I’ve been able to do. So it’s a blessing.
Rob That’s fantastic. And Len, I met Len gosh, he was at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio and was one of the guys at the I’d say at the forefront of kind of churches leaning into using digital technology and video storytelling in the church. So Len is also a published author, and we’re going to talk about in a minute, he’s got a book that has just come out.
Rob But I’m actually going to hearken back to a book that he wrote as we’re talking about what it means to be creative and what it means to be created in the image of God also means that we are created to create. And Len’s book immediately came to mind. He wrote a book, when did this come out, Len?
Len 20, 15.
Rob 20, 15, OK, six years ago called Think Like a five Year Old. So let me just ask you about the title. I think it’s great. Think like a five year old. What is that? Where does that come from?
Len Well, a combination of things. One, my youngest son was five years old at the time, so he was one of my research subjects for the book as I was as I was doing it. But also a lot of research had gone into it. And the first lead example, the book talks about a NASA study done by a sociologist named George Land.
Len And what happens to us over time is it’s a longitudinal study. So just dove in and talk about this study. I mean.
Rob I’d love to. Yeah.
Len Right. Yeah, absolutely. So what the study was done, so in the early sixties, if you’ll recall, you know, Kennedy had set up Nasser. And so there was this kind of commission. Can we go to the moon by the end of the decade, which is just this ridiculous goal. We all understand that. Now, I’m a back side of that.
Len But at the time, that was just this crazy idea. And so this new agency NASA was trying to find engineers, but initially they were finding all these engineers who who were thinking very conventionally, and they needed people who couldn’t who didn’t think conventionally and so they put together a special study as commissioned to the sociologist George Land to figure out people who had this kind of genius level what they determined to be genius level kind of thinking to solve problems, which they couldn’t even articulate the questions to, you know, so like they don’t even know what questions to ask.
Len And so the people who can kind of come in and kind of, you know, think outside the box, so to speak. So the study was became the primary vetting means for Nasser to find engineers, obviously very successful in what they did there. So Landon has his own team, went back later and applied the same study to a group of five year olds.
Len And they said, let’s find out, you know, because, you know, how did how did the kids think? And so they did the same study. 1500 five year olds and discovered that 98% of these kids crack the top of the charts. It was just considered genius.
Rob Oh, my gosh.
Len So they went back later and did the same study to the ten year old same group, kids, ten years old, five years later. 30% were considered genius, and they kept doing it at age 15, 20 and then I think 31 years old was the final one, and by the end of that got down to 2%. So the question is same kids, same study over time, what the heck happens?
Len You know, how do we lose this innate natural genius that we’re given at a young age? So at the time, we’re adults. We don’t think creatively any longer.
Rob And so why I mean, that’s I mean, right, that’s a big question. It’s like if we can if we can identify why, then maybe we can hang on to that five year old thinking why so so before we talk about how to how to hold on to that or how to regain that, tell me about that.
Len The why you sure well, you know, there’s I think you can approach it scientifically. Ultimately, the book approaches that question from a spiritual point of view, from a Jesus point of view. Obviously, as a Christian, book and me as a Christian to write it. But I’ll speak first of the educational thing. I discovered something which a lot of some educators have discovered know this, some don’t.
Len But there’s a documented phenomenon called the fourth grade slump. And those who don’t know it as a research phenomenon know it anecdotally. You know, some oh, heck, yeah. Like they’ll say from third grade to fifth grade, there’s a shutting off that happens in the classroom where kids go from a natural curiosity to to a natural to an unnatural state of need for approval.
Len And our dynamics shift from from kind of a freedom to a kind of a peer orientation, where by the end of elementary and middle school, we start to filter ourselves for fear of being finding disapproval from our peers.
Rob And so and you saw that in your own kids didn’t you?
Len Oh, heck, yeah. It’s tragic. You can’t stop it. So you see these kids and, you know, I’ve got four kids. The oldest is now 19, the youngest is 13. So I truly have four teenagers. Now, and I saw it in all four kids when they were when they were growing up. And so I tried to cultivate creativity in the home as much as possible to offset what I knew was going to happen.
Len To them in their classroom environments. So, yeah.
Rob I remember I’ll tell you a quick funny story. My son, when he was five years old, maybe, or maybe he was six, who in first grade and he wanted Chick-Fil-A nuggets for lunch. And this is in the morning though, and I’m sending him out the door. And I said, Well, buddy, I’m going to be at work. I can’t bring you nuggets in.
Rob And he says, Well, we can just go buy them right now. I said, Well, they’ll be cold. You won’t want cold nuggets. So he pauses. I remember we got this great look on its face and he said, Well, when I get cold, I wrap a blanket around me. So maybe we could make tiny blankets for the nuggets. And I loved it too.
Rob And then he said, And then he also said this OK, it gets better. He says, I he said, I have a lamp by my bed at night and I’ve noticed the light bulb gets really warm. So maybe we could have tiny lamps and blankets. And as he says all this, it occurs to me this is what they do it fast food restaurants.
Rob They have the heat lamps, and then they wrap them in these foil blankets. And that’s exactly how fast food gets be. It’s packaged and handed off to you and I just so great right there. He just he just solved the problem.
Len You know, that is genius. That is absolutely Jesus, right? So, yeah, we define genius differently. So it’s yeah, that’s brilliant. Yeah. It’s a part of that is this implicit idea. And this gets to more of the spiritual stuff that being made in God’s image. Means that there’s an innate worthiness to us. So we like to say, as Wesley is that the Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis three.
Len Begins in Genesis one. You know, so we’re made good. We’re made in God’s image. And and so there’s something in us. No person enters the equation, as is kind of one of the deep theological questions about that but that can be seen in this process. Right. And sin defined as separation. So separation from yourself, separation from your community, your peers, separation from God.
Len So that’s part of what this fourth grade phenomenon documents. And the we we had this separation from our own innate sense of creativity, this genius that’s in us. So I think that everybody has a genius there. But he is a genius. Somebody has a genius. And if someone’s not fulfilled in their life, in their work and the relationships they’re not using or genius enough, and if they’re if you’re a manager and you’ve got people under you and it’s not working, then maybe there’s ways in which you can help people figure out their genius and help them to use that better.
Len And so those are yeah, that’s kind of how I try to manage.
Rob So one thing that I appreciate about your approach to this, too, is we we often think about creativity in some very traditional sense as someone who paints with oil, right? You know, someone who’s a songwriter, but creativity is much broader than that and that we are all we’re all creative, whether we identify as creative or not. We’re all creative.
Rob And I think we don’t all we don’t all realize that we don’t all tap into that and realize we’re that way because we are created in the image of God that is God’s likeness in us. It makes us also want to create is that.
Len Absolutely hundred percent. So the number one TEDTalk for years and years I think it’s now been dethroned was by Sir Ken Robinson, who’s an education expert a great, funny, wonderful TEDTalk. If you if your listeners haven’t seen it and or heard it, I say seen that because not only is the recording, but there’s actually a really cool RSA animation version of this talk.
Len So if you search of Ken Robinson, TED Talk, RSA animation, you’ll get this a really cool whiteboard very of it, which is even more fun. He defines creativity is original ideas that have value. So it’s a very broadened perspective. In fact, in the book I talk about various definitions. I mentioned now that I mentioned my five year old’s definition at the time, he said having fun and making stuff is his definition at the time.
Len So either one of those are valid to me.
Rob That’s it’s a great definition I want to talk for just a second, too, about our fathers. Can we do that? Yes, we’re talking about our children, but let’s let’s go the other other out because in the book you talk a little bit about your father, who was creative in some traditional creativity centers, but you also had the sense that he never really pursued that vocationally or maybe never found that connection.
Rob Tell me a little bit about that.
Len Sure. Well, I think there was a at the time, he tells me that his parents pushed him to go into engineering in the fifties, and that was what he did the fifties to make a good living. So I think anybody who’s feels that tension between creative outlets and commercial viability as they get into the college life and choosing college majors, maybe you can can relate and resonate with that, because I think that’s what he felt.
Len He ended up changing his major to history and pursuing kind of creative outlets occasionally over time. And that’s I don’t really address that in the book per se. The idea like you know, when you’re creatively you do vocationally or avocation, I think either one of those can be, you know, valid over time. But just kind of the point being that each of us does have something that we’re really good at solving.
Len We’re creating value, you know, so what is that thing?
Rob That’s great. My my dad, it’s interesting. People do split up. Sometimes you think about the sciences and the arts and we separate them. But my dad was a research chemist, and so that meant that his job was to be creative with chemistry. And so he he worked for DuPont, and sometimes it was finding new ways to create something that had already existed.
Rob But maybe there’s a better way to do it. I’ll tell you a quick story. We were at Sears at the Grand Central Mall in Vienna, West Virginia, and in the sporting goods department. He saw some ping pong balls and it stopped him in his tracks. And he goes, I just had an idea. And he says, Hey, I need to buy a bunch of these ping pong balls.
Rob And I’m like, Why are you buying ping pong balls? And there was some sort of reaction, chemical reaction. And what happened was where there was a liquid and then there was a gas over the liquid and that at that juncture is where this reaction would take place and create this film. Nylon is kind of made, though. It’s actually two liquids.
Rob I’ve seen raw nylon get made and you’ve got two liquids and you get this weird film in the middle of it. And that’s what Ron Island looks like. This is actually a gas and a liquid, but he needed to slow down the reaction just a little bit. And he thought, if I float ping pong balls on it, that’ll just knock out enough of the surface area to slow it down.
Rob And so he bought this ping pong balls and took it to work and threw it in this vat. And it worked. And and I was always so impressed with that, that that even when we were shopping at Sears, his mind was working on this creative problem and trying to figure out how to how to do it. It was great.
Len I have found that in my own life, and I found it in talking to so many people over the years that we we do this and whatever I call it in the book, I call it your sense of UN peace, like the thing that just that just drives you. You have to solve it. It can be a single project or like a lifelong obsession you know, but the thing that just keeps you up at night and you have to solve it in in the sense of personal passion.
Len And of course, theologically passion means suffering. So. Right. So it’s the thing that you suffer for in your life over your lifetime, the creative solution. The answer to that is your creativity. That is the thing that’s the genius ultimately to me. So whatever it is, if you don’t know what your creative genius is, it’s the antidote to whatever that problem is that bugs you and won’t go away.
Len You know, it’s.
Rob I, I love that and that connection to passion being suffering to that. You are so passionate about that you’ve got to find the answer in the solution. You talk in your book. This is fascinating. This is new to me in terms of some thinking. You talk about Plato’s truth, beauty and goodness and what that means. But you also and you tie that in to that.
Rob We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Yeah. So you’re connecting Plato and Jesus in some really wonderful ways there. Yeah. So can you unpack that for me just a little bit?
Len Well, sure. Well, Plato introduced it actually. Thomas Aquinas picked it up. So quietness is probably considered the peak of medieval theology. So, you know, I’m reading a book right now on the Black Death. Super interesting, right? So the pandemic, I’m like Let’s find out other pandemics.
Rob He sounds like a real pick me up.
Len That’s pretty horrible. Cover my nightstand. My wife sees it. She’s like, What are you reading? So anyway, the book’s talking about like and the the reason I’m bringing it up is there was a 200 5300 year period prior. The 1300 were just a terrible century. Like, we think we’re living through a terrible time like it. It holds no candle to the terrible things that happened in 1300.
Len Prior to that time there was a kind of two or three year period of real flourishing, like what’s considered the Dark Ages was actually more like 450 to 950 and then there was this medieval period where there was a lot of flourishing and growth and things had happened. In fact it happened to be a period of global warming and incidentally called a little optimum.
Len And so there was this little window there and theology flourished. And so Aquinas was kind of the peak of that, that historical window. And he talked about these transcendental. Is that the true beauty, true goodness and truth? As we understand it, those are all one and the same ultimately like and that is how we know what truth is epistemologically like when we see something and we know it’s true, beautiful is good.
Len And if you have one of those without the others and it’s not true, it’s not accurate, you know, but all those things come together and that’s probably a terrible symbolization of the cleaners. But that’s kind of I think.
Rob He did prove that. He did prove he’d like it.
Len Yeah. So anyway, just kind of tying those those things together as a way and so on. When Jesus says to love with heart, mind, soul strength, and that is really in pursuit of what those things are, that’s all we know.
Rob It’s love you talked about how to your book is called How to Think Like a Five Year Old, but you have some breakdowns on how to care like a five year old. So I assume that’s heart right? And then since like a five year old think like a five year old and then build like a five year old.
Rob And so I love that all these kind of steps in the creative process, what it means to bring something into being right, to bring to bring order out of chaos.
Len Yeah. And that last one builds. You’ll notice the subtitle for the book, Reclaim Your Wandering Create Great Things. Now, my new book is called Greater Things. So it’s a tie. It’s kind of basically in some ways an extension sequel to that idea, like because creativity is having the ideas of value. The new book about innovation is basically creating something that ships, you know, so it’s the idea of building and actually you take your creativity got solution.
Len So yeah.
Rob That’s fantastic. And you talked about to even in writing the book, that you had an outline that you started with in the book, and you describe it as sometimes you have to chop your way through the jungle and talk to me as, as an author how how you how you write this is you’ve done a lot of different types of creative expression over the years and over the time that I’ve known you.
Rob But now it’s writing books. And tell me about how these things come come into being.
Len Sure. Well, writing is actually my first craft, my first love. So I started writing at age 12, and I actually published the 16 originally a poem, short story and and then, you know, throughout since then. So I always come back to that as my, my top craft and my top creative expression. But the thing is that I write backwards.
Len So I’ve learned over the years and I talk about this in part three of the book about creativity is all about ideas. And we have plenty of ideas. The problem is that we don’t respect the ideas. And so the ideas we have to learn to have discipline to capture our own ideas. Ideas don’t wait around so you might be out with your kids.
Len You’re at Walmart, you’re pulling a kid with one hand, you’re pulling a cart with the other, and you have an idea and you’re like, Dang it, this is not a good time for this idea. And so when I was younger, I would think I got to remember that and then I wouldn’t remember it. And so as I was writing this book, I started a discipline that I still carry to this day.
Len Where I have a pen in my pocket at all times with a pen.
Rob You got it right now? Yeah. Yeah, I can I can confirm for those of you listening, I can.
Len Confirm. Yeah. Because I’ve learned that when the idea comes, you got to get it, whether it’s writing it down or whether I use the little dictation thing on the phone or something, but I just have to capture it because if I don’t, I’m going to lose it. And I think, gosh, I’ve lost the least probably two good books early on because I just wouldn’t, you know, capture the ideas.
Len So so I forgot the question was at this point, but that’s the discipline of that.
Rob Well, it’s about your creative process. And how you bring a book to life. Yeah.
Len Yes. OK, so.
Rob Capturing those ideas is initial.
Len Ideas. And so it’s kind of it’s very non-linear. So in a traditional writing format, you would create an outline you write to the outline. I’m kind of the opposite. So I create nuggets and morsels based off of ideas. And after a while it’s like a huge puzzle. And I’ve got all these pieces and then I have to find the framework in the structure.
Len And my dissertation advisor didn’t like this at all. We had some discussions about this.
Rob That’s awesome.
Len As I kind of write backwards, I’m sorry, I have a lot of ideas and I put it together and then eventually there will be a book. Somewhere in there.
Rob You find the shape of it.
Len Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so that’s the hardest part is chopping through the jungle is when you have a boatload of ideas and at some point you’re like, OK, I think this is enough. Something’s here. And then I have to figure out what that is and name a single thesis for that and then begin to structure it and organize at that point.
Rob Wow, that’s great. So, so the new book is Greater Things.
Len Greater Things The Work of the New Creation. So two halves. The first half is to define Christian innovation. So I say basically there’s something unique and different about Christian innovation versus just good old regular innovation. And then the second half walks through a process for how to actually engage in that.
Rob All right. Go back to that first one. You just grabbed my attention there. How how is Christian innovation different?
Len You know, we live in an A world right now where we have I was actually slow to this, Rob, because innovation is kind of a buzzword. It’s kind of tired in some ways is kind of cliched in some ways. And I really kind of didn’t want to write about it because of that. But I realized we’ve been obsessed about innovation for a long time.
Len And yet here we are in the church, in the culture, we’re more polarized and stagnant than we’ve been in a long time. So like something clearly is not working. And that was kind of the beginnings of this book was they begin to ask that question. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized it was actually something very different because in a traditional definition of innovation, there’s there’s tons of them, but they share this idea of disruption that you’re actually overthrowing the old to create new.
Len And it’s all based, I think, on largely on an Enlightenment idea of improvement. So the old idea advertising slogan, I’m new and improved, you know, so run take something that was before didn’t work. We’re going to toss that out. I’m going to make something that’s improved versus Christian innovation is something different entirely. So theologically, this is obvious in the parable, the wine skins.
Len There’s actually two words for new in the New Testament. It was nice and kind of us, and this is more of our traditional understanding of improvement, like you’ve got something new and improved. But there’s actually another word for new and it’s the word for new creation. And it’s completely different kind of piece. And so it’s qualitatively different than what became before.
Len So it’s not about improvement, but it’s about something that only comes when we’re participants in the new creation, which comes as our participation is as children of God.
Rob I love it. It is different then.
Len Yeah, absolutely. It’s you cannot Jesus actually says at one point John the Baptist was the greatest of prophets in the Israelite tradition. The prophets were considered the greatest of all people, and Jesus names him as the greatest of all prophets. So in other words, John the Baptist was the greatest human who ever lived. But Jesus then says the least of those in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.
Len So he’s saying there’s a qualitative difference. When you become part of the new creation, you are greater. And it’s not your work. It’s not the things you do it’s who you are. It’s your personhood. As a follower of Jesus, you’re restored to the new creation, and therefore you’re part of something greater. And so the things you do as a part of that become greater things.
Rob There’s this notion in Scripture that there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth, and that Jesus has already begun the recreating, and he begins it with us, and it’s going to be brought to its fulfillment in the future. But it’s already begun, and we can already begin partnering with God and being agents of new creation.
Len Yeah, absolutely. This, that. So in the back page of the book, I’ve got a little teaser ad I had The Honor. I’m co-writing a book with Lynn Sweet right now, and it’s going to come out next year as called The End and the Present Age and the Age to Come. So part one is the end of the beginning, and part two is beginning.
Len The beginning of the end. The end of the beginning is what we say. So basically the whole.
Rob Idea I’m happy to set this up for you so easily yeah. Perfect time. Yeah.
Len Yeah. And the whole idea of is that, that, that the end in Greek is Telos, and Taus is defined as the end of the English. But it means that the purpose of the film and or the consummation. And so the kingdom is finished. The kingdom at the end is the kingdom and the kingdom is God’s presence. And we think we’re we.
Len Methodists are the worst at this because we think we’re somehow building or advancing or creating the kingdom and we’re not. The kingdom is finished. It’s created. Jesus did the work. So when we work and we join God as co-creators in the new creation, that’s something entirely different than the idea that we’re somehow going to improve society over time till we reach some kind of utopian fulfillment.
Len It’s kind of heavy concept, but that’s, that’s really I think that’s the, the theological mistake of the last hundred years. That is the primary theological mistake because we have the social gospel set up this mode of thinking, the, the, the kind of the lead figure of the social gospel. Rauschenbusch and I talk about this in my new book.
Len He talked about the church in the past tense. And so we’re moving on to some greater perfection. He was he was caught up in all the excitement around progress and utopianism prior to World War One. And by the end of his life, he was regretting that he written those things because he felt like the social gospel movement was pulling away from Orthodox Christian faith.
Len He was trying to pull it back before he died because that’s what’s happened. Like we have taken on this, like this kind of humanistic idea that we can somehow create the future on our own and we suck at it.
Rob Man, I, I want to say thanks for, for coming on. Congrats on the new book coming out. And I think that’s great. And Leonard, I’m glad to have you here. You are a theological rock. And so we’re going to have a lot of fun with this podcast, but with the things you’ve expressed in your knowledge of church history and culture and in your experiences, I think working with Lynn Sweet, who’s often called a futurist and someone who really has the ability to kind of pull back and look at the big picture of what’s going on in our world and in our culture is a great gift that you have.
Rob And I think it’s really important for Christians to to to know and to see sometimes through your eyes and through that perspective. So thank you for helping to illuminate us and pushing us to realize the creative spark in all of us.
Len Yeah, thanks for having me. This is fun.
Rob Yeah, I appreciate it. But you can find Len’s books as well as some other fantastic books at You should totally check it out. Our next episode is going to be an interview with Jason Moore. Jason is a creative genius and the author of a recent book called Both/And and he thinks about worship as storytelling.
Rob I can’t wait for you to hear his thoughts on this.
Rob The story that writes us as a part of the discipleship ministries of Custer Road, United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas.