DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Beyond Thinking at the Edge

Written by: on September 22, 2020

I find myself in the wardrobe. I entered to hide, but mystery awaits here, I sense.

The smell of mothballs fills my nose. Some things will certainly die here. What will those things be? Will I let them perish? What will grow in their stead?

These hanging coats are not my usual dress and they don’t fit at all. Will I grow into them?

This crunch beneath my feet yields an unexpected terrain. What will the journey hold? Will I be alone?

This place is something in between, but betwixt which and what? Here and where? How will I articulate this? Who will believe?

I see a light – a lamp, really – standing as if it has a story, a history. I’m not the first to tread this ground. What awaits?

Shhhhh…… what was that sound?


Let’s investigate the emotional processes of leadership at the edge of the unknown – like the unknown world beyond the wardrobe. Edwin Friedman posits that leadership isn’t primarily about intellectual prowess, but navigating emotional processes. His premise is impacting my work as I have been personally operating with the tagline of “helping provide the theology, mindsets, and methodology to innovate.” I invite your critique of the second portion – mindsets. So often, thinking is positioned as the primary operation for leadership, and specifically for innovation. Think Tank. Think Outside the Box. Most innovation theory ignores the very real and powerful emotional pull to the status quo. From today forward, I will substitute the word attitudes. Even though attitude has been co-opted by pithy positivity quotes, attitude combines thinking, feeling, and behaviors.

D’Souza and Renner observe that “When we come close to something we do not understand, or are faced with something unexpected or inexplicable, we have a tendency to control, become passive and withdraw, analyze things endlessly, resort to catastrophic thinking…, jump into action, getting busy or apply quick fixes” (Not Knowing, 117) Notice these responses are combinations of thinking, feelings, and behavior, or summarily, attitudes.

The attitudinal reactions at the edge provide a new path for me in the forest of my work. A key question driving me this year is, “What do I want to smuggle in through my work?” When groups ask me to help them think innovatively or think of something new (there’s that verb again), what else do I want to bring to both answer their question and give them something more. Candidates include connecting them to the grand Story of One making all things New, issues of power dynamics and acting justly, emotional shepherding at the edge, and behavioral analysis about why humans struggle to change.

The forest, the wardrobe, the threshold into the unknown – I pause to see what is unknown in my study of the unknown. What are my attitudes in helping others’ attitudes. How am I perhaps controlling my work, passively withdrawing, over-analyzing, resorting to catastrophic thinking, jumping heedlessly into action, and getting lost in shallow busyness or quick fixes? As I move into the second year of our work and the unknown lies before me…

Shhhhh……. what’s that sound?


Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).

About the Author


Shawn Cramer

11 responses to “Beyond Thinking at the Edge”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Being at the edge or in liminal space creates a heightened sensory experience. Listening has been most noticeable for me. Often when I get really quiet, all I hear is silence. Every once in a while, Spirit’s whisper will be perceptible and clear, but often it’s quiet and I am forced to wait. How will you respond if your “Shhh…what’s that sound?” is met with silence and no answers to all your questions?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      That’s hard to anticipate. If I don’t hear anything, I’ll probably rely on the saints with similar experiences. I was utterly shocked to hear about Mother Teresa’s experience of silence.

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    First of all, love the callback of entering the Wardrobe. A land of unknowns and mysteries that invites us to explore – though not without trepidation.

    The Hero’s journey always begins with a call. A call to leave what is known, to walk a path none have dared walk before. There are trials and tribulations along the way and it is that initial call that continues to drive the Hero forward through the storms ahead. Yet there also appears to be a moment where the path is lost and Hero is diverted as the weight of their quest becomes too much to bear. We see it with Odysseus stopping on Circe’s Island. We see it with Frodo as he continuously succumbs to the Ring. We see it in Narnia as Aslan is led to the Stone Table.

    Hero, as you pause to reorient and listen to the call that set you on your adventure, I pray that the still, quiet voice whispers to you and gives you the guidance you seek.

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Thank you, brother. The extra challenge in addition to what you wrote is that our call can morph and change and is often more ambiguous than most myths. Pray I sense a refinement in that call.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Brilliant metaphor using the wardrobe analogy. I too am challenged by Friedman’s concept of differentiation and that leadership is more about emotion than it is about behavior.

    Your comment, “I have been personally operating with the tagline of “helping provide the theology, mindsets, and methodology to innovate.” leads me to wonder what a mindset is. If a mindset is a set of attitudes held by someone how can you change or provide a new mindset to someone whose mindset may very well be more emotional than knowledge based? If innovation is about aligning individuals creating new attitudes and ideas how do you get people beyond the old secure ideas? If some of the mindset is emotional does there need to be a grieving process for old worn out ideas that may still bring comfort but no longer provide that needed results?

    As a leader in the pipeline world I always added nay sayers to my think tank process when looking at new projects. I never wanted a bunch of yes men around when I was looking for the best way to tackle a project. I would say I usually learned more from the negative, this will never work, type of people than I did from those who were overly positive. Nay sayers have a way of forcing a leader to face the challenge in a much more differentiated way and coming up with answers to questions that are often to quickly dismissed. With this in mind how vital is the perfect mindset in the innovation process?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      My response in a word is “shepherding.” Like most leadership, innovation is at its best and most human, NOT when someone is charging forward with little regard to those around them (think Elon Musk), but when others are brought along for the journey. Like Joshua was encouraged by his call, called not to fear, and immerse himself in the Story in the first chapter of Joshua, standing on the precipice of something new requires emotional and spiritual shepherding.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    “Most innovation theory ignores the very real and powerful emotional pull to the status quo.”

    Dude, you wrote a mouthful there. Stuck organizations often fool themselves into thinking all their problems will be solved if they just bring in a dynamic young leader. Problem is, the very thing they hope the dynamic young leader will bring to them is what they will hate the most… change. Most organizations lack the emotional intelligence to truly grasp what getting out the rut will take. They can intellectualize all day long. They’ll even attend all the visioning sessions and workshops and town hall meetings. But when it comes time to go, something primal kicks in, something they can’t even really explain, and a massive gravitational pull back to the status quo initiates. The dynamic young leader is left frustrated and oftentimes the target of blame. Innovation and entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart!

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      I’m eager to dig into Friedman’s myth of more data=better leadership decisions. I suppose even innovation is a victim of the post-Enlightment thinking of we are just brains on sticks. You’ve given me some more to ponder here. Thanks.

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Your idea of a trasnstion from mindset to attitude is a beautiful one. The former seems static to me. Controlled. The latter comes across as more fluid. Adaptable.

    To help folk accomplsih a mindset seems to require the work of conversion. Point them to the “right” direction. To guide folk toward an atittude seems to invite you into the space of guide and fellow sojourner. Accompany them as they discover.

    Is this how you understand this shift? How would you articluate it and why does it matter?

    • mm Shawn Cramer says:

      Jer, this is affirming as these three “buckets” of theology, attitudes, and methodology are the bulk of what I’m working on and intend to deliver. I hadn’t considered the sojourner component inherent in attitudes. Mindsets seem more like they can be achieved and box-checked, where attitudes are more temporary and shifting. Thus, attitudes require constant vigilance, and vigilance demands a journey. Just working out what you’re implying. Am I tracking with you correctly?

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    A whole lot of FEELINGS arise in me as I read your post this week 🙂 thankful for the description and story route you took with it.

    I FEEL like with Edwin a HUGE pendulum shift is represented, felt especially in later chapters as he centres on the perhaps (unintended) incapacitating impact of empathy that inhibits most ‘efficient’ leadership.

    Could there be a balance?

    When we hope for a new thing, sometimes we can be taken by a complete shift, especially if it comes by sweet eloquence. I agree with the movement to a degree.

    It doesn’t matter. As I have learned over the years, the pendulum swings at it swings. Along the way, some will jump off and become hermits, quietly in a way that’s totally apart from the pendulum and all that.

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