Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let Others Solve Your Problems

Merry Christmas. I know that's something everyone seems to say this time of the year, but I really do mean it. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, that it brings you close to family, friends and God, and that you discover again the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Thanks for taking time to read my ideas and reflect seriously upon them. I hear from folks all the time about things I've written and it encourages me. If you are reading my blog for the first time you should know that each edition is part of an ongoing dialogue that proceeds on things written earlier. So to get the full benefit of each article it would help to read the articles that have gone before it. Enough said.
The church has some unfinished business. Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all peoples beginning with their neighbors and extending out to all people everywhere (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Like many things, that's easier said than done. So what stands in the way of us doing that? In part, at least, we've shifted the focus away from "making disciples" to consumer models of "doing church" and I don't think that's what Jesus intended. I really believe Jesus envisioned the church as a disciple-making movement rather than the Christendom of Europe or the consumer-oriented church of America. If that is so, how do we get back to that?
Let others solve the problem for us! At least let them start to solve the problem for us.
Andrew Hargadon and Robert Sutton writing in Harvard Business Review say: "The ... best innovators systematically use old ideas as the raw materials for one new idea after another." (May‚ June 2000, "Building an Innovation Factory")
The Industrial Revolution was born when steam power replaced water and muscle power. The idea of using steam to generate power has been around since the ancient Greeks, but it was centuries later before folks like Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomem and James Watt took that idea, built upon it and changed the world.
We think of velcro as a space age product, but the idea, literally, has been around since creation. Cockleburs have stuck to clothing since Adam and Eve put on fig leaves, but it wasn't until Swiss engineer George de Mestral came home from a hunting trip with his dog and really looked closely at them that anyone conceived of them as the basis for a new kind of fastener.
Today scientists are studying the gecko to learn how to learn about surface tension and discover how to create a boot that will adhere to any surface (making Spidermen of us all).
How can we let others solve our problems for us? In Borrowing Brilliance, David Kord Murray suggests problems can be solved by learning what others have done to solve your problem or problems like yours and use what you learn as ingredients for forming new ideas. First, copy; then, create. He suggests looking in three categories: learning from others in your field, learning from similar but unrelated fields, and learning from completely unrelated fields.
What can we learn from our own field? What churches are doing the best job of making disciples? (Not just growing membership.) We hear about church planting movements going on around the world. What can we learn from them? Baptists and Methodists grew rapidly in the U.S. during the 1800s. Anything we can learn from them?
What can we learn from other fields/industries? How did McDonald's grow from one fast food restaurant in San Bernardino, CA to the world's largest chain of hamburger restaurants in a span of 60 years? How did Walmart grow from a few stores in northwest Arkansas to the world's largest public corporation in less than 50 years? (I'm not advocating adopting business practices to grow the church per se, but I think there is something to be learned from them.)
What can we learn from unrelated fields? Virus spread rapidly. What can we learn about rapid multiplication from viruses and the spread of epidemics? What about ideas? How do ideas spread? How do fads develop? How did the Beatles move from obscurity performing in night clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg to the most commercially acclaimed popular music act in history?
Are there things that run though all of these? For example, I think there is something for us to learn about simplicity of structure. Viruses are simple organisms. Church planting movements are built upon simply structured house church models. Franchises are precisely replicated, simple organizations (each one essentially the same as the next). Want a burger and fries? McDonald's has it? Want a steak and baked potato? Sorry!
If all truth is God's truth, we can learn from others and apply what we learn to advancing God's kingdom cause in our world.
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea