Thursday, March 3, 2011

iNnovation and Discernment

The "i's" seem to have it these days. iPod. iPad. iPhone. iMac. And my personal favorite these days: iNnovation.
I'm convinced we've moved into an era when innovation is the great new leadership skill ... and most of us don't have a clue how to be creative or innovative. Innovation and creativity aren't skills being taught in our seminary classes, so it is something we as church leaders will need to learn on our own. That's why I've spent the last two years learning all I can and sharing some of my thoughts with you.
I especially believe it is important for the church to be creative and innovative. One would think that since we serve the great Creator God that innovation and creativity would come naturally for the church. Quite the opposite is usually true. Taken as a whole, highly religious folks seem to value preserving the past more than being innovative or creative. Jesus ran into that with the scribes and Pharisees. (Remember his conversation about new wine and old wineskins?)
And it's not just religious folks that have trouble with new ideas.
"In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. The Swiss themselves invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they believed this couldn’t possibly be the watch of the future. After all, it was battery powered, did not have bearings or a mainspring and almost no gears. Seiko took one look at this invention that the Swiss manufacturers rejected at the World Watch Congress that year and took over the world watch market.
"When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because they said the computer was invented for scientists and had no business applications. Then along came IBM. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, there is virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple." (Michael Michalko, "A Theory About Genius")
Being creative and innovative isn't easy, but it is essential if the church is to continue to have an impact in our world.
Thus far I've said that to be innovative we must (1) carefully define the problem, (2) learn from others who are successfully solving problems like the ones we face, (3) use what we learn from other like building blocks to construct new ideas, (4) give the new ideas time to germinate ... and now (5) be discerning. What do I mean by that? (Refer to my prior posts for more details on the process.)
When we first come up with a new idea, it is easy to think "that's the answer ... let's do it." But a good problem-solver will be discerning. Let the euphoria of a new, novel idea pass and take time to look at it critically. Look for strengths and weakness in the new idea. See if there are ways to make you good idea even stronger.
Here is where a critic can be really helpful. Most of us don't like critics, especially when they're critical of our new ideas. But the critic can turn out to be a benefit and a blessing if they help you look at your new ideas objectively.
Critics are usually folks who are looking at things from another point of view. During his lifetime, President Abraham Lincoln was the most unpopular president that ever lived. From our point of view, he was one of the greatest presidents that ever lived. We are looking at the same man, but our point of view is different.
Walt Disney learned to look at ideas from three points of view: the dreamer, the realistic and the critic. When he considered a new idea, he would begin by exploring all the possibilities. He would let his imagination soar without worrying about funding, implementation, technology, anything. Sometimes he would take new ideas and combine them with other ideas. Talking mouse? Why not! That was the point of view of the dreamer. The next day he would bring his fantasies back to earth and be the realist. How can we make this idea workable? Practical? Finally, he would play the part of the critic and poke holes in his ideas. Who's going to believe a mouse can talk? Is this really feasible? Can we fund it? Will people respond? Can we make money? By looking at his own ideas from these three different perspectives he learned to be discerning.
The creative process isn't about accepting every new idea that comes along. It's about taking the best ideas and enhancing them -- finding their strengths and building on them, finding their weaknesses and eliminating them.
That's what folks like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels did years ago. The took the idea of church, looked at its strengths and weaknesses, and figured out how to do it better to reach their communities. It's what the great church leaders have done throughout history. They haven't sought to preserve the past, but to build upon it in new and creative ways.
So here's the process we've discussed to date:
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea
Step Four: Give Your Ideas Time to Germinate
Step Five: Be Discerning (Cast a Critical Eye)
The next step: start all over again and see if you can come up with something even better this time.