Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good, Better, Best

I'm not much of a poet nor a lover of poetry. But here's a little verse that's worth remembering.
"Good, better, best ...never let it rest,
until your good is better and your better best."
I think I read that little verse in a book given to me at college graduation. It's certainly not great poetry, but it is a worthy challenge ... especially in the realm of ideas.
In my previous blog on "iNnovation and Discernment" I concluded: "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."
When we are trying to solve a problem or come up with an innovative idea, it's easy to stop with the first good idea we have. It takes great discipline not to jump immediately into action. After all, we don't just want to come up with ideas. We want to solve problems, to take action, to get things done. It takes great discipline to say (to yourself or others): that's a good idea; now let's see if we can build on it and come up with a better idea.
Thomas Edison came up with a marvelous invention, the phonograph, which created a whole new industry. The story is beautifully portrayed in the movie "Edison the Man" staring Spencer Tracy. Edison didn't so much invent the phonograph ... he stumbled upon it quite by accident (like many great discoveries). He was trying to create a way of capturing the dots and dashes of a telegraph message when he wondered if his device might capture the human voice as well as an electronic impulse. Amazingly, it did. VoilĂ . The phonograph. It became one of Edison's greatest innovations. (Pictured: Edison and his early phonograph)
That was in the summer of 1877. But the fame bestowed on Edison for this invention (sometimes called his most original) was not due to its efficiency. Recording with his tinfoil phonograph was too difficult to be practical, and its reproduction of sound was distorted and squeaky, good for only a few playbacks. Alexander Graham Bell had a better idea. Use wax instead of tinfoil (better). Emile Berliner had an even better idea. Why not use flat, wax platters rather than can-like tins. Production would be cheaper, easier and faster. Good --the tin foil disk. Better -- the wax disk. Best -- the wax platter ... which was the market standard for almost one hundred years!
Though I'll not take time to tell the stories, the same kind of thing happened to two of Edison's other great inventions: the electrical lighting system and moving pictures. Both inventions were innovative. Both created new industries. Both transformed the way we live. But no matter how good Edison's ideas were, someone else came along and improved on them. Westinghouse changed the electrical lighting system from direct current to alternating current. Charles Jenkins and Thomas Armat took Edison's concept of moving pictures (the one-person-at-a-time, peep-holed Kinetoscope) and developed a way to project them on a wall so a room full of people could watch at the same time.
My point in all of this is to say every idea, no matter how good it may be, can be improved upon. Even the wax platter, an industry standard for nearly one hundred years, was supplanted by the CD and digital technology.
So what ideas might we consider improving upon? How about the church? The concept of church is biblical. Jesus established the church and I'm confident it will last until he comes again. But the way we do church, that's where we need to be open to new ideas. Do we meet in a building and listen to one person teach or preach? That's one way of doing it. Are there better ways?
The idea of churches in a geographical region working together to promote education, church development, benevolence and missions is a good idea (it's called an association). Is there a better way of doing those things?
Is there a better way to start churches? A better way to train leaders? A better way to meet the needs of those around us? A better way to share the gospel? A better way to make disciples? Better ways to do missions?
Innovative thinkers are linked to the past, but they are not chained to it. They are constantly taking good ideas and improving upon them making them better.
In UBA we are re-tasking to mobilize churches to take on lostness. We know what we are doing is good (like Edison's phonograph), but we are convinced there are even better, more effective ways of carrying out the Great Commission and we are committed to finding them. It's not in the Bible, but it's well worth remembering: "Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better best."