Innovation… an Insurance Against Irrelevance!

David 2017, Innovator, Pioneer Leave a Comment

Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important.

It’s the only insurance against irrelevance. 

Gary Hamel

As I have explored the word pioneer and what that means for those who carry its name, I have often stumbled across the word innovator in the process. Many pioneers in the fields of science, design, politics, economics and many others have also been innovators. Innovation is the process of creating something new and an innovator is a person or group of people who introduce this new creation into the world. It is constantly happening and it is present in everything we do and use whether we realise it or not. Our phones, computers and even our pottery has been effected by innovation.

Having said all of this we may look at our church/es and wonder whether this is the one place where innovation fails to have an impact. We may turn up to gather with other brothers and sisters and it be no different from how it has been on every other occasion for the past 100 years. To some this may be a great strength of the church and to others our greatest failing. What I want to do here (and maybe in a couple of other posts) is look at why innovation within the church is hard to come by and what we might need to do to encourage more of it.

Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration (repeating a process) is key to innovation. 

Sebastian Thrun

One reason for the lack of innovation seen within the church is that often there is a reticence to wander to far from the well worn path.  Innovation demands that mistakes are made and that we find out what doesn’t work in the quest to discover what does.  Sometimes really good ideas do not work first time round but take time to find the right conditions to flourish   A case in point is the electric car which only now is becoming a popular choice for consumers but was first created in 1884 before falling off the map with the introduction of the combustion engine and then squeezed out before its current resurrection.  Some ideas also take refinement to find the right component or mix that makes them fit for purpose.  Edison once said ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ and in creating the lightbulb it is said he tried hundreds of materials for the filament including the hair from employees beards before finding the right one.

To allow churches to innovate we need to find a way to encourage churches to try and fail.  To do new things or tweak old ones in order to find new ways of meeting together, worshiping together, living together, sharing the good news with others and much more.  In order to do this there needs to be a shift in focus away from maintenance towards discovery and experimenting (or as they call it else where Research and Development).  This is risky and there are areas that need to be looked at, like how we organise resources particularly in terms of people and finances.  Failure to do so could lead to the church becoming irrelevant and out of touch and continue to see decline.

Innovation can only occur where you can breathe free.

Joe Biden

There is another vital area that needs to be addressed in order for innovation to flourish within the church. A common theme can be found in those individuals and organisations who are known for being innovators which is the need for them to offer space, freedom and often a permission to break rules.  The quotes below express that sentiment and it can be seen in the way many of them work.

  • A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules.

    Vivek Wadhwa

  • The nature of an innovation is that it will arise at a fringe where it can afford to become prevalent enough to establish its usefulness without being overwhelmed by the inertia of the orthodox system.

    Kevin Kelly

  • Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.

    Thomas A. Edison

  • We should favour innovation and freedom over regulation.

    George Allen

Google is one of the many companies at the forefront of innovation at this time.  One of it’s most well known strategies to help it innovate is its use of the 70:20:10 model for its employees.  This model sees each person given 70% of their time for dedicated core task, 20% to tasks related to the core business and 10% to completely unrelated tasks.  The freedom for staff to develop projects and solve projects in that 10% time has developed new strands that are now core business for Google.

There are many other examples of how breaking the rules or common thinking has led to new discoveries throughout history.  It was commonly held in Columbus’s day that sailing west was a dangerous and futile trip but he did it anyway and discovered America.  Copernicus changed the way we looked at our solar system by developing a system with the Sun at the centre.  This list goes on from Einstein to Picasso, each going against that which was orthodox in their field and innovating new styles, ideas, systems and products.

These two areas are just a couple of ways that the church needs to take account of if it wants to find new ways of doing what it does.  There are signs that it is already taking these steps and pioneer ministry and fresh expressions are a part of this but more is needed.  As I was looking at these things I cam across the idea within innovation known as Schöpferische Zerstörung and my next post will look at this.

Credits – ‘Innovation’ by Boegh under CC BY-SA 2.0

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