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November 29, 2012

Innovation and the bottom line

In many churches, visionary pastors struggle to persuade cautious financial committees about the merits of a new idea, just as in boardrooms nationwide enthusiastic executives butt heads with cost-conscious accountants. A key insight of the Center for Creative Leadership’s recent report on “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation” outlines how both outlooks -- both ”innovation thinking” and ”business thinking” -- are critical for sustaining cultures of creativity.

“Innovation thinking” is driven by openness to the future, by paradigm-shifting possibilities: innovation thinking produced not smaller CDs but the iPod, overturning a model of audio storage unchanged since the gramophone. Innovation thinkers relish ambiguity and pursue meaning where business thinkers pursue clarity.

The business thinker is a stickler for data, who reasons carefully from precedents to efficient solutions. Business thinking is driven by faithful stewardship of past accomplishments, by incrementally refining an organization’s core commitments: when a church finds a more efficient way to run its annual food drive, or when Intel produces a faster microchip, business thinkers are at work.

How might a leader act when faced with two distinct courses of action, each one championed by proponents of a certain mindset?

Business strategist Roger Martin calls for “opposable thinking.” At the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking, Martin and his colleagues teach a process to identify opposite courses of action, fall in love with each course of action and seek an integrative solution. They have observed that the most common integrative methods are:

  • Double down: Choose one of the two courses of action and press on the logic behind it to achieve the positive benefits of both this model and its opposite;
  • Disassemble the problem: Take each course of action apart with a view to organizing the entire system in a new way; and
  • Find the hidden gems: Examine each course of action for its key insight. The “hidden gems” of each are combined into a new course of action.

Each of these methods requires an in-depth understanding of what works about each course of action. Christian leaders are concerned for more than just effectiveness. If we were to fall in love with each course of action, we would need to examine how each is informed by Christian convictions and how following the action might contribute to the reign of God.

Next time you are confronted with tension between those advocating a new ministry and those seeking to balance the budget, try falling in love with each proposal and see how God might be working through that idea for good.

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