Innovators stimulate change, while operators maintain consistent performance. Starbucks effectively utilizes both innovators and operators within their leadership ranks. Both are needed. Innovators steer a cool course forward; operators ensure the ride there is stable and secure. The result is organizational victory.
Inasmuch as the Church, too, is an organization, how is our innovator/operator balance?
In my experience... not good.
Pastoral leaders are often too busy being operators to be innovators.* They are maintaining institutions, often with valiant effort and heroic loyalty. But this leaves little energy to advance the Kingdom.
Kingdom thinking advances the movement. This requires innovators.
Speaking as a priest, I have to say that as far as we are concerned, current institutional models often seem to favor - even demand - operators. Innovators are scarce, largely because of a deeply imbedded institutional system that can easily discourage or dishearten them.
Are we running our institutions? Or are they running us?
Institutional ineffectiveness and declining organizational health undermine our mission of Kingdom advancement. Catholic institutions today, particularly parishes and schools, are part of a vast infrastructure built long ago when the church and culture were both very different. By practicing Spirit-filled discernment, we should read the signs of the times, evaluating our institutions and their current effectiveness according to Kingdom criteria such as the Great Commission and the Sermon on the Mount. If we are not ready to adapt and innovate when necessary, then our mission of Kingdom advancement will continue to suffer.
Listening to the elderly and the young can help the church in this regard, according to Pope Francis. The elderly contribute memory and experience that prevent us from repeating past mistakes; while young people “call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.” (Evangelii Gaudium #108)
When we exhaust ourselves solely in operator-mode on behalf of institutions proving increasingly unhealthy or ineffective, we cannot be in innovator-mode, advancing creative Kingdom movements. Recent organizational trends in the business world provide growing evidence of the need for innovators.
If there were metrics for such things, would the church of recent decades in the U.S. be operating at a trade surplus... or a deficit?
Meanwhile, Nussbaum says, where IS the growth? It’s in “indie capitalism,” start-ups which “operate independently of prevailing market wisdom” by encouraging the creation and distribution of local, unique, handmade and home-grown products. Such companies are practicing “design thinking” and producing “disruptive innovations” in familiar business patterns. These companies are leveraging the low-stakes risk made possible by the internet, “wowing” the market with creative and ground-breaking products and services, and adding value through “pivoting” personal creativity into business success. (Think Kickstarter and Etsy, for example)
According to Nussbaum, the “evolving creativity-driven economy” is the future. He goes so far as to say that this innovator-driven economy is fueling “creative destruction” of old behemoth companies mired in old big-institution models of operating and too stubborn to change. Those who are surviving are the ones adapting and actually, acting more like start-ups.
whose creative Kingdom intelligence led to the rise of Spirit-led “start-ups.” Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, Don Bosco, Mother Teresa: these men and women embraced risk in service of innovation. They sang a “new song,” renewing the church as Spirit-filled, Kingdom-hungry people who knew reform started with themselves.
Instead of operating institutions, they innovated movements. They added immense Kingdom value to their time and place. Through Jesus, who “makes all things new,” they opened new “markets” for the gospel and opened surprising new streams of spiritual wealth.
“I can’t fight in this stuff,” he said. Instead, he did it his way. And with that, he shed the armor, took out his sling and a smooth stone, and dispatched his insolent foe. And just like that... decades of fear and oppression... ended. A new era... begun.
In his latest book (TED talk summary here), Malcolm Gladwell points out that David did not fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms. David changed the terms, and won. He used local skills and means. He looked at the problem from a new perspective, engaged the enemy differently. He knew that the size and brute strength of Goliath were no match for his intelligence, skill, strategy, and precision.
In business markets, David is increasing while Goliath is decreasing. As Nussbaum demonstrates, behemoths that don’t innovate are losing. Micro-markets are growing as creative people leverage the internet. People are capitalizing on the incredibly efficient “trade routes” of modern social media and instant communication to find a platform and market their idea/service/product.
The world is our “market,” our mission field. As it gets more agile, mobile, and fluid, unwieldy institutions are becoming increasingly less effective in reaching it. The “armor” is becoming less and less helpful. Successful adapters are movement-minded, not institution-minded. They realize that innovation is needed before operation. Without innovators, there will nothing left to operate.
Imagine a church of agile and Spirit-filled disciples, Davidic “creative disrupters” brimming with conviction, character and competence, their creativity fully released and channeled into innovative Kingdom thinking, nurtured and encouraged by loving growth environments based in vibrant church communities. I like to envision a church of the future where thousands of micro-movements, “start-ups” of the Spirit, are dynamically shipping Kingdom victory to the darkest places where it is most desperately needed.
The Holy Spirit is the great Innovator, opening new gospel markets through creative Kingdom innovations of men and women attuned to his influence. To quote Seth Godin...
That would be you.
*Innovation refers to pastoral innovation - not doctrinal. PQ is utterly loyal to the deposit of faith.