What's at the heart of innovation? (Daniel Manastireanu)

Monday, 11 November, 2013

Daniel Manastireanu asks what is at the heart of innovation.

When we first decide to venture out in creating new expressions of church, the first question we usually ask is 'how?' But before we can ask the 'how to' question, I believe we need to ask the 'where from' question. What do we bring to the task of innovation? Where are we coming from or, more specifically, what are the underlying values that we are taking for granted? The underlying values are tied to our personal histories, to how we were brought up, how we were educated and nurtured, our previous and current experiences of church, and so on.

We can't even begin to look at innovation before we do this preparatory personal work, because otherwise we might end up doing much of the same kind of things, only with some minor variations. It's new, but not really. Instead of making new wineskins, we end up patching up old ones. That is because innovation and creativity takes vulnerability. When we create something new, we open ourselves up to the possibility of criticism and rejection.

I love innovation, and for a long time I could not understand why others did not share my enthusiasm. Then I came across Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk on the crisis in education, where he explores the three major underlying values of most educational systems in the world - conformity, compliance and standardisation - values which were instilled during the Victorian industrial revolution. He shows how these values are mechanistic and unnatural, and proposes a paradigm shift from conformity to diversity, from compliance to curiosity, from standardisation to creativity. Imagine that framework in terms of new expressions of church.

If my underlying value is conformity, then I will react to anything new and different, because it does not fit with that value. For instance, suppose the team is looking at a new way of doing prayers. Someone proposes that we don't have a person 'saying' a prayer out loud; instead we could have it projected on a screen, or written on large sheets of paper with people adding their own prayers. I automatically react against the idea, but I cannot articulate why I'm resisting. Even when the new idea sounds like it could work, I sense a blockage in me that prevents me from even considering it. Why? Because it goes against my 'conformity' value which I take for granted. Robinson calls this 'the tyranny of common sense'.

In order to deal with my internal resistance, I have to become aware of it first. I have to be able to identify what it is, name it, and then own it without judgement of myself or others. Becoming aware of where I am coming from opens me up for new possibilities by creating a space in which I can move beyond it. This work needs to be done both individually, and in a team context, where common underlying values are identified, examined, and negotiated, preferably at the starting point, but also whenever resistance to innovation becomes apparent.

About the author: 

Daniel Manastireanu is a Church of Scotland Minister serving at Bishopton Parish Church, Renfrewshire.


Very helpful and inspiring thoughts

thanks Daniel. What a helpful reflection. I'm also doing some serious thinking about innovation and dissent in relation to the need for change in the church and the development of fresh expressions of church. I'll certainly be seeking out the TED talk you mention.

What I'm learning through the Partnership for Missional Church process I am involved in is that "Innovation is a process of failure leading to a positive shared outcome." The creation of the 'people of the Way' in the NT might be one example! Thus unless we can face and deal with failure we will not be able to innovate.

Thankyou Nigel, dealing with failure is enormously difficult and repetition can make one more conservative or conformist.I have just read the Jeremiah verses set for Sunday about the shepherds failing the flock who have therefore become scattered. On the positive side, I was lucky enough to attend the multi denominational service promising joint effort in Cornwall held Sunday in Bodmin in presence of Archbishop Justin and other national and local "shepherds". It was, at the same time, a non conforming and embracing occasion showing how we are all at least travelling in the same direction now. The message was unity but not uniformity.

Thanks Daniel, great to see others exploring the conversation about innovation enthusiastically. This is especially important when it is arguably the definitive characteristic of contemporary culture, as much as progress was during the 20th Century.

Thank you Daniel. I agree with every word.

Thanks Daniel this is a helpful reflection. As I started to read your piece I wondered if rather than starting with the "how" questions - you were going to take us to "why"...

Another TED talk to shake up assumptions is:
Where Simon Sinik suggests we need to ask WHY first...

Having said that, I totally agree with you: the resistance to change is so deeply rooted in values... as well as shared vision, Church leaders need to articulate shared values for the Church ... and acknowledge that we have different personal values!


Thank you for all your comments!

And thank you, Donald, for your introduction to Simon Sinek. After your link I've watched all the videos I could find with him, and I think he talks a lot of sense. In many ways, the 'start with why' principle is exactly what my article is saying, only by using different terminology.

Simon Sinek talks about the 'why' being about shared values, which draws people together and gives them a sense of safety and belonging. It's very interesting that you mentioned him. Thanks again!

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