Real World Innovation: It’s a Lot Like Sausage

Larry Osborne: Five Common Mistakes and a Better Way—Is not About Risk-Taking, It’s About Obedience.

Everyone loves innovation—as a concept. But in the real world, it’s a lot like sausage. The finished product tastes great, but most people would never order it if they saw how it was made.

I serve in a church that has been widely acclaimed as being innovative. But it has not been nearly as easy as it looks from a distance. We’ve often made a mess of things, paid more than our share of “dumb taxes” and have had a boatload of failures.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about innovation and creative leadership. Unfortunately, I had to learn most of it the hard way. Many of my initial assumptions were dead wrong, and much of what I was taught about change and innovation was idealistic gobbledygook. It sounded great. But it didn’t work.

I’ve since found that my experience was rather typical. Many leaders start out with the same faulty assumptions I had. And most have been taught the same well intentioned, but wrong-headed, myths about innovation. As a result, we often end up doing things that sabotage and derail innovation, all the while thinking we’re doing all the right things to foster and promote it.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest mistakes I made and what you and your team can do to avoid them. Each represents a widely held misconception about how innovation works in the real world of frontline ministry.

(1) Assuming great ideas lead to great innovations

One of the first things I had to learn was that successful innovation takes more than a great idea. Two other things must be present. The first is great implementation; mediocre ideas with great implementation will always have a greater chance of success than great ideas with mediocre implementation. But the second was something I never considered as particularly important. To successfully innovate we also needed a clearly articulated and widely agreed upon mission.

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That’s because to be truly successful, an innovation needs to do more than simply change and improve things. It needs to change and improve the right things. Without a clearly defined and agreed upon mission, there is no way to know what those right things are.