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.

Before I and the other leaders at North Coast Church took the time to clearly articulate our mission, we considered anything that drew a crowd to be successful. With no other filter by which to screen things, attendance became our only metric. If a new ministry or program met needs and increased attendance, we figured we had a successful innovation on our hands.

But many of the things we considered to be successful did little to advance the kingdom or fulfill the Great Commission. They were creative. They drew a crowd. But they also squandered time, money and energy that would have been better used to fulfill our mission.

A successful innovation doesn’t simply draw a large crowd or receive great press. It also has to advance the cause. Otherwise it’s a distraction, not an innovation. And it’s nearly impossible to know if something is genuinely advancing the cause if we haven’t taken the time to clearly articulate and agree upon what the cause is.

(2) Confusing novelty with innovation

Another lesson I had to learn was that novelty is not innovation. The two are easily confused.

This is especially true for those of us who are easily bored. We can change things for the sake of change and call it creativity. But if the truth be known, our pursuit of constant change is more the result of our restlessness and ADHD tendencies than anything else.

Constant change may keep the creatives in our midst pumped up and motivated. But it leaves many of our staff members and congregants with a bad case of organizational vertigo and whiplash.

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I made this mistake in my early years at North Coast. Being young and idealistic, I considered anything new and novel, innovative. I wanted to institute every cutting edge idea I had or heard about. And I wanted to adopt it immediately.

But rather than taking us to new heights, all I did was confuse people. Our priorities and game plan were always in flux. We were like a restaurant with a constantly changing menu. It’s no wonder people didn’t bring their friends. They had no idea what we’d be serving from week to week.

I remember once adding an extended fellowship time to the middle of our worship service. This was not your typical meet and greet. It was 15-20 minutes long, nestled between the worship set and the sermon.

Attendance had grown to 150, and I wanted to maintain the level of fellowship and community that we’d experienced when we were smaller. So I read off some Bible verses and told our people to use the time to share, pray and minister to one another.

But they didn’t share, pray and minister to one another. They made a beeline for the coffee and doughnuts. Then they stood around and talked about the weather and how much they hated the new extended intermission in our worship service.

My idea was well intended. It was biblical (or so I thought). It was certainly novel and different. No one in our congregation had seen anything like it before. But it wasn’t innovative. It was just weird—and awkward.

The goal of innovation and change is not to constantly change or try something new. The goal is to advance the kingdom. Launching lots of new programs and pursuing idealistic ideas that nobody buys into is not innovative leadership. It’s failed leadership.

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