Monday, March 10, 2008

Innovation means digging deep

So many times when we set out to innovate in our ministries we realize that the problems we are seeking to solve have many layers. Just as we dig into the first issue, we begin to understand the many other issues that have lead to this problem.

The tendancy is to stop digging and focus on the solution to the top layer of challenges. We say, "This is a big enough chunck to deal with for now!" There is a problem with this however. So many times the top layer cannot be solved until the underlying layers are dealt with. This is no fun to hear but it is true.

As I have dealt with this issue in the past, I have had no other choice than to keep digging. It is painful and challenging, but as you dig deeper into your particular challenge you begin to understand what real innovation in that area must look like.

You see, when you were working on the top layer, your innovation work might end up only compounding the problem. But if you really understand the depth of the challenge then your innovation work will be informed by all of the layers.

Hopefully this will lead to richer and more comprehensive solutions to the significant problems that face missions. It isn't fun work, but it is the work that we must do if we are to uncover the new ideas that will help us serve Christ in a changing world.

So lets get digging!


MJA said...

Good word John. That definitely reflects my experience in Tibetan work in Asia-- especially the part about mis-informed innovations compounding the problem.

I think the issue here is that hole never stops. While it's not true that everything is connected to everything, everything is connected to something; the deeper you dig, the more tunnels you need. That has implications for both innovation and collaboration.

With respect to innovation, for me the refinement here is that we need a way to know when we can start to do something. I think that point is reached when we have enough information about our context of ministry to be able to predict what is 'likely' happen when we implement our innovation... and we can explain 'why' we think that is likely.

I also think that the very nature of these kinds of problems implies the need for greater collaboration. I personally believe that the interactions that already exist in our context of ministry create the skeleton of partnership opportunities in that context. This type of "digging" is a great first step.

Andrew said...


A helpful reminder and challenge. Now here's an idea... Since so many folk work independently these days. Even if part of a larger organisation they often face challenges in their specific activities. So working with others to dig at answers is not always available to them.

So what about identifying an issue that someone would value assistance digging out a way forward then working on it between a few folk together online.


Jon and Mindy Hirst said...

Dear MJA,

You bring up a great point! You can't go on digging forever, you have to be able to stop and act. I think that points to what I describe in the Innoaviton book as "holistic innovation". That is where you do some research and then apply it quickly so that you can see how it plays out in practice.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


Good observation. I think that you hit on something there. Part of the amazing revolution with the Internet is that it allows for individuals who are so isolated in their work or so specialized to really seek out others who may be involved in similar work.

One challenge I see is that so many times people working on a problem are embarassed or don't think to ask for help.

So many potential innovations are never reached because people go it alone.