Monday, July 14, 2008

Insurgency and the Establishment

To be involved in innovation takes a willingness to do things differently. It takes a fighting heart that can push through on change even when it is hard. It takes a sensitivity to people that allows you to empower them in the creative process.

To do these types of things, you have to be an insurgent. You have to be willing to forget the old ways of doing something and at the same time borrow all the good of the old.

Your main struggle as an innovator will be against the establishment. The establishment is the system that works wonderfully today but is not thinking about how the world must change.

So here is the question, how can you have an insurgent's heart within an establishment world? They are not mutually exculsive. In fact, some of the greatest innovations came out of the center of the old, established organizations/industries/cultures.

One of the great examples is Corning. This company has reinvented itself dozens of times creating new markets and new products that have revolutionized our world. From light bulbs to Corningware, to fiber optics and now LCD screens. They are an example of an established company who has an insurgent culture capable of amazing innovation. To see a timeline of their innovation click here.

One of the key ideas that I would like to highlight in this process is one that is shared in a book called Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From idea to execution. It is key for insurgents within established organizations. The authors call it "NewCo" and "CoreCo." The idea is simple. Your core company - CoreCo - can create new initiatives - NewCo - if it is strategic. There are two key lessons to learn if you are trying to start something new within an established organization.

Borrow - They say that we must borrow key infrastructure that will help us succeed. For instance if your ministry has a warehouse, your new initiative should use it to store key products/materials instead of outsoucing and spending more money.

Forget - They say that we must forget the old ways things have been done. So if your ministry has a traditional way of doing a certain thing, you must forget it and reimagine it for your new needs.

If your desire is to begin a NewCo within a CoreCo, the other key thing for you to consider is how you structure your initiative. If it is too connected to the old, it won't make it. A CoreCo manager will never make the necessary sacrifices for a NewCo initiative. If it is too disconnected you won't have the advantages of all that infrastructure. The key is high level leaders who support the NewCo but empower it to grow and develop the way it needs to.

So here is the question, what can you do to create the right environment to lead an insurgency within your established organization?


Phyliss said...

Am reading "Tipping Point" which suggests that small size (under 150); the need for networks to pass information to key people quickly; mavens who are arbiters of good ideas; and transactive memory--where an organization stores information on various topics or in different disciplines among the group members,are needed for innovation. But most of these concepts only work when we are close enough to each other to "stir one another up" to the good works for which we were "Called"--Sometimes I feel awkward speaking as though the business books offered solutions for missions, when it seems to me that Holy Spirit leads different people to try new strategic ideas --inspiries, if you will, new diections or methodologies. Maybe what is crucial for innovation is not so much insurrection, as a keeness to wait and to listen for the still small voice for direction. And then stirring up each other to get up and exercise our gifts --that might actually look like insurgency!

Ty Stakes said...

Hmmmmm...very interesting topic. Insurgency has a counter-culture ring to it...nice!

I guess the first key for me is to ask if the organization has a culture that is creative open to change and new directions or applications of its expertise. If so, then insurgency can be embraced and even nurtured in a culture of creativity and growth. But is this insurgency? Not really...

On the other hand, if the org is not open to change and creativity, then the true insurgent could be in for a rough ride. In that case, the budding insurgent might have to pray for thick skin and use one of my favorite intrapreneur's principles: "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." But if willing to forge ahead, the results generated could turn the stagnant org's head, so to speak.

In this type of org, the insurgent must seek the balance point between submission and calling. They might even have to branch off in order to fulfill the vision they have been given.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


Good insights. One of the things that I have come to grips with as I read modern business/innovation literature is this, "It's only a launching pad into what God would have us consider and ultimately do."

With that perspective the Tipping point or this book that I refered to can give us some valuable concepts, but they are really only as valuable as their Kingdom connection.

As we listen to God's voice and agree to obey Him in His call, there is a chance He might ask you to lead an insurgency of some kind. I am reading Jeremiah right now - he seems like an insurgent to me. Moses may have appeared that way to the establishment of Egypt. Jonah may have appeared that way in Niniveh. Sometimes dramatic new thinking is required to see a movement of God begin.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


I think that if the organization is at its core creative and flexible, God won't use the role of an insurgent to create the change and action He desires. He will probably use gentler forces.

But in those places where there is great resistance to change, God will use more dramatic measures - from inside or out - to see what He cares about accomplished. What do you think?

Paul Nethercott said...

I live in a nation where the established powers intensely resist change --- and it DOES affect the church in general, and the mission I belong to. For years I had no idea what to do about it, now I have a few inklings but am always looking for ways to move forward.

I think the ideas presented in this post, and in the book "Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators" are "spot on." I also think that all truth is God's truth, so we can learn a lot from the business world that applies directly to missions -- as long as we are discerning and careful to maintain the proper values. I have found that some of the most effective people in missions are those with solid training and experience in business.

I did not have words for it until just now but I have been part of establishing a "NewCo" within a "CorCo" the "NewCo" we have established is called CAN. Under CAN we have recently established another "NewCo" called "Studio Re:"and we are set up to spawn more innovative projects under CAN.

One aspect to this discussion that I have been aware of is that the old established mission I am part of DOES have strengths that we can leverage for good. For example, an effective, highly organized financial system.