Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Innovation Challenge

Today's post has an assignment . . . with a prize! Many of you have joined me on a journey to imagine with missional innovation looks like. We have highlighted people, talked about new ministry/outreach and shared about the challenges and blessings of innovation.

So this group should be pretty qualified to do some analysis and synthesis about innovation. In our test, the subjects we will study are the top 10 creative people as selected by Fast Company Magazine. They actually named 100 top most creative people, but we are going to focus on what FC believes are the cream of the crop.

Here is our test: Can you look at this list, read each bio and see the common thing that each of them did which enabled them to change their industries? There are many things, but one stands out - at least to me :).

Here is the prize: I will send two copies of our book "Innovation in Mission" to the first person to submit the right answer as a comment to this blog posting. Why two? One for you and one for you to share with a fellow innovator that you are connected with.

Click on this link to visit the list of the 100 Most Creative People

Here is the top 10 list with links to the individuals:
Jonathan Ive: Apple Designer
"There's an applied style of being minimal and simple, and then there's real simplicity. This looks simple, because it really is."- Design According to Ive, Wired

Melinda Gates: Co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
"We literally go down the chart of the greatest inequities and give where we can effect the greatest change."- Melinda Gates goes public , Source

Shai Agassi: CEO of Better Place

Reed Hastings: CEO of Netflix
"There is a revolution happening, and within two years I think that Wi-Fi and Netflix will be built into all the televisions." - On the possibility of Netflix being built into televisions, New York Times Blog Jan 2009

Rich Ross: President, Disney Channels Worldwide
“Kids on the street can tell you what my priorities are,” Mr. Ross said. “I’m a wild optimist. You see that thread through anything we do. There are hard times, and there are not-so-hard times, but at the end it is an O.K. world.”- Oh, Grow Up, Mr. Ross, NY Times

Sandy Bodecker: VP of global design, Nike
"Like Nike, I believe in the power of human potential to do amazing things whether it's on the playing field of life or sport."Fast Company interview, Fast Company

Tero Ojanpera: Executive VP at Nokia
"What was formerly known as the cell phone is democratizing innovation,"

Michelle Ganeless: President, Comedy Central
The goal is "to make sure our content is everywhere our viewers are. We want everything to be accessible, sortable, and sharable."

Jon Rubinstein: Executive chairman, Palm

James Schamus: CEO, Focus Features

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Crossroads of Crisis and Opportunity

As ministries, we have come to a crossroads of crisis and opportunity. The economy and the culture have changed the rules and we have the great privilege of asking God how He would have us respond. What we do at this crossroad will dictate our future and our very survival in many cases. Our instinct as conservative, low-risk organizations will be to pull back, cut our losses and hunker down.

I believe that it would be a mistake to fall into that frame of mind. I believe that the only ones that will survive this troubled time will be those that:
1. Know what they are best at
2. Are engaging their advocates/recipients in transformational ways
3. Have a vision for what the world will look like when we rebound from the crisis

If we can engage our advocates and recipients with what we are best at with a vision for our place in a world recovering from crisis, then we can use that momentum to create action plans.

As I have been processing this, I went to Fast Company’s “Fast 50”. This is an interactive list of the 50 most innovative companies. I studied the top 20 of these companies, here is what I learned:
  • The most innovative organizations are, at their highest levels, defined by innovation in technology – whether they sell shoes (Zappos), megawatts of electricity (NextEra Energy) or computers (HP).
  • The reality that products and services require mobility oriented around the consumer drive these companies. (i.e. Pure Digital Technologies’ Flip Camera)
  • Social responsibility is evident throughout these organizations and it manifests itself in authentic ways based on what these organizations care about. (i.e. Gilead Sciences’ Access program to provide key drugs to poor countries)
  • These companies have perfected the art of knowing the needs of their customer/audience and meeting it in creative, practical, stylish ways. (i.e. Ideo’s pursuit of a “human centered methodology”)
  • At their core, the most innovative organizations have a “participatory DNA”. This means that they have created their organizations so that innovation will bubble up. Staff and customers will be a part of their process/products, and decisions are made dynamically and in a distributed way. (i.e. Team Obama, Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems and Hulu)

Challenging Implications for Ministries:

  • Technology: In the early days missions were extremely technology driven as they used every tool to overcome huge obstacles. But we have given this distinctive up and now most of our core processes/services/products are not driven by innovative technology.
  • Mobility: We have fared better with mobility. Because our work and the geopolitical situations are always changing we have become effective at making our solutions mobile. With more technology we could be even more mobile.
  • Green (Social Responsibility): Because we have a Kingdom focus that has traditionally centered on Eternal things rather than bettering life in this world, we are very weak here. That in itself is not bad because we have set our sites on bringing people into God's Kingdom. However, in order to speak to the coming “green” generation we must put our Kingdom work into language understood by a generation of people that will be redefined by social/environmental responsibility.
  • Consumer Focus: This item is the greatest single threat to the survival of many ministries. At the core of our Christian beliefs is that we should be God-centered and focused on a life of service and sacrifice. In an increasingly post-Christian / self-centered world, we will find ourselves increasingly at odds with what the marketing, fundraising, promotions experts tell us to do. We will be forced to make very difficult choices between transactional success and transformational focus. What I mean by this is that the realities of an overcrowded nonprofit marketplace will force us to either try and compete for consumers by appealing to their needs (whether we agree with them or not) or we will try to engage consumers and help to raise their sites beyond themselves and to the needs of others based on our beliefs and convictions.
  • Participatory DNA: Currently many ministries do not have a participatory DNA as organizations. Because of hierarchical structures, low tolerance for ambiguity, and a “limited good” mentality internally, we are not able to give our staff, donors, partners or ministry recipients the ability to participate significantly in who we are and what we will become.

These are very quick commentaries on issues that have many facets, reasons and potential solutions. The purpose of this blog posting is not to lay them out in the greatest detail or to provide extensive ideas on how to fix them. My main purpose is to show some of the key factors that are helping secular organizations lead the way in innovation and then contrast them with the realities we face in Christian nonprofits. Our survival depends on us looking at reality and then asking God how He might allow us to make a difference.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Giving Your Innovation a Stress Test

So we have a new concept in our dictionary thanks to the recession and its challenges - "Stress Test." We have heard the government talking about giving the banks a stress test to see if they are able to recover and serve their customers. This phrase is part of a long line of phrases that enter our vocabulary through the media. Think about the concept of a "carbon footprint" as another example. We could go on and on.

Well, since we have this new phrase in our media stream, why don't we use it to talk about innovation in mission. What does stress testing have to do with innovation? I'm glad you asked.

When we come up with a new idea and prototype it, the environment we are testing in is very limited. It is limited by those who are testing it as well as the volume of people who are experiencing it. This means that your idea is going to be encountered first by people a lot like you and only a few of them.

But if your idea takes off, then it will run into people very different than you and in large numbers. Here is where we usually make our mistake. When we do our prototypes and tests, we assume that if we received positive results we should expect these when we launch our idea to the wider world. That is an assumption that can ruin a good innovation.

So I am recommending that we stress test our innovations to see if they will hold up to the success we are praying for. Here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

1. Test your idea with those in your circle, but then do another test with part of your audience that is very different than you are. For example, if you are creating a small group material for churches, test it with those in your church but then find a church that is very different from yours to do another test.

2. Do some role playing to consider how you would handle bandwidth. When you do your tests, figure how many hours you spent providing service for your idea. Now multiply that by several hundred or thousands (taking into account automated systems and familiarity) and imagine how you will support your innovation. If you can't imagine doing it, then you need to build in some automated systems or get some more people involved.

3. Consider how you will handle both praise and criticism for your idea. Can you effectively take advantage of endorsements and fans and build on them? Can you provide interaction and explanations for those who will complain?

4. Define how you will judge success with your innovation. How will your service, tool, resource transform lives and engage people with Jesus? Are there elements of your process, product, delivery that will keep you from reaching that ultimate goal?

I could write many more stress test items, but you get the idea. The better you do at vetting your idea before you go live, the more effective you will be in serving those who God has called you to. So as you develop your idea, make sure you stress test it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Take 24 hours . . . create a movement

In Seth Godin's latest TED Talk, he challenges us about the way that leadership happens. Seth shares three phases of how leadership has manifested itself. First it came through factories and industrial efficiency. Then it came through television and mass media. Now he says that leadership is exhibited through ideas. And the groups that form around ideas are called Tribes (the name of his new book).

"That what we do for a living now, all of us, I think, is find something worth changing, and then assemble tribes that assemble tribes that spread the idea and spread the idea. And it becomes something far bigger than ourselves. It becomes a movement. So when Al Gore set out to change the world again, he didn't do it by himself. And he didn't do it by buying a lot of ads. He did it by creating a movement. Thousands of people around the country who could give his presentation for him. Because he can't be in 100 or 200 or 500 cities in each night." Seth Godin

This talk highlights a significant change from industrial power to media savvy and finally to the harnessing of information. It is so important for any missional innovator to understand this trending. This trending looks overwhelming but it is very good news for nonprofits. Why is that?

It is simple. In our nonprofit reality, we don't have huge factories that push out our services. We also don't have the money to take advantage of the mass media the way that the large companies do. But we do have ideas. We have ideas that can be honed, harnessed and delivered to those who will be passionate about them. We are probably more suited to create powerful ideas that move people's hearts than anyone else.

So this latest movement of leadership into the hands of those who formulate and present ideas gives us all some exciting opportunities. This means that you don't have to have the infrastructure to produce product or the money to fund advertising to make a difference.

So listen to Seth's talk above, and begin thinking more about your big idea. How will you lead out? How will you present your idea to the world and use it to change the world for the better? How will your innovation bring glory to the Kingdom? That's our task as mission innovators.