Sunday, January 23, 2011

Innovators Admit Failure

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. ~Henry Ford

We have become very good at hiding our failures. We hide them by blaming others, spinning the facts, avoiding the subject or finding a new project to focus on. However we hide them, we do ourselves and those around us a disservice.

I know why we hide them. Our culture has trained us to believe that failures mean personal weakness, ineptitude and humiliation. We believe as nonprofits that donors will only support us if we ride one success after another in the journey towards our charitable cause. We also struggle to believe that people will still value us if we have failed in our ministry efforts. We tend to think that failure is a sign of God withholding blessing because of our mistakes or miscalculations.

But below the cultural dogma of success and the misunderstanding of God's blessings, we really do know that failures are good for us . . . don't we? Sure we do. We know that failures help us understand the problem we are seeking to solve and give us new insights into what to try next. We know this because we see it in life. When a baby first tries to walk, there are many failures that slowly lead to learning and then to success. When we learned to ride a bike or drive a car, there were many crashes or grinding of gears before we masted the skill. Most of the time those teaching us did not reject us for those things or think less of us. Instead they encouraged us to persevere and learn from the challenge.

So, in the end, our efforts to hide our failures keep us from learning and growing with those around us and identifying new solutions. There is a new web site called that is seeking to help nonprofits get beyond this struggle. The site has been put together by Engineers Without Borders Canada and they are putting out a challenge for nonprofits to share their failures in an effort to learn from each other and create new and better solutions.

This is a powerful idea because it provides each of you with a chance to share a failure and see how that bit of learning will help others. I believe it is also cathartic because we can confess to each other our struggles and our failures and ask for their help and prayer.

Now here is the big question: "Will you be brave enough to selflessly share your failures with others?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Make it work before you make a splash

Seth Godin had a great post today about launching innovations. Read here. His basic point is that some of the greatest innovations in our time launched in obscurity and then became known as they delivered value.

This sounds very practical and obvious, but have you noticed that we don't operate this way. Instead we tend to launch our innovations with as much fanfare as we can afford. If you stop and ask yourself why we do this, a few things come to mind:
1. We are insecure about our idea and we need others to affirm our efforts and sacrifice.
2. We think that if people know early they will be involved in our innovation.
3. We want to stamp our name on the idea before someone else takes it.
4. Our boss, investors, or board tell us we need to make the launch a big deal.

I'm sure there are other reasons as well, but these come to mind.

So next time you are in the planning stages for an innovation launch, consider taking the humble, quiet approach to your innovation and build success based on service rather than PR.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Are you providing Access or Process?

The currency of a knowledge economy is each individual’s learning and growth. Every time we click the mouse, interact with friends or read a book, we are receiving information and growing as we apply it. With the explosion of information technology and, more recently, social technology, we are seeing thousands of innovations focused on helping us take advantage of all the data and networks available to grow in our Christian lives.

In this post I want to share with you two schools of thought when it comes to learning innovations. I am defining learning innovations very broadly to include all those efforts that inform and develop a believer as they grow in their faith. As I share about these two approaches, it is necessary to generalize. These labels can be helpful or harmful depending on how they are used. They are a powerful tool when they help us to understand ourselves and our efforts. At the same time they can be very harmful if they put us in boxes that limit our potential for ministry. So my hope is that these generalizations will give you a framework for understanding your efforts and the efforts of others.

School 1: Access
This group of innovative projects focuses on giving people access to information, ideas, opportunities and experiences. If you talk with these pioneers their heart is to see people engage with the information and use it to bless their families, communities and the world. A great example of this is the Joshua Project—a site that provides access to information about unreached people groups. Their focus is stated clearly on their site,

“Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Christ. Accurate, regularly updated ethnic people group information is critical for understanding and completing the Great Commission.”

School 2: Process
This second group of innovative projects focuses on helping people develop as individuals and believers as they are involved in a process or activity. When you interact with these gifted innovators, they bleed discipleship and mentoring and desire to see people grow in Christ. A great example of this is Monvee—a site focused on helping you assess and track your spiritual growth. They describe their focus this way,

Monvee exists in order to help people discover what is getting in the way of their spiritual growth and then craft a plan to address it. We believe every person who follows Jesus has what it takes to grow their relationship with Him in new and fresh ways. Monvee combines solid theology with innovative technology to deliver a tool that connects people with resources, ways to spend their time, powerful experiences, and relational connections that fit the unique way God designed them to grow.”

Both Access and Process are critical to Kingdom Innovation. However, if you are not clear on which type of innovation your project is designed around you will struggle to stay focused. They key is not to think about one as better than the other, but to understand how they are different and how Access or Process will drive your ministry efforts. This is one of those “Both/And” situations where it is critical to understand what each side brings to the effort and utilize them accordingly.

A good way to think of Access and Process is by considering Bloom’s Taxonomy. This famous chart has helped those involved in education and countless other fields to understand the progression towards learning. Bloom’s taxonomy says that learning starts with knowledge, moves on to comprehension, expands into application, formulates analysis and finally leads to synthesis.

As I have thought about innovators who focus on Access or Process, this chart has been very helpful. As you look at this chart, the Access Innovators live in the initial two areas of learning: knowledge and comprehension. They are focused on getting information to people in creative and user-friendly ways. They also focus on application as a way of measuring the impact of the information on the end user.

The Process Innovators tends to assume that the first two are happening. They really launch from application and focus on helping people achieve synthesis. The Process group is looking for ways to use creative new methods to help people grow and develop in their spiritual lives, relationships and ministry. They measure success based on the developmental progress they see in the lives of those using their tools.

So the application step is held by both groups and becomes the key point of continuity. In many ways the application step in Bloom’s taxonomy is the engine that keeps the entire process moving. It provides the impetus for someone to gain knowledge and then it provides the experience that begs for deeper understanding.

The greatest blind spot for both groups of innovators is that they assume that the other part is happening. This is each camp’s weakness. Process people fail to see the importance of access to critical information at the right moment in a person’s spiritual life and Access people assume that people will continue on to apply, analyze and synthesize the knowledge they are uncovering.

Once you have identified which camp your innovation fits in, here are some next steps to keep you focused and intentional:
1. If the DNA of your innovation is Access or Process, then own it! Don’t feel you have to do both to be of value to others and the Kingdom. Instead make sure that your mission statement and core values reflect the camp that is the driver behind your idea.
2. While you own your focus, don’t marginalize the other. Resist the “Either/Or” mentality and embrace the “Both/And” approach.
3. Don’t assume that the other part of the equation is happening. Partner with innovators in the other camp so that those utilizing your services will have ways to move up the ladder from knowledge all the way to synthesis.
4. See yourself as part of a whole process that is bigger than your service. If you are an Access innovation, find ways to make the information you are assembling available and useful to those working on the Process side. Likewise, if you are a Process innovation, find ways to utilize the processes that people are going through to provide ideas and data for the Access innovations to include.
5. Make sure as you build the framework for your innovation, that you design pathways to the other camp. So if you are an Access innovation, you need to provide clear ways for people to move beyond comprehension to application and analysis. If you are a Process innovation you need to make sure that people have a way to equip themselves with the knowledge and comprehension necessary to jump into application.

Another Twist
Now that I have taken some time to describe innovations in each of these groups and how they tie together to serve the believer as they seek to grow in their faith, I want to share a game-changing idea. These two camps exist because of the dualism of the 20th Century. We separated the acquisition of knowledge from the development of people using that knowledge. So from where we sit today, these two camps are very real. But do they have to be? Is it possible to design innovative solutions that provide both Access and Process in one coordinated approach?

Take a look at the life of Jesus. He told parables (information) to large crowds and then moved into the advanced phases of Bloom’s taxonomy in private with His disciples. He sent them out to apply what they had learned. Then in His last days He pushed into analysis and then allowed the Holy Spirit to bring synthesis as the disciples began to better understand their faith and their task.

Would it be possible to leave behind these categories and create innovations that move someone along the entire process of learning? Can we develop intentional and incarnational strategies that look at the whole scope of learning and guide individuals and communities through that process?

So start where you are, understand where your innovation fits, and then consider how your efforts could become more holistic as you grow in your understanding of the learning process.