Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beyond Paralysis

In my last blog post I reflected on the state of “decision-making stalemate” I observe in many churches. I want to tease out a couple more ideas on that topic.

Len Schlesinger (, president of Babson College and past CEO of two Fortune 500 companies, says that in our fast-paced, internet based world  we face large-scale problems, continual change and high degrees of uncertainty (and don’t we all feel this) where the end result is often paralysis. The complexity of decisions—all the people effected, the potential outcomes, the unanticipated results—leave us frozen in the place of “what is known is less fearful than what is unknown.”

Now lets flesh this out a bit more. The July/August issue of Harvard Business Review describes two kinds of technology:
1.              Sustaining technology is based on continuity. It takes what exists and makes things bigger and better. The digital camera, for example, works on the same thought basis as film technology, it extends and improves upon the previous film technology.
2.              Disruptive technology is based on discontinuity. It supplants what already exists with something different. For example, the internet is an entirely new way of distributing information that is supplanting the traditional technologies of newspaper and the once all powerful TV network news show.

It is helpful to think of these two technologies as two paradigms for decision-making. Sustaining decision-making takes what already exists and refines it for improvement. This sustaining paradigm makes sense when something is working well. As an example, I’d suggest that the Willow Creek and Saddleback models of seeker church took a healthy 20th century church model and made it bigger and better.

The disruptive paradigm is appropriate when things are not working well or when there is a need for R&D, new idea thinking. In contrast to the “WillowBack” style of church, the emerging, next generation churches work with a disruptive paradigm. They begin with the question of “what could be?” then experiment to flesh it out. The disruptive paradigm fits well with Schlesinger’s advice for breaking through paralysis: “action trumps everything.” Or, in the words of Nike, “just do it.”

Today’s leaders need to bring both decision-making paradigms into their toolbox. It is not an either-or, it is a both-and. When faced with critical decisions leaders should run the process through both paradigms. Anticipate results in both paradigms. Some decisions will need to be made in one or the other paradigm. Every now and then a decision needs to be implemented from the sustaining paradigm while at the same time freeing someone up to explore alternative answers through the disruptive paradigm.

Challenging? Yes! Let’s keep Jesus’ words from Luke 9:62 No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. Then let’s do it!

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