• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

What do you mean when you say “innovation”?

I am sometimes asked a question in light of our global vision statement.  It goes something like this: “What do you mean when you say ‘innovation’?”  Rightly so, it is hard to be intentional about something, if we don’t understand what we mean by the concept (see 04.01.2012 post)

Wikipedia defines innovation this way: “Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.”  This is somewhat helpful, particularly the distinction between invention (or creativity) and innovation.  However, it still doesn’t help us answer the practical question.

The word innovation also comes from the Latin word meaning “to renew or change.”  So, innovation is the process of initiating change or renewal.  However, what does that look like?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the harder I try to “define” innovation, the farther away I move from it.  Rather than defining it, here are a few concrete examples. From these we can discern what innovation means and might look like in our context.

  • A worker in Asia proposes to his board to buy a storefront and open a training school for refugees temporarily resettled in his country.  Being a certified chef, he suggests the school train refugees in food preparation, a marketable skill in most places of the world.  From the very start of the course, this worker talks openly and freely of his faith, offering opportunity for students to share needs and for prayer to be offered.  An innovative approach to outreach.
  • A worker in Europe sees several people come to Christ.  These new believers express a desire to study the Word, and they agree to meet for Bible study once a week.  The worker wants to implicate new believers more quickly in owning and taking responsibility for gatherings.  At the very first meeting, the worker deliberately does not show up.  When these new believers realize that the worker is not coming, they start the study themselves and continue on for weeks before recontacting the worker.  An innovative approach to discipleship or small group leadership.
  • Given the prolific number of cell phones in our world today, one group of workers developed short videos that presented the person of Jesus Christ.  They then sent these videos out to numerous contacts in ‘closed countries’ where they served.  Many came to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a result.  An innovative approach to sharing the Gospel.

A creative idea that leads to prayer and new approaches.  What do you mean when you think innovation?

6 Responses

  1. The nature of the missionary work and contextualization demand innovation but how does an organization innovate? Outside of the organization encouraging innovation among the workers, what does it look like for an organization to lead the charge in innovation? Or is it up to the people who make up the organization to take the reigns and be the innovators?

    • Great question! Innovation is primarily done in community. So it is not for individuals as individuals to become more innovative, but for teams, communities, and groups to work together to find ways to “bring creative ideas to life.”

      At the same time, since innovation is at the heart of what we do, we as leaders and workers need to create a context that encourages and promotes innovation. The ‘organization’ is really the organism that is the network of those who are part of it and own what is the vision of that organization.

      So, it’s a both/and in my mind.

  2. If innovation requires a community to start performing differently, then the first thing that needs to innovate is the community itself. What new idea, what new method should be implemented? As Dan said, the organization itself must innovate.

    David, this blog itself represents an innovation and use of new medium, creating the context for innovation. I think you are leading the charge with a blog like TATJ. Thank you for your patience in continuing to lead this way.

    I’ll take the opportunity to step out with a new method/idea that might innovate community and stimulate further innovation – a catalyst. It’s mostly commentary on a TED talk I watched (July, 2010) entitled Crowd Accelerated Innovation delivered by Chris Anderson himself, the curator and entrepreneur behind TED conferences – “ideas worth spreading”.

    Innovations happen in groups. We are a social species; we spark off each other.

    “What Gutenberg did for writing, online video has done for face-to-face communication. The primal medium that our brain is exquisitely wired for… just went global.”

    The world is talking, thinking and moving – online. Above all, the world is watching. Cisco projects that in 2014 more than 90% of the content on the Internet will be video.

    Ten years ago, video was impossible, now humanity watches 18 million hours of YouTube alone every day.

    The good news: the world is talking face-to-face. The opportunity: the rise of online video, for us, is that it invites/allows worldwide sharing and collaboration. They can look at us; we can look at them. More than that, we can sit two feet in front of people we want to engage, inspire, mobilize and learn from 24/7, tapping hearts thousands of miles away.

    Bad news: If we just tell – blah, blah, blah – we’re a “no show”.

    Commentary: Video is high-bandwidth for a reason. It packs a huge amount of data; and our brains are uniquely designed/wired to decode it. Accordingly, video is more powerful that print in the sharing of an idea. It might be faster and more efficient to read. But there’s strong medicine in non-verbal communication. We’re hardwired to respond to it.

    Why do we have vision trips, prayer conferences and internships? Because some things can’t be put into words. Why preach the Word? Why not distribute books? Why meet together? Why not just study separately? Discipleship is a meeting of medium and message. The Internet simulates the impact of being present, face-to-face, one-on-one and can even provide the opportunity.

    The power of the interpersonal is projected with video, inviting people to mourn, laugh, wonder, learn and engage with missionaries, people groups and causes. Simply put: when they can’t go, we need to show. Taking the further step to make each communication collaborative will spark and recruit the next generation of interest and innovation. It’s not just show and tell, it invites discussion, collaboration and innovation. It’s interactive.

    According to Anderson, three things are needed for Crowd Accelerated Innovation (on the large and small scale) to take place, intra, inter or extra:

    CROWD: The online crowd is out there. (Crowd – a group of people who share a common interest; the bigger the crowd, the greater the potential for innovation.) Crowds create the ecosystem from which innovation emerges. (They include innovators, but primarily commenters, trend-spotters, cheerleaders, skeptics, mavericks, superspreaders, etc.)

    LIGHT: Clear, open visibility of what the best people in that crowd are capable of and currently doing, because that is how someone learns how they will be empowered to participate. Let there be light – commitment to radical and intentional openness – findability, visibility, transparency – is crucial. Making “what’s up” visible and shareable digitally. Open people up to what you are doing and suddenly there are hundreds of people helping to spread news/ideas/passions/initiatives, thereby making it easy to recruit the next generation of interest and innovation.

    DESIRE: The desire is there; passion moves mission. I’ve committed to one thing in 2012: to be more people-focused and keep the missionaries themselves at the forefront of my mind. They inspire me, their passion inspires me, their lives mobilize me – and I want those passions/lives to be visible to others, shareable with others, so that the people I talk to catch the heartbeat and sync up. Lighting desire in action gives the crowd opportunity to involve themselves, share, engage, innovate and get in the picture. I absolutely light up with each missionary presentation, each chance to hear their passion for the people they serve. Awesome.

    BTW, the newest development: all of this is cheap and easy to do. Check out http://www.vergenetwork.org/.

    • This comment may give rise to a series of posts as it speaks to an essential piece of innovation, namely the need to see it happen in community. We ‘spark off one another’, as you say, and that is so true. The difficulty that I hear in making the transition you describe is the juggling of the in person and the online. Many resist using the online in the ways suggested because it appears ‘impersonal’. Some of that is from little usage of the media, some of it is a right concern that we don’t lose the interpersonal. Let’s commit to helping people in this transition.

  3. Here’s a ‘glossary’ entry that will be in the Europe 3-year Project Plan (thanks Mark/Laura!)
    -Innovation/ Innovate: Using creative ideas that lead to new approaches when we see that the current approach is no longer moving us forward in multiplication. This includes not just doing new things, but ceasing to do other things that no longer contribute to the goal.

    • I like the two pronged approach of trying something new while at the same time letting something go. Just putting it that way helps to highlight how change/transition is part of the innovative process as we need to grab hold of something new, while releasing something we have always done in order to see multiplication happen even more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: