An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

There is a natural resistance or pushback when I talk with church people about innovation.

I try to point out that the reason that the Christian movement has not only survived but also prospered over the years is the willingness of believers to learn, grow and innovate.

Sometimes, our sources for innovation are found not in the church but in our culture.

In her new book, “The New Science of Radical Innovation,” Sunnie Giles identifies principles that Silicon Valley companies (such as Google) and artificial intelligence software programs use to succeed or win.

Here is each of the principles she identified at Google:

1. Employ self-organizing agents.

The goal is to “hire the best people and get out of their way.” At Google, managers are urged to delegate as much as possible to the point of feeling some level of discomfort.

The company even encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will benefit Google in the future.

2. Use simple rules.

Google uses loose guidelines for their self-organizing employees. What is our ethical guide? “Don’t be evil.” How do we allocate resources? Spend 70 percent on existing projects, 20 percent on emerging projects, and 10 percent on “moonshot” projects. Keep it simple.

3. Allow for lots of trial and error.

As Giles writes, “Success comes from learning, and learning requires failures, which means success requires failures.” We only learn by taking risks.

4. Seek diversity of input.

Google is sensitive to the fact that “homogeneity in an organization breeds failure.” The more points of view and experience we can focus on a project, the more potential it has to be successful.

5. Seek general intelligence over narrow intelligence.

Specialists tend to be experts in what is already known. Generalists are in touch with present and emerging resources and their implications for the future.

So how does this apply to the church or a nonprofit organization?

1. Try to hire people who are passionate first and skilled second.

A person can learn skills, but you can’t instill passion. Seek out those who are enthusiastic about the mission, have a basic understanding of the job that needs to be done and want to do their best in the setting.

2. Empower staff members by freeing them from too many policies, procedures and meetings.

When you need rules, make them as simple as possible. When you have meetings, make sure there is a clear purpose.

3. Give staff and laity the opportunity to pursue “holy experiments.”

The Spirit is constantly opening doors for those who are perceptive. We don’t always know what is on the other side, but we will never know if we do not walk through.

4. When assembling a team or a staff, seek as much diversity as possible.

This is true in things like worship leadership as well. Those who are on the platform on Sunday morning or who lead meetings reflect who is invested in the church or organization. If there are no women, no ethnic persons, no age diversity, it says a lot.

5. Allow room for growth.

There is much that needs to be done right now, but what are we doing to prepare for the future? Are we so focused on the here and now that we are not ready for the things that God has in store for us?

Encourage both paid staff and volunteers to be lifelong learners, investing at least a portion of their time thinking “outside the box.”

Missional churches and organizations are called not only to be faithful to their heritage but also to be willing to try something new that will further the Kingdom of God.

Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is a supplementary professor in contextualization at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Barnabas File, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.

Share This