An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

I was recently watching “Eureka” on the SyFy Channel (a guilty pleasure). Due to some wormhole phenomena, a scientist from 1947 had been transported to 2010. As he looked around the town, he commented, “I am a little disappointed that there are no flying cars.” The lesson: Innovation is tough and predicting the future is a gamble.

As we think about the future and try to plan for it, the future seems to have a mind of its own and is rarely cooperative. Therefore, we end up with computers on every desk when no one ever thought that was needed, telephones that play music and videos, GPS devices in our cars that seek to rule our lives, and the Internet. These common aspects of our daily lives were not on anyone’s list of future innovations 30 years ago.

Thinking about the future is just plain hard. Being an innovative leader who tries to prepare his or her organization for the future is like banging one’s head against a wall. Economist Otto Scharmer said in an interview:

“The process of innovation … is actually a journey that asks you to cross a threshold and leave behind a world that is known, comfortable, and familiar – where you are part of a given community. In your journey of discovery, you will move into something that is less known, more unfamiliar. It is a context that only comes into being when you take a daring step, which almost feels like stepping into nothingness.”

Now who in his or her right mind would want to do this? When we think about most of our stakeholders, any change in the system creates a fear response. The attitude is often, “It’s not broken. Why change it?” In reality, “it” is probably broken. The signs of its death are already on the doorstep, and the stakeholders are trying to ignore it.

No one knows what the future holds. We cannot even be certain that it will be like the past, but every organization – including the church – needs courageous leaders who will take time to develop a spirit of openness and trust that will provide the space for stakeholders to talk, dream and innovate.

Perhaps we cannot tell the future, but we can embrace its possibilities as they emerge.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.

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