Innovative Leadership

by Jeff Goins

Creativity and relevance are essential to keeping an organization alive and flourishing. We must have a pulse on our culture and a willingness to explore options that will constantly improve our effectiveness. Leaders are risk-takers, and do so for good reason. We must innovate or die.

If you’re leading an organization, business, or ministry during these unusual and trying times, you really have one of two choices: innovate or die.

I don’t mean to sound grim or apocalyptic, but that’s just the reality of life. The world is always changing, and we can resist that change or find a way to redeem it, to make it work for us, instead of against us. The good news is that if you choose the latter, technology is on your side (as confusing as it may seem, at first). Chesterton wrote: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” We need to do both… and neither. We need to allow mistakes to happen, but we also need to correct them. We need to discover better ways of embodying our visions so that the same mistakes don’t keep happening. But we need to fail, because failure is an opportunity to learn.

In the world today, there are so many reactionary voices that it’s almost shameful. Someone is usually reacting to something that a pundit somewhere said in reaction to something dumb that a famous person said (who was probably commenting on something somebody else did). What saddens me is that we don’t just see this in pop culture or the media, but we also see it in churches and nonprofits. Maybe it’s just human nature, but we need to resist this temptation to react to everything around us. It isn’t constructive. As my friend Mark once told me, “Choose a hill to conquer; people will follow you.”

If you care about relevance to the current times, about making a difference in the world, about having a purpose in what you do, you need to look at your options:

1) Resist change through stubbornness and tradition. As my pastor says, there is nothing wrong with traditions, just traditionalism. Religious people are often observing traditions, which is a wonderful practice, but when one forsakes his greater mission for the sake of a rule, norm, or tradition, he murders the reason he began the endeavor in the first place. “We’ve just always done it this way” are fatal words to any organization that needs to grow.

2) Redeem change through innovation. What this means primarily is that you call into question the “We’ve just always done it this way” people and their motivations. It means that you challenge the status quo, not to be reactionary or contentious, but to find a better way. Your goal is pursuing the mission, not preserving sacred cows or appeasing bureaucrats.

So, we really have no choice, it seems, not if we want to grow, to see our world improve. This is an important lesson for all leaders and one that I’m currently learning myself: we must innovate our current ways of doing things, or see the mission we love die.

What would you do? What does healthy change for your organization, church, etc. look like?

For more in innovation, watch this video on CNBC: Innovate or Die: The Business of Innovation

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