That’s Not Innovation

Recently, while working with a team that struggled to reignite youth outreaches, I found my old book that’s full of fun concepts for student missions. On a dog-eared page I came across the idea to host a Super Bowl party at a homeless shelter. Immediately, I reminisced back 10 years when we successfully hosted this event and I assumed that the new group of students would be very excited about this “innovative” outreach. With little time to spare, I asked a few leaders to check with local homeless shelters. After receiving several “no’s” and a few “maybe next times”, we soon realized that the party was not going to happen, at least not this year.

Later, while listening to students share their ideas for helping homeless persons, I realized that in my efforts to get things done, I had forgotten that many of them, like myself, would not watch the Super Bowl this year because of social justice issues pertaining to the NFL.

I also forgot what made the original outreach so radical was that it was a student that found the idea in my book 10 years ago. It was this student that dog-eared the page, and it was he, along with several others that planned and garnered support for the outreach, without much help from adults.

Therefore, it was the process that was innovative, not necessarily the event itself.

As leaders, there are times when we attempt to energize and rejuvenate our organizations by doing something different and out of the norm, which can be very daunting as we simultaneously work to maintain stability and strength.

Perhaps this is why many of us end up rummaging through yesteryear to salvage old ideas, programs, and practices that work better in our memory than they ever did in reality. In these instances, we forget the reasons why they were left in the past.

Moreover, as we are gazing behind us we fail to look around us and notice how we are frustrating those working alongside us, whose ideas are actually innovative but require us to take risks and release some of our control. It is both lamentable and wasteful to miss out on the advancements of today because we are stubbornly preoccupied with developments of yesterday.

I am an earnest proponent of looking to our past for inspiration. However, recycling old ideas (with new groups of people) isn’t innovation. It’s regurgitation.

I am specifically referring to the form of regurgitation in which blood flows backward in the opposite direction of its normal course, indicating a heart problem. Similarly, the flow of ideas backward through a façade of progression is also a heart issue… indicating fear, obstinance, and obliviousness.

As I reflect over the past few weeks, I am so glad that the Super Bowl Party outreach failed. It was a great reminder for me to step aside and allow for new ideas and new innovators to have their chance at success… and failure.


Questions for Reflection:

  • How often do I look to the past for great/new ideas?
  • Am I holding onto a practice, program or idea that needs to be re-imagined or laid to rest?
  • Am I ignoring or rejecting innovative ideas that will require me to take uncomfortable risks OR to step aside and allow other’s recommendations/suggestions into the forefront?

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