In a changing world, innovation (reexamining our practices for a changing environment) is a necessity for a healthy organization. When we live with what was rather than adapting to what is, we quickly lose our edge and ability to respond in an environment that has changed. Many organizations and ministries are in that very spot because of the changes brought by Covid 19.
This stagnation affects even very smart people because we tend to think as we always have. Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst puts it this way: "Rather than thinking about which candidate represents their values, voters tend to pick whoever represents the party they voted for in the past. Rather than starting fresh and thinking about which projects deserve attention, companies take last year's budget and use that as a starting point. Rather than rebalancing financial portfolios, investors tend to look at how they've been investing and stay the course. Inertia explains why families go back to the same vacation spot every year and why organizations are wary of starting new initiatives but loath to kill off old ones." (The Catalyst, page 5).
Inertia is a comfortable place to be because we know it well. Innovation means that we need to think differently and look for new solutions and ways of doing things. It is an uncomfortable but necessary place to explore and live.
Covid has forced organizations to think differently. REI is selling its massive corporate campus in Seattle because they now realize that they can do without it. Instead, many will work from home or from small hubs. I suspect there will soon be a great deal of empty office space in our cities. The need to use tools like zoom has taught us that there is not always a need to travel in person to meet others. Parents are having to become teachers like in days past as schools open part time if at all.
Organizations that will flourish in the future will have leaders who question everything: Their current practices, assumptions, financial models, and priorities in order to meet needs of constituents in a changing environment. It is the choice between innovation and inertia.
Good leaders ask good questions:
- Why do we do it that way?
- Is there a different and better way?
- What should we stop doing?
- What should we start doing?
- How do the changes around us impact our priorities?
- Does our budget reflect our true priorities?
- If we were organizing today, how would we do it?
- Do we need to organize as if we were starting over?
- How are others addressing problems we address?
- Can we do more with less staff?
- Are we clear today on what our mission is?
- What staff have lost their edge and are living in inertia?
- What programs need to be killed?
- Do I have the time to reflect on my organization rather than just doing what we have always done?