Innovation as Offensive Failure

Last weekend at Cultivate I sat on a panel about Innovation. So naturally I let my mind wander for a little while on what innovation is and more importantly am I innovative? I could have easily sat on the panel and just given examples of a few creative ideas I have had in my lifetime. I could show them a few calendars that I’ve designed for our themes, maybe a short film, tell them about our great Easter service where we had a crown of thorns dripping blood from the ceiling. I could have told them all the clever analogies I’ve come up with to teach about Jesus or the events that I’ve run. It just didn’t feel right. For some reason, sitting on the panel last Saturday I could help but thinking that maybe these ideas weren’t as much innovation as it was creativity. Creativity is defined as using your imagination rather than copying something else. I think this is what a lot of us church folk search after and try to do. We want to be creative. We want to have the next big idea that someone will give us a book deal for. We want to tell a story that no one has ever told before or to stand out from the crowd because of something unique we said or did.

I am not opposed to creativity, I think its important and should be upheld. I just don’t think it really replaces innovation. Innovation is defined as a new device or process resulting from study and experimentation. Innovation is something that gives us a new way of doing what we are called to be. The guy I was sitting with on the panel, I think his name was Robyn, said that if churches just focused on calling people to look more like Jesus then that would be all the innovation we would need. I think he is on to something. Innovation should call people out of their regular routines and into a new way of living out their lives in Christ.

If this is true, then that means that innovation won’t necessarily get the kind of attention that creativity gets. Creativity appeals to the masses. When you look at it you say “why didn’t I think of that.” You think of ways to copy it and it makes you feel good inside because there is something new out there. When you look at something creative you know its a good idea and you admire it.

Innovation then calls people to live differently in the world that they live in. When you look at innovation, your heart feels a bit tingly because their is something about it that you love, but your brain tells you to run in the other direction. Innovation does not sit silently giving you feel good images that make you go home justified. Innovation says here is the problem and here is what we need to do to fix it. It offends us because it tells us that the current way of doing things isn’t working and we need change. Creativity makes things more beautiful and helps share the message in different ways. Innovation calls the the entire life into question and offers a new direction. Innovation doesn’t care if someone steals your idea because it isn’t ever about the idea but about something different. Innovation thrives to share where creativity seems to just be about what it is creating and thus tempts us to be proud and hold onto each creation as if its ours.

This is why innovative people fail constantly. Innovation does not make us feel good unless we are ready and we are barely ever ready. Innovators are the ones who get put in jail or assassinated. Innovators fail every day. I would so much rather see a creative endeavor about something I believe in than for what I believe in to be questioned and then given a new option to live. Creativity is easy for the watcher to see, innovation isn’t.

I had an idea a few years ago that I called ATIC (All Things in Common). I was trying to come up with ways that people could start living lives that broke down barriers of the false idea of personal stuff. On theStory website, you can click on ATIC and see an area where people can list things that they own that they are willing to share. This I hoped would start people sharing their stuff instead of buying their own and get people thinking a little more like a community. Over a year later, I’m still the only person who has posted anything on the site. Just two weeks ago I got my first phone call from someone that wanted to borrow a mattress. No one cares about it. It’s a bad idea.

However, every month when I design a poster for the monthly theme, I get lots of people admiring the work and telling me how much they liked it. If I speak well on a Sunday morning, people connect and they tell me how well done it was. If I tell people what we did for Christmas at theStory, people eat it up, they love it.

I still think that ATIC is one of my best ideas yet. Sure no one is using it, but I think it’s one of my only ideas that actually calls myself and others out to a new way of living more like the kingdom demands. I think we need more people and churches that are willing to be offensive with their ideas and willing to fail. I’m starting to think that true innovation will probably fail and offend a lot of people. Just look at Jesus. He offended everyone and by a kingdom’s standards he failed miserably. Some scholars hold that Jesus did less miracles as time went on because he started to realize that miracles were too easy, just giving people what they wanted to confirm their current beliefs. So slowly he started pushing away from big crowds, doing less miracles, telling weirder stories and calling people out to leave everything that they were comfortable with and follow him. Then he died, failing miserably at establishing the kingdom that everyone expected.

True innovation will come through calling out people to live more in line with the kingdom. True innovation could lead to death but it will certainly lead to spending of yourself uncomfortably. True innovation will offend those that aren’t ready. True innovation is creativity with a kingdom focus. True innovation will fail in one kingdom and succeed in another, not succeed in both.

One Comment

  • If I tell you that was a thought-provoking post, am I fueling the “creative” rather than “innovative”? Nevertheless it made me think this afternoon, thanks for that.

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