October 16, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

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Innovation is vital for a future oriented and visionary organization.  Innovation in the church is crucial for the vitality of our present and future ministry.  The Church is also charged with not innovating, at least when it comes to the vital doctrines and unchanging ethics of the Christian faith.  So how do we “think outside the box” in an organization like the Church?  Here are a few suggestions.

Define the Box.  People often try to think innovatively without understanding the current reality of the situation or problem they are facing. Current leadership dogma states that leaders “define reality,” unafraid of “naming what is so.”  I agree.  Without defining the box, the conventional approach to solving a specific problem as well as the brutal facts that caused the problem, the leader doesn’t have a clue about how she can think outside the box.  Rather than brainstorming solutions as a first step, innovating leaders brainstorm, list, document and describe the current reality in excruciating detail.  This helps to identify and eliminate solutions that actually contribute to the problem as you stretch your mind “outside the box.”

Drop the Magic Wand.  One of the biggest enemies of innovative thinking is magical thinking. “If we just do this one thing then all of our problems will solve themselves” is the mantra of the magical thinker. As a Christian I believe in the miraculous but I am also trained to avoid the magical.  Problems don’t just solve themselves.  One example from real life is often repeated in the budgets of start-up ministries, churches, businesses and ventures.  It is the notion that as soon as grant funding runs out on a project, people will just “step up” and take care of the projected financial shortfall.  This kind of magical thinking is not a reliance on the miraculous provision of God, nor is it out of the the box thinking. Rather, it is naive and immature.  Jesus warned against it when he encouraged us to “count the cost,” unlike the proverbial tower builder or king in battle (See Luke 14:28-33). Innovation is hard work and careful collaboration, not magic.

Poke Air Holes in the Box. When thinking outside of the box it is often unwise and unproductive to pretend that the box doesn’t exist. It is equally unproductive to blow up the box.  The box is there for a reason.  It holds things up, keeps things in, and preserves and protects.  We need the box.  Much of “out of the box” thinking is simply poking air holes in the box so that fresh air and fresh ideas can flow into the already existing system.  Real innovation finds common ground, while at the same time challenging cherished assumptions or treasured traditions.

Whack Yourself in the Head.  In his book A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von Oech writes: “The hallmark of creative people is their mental flexibility. They are able to shift in and out of different types of thinking depending on the needs of the situation at hand. Sometimes, they’re open and probing, at others, they’re playful and off-the-wall. At still others, they’re critical and fault-finding. And finally, they’re doggedly persistent in striving to reach their goals.” Sometimes we need a different process, a different setting, a new experience, a thought experiment, a game, a retreat, a time of solitude, a season of prayer and contemplation, a provocative question, to serve as a whack on the side of our head that will get the creative, imaginative, and visionary juices flowing.  Try a new place, a new food, a new pathway, a new freeway on the way to work, a new book, a long nap, a walk in the woods, a new notebook, anything that will get your thinking to be flexible, fun and ultimately “out of the box.”

What ways have you found to “think outside the box?”  Please share them in the comments so that we can all play!


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