how does newness happen or emerge? i am fascinated by this question. one way it happens is through feeling your way. this may sound vague or airy fairy but I think it’s an essential part of innovation that is probably either invisible to many or at least hugely underrated. it’s part of a process or what some call a framework for innovation that is quite widely recognised (though not normally called feeling your way). the areas of process that tend to get more attention often come after this. the previous two blog posts focused on the kinds of people who seem to be able to see differently and make things happen and on the kind of environment that creates the air in which creativity and imagination flourish which will lead to innovation. paying attention to the framework and process out of which innovation emerges is a third way of coming at it. of course there isn’t one - there are multiple ways of naming and describing this.
the thing that got me thinking about the value of feeling your way or at least made me realise how much I do this personally was reading mike moynagh’s latest book church In life. i really like this book. in it mike uses emergence and complexity theory to explore a framework of innovation and how newness emerges in relation to new ecclesial communities. i think this is a very dynamic way of approaching contextual mission. it is able to be responsive, flexible, creative, learn from what’s happening, and adapt accordingly. but whether or not that is the focus of your innovation it is really worth paying attention to. the innovation framework he uses describes six processes of innovation, which overlap and feed into each other. They are:
- sense making
- edge of chaos
it’s great to read a book like this that names restlessness, dissatisfaction as a positive thing. lots of organisational cultures prefer to hide dissatisfaction. dave male suggests the same start point in his book how to pioneer. gerald arbuckle names it as grief but is essentially naming the same thing transformation is the result of the other five processes working together in overlapping and interpenetrating ways. dissatisfaction starts you on the journey. you explore through trial and error alongside prayerful attention. sense making turns your exploration into a story i.e. you are reflecting on what’s happening, piecing it together and making sense of it. in other words feeling your way!
crucially this involves plenty of conversation and feedback - so rather than having a solution you land and develop the important thing becomes listening and learning and adapting in the light of feedback. mike suggests it’s a move to ‘act and reflect’ rather than ‘predict and plan’. this reminded me of the iterative process outlined in the lean startup.
in innovation or pioneering in mission there is always a whole lot of uncertainty and feeling your way. In relation to leadership in the church the same point i made in the previous post is true. most preparation and formation in theological colleges is not focused on dealing with flexible, adaptable, responsive leadership - it assumes a much more fixed body of knowledge and practices that leaders will go and lead as they have been trained and all will be well. i think mike’s book is extremely helpful in offering a very different framework of innovation for leadership in mission. it imagines an environment where things are unpredictable, and unknown. i also think the edge of chaos is a fascinating insight. systems and organisations that are very fixed and stable don’t tend to cultivate creativity and innovation - they dampen it or squash it. newness is seen as a threat to order. now you don’t want total chaos but systems that are open to change and newness are nearly always less stable - inside the edge of chaos is the sweet spot. feeling uncertain, knowing things are unpredictable and not being sure what the future might look like whilst knowing the present can’t continue as it is turns out to be a good place to be, perhaps ideal even. It’s reassuring, though depending on your personality may be energising or anxiety inducing. i found it very helpful to have a process named that i feel i do instinctively.
mike has been a great reflector for the church in the uk on cultural change and mission and fresh expressions of church. this post isn’t meant to be a book review though I am writing one for anvil at some point soon which I will post a link to here when I have done it. but I do wholeheartedly recommend it. and in my view mike’s thinking and writing gets better and better.