What’s at the heart of innovation? (Daniel Manastireanu)

Daniel Manastireanu asks what is at the heart of innovation.

When we first decide to venture out in creating new expressions of church, the first question we usually ask is 'how?' But before we can ask the 'how to' question, I believe we need to ask the 'where from' question. What do we bring to the task of innovation? Where are we coming from or, more specifically, what are the underlying values that we are taking for granted? The underlying values are tied to our personal histories, to how we were brought up, how we were educated and nurtured, our previous and current experiences of church, and so on.

We can't even begin to look at innovation before we do this preparatory personal work, because otherwise we might end up doing much of the same kind of things, only with some minor variations. It's new, but not really. Instead of making new wineskins, we end up patching up old ones. That is because innovation and creativity takes vulnerability. When we create something new, we open ourselves up to the possibility of criticism and rejection.

I love innovation, and for a long time I could not understand why others did not share my enthusiasm. Then I came across Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk on the crisis in education, where he explores the three major underlying values of most educational systems in the world – conformity, compliance and standardisation – values which were instilled during the Victorian industrial revolution. He shows how these values are mechanistic and unnatural, and proposes a paradigm shift from conformity to diversity, from compliance to curiosity, from standardisation to creativity. Imagine that framework in terms of new expressions of church.

If my underlying value is conformity, then I will react to anything new and different, because it does not fit with that value. For instance, suppose the team is looking at a new way of doing prayers. Someone proposes that we don't have a person 'saying' a prayer out loud; instead we could have it projected on a screen, or written on large sheets of paper with people adding their own prayers. I automatically react against the idea, but I cannot articulate why I'm resisting. Even when the new idea sounds like it could work, I sense a blockage in me that prevents me from even considering it. Why? Because it goes against my 'conformity' value which I take for granted. Robinson calls this 'the tyranny of common sense'.

In order to deal with my internal resistance, I have to become aware of it first. I have to be able to identify what it is, name it, and then own it without judgement of myself or others. Becoming aware of where I am coming from opens me up for new possibilities by creating a space in which I can move beyond it. This work needs to be done both individually, and in a team context, where common underlying values are identified, examined, and negotiated, preferably at the starting point, but also whenever resistance to innovation becomes apparent.