In the post-modern world, change is normative.  To stay on top of change we need to innovate.  Four years ago David Wittenberg spoke at the Bangkok OPEN Huddle on the topic, challenging us to expand our limits and try what hasn’t been tried.  This week I a read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Scott Anthony, which reminded me of some of David’s key points.  You can read Anthony’s article at

Anthony is writing with business leaders in mind, but his words are equally applicable for mission leaders and certainly B4T leaders.  The core of the article is stated up front when Anthony quotes Karl Ronn, Companies that think they have an innovation problem don’t have an innovation problem. They have a leadership problem.

Scott makes an excellent case for this when he states, Yet, with all of the progress it still feels like a positive surprise when you see a large company confidently approach the challenges of innovation.  Having met with 2 score or more of mission leaders this past year, I feel Anthony’s pain.  For example, a leader from my own organization lists retooling our quarterly report form as one of our major innovations of the past 3 years. When are we going to learn innovation that impacts “things” is not innovation.  Innovation does not simply change the way we do things, innovation should impact us.

Anthony highlights that a root cause for missions/companies failing to innovate is that too many missions use point solutions to address systematic challenges. I fully agree.  Point solutions don’t solve system-level problems, especially as most problems in missions stem from relationship issues and not system issues.

The responsibility for the lack of innovation, poor systems, and outdated structures falls squarely at the feet of mission leaders. In this era of change, where strengths and vision are fleeting, it’s absolutely necessary to innovate or face extinction.  Anthony clarifies, Any executive that doesn’t make innovation a strategic priority, ensure there is ample investment in it, and approach the problem strategically is committing corporate malfeasance.

Discuss an out-of-the-box idea with a mission leader and one of the first questions they will ask is, Who else is doing that?  Creativity, innovation, risk, are as welcome in missions as a wart on the tip of your nose; this even though nearly all of our mission strategies were designed in and for a previous era.  Having discussed change with many mission leaders, I am convinced innovation is by accident not by design in nearly all mission organizations.  Missions continues to massage yesterday’s models, when they should be discovering tomorrow’s.  We can’t just set the context and hope that innovation happens within our organizations. To change things requires the day-by-day attention of the mission organization’s top leadership or it simply won’t stick.

It’s time for change. Forward-thinking leaders need to heed the advice of Jeff Bezos, who says that innovation requires being willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. It’s time for leadership to step up. Let’s challenge mission leaders to match innovation rhetoric with personal involvement.

PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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