Part of the time I was off the grid the first week of August was while I attended the Leadership Summit of the Willow Creek Association. This was a gathering of Christian church leaders, but ideas are where you look. One of the speakers was noted author (Leading the Revolution, The Future of Management), Gary Hamel. The point of Gary Hamel’s presentation at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit was overcoming organizational entropy. Entropy, you may recall from your high school physics (or maybe not), is the Second Law of Thermodynamics and may be stated “in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards the dissipation of useful energy.” Hamel borrows another analogy from physics saying, “The problem is inertia.” In a turbulent world, is your organization non-responding by doing the same old stuff and losing its energy?
Organizational entropy happens when visions become policies, which become procedures, which become rules, which become habits. He asks an interesting question–why is it in our organizations we must obtain change and new energy through “decapitation”–that is, cutting off the head (person)? It’s similar to the only way change comes in a political dictatorship.
Analysis is of no use with a prescription. Hamel challenges us to become “enemies of entropy.” He gives us ideas.
You can become an enemy of entropy in these ways:
1. Overcome temptation to take refuge in denial. You see this when people dismiss, rationalize, mitigate current reality. Face the facts. Treat every belief about how to “do” the church as a hypothesis–that is an explanation of reality to be tested to assure that it’s still valid. Humility is a survival strategy, so listen to others. Especially listen to renegades and dissidents. They often see new ways, and if they aren’t successful in trying new things in their organizations, they go off and start new, competing, organizations.
2. Generate more strategic options. Make change more exciting than standing pat. Innovation always follows power law, that is the sum of the “little” ideas turns out to be as great if not greater than the “big hits” at the beginning. People are so anxious to find the one big idea that we don’t generate enough ideas to find the one that works.
3. Deconstruct what you already believe about how you do church. Ask what hasn’t changed in the last 4-5 years. Compare yourself to others in community. What are we all doing? Identify that and look at how to do it differently.
4. This is not feasible in top-down, autocratic structures. Is there a small group at the top who has a monopoly on ideas? The mental model of a leadership team is dangerous to those people. That’s why it’s so hard for ideas to come from the bottom. That’s why the dissidents leave and start their own, often competing, organizations. An alternative model, for example, is the WL Gore Co., inventor of GoreTex fabric. The creed is “I want people who innovate all the time and fight bureaucracy none of the time.”
Leaders today need to mobilize, connect and support people in the organization. Look for types of people who dynamic, malleable and experimental.