How many failures do you have in your back pocket? Do you have enough? Are you willing to grab for them?
Last month, as a part of the program at the Banff Men's
Conference, a group of us heard from the Right Rev. Dr. Gary
Paterson, moderator of the United Church of Canada. As a part of his
speech (sermon?) Gary reminded us that for every project that makes
it big there are 9 or 10 that were abysmal failures. And then for
each of those that even get to the point of being produced there are
9 or 10 that never made it off the drawing board. So in the end
approximately1 out of 100 ideas makes it big.
The challenge of course is not only to deal with the (quite
likely) chance that your idea will not work. The big challenge is to
know how to learn from the failures. The challenge is to not get
disheartened by the lack of success, but to be bold enough to fail
again. He even suggested that if you don't have a long enough list
of failures (and learnings from them) that means you are playing it
TOO safe, that you are not risking enough newness. After all
remember that a truly new product is not just putting a clock into
something that already exists, newness is more than just tweaking the
existing (despite what some advertisers might try to tell us).
Why did Gary share that bit of trivia with us? He was talking
about the future of the church, how the United Church might move into
that future. Why talk about the ratio of product ideas that make it
Maybe because we expect everything to succeed? Maybe because we
are afraid to fail?
Twice in the last month I have heard the phrase “safe fails, not
failsafe” (granted both people I heard it from attended the same
event this summer so they may have had the same source). In most of
our lives we spend a lot of time trying to make things failsafe. But
how can we create an environment in which people feel safe to fail?
How do we give room for experiments that may or may not work, or may
take several tries to be a “success”?
Last year when Gary spoke to us he read the story of ScaredySquirrel, a squirrel who is afraid to leave his tree until one day
circumstances force him to and he leaps out to find that he is in
fact a flying squirrel. This year he told the story of workers on a
oil platform that caught fire. They know that the chances of
surviving the ocean (which is cold, which has oil floating on it that
could also catch fire, which may have sharks in the area) are low.
On the other hand, the chances of surviving while on a burning oil
platform are pretty much zero. So at least one worker decides that
low is better than zero and jumps.
Why would he tell us those stories?
Maybe because we need the courage to jump. Even if it seems like
going from frying pan into fire, maybe we need to jump and trust.
So, the courage to fail, the courage to jump, the willingness to
risk. Is that the way into the future?
I think so. The way into the future is going to involve more than
playing with and adjusting the way we currently do church. The way
into the future will mean trying new things. The way into the future
will mean taking risks, trying new things, embracing the possibility
of failure, jumping out of our safe trees without our emergency pack.
Can we do that?
What new thing do you want us to try? What risky jump do you want
us to make? Are we ready to jump into the future?
And remember that the God in whom we live and move and have our
being, the God in who we trust, the God we gather together to worship
every Sunday is the God who proclaims in Scripture “Behold, I make
a new thing, I make all things new”. May the God of the new thing
give us the courage to take risks.