Thursday, October 31, 2013

November Newsletter

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 big?

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.

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