In my kitchen drawer I have an excellent and quite expensive corkscrew. It is a very good corkscrew very well designed and it works well, but it stays in my drawer, covered with other more useful kitchen utensils, and gathering a layer of dust. Now that 95% of wine produced in New Zealand is sealed with a screwcap it doesn’t matter how good a corkscrew it is, it is no longer a useful tool.
As I reflect on my time in the mission sector and as I explore disruptive innovation, the question that keeps rising to the surface is are mission agencies a corkscrew in a world that is using screwcaps?
are mission agencies a corkscrew in a world that is using screwcaps?
It doesn’t matter how well managed and governed mission agencies are, if they are not looking ahead and reading and understanding changes in society and the church, then they are still making very good corkscrews for people who have no use for them. This makes traditional mission agencies ripe for disruption. Most NZ mission agencies were established to support a particular model of mission that began early last century; it was also based in a particular model of the church as a strong and established part of society. Mission agencies care deeply about mission and they have obviously changed with the times in how they do mission. However some of the ways that mission agencies are structured and the systems and processes involved haven’t changed for a long time. The result of this is that it is difficult for them to move with the speed and flexibility that the current pace of change requires.
As I explore disruptive innovation I think that it can offer a few insights that can help the mission sector prepare for the future. I can see that traditional mission agencies have many of the characteristics of the established companies described in Christensen’s book (The Innovators Dilemma). In Christensen’s theory established companies invest most of their energy and attention into listening to and meeting the needs of their existing customers. I see this in mission agencies, as there is an increasing pressure to pour (increasingly limited) resource into membercare and other supportive functions. The existing workers and donors put pressure on agencies to spend more resource on care while not placing the same value on putting resource into finding and understanding new markets. The supportive and donor base of most agencies are locked into past models of what mission looked like and it can be difficult to educate them about the need for change. There is also a pressure from the boards of mission agencies as resources become scarcer they are less willing to experiment and to weather the failures that experimentation involves.
In disruptive innovation it is the new companies that have the freedom and flexibility to imagine and create, they are not bogged down in existing structures and procedures that are designed to support existing customers. They have the courage to experiment and are willing to risk the failure that is always a possibility in experimentation. Disruptive theory tells us that disruptive companies have quite different values and quite different structures to the established companies.
The time is ripe for new entrants into the mission sector, there is a large section of a globally connected generation that are not engaged or educated about mission. New entrants would be free to experiment with new structures, new systems of funding, and specifically new ways of talking about mission that expresses faith differently and inspires the coming generations. This goes much further than simply making mission relevant to a new generation, as it would need to change the whole system and structure of the agencies.
It is easy for established companies to deny that disruption is occurring; they can still focus on the 5% of people who refuse to embrace screwcaps. But it is time, I sense we are on the cusp of a great disruption that will require substantial change at all levels of what mission agencies do. They need to realise that the task of the day is no longer to design and make better corkscrews but to experiment with ways that they can activate people to open their wine in a world of screwcaps.
I am keen to hear where you see disruption brewing? What are the exciting new things that are happening?