Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to blogging: Ecclesiastical Antibodies

After essentially taking the summer off from blogging, I'm back with fingers to keyboard. As Summer turns to Fall, I've been thinking a lot about change. At St. Edward's, where I continue to serve as Priest-in-Charge, we've absorbed more than our fair share of changes in my almost two years here. What is interesting is looking at corporations who also are confronted with such changes.

In an article today by Philip Elmer-Dewitt, he talks about a recent podcast by Horace Dediu. In the article, Elmer-Dewitt quotes Dediu as saying the following:
There's a phrase I like to use: "the corporate antibodies." These are things inside the company, as an organism, if you will. These are entities -- be they people or budgets or processes or rules in binders. These are things that are designed to eat up innovation. To eat up changes to the core business. Not because they are stupid. But they see this newcomer, this entrant, as a pathogen. As something that's damaging the organism. So they act, sometimes even collude, to destroy it.
Dediu goes on to draw a contrast between computer giant Hewlett-Packard (which recently gave up on its tablet computer and signaled that it is getting out of the PC market as well) and Apple (maker of the most popular tablet computer). Dediu's point, reiterated by Elmer-Dewitt, is that for innovation to take hold in an organization, the people promoting it have to be protected from the "corporate antibodies" that are out to destroy them, preferably protected by the CEO him/herself. Jobs tried to do that with the Macintosh, and was forced out of Apple by the "Apple II" forces. As fascinating as this is, one quote of Dediu at the end of the article really caught my eye:
[A certain innovation needed] this kind of champion at the very highest levels, someone who could endure the gestation for a long period of time. And that type of person is so rare as a CEO. Which is part of the mystique and magic of Steve Jobs. He's the only one that we know of  really that is able to do these types of schizophrenic things -- like maintain a sustaining business and its disruption within the same organization.
"Maintain a sustaining business and its disruption within the same organization." When I read that, it suddenly struck me: "That's what we are trying to do in the church!" We're trying to respond to the needs of a post-Christian world with new and innovative things that, more often than not, get "killed off" by "ecclesiastical antibodies" trying to preserve our "sustaining business." Developing something new alongside that, often referred to as "parallel development" is, in reality, trying to "maintain a sustaining business and its disruption within the same organization." That's really hard to do! The fact that one of the most compelling images of the church is the Body of Christ makes this metaphor even more apropos!

What this says to me in my ministry is that if I want to be a church leader that fosters and nurtures innovation, I have to be willing to protect it from ecclesiastical antibodies. I also have to be willing and strong enough to at least make the attempt to maintain what is and what may be its polar opposite in the same organization, the church. I think I'll sit with that for a while. This is even more timely on the recent news that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple.