All leaders have ideas, but not all ideas lead to change. What separates the dream from reality?
Businessweek recently reported on the history of the bar code. It sounds mundane, but there is something to learn about change implementation from the story.
In 1948, two graduate students at the Drexel Institute of Technology overheard a supermarket executive discussing a key problem: the need for an automatic system to read each product item. Working together, the two students helped change the way retailers do business. Before the bar code, supermarket clerks had to punch numbers into a keypad. It was slow. The process was prone to keystroke errors. After the bar code, everything is scanned swiftly and with minimal errors (and thank goodness for the self check-out sections — impossible without the bar code).
We experience the change to the bar code system almost every day. It’s ubiquitous.
But how did the idea transition to reality? What can churches learn from this process?
Simple with obvious benefits.
Ideas that transition into changes are typically simple and have obvious benefits. How many times have I said, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The best ideas are simple. The best ideas have obvious benefits. The bar code was simple — just a bunch of lines inspired by the dots and dashes of Morse code. And yet the benefits were profound.
Are the ideas you’re floating your church leaders simple? Are the benefits obvious? Not every idea needs to be simple. Indeed, many changes in the church are complex, involving a cultural shift among the people. But the ones most quickly adopted are simple with obvious benefits.
The great Wally World of Bentonville gave the bar code a boost. As Walmart grew (along with other large grocery chains), so did the use of the rather efficient bar code, which became a critical part of retail distribution systems.
Critical mass was achieved, however, with the adoption of a standard system. The scanners were expensive to retailers. Manufacturers had to change systems to put the labels on all the products. Without a standard, each retailer would have its own system and each manufacturer its own label. When the National Association of Food Chains chose the UPC bar code as the standard, enough companies jumped on board to make it a reality.
If you’re mulling through an idea that will be a different reality for different groups in the church, then you’re less likely to see the idea transition into change. If the change effort is not standard for the entire church, then people are likely to be confused.
For instance, having two discipleship processes for two groups is likely to produce misunderstandings and misperceptions. To give another example, if you’re leading a multi-site church with individual systems for each site, then you’re less likely to institute changes across all sites. The more a leader can make a new idea relevant to the entire church, the likelier it is that idea will transition into change.