Ruts and Horizons: The Demand for Change – Gary Hamel at the Summit

Gary Hamel
Gary Hamel

How fast is your organization changing? And are they willing to change fast enough and dramatically enough to keep up with a world that is changing with exponential speed?

“Are you changing as fast as the world is changing?” – Gary Hamel

This was the essential question Gary Hamel (one of the most influential business minds of our time, according to the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine) put to the leaders at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last Thursday morning.   It’s a daunting question.  There’s a knee-jerk push-back that says something like, “God is the same now and forever and we should be too,”  but Hamel makes a strong distinction between core principles of doctrine and faith and the organizational systems and strategies employed to support those principles.  He said quite simply and emphatically that if we are not changing as rapidly as the culture around us, nimbly adapting, the church will continue to lose ground in North America, just as it has over the past several decades.

The longer you’re in the trenches the easier it is to mistake the edge of your rut for the horizon.” – Gary Hamel

Inertia is the problem, Hamel told us.  If we’re not moving forward, we’re not standing still, we’re moving backwards.   He challenged us to “change the way we change,” calling us to “cultivate a climate of unflinching truth.”   We can battle entropy by refusing to “take refuge in denial”, dismissing and rationalizing facts and the clear pictures they paint.   “Confront yourself,” he said, and question your beliefs about how things get done around your church.  “Humility is a survival strategy” is one of the best quotes of the conference.   Listen to what others are doing, respect them, and welcome needed change.

He then encouraged us to develop more strategy options, to not take the first idea that comes along, to not come to closure too soon.  Citing Dell’s “Ideastorms”, Hamel said change must be exciting, more exciting than the standing pat, and that brainstorms and ideastorms need to be encouraged as a central part of our “search strategy.”

Finally, Hamel challenged us to “deconstruct” our system “orthodoxies,” reminding us to not mistake the edge of our ruts for the horizon.  Why not put your staff reviews on-line, he wondered.  (Was that a collective gulp I heard all around?)  It’s about decentralization, mobilizing and connecting, creating a community of communities, turning tasks into causes.  He wondered why churches, when they are so spiritually powerful, have to be so “institutionally weak.”

Hamel was a powerhouse.  No wonder he’s one of the most sought after business speakers on the circuit.   The end result of that session was one of opening possibility, as well as a legitimate unease because of the seeming enormity of the challenge.  The people in the pews of American churches weren’t at the Summit, and I wondered how ready they are for the changes that are here.   But that’s the role of leadership, to paint those visions of what’s possible, and Gary Hamel certainly painted the vision for us.   No doubt each leader at the conference will take up the challenge differently, and that’s part of the point.  The great creativity of God continues to call to us, asking us a hard question:

Why do we innovate with such dynamism in order to sell a product and make a buck, but stick with status quo ways and means of reaching out with the gospel?

Hamel finished with this: if Jesus is the hope of the world, the church is Jesus’ hope to reach that world.

That means us.   The Holy Spirit for sure, but it’s our flesh and bones and hearts and minds he’s going to use.

Change-mongers, gear up…

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