By Todd Adkins
Let’s talk about breaking path dependence. How many times have we heard phrases like: That’s the way we’ve always done it or We’ve never done it that way before. Sometimes it’s even branded path dependence: You just don’t understand, that’s the CBC way. Now, it’s OK if we are talking about a core value being something, but it’s not OK if it’s a way of doing something. We can get locked into doing things a certain way without even thinking about why. That’s why we tend to approach problems in the same way, we resort to asking the same questions, looking at the same data, making decisions based on the same old criteria, involving the same people in decision-making processes, and we look past potential new solutions and end up making similar decisions to what we did last time. This does make sense, somewhat, because these patterns are well worn for a reason. They’ve been useful in the past, but this blocks us from creativity. Crisis forces us to challenge our assumptions and, hopefully, path dependence. Even the language we use can lock us in to structures and path dependence. Are you watching the news right now? Do you see that the U.S. government still reports employment in terms of non-farm payroll? You think that would have been updated by now. Let’s take a look at path dependence.
There are really three types of path dependence where we get locked in. The first is cognitive and that is something that is more personal. It’s our mindset and how we look at things. Next would be cultural, and that is a collective way of looking at something and that often limits our mindset and mindframe as well. Finally, procedural. That limits our system. It’s process limiting in its scope. Breaking path dependence first requires us to find a deeper awareness of where we are personally or organizationally and how we are locked in. So, the first step in identifying these well-worn paths is to walk through the framework I have here. Then we will take three to five minutes to audit these limiting factors at the conclusion of this session and take time to walk through each one again as a group.
What happens in a church is somebody comes up with a reasonably good idea. They put it into practice and someone says, “This is good. This is a good practice for this particular ministry area.” Then somebody says, “I wonder if this would be good in this other ministry area as well.” And it is, so it becomes a proven practice and sooner or later we get locked into different policies and processes and systems and it becomes part of those as well and it becomes a church-preferred practice. If you are going to do this, you need to do that or that approach. This is when we get completely locked in.
If we want to examine ourselves well, I have six different ways we can do that. First, we want to name our biases. We all are biased. We have a bias about our own ministry. We certainly have biases about other people’s ministries. But, we have to name what those biases are.
Next, we will list our assumptions. This is what we assume about this ministry practice or this ministry as a whole. We need to understand that our assumptions are based on what we assume everyone else will think.
Then we want to audit our policies and procedures. If you haven’t noticed here, these are some of the foundational things you would say make up culture. Really what we are doing is helping to audit our culture a little bit as well, because the policies and processes that you put in place create and embed culture and continue to lock into doing things in certain ways. It’s a shared behavioral issue, a shared worn path that we might all have.
Next, we want to list our habitual solutions. These aren’t necessarily bad, because these solutions have solved other problems for us in the past, so it makes sense that we would go to these. But, we want to list what those things are so that we are at least aware. They may work in this situation, they may not.
Next, we want to name common advisors. Common advisors might be people in formal authority or informal authority. But these are the people that leaders in the organization will go to for advice. These could be inside the organization, or even, perhaps, outside the organization. We want to figure out who those people are, and who we all commonly go to because we would like to include a couple more perspectives to that list. Not saying to get rid of all of these people, instead saying to add a couple more perspectives to that.
Finally, we want to audit our KPIs and measures. A KPI is a Key Performance Indicator, which is a fancy way of saying measures. What we measured before we need to reexamine and ask why it’s important to measure it and what is important now? There’s a difference between audience, attendance, and view count. It’s important to decide what is important to us at this time to measure and are we measuring the right things. We do want to measure because we want to benchmark where we are to see if we are growing and moving forward. Just take a step back and ask yourself if you are measuring the right things or are you just measuring things you could get excited about, like view count on your live stream.
Now that you have done this, as an individual, I want you to consider what are the three biggest limitations you think your church has when it comes to being locked in. Is it biases, assumptions, policies and processes? Which two or three are your biggest issues? Now I want you to get together collectively and decide what are your three biggest issues and perhaps how you might respond to those limitations.
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