Everywhere we look in our techno-digital age, we see a powerful wave of innovation, driven by understanding the needs and desires of others and how they can be served, oftentimes for profit. But is innovation reserved for global enterprise, science and mad geniuses, or is it within reach of individuals? Can we advance our mission through innovation as we empathise with the needs, challenges and hopes of people?
Innovation at its core contains undefined changes, all kinds of risk, opposition, blind alleys and spectacular failure, which may lead us to believe we are incapable of innovation. However, suppressing innovation is the greatest risk of all, guaranteeing our irrelevance within the next decade. Eric Hoffer mused, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
Innovation is a thinking and inquisitive mentality, not a knowing one. Constantly asking why (or why not) about anything — nothing is exempt — nourishes creativity and reveals more perspectives. “How do you know this?” questions the unquestionable around us, challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. This mindset encourages us to explore different approaches, uncover hidden insights and break free from conventional thinking. By challenging assumptions and seeking evidence, we can uncover new possibilities and drive innovation forward. Remember: It’s only impossible until somebody does it!
Innovation is a skill to be honed through practice. By adopting a learning mindset, we encourage ourselves to learn from our experiences and strive for growth. Making mistakes is a natural part of the process, and it’s essential to embrace them as learning opportunities. The key is not to repeat the same mistakes but, rather, to apply the lessons learned.
Let’s innovate together
On a personal level, there are many ways to apply innovation to our own lives; our habits, goals and disciplines can always improve. Win little victories every day, and we will be emboldened to storm bigger hills. Don’t hold out for 100% innovation; even success in little things is worthwhile, and simplicity should triumph over complexity. What can you do today better than you did yesterday?
Leaders must create an environment where team members feel valued and heard, where their ideas are welcomed but are also genuinely considered. Listening to our people validates their contributions and empowers them to bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table.
The hard work of innovation isn’t the discovery and development of solutions; it is having the courage to implement them. I've encountered many challenges during my OM ministry. For example, as we began to implement our strategic initiatives, we faced resistance from some fields and encountered obstacles that forced us to reassess our approach. But if we’re committed to innovation, we need the courage to implement solutions and bring about real change, to step outside of our comfort zones, navigate uncertainties and overcome resistance.
Innovation has a contagious nature that can inspire and spread throughout an organisation or community. We must take proactive steps to harness and amplify its effects. Here are some next steps:
Foster a culture of innovation that rewards innovative thinking. Promote open communication, collaboration and experimentation. Celebrate innovative ideas and successes, creating a culture where everyone feels empowered to contribute.
Lead by example: Actively engage in innovative practices yourself. Encourage and support your team members in exploring new ideas, taking calculated risks and learning from failures.
Encourage cross-functional collaboration among diverse teams and departments. Encourage individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and areas of expertise to collaborate. This can foster fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to seeing vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached.
Ensure that individuals have the resources, tools and training to promote innovation. Create platforms for sharing knowledge, ideas and best practices. Offer mentorship programmes and workshops to inspire and guide individuals in their innovative endeavours.
I encourage every OMer to actively seek and support the innovative ideas of others. Embrace a mindset of curiosity and openness. Encourage others to share innovative thoughts and solutions. Embracing innovation as a collective effort will enable us to better tackle challenges, seize opportunities and drive positive change.
Take more risks. Try things that might not work. Seize God-initiated opportunities like those that got us here — no place too hard, no people too far, no idea too crazy, no dream too big.
Lawrence Tong, from Singapore, is OM’s international director, cultivating the vision and providing guidance to the Global Leadership Team. He studied communications and has a master’s degree in business administration. He loves seeing individuals living abundantly for God. He started serving with OM in 1978 when he joined Doulos and met his wife, Susan. He spent five years each on OM’s ships, Logos, Logos II and Doulos: worked in the ship’s head office in Mosbach and served as the director for OM in China and Taiwan. His excitement to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers within walking distance of everyone on Earth is what propels him into motion daily.