Sunday, February 12, 2012

Yesterday’s Solutions

Management guru W. Edwards Deming is reported to have said, “Yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.”  Solutions or responses to needs are formulated for a particular time, place, and context.  Often they deal with the immediate problem but their shelf life is usually limited.   Markets, constituencies, and technologies change.  What seemed so good ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago is no longer practical and might even be counter productive.

I was talking recently with a friend who was asking me questions about a solution that I helped develop for an organization over 15 years ago.  When we put this particular “solution” into place, the intention was to answer a need in a particular place.  As I remember the approach was seen as an experiment that could be tweaked and modified over time but we were not ready to “bet the farm” that it would even work in that situation much less be applicable elsewhere.

As you might expect, this experiment has become policy.  The idea in itself is not bad, but whether it fits all situations is questionable.  There is also the possibility that this approach is being used simply as an escape clause without attempting something new and creative.  Leadership does not like a particular situation so, rather than seeking a new solution, they just use the one that is available whether it fits or not.

We see this quite often in church life.  Sunday school at 10 a.m. and morning worship at 11 a.m. seemed like a good idea when people had cows to milk, but do we really need this schedule now?  I have heard from churches that have altered their schedules—going earlier or later, offering multiple services, etc.—who still have visitors who show up at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings looking for the “real” worship service.  Printed “quarterlies” (curriculum pieces) that were published very three months or four months seemed to be a good idea, but we now have digital delivery methods, printing on demand, and other methods to get these things into people’s hands at little or no cost.  Those called to ministry used to pack up their spouses and belongings, leave their church homes, and relocate to another state to attend seminary for three years, then try to assimilate back into culture from which they came.  Seminaries are finding ways to offer graduate theological education in a “teaching church” and online contexts that makes this dislocation unnecessary

I could go on at length about this but my question is, “Are we ready to get rid of yesterday’s solutions and adopt approaches that meet current needs?”  As I have moved from place to place in ministry, I have sometimes had contact with places where I served ten, twenty, even thirty years ago that were still using programs that were started when I was there.  Am I proud of this?  No.  Few programs, processes, or solutions are meant to live forever.  Let’s come up with some new solutions that those in the future will have the opportunity to reject!

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