Whether we want to admit it or not, our actions and decisions each day are as programmed as if we were computers. The word “routine” applies not just to humans but to computers as well. In computer programming, “routine” and “subroutine” are terms that describe any sequence of code that is intended to be called up and used repeatedly during the execution of a program. They are shortcuts to speed things up.
We function smoothly most days because we have developed certain habits related to hygiene, eating, dress, relationship, and exercise that are second nature. In the same way, we use paradigms to process what we experience even if those paradigms are fictional. For example, we talk about the sun rising in morning and setting at night when we are the ones moving. We have adopted patterns for processing information that usually give us reliable results and makes sense of our environment.
As with most things, a strength carried to an extreme becomes a weakness. Our preferred habits, paradigms, and pattern recognition routines may keep us from seeing something new.
I have been involved in recent days with some colleagues in a class on human-centered design (or design thinking) as a way to address challenges in a creative way. One of the beginning points of this process is “embracing your beginner’s mind.” Another way to say this is “have an open mind.” In human-centered design, we are asked to empathize with the end-user of the process, product, or service we are designing so that we can see things through their eyes. We are to bring “fresh eyes” to the challenge. This is not always easy. This means that we must unlearn some things that may get in the way in order to learn something new.
Liz Wiseman addressed this idea in her book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. She wrote, “When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.” Being a rookie can be a good thing.
I once heard a student of church history say something like this: “Don’t tell me that Baptists don’t do so and so. Baptists have done a lot of things that we don’t do today.” This is true of the church as a whole. The mission of the church has survived and prospered in a climate of adaptation and change. The message remains consistent but the delivery system changes. In other words, we unlearn some things in order to learn others.
What do you need to unlearn today? What does your church need to unlearn? What is getting in the way of a new insight or plan? What is hindering the work of the Spirit?