Thursday, March 02, 2017

Thinking about Change

No matter what your profession, family situation, or station in life, change happens.  As it does, we have the choice about how we will engage change.  In recent weeks, I have been engaged with colleagues considering how to use human-centered design (or design thinking) to address some of the opportunities that change creates.

Bill Burnett, a professor at Stanford University, suggests that we face change with three types of thinking:
  • In engineering thinking, we seek to solve our way forward.  Trained professionals come up with a way to deal with a problem.
  • In scientific thinking, we analyze our way forward.  We develop hypotheses, design experiments, gather data, analyze the data, and arrive at conclusions.
  • In design thinking, we build your way forward.  We start from the ground up with those who stakeholders and engage in an iterative process of inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

These ways of thinking are not foreign to those of us who work with churches.  We have tried the first two in the past (and in some cases, continue to do so) and many are now considering how to use the third.

Churches in the 1950’s and 1960’s readily embraced the engineering approach.  Denominations and para-church groups came up with programs for dissemination to the grass-roots level--churches and ministries targeted to specific age groups such as college students, the military, youth and children.  The engineering idea emphasized the “one size fits all” and mass production approach using programs developed by professionals.  The assumption was that the product would have broad acceptance and work everywhere.

In the 1980’s and 1990s, the more analytical approach emerged with the work of Christian Schwarz (Natural Church Development) and George Barna.  Using evaluative instruments and demographic data, church leaders could identify trends and areas for improvement and come up with ways to leverage that knowledge for church growth and Christian formation.

Churches, denominations, and faith-based ministries now have access to lessons learned by social entrepreneurs who use the human-centered design process.  In this approach, the designers adopt the perspective of learners, entering into dialogue with the end-users and partnering to come up with prototypes that address the users’ needs.  The lessons learned from designing hygienic toilets for densely populated urban areas and creative ways to provide healthy diets for the elderly can inform how we address human need from a Christian perspective.

What kind of thinking do you use to address the challenges you face?

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