Leaders Need to Work Out of Both Sides of Their Brains

After my design thinking diatribe in yesterday’s post, maybe it’s time for a little balance in the ever-present battle between the linear, analytical left brain and the chaotic, creative right brain. There is an unavoidable but healthy tension between creating the new and preserving the best of the present; between innovating new ideas and maintaining healthy existing ones. As a leader, you need to learn how to manage that tension, not adopt a wholly new set of techniques and abandon all of the old. It’s not that many analytic approaches are bad – it’s just that in many organizations, it’s all they’ve got.

The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)future we’re living in will require multiple tools in the leader’s tool kit – a design suite especially tailored to starting up and growing new ventures in an uncertain world, and an analytic one suited to running established organizations in a more stable environment.

What leaders need is not a right brain transplant that throws the old left brain tool kit away – they need to be taught some new approaches to add to the tool kit they’ve already got. Business as usual can help leaders do things designers have trouble with. Design needs business thinking for good reasons:

Novelty doesn’t necessarily create value

The flip side of the defense of the status quo because of its familiarity is the pursuit of novelty only because it’s new. How many times have you seen (or have been guilty yourself) ChurchWorld leaders who have attended the latest conference and returned to their church to try the latest and greatest geewhizjimmyhawthingy guaranteed to (fill in the blank) your church?

Even value creation is not enough

Churches, in order to survive, must care about more than just creating value for the existing organization. It is an important, but insufficient, first step. To survive long-term, churches need to be able to execute and capture part of the value they create in a duplicatable process that accomplishes their mission and reproduces their “product” – disciples. While doing creating and innovating, they must in Jim Collins’ words “remain true to the core.” This requires solid businesslike thinking: can we translate a new and innovative idea from small experiment to a significant part of the organization’s being without messing up the recipe?

How many more stylish worship environments or new group ideas do any of us need?

Cool stuff is great, but design has the potential to offer so much more. Design has the power to change the world – not just make it pretty or more functional. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do it. The discipline of design should address our most challenging problems, not just pretend to make us better or fulfill our dreams.

Part of an ongoing adaptation of Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie to fit ChurchWorld realities


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