Apr 18, 2012
I’ve been considering quite a bit about what I’m calling “life innovation.” Let me explain this concept as I am seeing it.
A business theorist by the name of Clayton Christensen wrote a quiet little book a number of years ago about innovation and invention called The Inventor’s Dilemma. In it, he argues that there are two kinds of innovation—what he terms sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. The first, sustaining innovation, is any invention or creation that ultimately improves an already existent line of products or creations but doesn’t make them obsolete or useless. A sterling example of this would be an iPhone. Christensen would tell us that an iPhone is a sustaining innovation because it doesn’t put all phone businesses out of business. It doesn’t end phone business. An iPhone improves phones thus perpetuating the phone business.
On the other hand, Christensen says there’s another kind of innovation; what he calls a disruptive innovation. This is an invention that makes something else obsolete. This kind of invention puts other inventions out of business. We could turn, for instance, to the story of a guy named Craig who casually codes a website (“Craig’s List”) that almost single-handedly destroys both the newspaper and real estate businesses by cutting off ad revenue and removing the middle man in the home sales market. Inventions like this are very disruptive.
Ultimately, Christiansen argues, sustaining innovations improve what we already have while disruptive innovations make our current way of life almost completely obsolete.
Jesus was a disruptive savior. His ultimate goal didn’t appear to center on improvement of our current lives. Rather, Jesus appears to deem our deathly lives entirely obsolete by beckoning us into entirely new lives existence of a life guided by the Spirit of God. Conversion to the story of Jesus isn’t one of an improved life; it is one of an endlessly unimprovable life that now lies in a funeral home. In baptism, new life springs up from the casket. Perhaps I’m taking it too far (and cliché) here, but conversion is like switching from a PC to Mac—floppy disks are now useless. I could continue.
I’ve oft heard it said: Jesus didn’t come into the world to make wrong people right. Jesus came to make dead people alive.
Conversion is disruptive making certain ways of living completely obsolete.
The change that this disruption brings is what I call “life innovation.” Others call it change. Some call it spiritual growth. The Bible calls it repentance. Insert whatever other word here you want. But you get it.
Life innovation is whatever happens when we are actually transformed through the grace of Christ. The question stirs for me today: what does the disruptive savior have to say to a therapeutic culture like ours? Is it possible for us to see Jesus as much larger than our over-simplification of envisioning him as improving our lives? Even more so, how do we make sense of people who can’t change or never improve? What would a life-long alcoholic have in the Kingdom of God if it was all about improvement? How can we actually see life innovation and be committed to the grace of Jesus?
I’ve two suggestions:
1) Life innovation can only arise out of grace—The real character innovation that I’ve undergone has arisen from profound environments of grace; places where people who love me as I am, communities who make space for me and my frailties, teachers who let me learn even where I am ignorant. Environments where I must change in order to be welcomed have never done the trick. What I’d call legalism can and will never change us because it doesn’t change hearts; just actions. It is behavior modification, not heart innovation. It’s been said that action innovation without heart innovation is pure hubris likely never getting us to where Jesus wants us to be.
2) Innovation for innovation sake can be idolatrous—Brennan Manning speaks to this in his book Lion and Lambs. He suggests that the “spiritual growth” movement, with all its benefits, can lead to a spiritual form of stoicism where spiritual growth is worshipped above all else. I couldn’t agree more with Manning. However, we mustn’t forget the New Testaments theology of being God’s “holy people.” I think here of Ephesians 5 where Paul reminds the churches what it means to be holy. Furthermore his endless reminders that we are the “holy people” of God. However, holiness isn’t something that is attained by work. Rather, holiness is ascribed and our lives an overflow of that reality. We mustn’t think change is change for its own sake. There is a larger goal at hand.
My question for you: how and why (if ever) have you ever seen “life innovation” in your neck of the woods? Where has it taken place and why?
 Clayton M. Christensen, The Inventor’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business.