Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Book 15 of 2016 -- Getting To Maybe

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed
Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Quinn Patton (Canada: Vintage Canada) 258 Pages

Change, they say, is the only constant in life. But managing (and possibly even directing) change is a really challenging piece of work.

The first thing I really liked about this book is that it is so honest. It is honest that social change/innovation is about complex systems. Not simple. Not just complicated. But complex, intertwined, always changing. This is a piece that we often miss in trying to start or direct change. We treat the system as if it is much more straight-line than human interactions ever are.

Another thing that makes this book so approachable is that it uses lots and lots of stories. Stories make it so much more real.

The title is an interesting choice for a book about change. In our results-driven, success-oriented culture maybe, at first glance, seems to be a mid-point at best. Shouldn't this be about getting to success? Or getting to completion? Or getting to yes? But the authors are clear that in a complex system where uncertainty is a given that maybe is the actual goal. Success is not a given ever, and in fact that methodology outlined in the book points out that learning from things that do not go according to plan is part of how social innovation works.

One of the things that struck me while reading this book was that we spend a lot of time in the United Church talking about the need to be innovative, to try new ways of being the church. And I agree. But more than once as I was reading this very well-laid out description of how social innovation works my thought was (and we in the church do just the opposite”. As an example, the authors talk a lot about the best way to approach evaluation in social innovation – not results oriented, not about meeting indicators, not goal oriented, more about what is learned in each step of trial But in the church, as in so much of the rest of society, we are results and goal oriented, we want to see obvious and measurable results (preferably immediately). Unfortunately, the authors suggest, (and I agree) focusing on those sorts of things too soon is a great way to kill actual innovation, which is about risk-taking. Or on the other side, there are those in the church who are great at hope and vision but not so great at actually looking at the world around the realistically – another way to kill effective social innovation the authors point out. I think the church could learn from these people.

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