Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Why Making New Maps is Hard

This is an extract from Alan Roxburgh's book Missional Map-Making. I'm quoting it in full because I think it expresses well what it says and doesn't need me to rewrite or precis it. That makes it quite a long post, but worth reading I believe.

Why Making New Maps is Hard

Have you ever made a resolution to lose weight? Have you stood on the treadmill determined to work hard to change your eating habits only to discover, weeks later, how hard it is to change habits? If journeying in a new space were as easy as knowing that things have changed and that we have to act differently, change would be easy. But change is not easy–not for you personally, not for your local church, and not for a denominational system. Most of us are wired to resist change–just ask the Israelites as they headed out into the desert. Our inborn resistance to change partly explains why we see intelligent, skilled people reading information about a changed world and still living as if nothing had really changed. The North American auto companies aren't unique in this. When we marvel at how a company as big and filled with bright people as General Motors could be pushed to bankruptcy because of its inability to respond differently in the face of a new reality, we scratch our heads in disbelief. In actuality, GM behaved the same way most of us behave most of the time. When confronted with new information, when convinced that the world has changed and we are in new space (take, for example, the information and data we have about the environment and the melting ice caps), we agree that there is a need to change, but we keep acting in ways that got us to where we are. Why? Because habits, skills, and experiences have served us well in the past (or at least haven't seemed to hurt us), we're comfortable with them, and we want to hang onto them because we really don't want to go through the pain of learning how to behave differently, That is why good, well-meaning  leaders can provide endless information on how the world has changed and still come up with programs and answers that are just more of the same.

We learn to function at high levels of performance using our preexisting maps; we know the rules and have become good at being successful within those rules. Our ingrained habits give us not just success but identity because they have provided us with a place in an organization or community. Continuing to do what has worked for us in the past is what makes for stability, and as humans, we value stability. But when the world has really shifted, doing the same old things won't preserve the steady, predictable environment we are used to. As the Procter & Gamble executive said to me, we keep coming up to the plate and swinging but nothing alters the fact that we keep declining. An executive I met recently expressed it well. About three years ago, he was brought into a denominational system that was in serious decline and embroiled in conflict, with the mandate to turn around the decline and overcome the conflict that had caused previous executives to resign in frustration. Everyone in the denomination agreed that something had to change or there would be no future for the churches of that denomination in that city. Three years in, the executive is bruised and beaten by all the resistance to almost everything he has proposed.

It is one thing to agree that some kind of change is needed in churches and denominations, but if we don't see the complex forces that have propelled us into a new place of uncertainty, we will try to navigate our way forward on the basis of existing maps. Without understanding these forces of change, it will be difficult to see why we need new maps for navigating in this new place.

Missional Map-Making, Alan Roxburgh, p88-89

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