Posts Tagged innovation
I have written previously on how Christians should embrace an entrepreneurial spirit in pursuing God’s will (here and here), grounding their innovations and risk-taking in a holistic Biblical worldview and executing their callings through active fellowship and spiritual discernment.
Over at Faith & Leadership, James K.A. Smith provides some related thoughts on Christian innovation, paying specific attention to the role of individual church bodies. For Smith, “good culture making” comes from a properly oriented Christian imagination, and such imaginations are most reliably fostered and achieved through “intentional, historic, liturgical forms.”
First, Smith’s survey of modern evangelicalism:
The entrepreneurial independence of evangelical spirituality leaves room for all kinds of congregational startups that require little if any institutional support. Catering to increasingly specialized “niche” audiences, these startups are not beholden to liturgical forms or institutional legacies. Indeed, many proudly announce their desire to “reinvent church.”
Clearly, the cultural labor of restoration requires imaginative innovation. Good culture making requires that we imagine the world other than as it is — which means seeing through the status-quo stories we have been told and instead envisioning kingdom come. Yes, we need new energy, new strategies, new initiatives, new organizations, even new institutions.
But if we hope to put the world to rights, we need to think differently and act differently and build institutions that foster such action.
Next, his solution:
If our cultural work is going to be restorative – if it is going to put the world to rights – then we need imaginations that have been shaped by a vision for how things ought to be. Our innovation and invention and creativity will need to be bathed in an eschatological vision of what the world is made for, what it’s called to be — what the prophets often described as shalom. Innovation for justice and shalom requires that we be regularly immersed in the story of God reconciling all things to himself.
That immersion happens most powerfully in worship — in intentional, historic, liturgical forms that “carry” the Christian story in ways that sink into our bones and become part of us. This is why the unfettered, undisciplined “reinvention” of the church actually undercuts our ability to carry out innovative, restorative culture making. The story cannot shape us, cannot become part of us, in a church that is constantly reinventing itself.
I certainly agree that “unfettered, undisciplined ‘reinvention’ of the church” diminishes our ability to “carry out innovative, restorative culturing,” but I’m curious as to how we might start (re)defining standards for Christian worship in modern evangelicalism—how we are to pick and choose “intentional, historic, liturgical forms” and how we are to gauge the success of any Read the rest of this entry »
The makers of Instagram, a popular iPhone photo-sharing app, recently sold their company to Facebook for $1 billion. The company was founded a mere 18 months ago by a pair of twentysomethings. It has only 12 employees and brings in no revenue. No big deal.
This week at Values and Capitalism, I look at the story through a broader lens, pondering the implications of such sudden, unexpected technological changes and successes, particularly on those who think prosperity comes from creating five/ten/twenty-year plans to boost Industry/Company/Product X.
Here’s an excerpt:
The problem for the predictors and planners is that despite whatever economic or moral arguments they so cunningly concoct to justify shoving widgets X, Y and Z down our throats, one big, stubborn, complicating reality persists: as innovation continues, needs and desires change.
You can shake the Almighty Government Eight Ball all day long, but even if you get it right and are able to calculate some end-game net profitability for artificially propping up Failing Company X or Greenie Wizard Lab Y, who knows if such a plan will stay workable or cost-effective by tomorrow? Obama can toot the Subsidize Wind Farms horn till the ears of his great grandchildren are bleeding with debt, but what happens when Engineer Suzie wakes up the next morning with an idea for a cheaper, greener, more effective solution? Sorry Suzie, but we’ve already rolled the dice.
Yet this, I argue, is more than just an economic argument:
If you haven’t noticed, this is a clear economic problem (e.g. ethanol), yet coming at it from that angle will be unlikely to influence many progressives, whose positions, whether they admit it or not, rest mostly on rash-and-puffy moral superiority and a quest for control (e.g. “Smart Cars contribute to the common good, not your cute little digital Polaroids”). I’ll save those arguments for another day, because within the economic argument against this contorted game of Pick Your Favorites lies a different moral message about the way we view humans and human potential.
In short: Needs and desires change because people change.
To assume that the government can successfully pick winners and losers economically—whether with products, business or entire industries—is to assume that we humans live, or want to live, in a static world filled with static individuals who conceive of themselves in static terms. We will always buy what we currently buy, know what we currently know and pursue absolutely nothing of real value unless ole Goodie Government tells us otherwise.
But that’s not the way humans are, or, at the very least, that’s not what we were intended to be.
As much as folks might want to wield our semi-free economy toward constructing temples to Gaia and propping up eat-your-veggies initiatives, the market is or should primarily be about facilitating human engagement and human interaction. Such facilitation is integral to empowering human vocation, which should primarily informed by God and any on-the-ground cultural, social and religious institutions. All those select progressive “moral” causes might be fine-and-dandy as individual vocations in individual markets on any individual day of the year, but who is to say they are better or more desirable than innovating a new way to use our smartphones? (Don’t answer that, Joe Biden.)
To read the full post, click here.
I recently posted my thoughts on Hans Rosling’s TED Talk, “The Magic of the Washing Machine,” which does a fine job of illustrating how progress can feed progress, and how human ingenuity is at the heart of it.
In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I focus on a different phenomenon: our tendency to greet such progress with opposition:
If humans are really the “ultimate resource” as Julian Simon suggested, it’s no wonder that the continuous maximization of human time and freedom will lead us toward ever-increasing output. Yet just as the fruits of industrialization and widespread innovation seem to be evidence of some kind of “magic,” various opposing forces seem intent on demonstrating their own variety of bizarre tricks. Alas, just as society seems to progress, we exhibit a strange tendency toward regress.
Yet not all opposition leads to regress. We should indeed meet each new technological innovation with plenty of skepticism and criticism. In some sense, that’s what being a conservative is all about. So how do we properly discern? How do we know what will truly lead to progress and what will actually push us backwards?
We don’t. At least not always — which is why I think the more important question has to do with who is doing the discerning rather than what we are discerning about. As Thomas Sowell says, and as I quote quite frequently, “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.”
Here’s more from the post:
We will always have error, and we will always have disagreement, particularly in the realm of progress. But when we as individuals truly screw up, the consequences come quickly. When disruption comes, we humans are pretty good at responding and adapting. Nobody likes to look stupid and nobody prefers to be on the “wrong side of progress.” In a society guided by self-interest a la Adam Smith, the invisible hand typically spanks us when we need it, and progress gets back on track accordingly.
So what happens when the central planners mess up? What happens when lofty bureaucrats and paper-pushers start making decisions about what light bulbs we use, what toilets we flush, and how much salt goes in our French fries?
An inescapable, large-scale game of Read the rest of this entry »
But although many see AT&T’s actions as “anti-competitive” in nature, I see no such thing. From where I stand, the acquisition has great potential to improve the company’s output, which could indeed benefit consumers and invigorate competition in the industry:
With a newly expanded network, AT&T could greatly improve its ability to expand service to rural areas. Due to increased economies of scale, it is likely that prices could decrease across the board. Additionally, although critics claim that the tightening of the market will have a negative impact on innovation, many believe it will raise the stakes (“mono y mono!”), leading to improvements on any number of company weak spots, from customer service to overall quality of service.
Yet whether the deal will be good or bad for (anyone’s) business is secondary; such matters remain debatable. The core issue, as I see it, rests in the mindset of those who adamantly oppose the deal on limited evidence, particularly those trying to prohibit it from happening altogether.
As I argue, the problems with such a mindset can be broken into three main areas: (1) a fear of competition itself, (2) a misunderstanding of the company-consumer relationship, and (3) a corresponding pessimism and all-around static view of human ingenuity and potential.
I expound on each, but regarding the third (and most important), here’s an excerpt:
Do we really believe that markets are that unmovable, or that we as innovators, explorers, and dreamers do not have what it takes to meet whatever challenges and needs may arise? Are we really so short-sighted that we Read the rest of this entry »
In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I take a look at Bill Easterly’s recent interview with economist Deirdre McCloskey, author of the new book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.
McCloskey seeks to topple our conventional views of what leads to economic growth, arguing that much of it comes down to maintaining proper attitudes about liberty and dignity.
Her thesis, as explained in the interview, is as follows:
Modern economic growth — that stunning increase from $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to now upwards of $130 a day in the richest countries, and anyway $30 as a worldwide average — can’t be accounted for in the usual and materialist ways. It wasn’t trade, investment, exploitation, imperialism, education, legal changes, genes, science. It was innovation, such as cheap steel and the modern university, supported by an entirely new attitude towards the middle class, emerging from Holland around 1600. (It has parallels in classical music and mathematics and politics, in all of which the Europeans burst out, 1600-1800.)
As usual, I turn McCloskey’s theory toward Christianity, and more specifically, evangelicalism, examining how evangelicals tend to view such elements (nowadays) and whether those views are attributable to some recent sociological trend or the belief system itself.
To use the evangelical sphere as an example, there seems to be an increasingly common sociological disdain for innovation and markets, which seems to imply that the “tenets” of evangelicalism conflict with Read the rest of this entry »
Leigh Buchanan recently wrote a piece for Inc. Magazine titled, “How Entrepreneurs Think,” exploring a recent study on entrepreneurial psychology by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. (HT)
Sarasvathy likes to compare expert entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs: at their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest. Corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they are going to make Swedish meatballs. They then proceed to shop, measure, mix, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.
But this doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs are wandering aimlessly through life. Their approach is simply not static. Like an Iron Chef, they are highly mobile and highly adaptable.
The distinction here, according to Buchanan, is as follows:
That is not to say entrepreneurs don’t have goals, only that those goals are broad and — like luggage — may shift during flight. Rather than meticulously segment customers according to potential return, they itch to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible, a principle Sarasvathy calls affordable loss. Repeatedly, the entrepreneurs in her study expressed impatience with anything that smacked of extensive planning, particularly traditional market research. (Inc.’s own research backs this up. One survey of Inc. 500 CEOs found that 60 percent had not written business plans before launching their companies. Just 12 percent had done market research.)
…Sarasvathy explains that entrepreneurs’ aversion to market research is symptomatic of a larger lesson they have learned: They do not believe in prediction of any kind. “If you give them data that has to do with the future, they just dismiss it,” she says. “They don’t believe the future is predictable…or they don’t want to be in a space that is very predictable.”
Jim Manzi, in his commentary on the article, points out that one must make another distinction between risk and uncertainty, with risk being somewhat quantifiable and uncertainty more Read the rest of this entry »
Economist Friedrich von Hayek once referred to competition as a “discovery procedure.” This week at Ethika Politika, I explore what that means for us as moral individuals.
Far too often we confine our thinking about competition to matters of “justice” or “fairness.” Such considerations are certainly relevant and important, but I fear that we tend to fall back on them as a way of avoiding the impending risk and vulnerability within the competitive process.
As I argue, we must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose or value of competition, which is, above all, discovery.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
Competition leads to reaction. It demands, provokes, and prods. It draws out information. When we engage in competitive activity, we are bound to uncover something new. We will not be certain of the end goal, and we will not be certain of the end result, but the information we gain throughout the process will point the way towards true value.
The good news is that although competition may lead to a frustration of our original intentions, it need not be the frustration of our entire destinies. It may tell us that our role in the larger equilibrium (Hayek prefers the term “order”) has shifted, but it is up to us to find ways to provide value in the shifting frontier. We can certainly remain idle as we watch the world transform, or we can participate and innovate, continuing to develop as individuals and as a society.
I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, which I received as part of a promotion by Matthew Lee Anderson. Although I still have a ways to go, I recently read one little piece about kingdom economics that I found particularly interesting.
While writing about the church’s “distinctive ethic” of generosity, VanDrunen says the following:
Anyone who has studied economics — the economics of the common kingdom — has learned the fundamental principle of scarcity. Though worldly wealth is not exactly a fixed quantity that creates a zero-sum game (there is much more worldly wealth now than there was a thousand years ago), there is truly only so much to go around. A certain sum of money will only satisfy a certain number of needs and desires. A piece of property cannot be enjoyed by everyone.
The explanation lies not in a complex theory worthy of a Nobel Prize economist, but in the mysterious, wonderful, economics-defying work of God. He “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). When the impoverished give generously, God makes them “enriched” in the experience (9:11). In part, this is about money, but only in part.
Then, VanDrunen offers this high-level summary of kingdom economics:
In the church there are no winners and losers, but every act of love is mutually enriching in Christ’s economics — an economics built not on the principle of scarcity but on the principle of extravagant Read the rest of this entry »
Christians love to talk about stewardship — about tending to the garden, being resourceful, and managing well. But we tend to shy away from God’s more specific call of dominion. This is understandable, because for many of us dominion implies some sort of aggressive or violent destruction.
Holcomb uses Genesis 1:26 as a starting point:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
The stereotypical “anti-greenie” view of this verse is framed aptly by Ann Coulter, who once interpreted Genesis 1:26 to mean, “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” The obvious problem with this is that there is nothing productive (or moral) about “rape.” God does not view us as mere resources to exploit, and thus, we should not falter by viewing the rest of creation that way. In this verse, God is making us unique to the rest of creation by forming us in His image. By giving us this power, God is giving us a responsibility to recognize the value in His creation and leverage it appropriately.
As Francis Schaeffer explains (quoted by Holcomb):
Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.
Holcomb goes on to say that viewing ourselves in God’s image means using Jesus as a primary example for how to dominate creation:
The lordship of Jesus should be our model for understanding how we relate to the natural order. This means that dominion should be expressed as service — sacrificial service of the others with and for whom we are responsible — rather than mastery.
I don’t disagree with this point, but I also don’t think Holcomb Read the rest of this entry »
A couple months ago I wrote a post about the recent pledge by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to give away at least half of their riches to charity. In my post, I noted the potential of such charity while emphasizing that giving away your money is not necessarily as transformative as investing it for profit.
However, if one does decide to divert their resources to charity, the main focus of the discussion becomes centered on whether those resources are being allocated efficiently and effectively. 60 Minutes recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates about the targets of their charity, and their responses indicate that their efforts are not lacking in the realm of care and consideration.
As the report indicates, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has 850 employees, all of whom are hired to determine “which science or development projects are worthy.” This reminds me of the daunting task undertaken by John D. Rockefeller.
As I’ve already mentioned, we are bound to disagree on where and how we think certain resources should be allocated because we all see value differently. For example, as a Christian, I am particularly concerned with the limits of Read the rest of this entry »