Being Conventional (or why I can’t take Boise St football seriously)

Posted: September 28, 2010 in church, leadership, productivity

Success is rooted in the conventional. There I said it! I know, I know, there’s a lot in this day and age about creativity and innovation and that’s all well and good. But if you’re not careful you can become so consumed with innovation that you forget about convention and the myriad ways it serves your organization. When you fail to be somewhat conventional, you’re compromising your success, and I’ll tell you why.

But first, a caveat: I LOVE innovation, creativity and moving organizations and churches forward in ways we hadn’t imagined before. In fact, the majority of the world’s accomplishments have been made through innovation and many of today’s more pressing societal concerns will be solved through creativity and innovation, but there is a place for convention.There is a wonderful place for innovation and I love it, but there’s a necessary place for convention as well. And it’s a necessary place for success — especially for leaders.

Why do I think this? Boise State football.

For years now, Boise St. has been ascending in the college football rankings, but still, many people like me can’t take them seriously. The reason? They dismiss convention by playing on a blue field. And when your organization completely dismisses convention you put your success at risk. Here’s why?

1. People like tradition. No matter what anyone says, people like tradition. This is not traditionalism. But tradition gives us a lens with which to interpret their lives. When you or your organization steps too far outside of convention too fast it’s disorienting and folks are likely to reject it out-of-hand. For instance, no matter how well Boise St plays football, TV networks will continue to be somewhat reluctant to broadcast Boise St. home games because of the blue field. What has been a disadvantage to visiting teams – the blue field – is also off-putting to home viewers.

2. Convention Tends Toward the Easier. That’s why it became convention. Conventional things are easy to understand and handle. When watching Boise St, for instance, it’s hard to see the football in flight. It cuts against the way we’ve learned to visually interpret the game. Regardless of whether we should or not, people gravitate to what’s easy. We’re busy, we’re stressed, we don’t need anything to be any harder than it needs to be. Think about that as you’re programming for your business or church; preachers think about that as you write your classes and sermons.

3. Convention Defines the Parameters. A common myth is that convention and structure curtail creativity yet nothing, in fact, is farther from the truth. Conventional approaches have emerged from tactics tried and failed. Certainly, still, some conventions need to go away, but when we know the parameters, leaders and creatives need not lose time pursuing innovations that don’t or won’t serve the mission. When you turn on a Boise St football game, it doesn’t even look like football. It takes 6-seconds to notice what you’re noticing. The football guild throughout the ages has defined the field as green with white lines, when you do your own thing you risk the audience thinking your product is something other than it is.

Your organization needs to carefully discern when, where and how to implement innovation and how to care for and appreciate tradition and convention. If you don’t, what you thought was a “game-changer” can quickly become a “game-disorienter.” And no one enjoys looking at a blue field!

  1. Wade says:

    Yes! This is something we’re learning as we launch a new community of faith in Austin area. there is a place for innovation, but you can easily end up so far out of the mainstream that you can’t gain the traction you need to see your innovations impact more than a few.

    Good post.

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