News From The Innovative Edge

This is the first in a series of weekly videos with Tom Sine and Jon Plummer exploring “news from the innovative edge”. Be sure to catch Jon’s blog after the video!

Inside Out

— Jon Plummer —

Kelsey and I (Jon) have decided, in an attempt to add writing to our rhythm of life, to start a blog together. We will both be writing and reflecting on our own daily experiences, and hopefully our shared experiences as well. Our hope is to bring our inside worlds and lives out to share with others and to begin a practice to build something together. Hopefully we can keep it up and that there will be both light-hearted and meaningful thoughts to share.

Hence, the first blog:

Since January I have had to privilege to be the research and communication assistant intern at Mustard Seed Associates (msainfo.us) here in Seattle. I am grateful to work with Tom Sine, helping him on a new book project. As well I have been taking a class at The Seattle School on social entrepreneurship. These two worlds have led me to explore social innovation. Recently, I read an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled “Social Innovation from the Inside Out”.

In this article authors Warren Nilsson and Tana Paddock speak to the fact that scholars “have very little practical knowledge about what makes an organization good at social innovation.” In the midst of this minimal knowledge exists many social-purpose organizations trying to address daunting challenges. They argue that “the key to changing the world may have less to do with understanding far-flung stakeholders than with understanding the person who sits at the desk right next to us.” They are referring to the practice of “inscaping,” defined as “the practice of surfacing the inner experiences of organizational members during the normal course of everyday work.” This includes sharing experiences, emotions, ideas, intuitions, aspirations, fears, values, and memories.

To expand the authors explain two kinds of inscaping: work and life. Work inscaping involves experiences of day-to-day work, while life inscaping involves sharing experiences in life outside work. Nilsson and Paddock share that three kinds of organizations often are produced. First are catalytic organizations, which work inscape well, yet does not life inscape well. Second are communal organizations, which life inscape well, but do not work inscape as well. Within these two organizations either life outside work is ignored or dynamics in the workspace are avoided. Instead, the organization that combines both work and life is one of transformation. The authors write that the transformative organization is “not merely an instrument for effecting social change; it’s a living expressing of the change that it’s members seek. Consequently, it has remarkable ability to spark institutional renewal: The submerged assumptions and beliefs that shape the taken-for-granted world rise to the surface, and they become more tangible and more malleable.”

My reason for explaining all of that is to wonder what the church would look like if it became a transformative organization. The authors write that social-purpose organizations easily get stuck in the communal dynamic and ignore honest relationships within. I would dare argue that the church easily and often gets stuck here.

This is my attempt to translate: The church’s “organization” is the community that it is made up of: the parish, the neighborhood, the people. The authors write that “practical creativity requires a relational and intellectual openness that is difficult for communal organizations to sustain.” In order to be creatively innovative the church must root itself in relationships with its parish, the community that surrounds it and makes it up. It is about inviting those intimately “inside” the community to offer their experiences, making them the primary stakeholders. Within the transformative organizational model the good life “isn’t only about what you have or what you need, it’s also about what you can give— what you can contribute to your family, your friends, and your community.”

Nilsson and Paddock argue that “empathy fostered by inscaping also leads to a heightened sense of mutual responsibility among co-workers.” For the church, this is among co-creators, co-imaginers, co-innovators, co-inhabitors. When this happens “people pay greater attention to the impact that their work has on others and put more energy into supporting each other’s success.” In others words, a mutual responsibility to take care of, to love, to support, to work for justice on behalf of each other. This will transform the world.

One organization that seems to have the transformative model translated well into the church body in very practical creative ways is the Parish Collective. Check them out at parishcollective.org. Also check out the conference they host with The Seattle School: inhabitconference.com.

(If my translation isn’t clear, I encourage you to read the article. Maybe you have more words that will offer more clarity, thought, and translation. Thanks!)


Jon and his wife, Kelsey, blog over at Live.Simply Love.Deeply