Pushing Buses

written by Kat Bair
8 · 23 · 23

My dad worked in manufacturing sales and once was asked to come bid on a system to help transport Bluebird buses from one side of a factory to another. He got there to see the system they had in place, only to find factory workers pushing the buses across a concrete slab hundreds of times a day. 

He was baffled and asked why they were doing it that way, and the manager explained that the area where they installed the first part of the engines wasn’t near the area where they installed the next part so they needed a system to move the buses. (authors note: I don’t remember the exact parts and I won’t pretend to know anything about how buses are made). He asked how big the second engine part was. Surprised, they explained it was about the size of a loaf of bread. He gave them a lower quote than they were expecting – because it was for a conveyor belt system that moved the second part to where the buses already were. 

We all know that one of the most consistent barriers in the work of ministry innovation is a compulsion towards “we’ve always done it this way.” We’ve talked in the blog frequently about how to help leaders break out of rote thought and behavior patterns, and create space for innovation, but my dad’s story has me wondering if sometimes, even when we seek to innovate, to try to do it better, we still trip ourselves up by limiting our imaginations. 

Bluebird was willing to innovate, in the sense that they wanted a new system to do what they had always done more efficiently. But they didn’t need to do it more efficiently. They just needed to stop doing it. Sometimes we need to tweak the programs we have, find marginal improvements in experience, workflow, etc to make the work we do easier, and more effective. And sometimes, we get so caught up in the productivity mindset that we miss that we are just making the same wrong decisions faster and with more enthusiasm. 

So how do we tell the difference? How do we know when we need to tweak and when we need to change direction entirely? 

Here’s a few things to consider:

  • Missional alignment: Is this activity, and the way you are doing it, core to your mission as an organization? 
  • History: How did this practice come about? Is it based on assumptions or realities that are no longer true?
  • Predicted future: Is this an issue that will resolve itself or get simpler? Or are the tweaks putting patches on a system that you’re going to have to replace eventually anyway?
  • Ability to prototype: Could you roll out a small scale version of a new idea in order to test feasibility and build buy-in before launching a big change?
  • Outsiders perspective: Have a hypothetical or real outsider experience your organization – does this make sense? If you had no context or background information, would this be the path you would choose again?

If you find yourself realizing you need to stop tweaking and make a major change, or even if you’re not sure, contact our team and we can help provide the perspective of an outsider who has worked with hundreds of organizations in the same boat. We can provide evaluations and audits to examine where you are, and help you build a plan to get where you want to go from there. So reach out to us today for a complimentary consultation call, and we’d love to learn how we can work together!

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Kat Bair

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