Last year I wrote about the massive leadership opportunity for the church resulting from many cultural changes headed our way.
One of these major developments is the growth in personal productivity, a development that in my work I see rising as the “third wave” of productivity.
This third wave is presenting the church with another massive leadership opportunity.
Personal productivity is a huge industry. Books, software tools, seminars, and other resources abound. It’s appealing to think we could accomplish more if we could just get “the right thing” working for us.
We’re also fearful we’ll compare poorly to others if we aren’t busy all the time. Deep down we know we’re special and made for great things, but the hours and the days keep slipping away from us.
We’re living at the front edge of this third wave of productivity. Christian leaders are beginning to recognize that what’s old in our history is new again. We can and should be leaders and guides for others as this wave approaches.
Previous Waves of Productivity
Industrial productivity and doing more with machines were the focuses of the first wave.
- Human behavior had to be adjusted to accommodate how machines operated.
- Human craftsmanship, where one person completed the work from start to finish, was largely abandoned because we could efficiently deconstruct many roles into multiple jobs, utilize machinery for speed and uniformity, and maximize profits through scale.
- Frederick Winslow Taylor became iconic for his scientific management efficiency studies in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
We rode this wave for decades.
Many people pointed out the negative consequences of these practices, but economies grew rapidly and people enjoyed higher standards of living.
Personal productivity was the focus of the second wave.
- The goal was to help individuals deal with a barrage of information and maximize what tasks could be accomplished in a few hours.
- Task batching and intelligent use of external memory (to-do lists, software reminder systems, procedure documents, etc.) have been key.
- David Allen’s Getting Things Done was required reading. Pomodoro techniques were required practice.
Personal productivity evolved as manufacturing became a global enterprise and the Internet connected people and systems.
Again, many people pointed out the negative consequences of these practices, but people were enabled to effectively transition to an information overload world and an “always -on” digital environment.
Where have these two waves left us?
- Almost all the business problems of design, mass customization manufacturing, supply chain logistics, and marketing have been solved.
- We’re awash in a rising tide of data and information.
- Investors are weary of financial trickery in lieu of actual innovation.
- The exponential pace of computers, sensors, and robotics will automate more of the jobs that in the past only people could carry out.
- We rightly worry about cyber-terrorism and super-intelligent computer systems.
Where do we go from here?
The Third Wave of Productivity and the Opportunity It Presents the Church
The third wave of productivity is about focus and uniquely human contributions coming to the center.
Consider how deeply the following books, all written from a secular perspective but each touching deeply spiritual issues, have resonated with readers in the past five years:
- Linchpin (Seth Godin, 2011): Get past your lizard-brain fears to work on what’s truly unique and powerful that only you can accomplish.
- Essentialism (Greg McKeown, 2014): Stop trying to do everything well, and focus your energy and time on the absolute core things. Ignore the siren call of “more.”
- Deep Work (Cal Newport, 2016): Structure your life around intensive time-blocks where you solve difficult problems and create new contributions. The people who thrive in the fast-evolving future are the people trained to master new skills quickly and use the unique power of their minds and craft.
Ironically, in a world of super-abundance some things become more precious:
- Hand-crafted art, furniture, and textiles
- Time spent unplugged and disconnected from work
- Contemplation, mediation, and prayer
- Deep relationships
- Silence and solitude
- Purpose-driven focus
This is where what’s old in Christian thought is new again. Our heritage is once again a strength.
Reflecting on the wisdom from the desert fathers, Richard Foster writes,
In contemporary society, our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness,” he will rest satisfied… Hurry is not of the Devil, it is the Devil.
Since ancient times people have sought out the desert fathers and holy ministers when they faced hard problems. These men had wisdom and insight. They could see the heart of issues because they had detachment. They could hear the truth because they kept the nonsense noise of life at a distance.
They were aligned with God, yet humble in heart. People struggling in our messy, complicated world today are desperately crying out for this same kind of wisdom and insight.
Biblical Models for Riding the Third Wave
Jesus is our model of the rhythm of being with people and then retreating for solitude and prayer.
Mark 1:29-39 gives one example:
And immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The Apostles provide another illustration of focused attention on the most valuable work for their calling. They delegated the critically important work of serving the needs of others – no less honorable or valuable – to appointed deacons best capable of that work.
What about Your Leadership?
Where do you need to focus? What must be released?
How can you structure your life to create a rhythm with blocks of time on the most critical work you can do?
How will you resist the temptations of muchness, manyness, and noise?
How will you train yourself to do hard, creative, constructive work instead of passing the hours, days, weeks, months, even years with shallow activities no one will remember in ten, fifty, or a hundred years?
Who goes with you on this journey?
There is no precise formula, but there are well-known practices.
Seek direction from the Holy Spirit. Be confident that he will lead you to better lead others.
Think on these things.
Model these behaviors for others.
We need you!