Can Technical Solutions Resolve Adaptive Challenges?

As I wrote in an earlier post, some problems churches face are adaptive.  They are adaptive problems because no one yet knows the solution to the problem.

Photo by BiblioArchives (Creative Commons)Photo by BiblioArchives (Creative Commons)

Technical Challenges

Technical challenges, on the other hand, are problems for which one already knows the solution.  Heifetz and Linsky, in Leadership on the Line, say that such challenges “are technical in the sense that we know already how to respond to them.”

For instance, what if a church is running out of parking space?  Is that a technical or adaptive challenge?  Well, it’s technical because this kind of problem is not new and solutions to this problem have been found in the past.  The solution might be to rent space from an adjoining business that goes unused on the weekends.

This is a technical solution to a technical challenge because it is a solution that has been shown to work for this kind of problem in the past.  It doesn’t require a church to make major adjustments in its ministry or philosophy.  It’s a technical challenge because the appropriate response is already known.

But here’s where the problem comes up...


Applying Technical Solutions to Adaptive Challenges

Sometimes churches apply technical solutions to adaptive challenges.  A technical solution, however, is not a useful response to an adaptive challenge; it’s only fitting for a technical challenge. 

For example, a church might look at its declining attendance and ask, “What can we do to attract more people to our church?”  They might decide that an upgraded organ will attract new people.  But, guess what?  This is a technical solution to an adaptive challenge.  On the other hand, they might decide that replacing traditional worship with contemporary worship will attract new members, so it hires a new worship leader and starts a guitar-driven worship band.  Again, this is a technical solution to an adaptive challenge because it fails to address the deeper issue of why people are actually failing to connect with the congregation.

More and more, churches and their leaders need to discover that the challenges they face in this time of discontinuous change are not technical challenges, but adaptive challenges.  They need to recognize that in order to address these challenges, they’re going to have to be open to learning things they’ve never learned before, truly listen to their unchurched neighbors, and experiment with new kinds of ministry.

Has your church or organization ever tried to address an adaptive challenge with a technical solution?  How well did it work?  Did you eventually discover an adaptive solution to the adaptive challenge?

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