Discussion Points


Adaptive Strategies

on November 21, 2011 , Print- 1 Comments

In his influential book Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz draws the helpful distinction between technical and adaptive problems that we drew on in the previous section. Technical problems are well-defined and frequently have well-understood solutions. Crucially, for leaders to effectively address technical problems does not require that they themselves change in any fundamental way. Solving the simplest technical problems does not require anyone to change at all, merely adopt easily understood and proven techniques. Some medicine, for example, has become largely technical, as when a well-understood bacterial infection can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Technical problems are the domain of training (and, in a way, indoctrination as well).

Adaptive problems, on the other hand, are rarely well-defined. Even simply understanding the problem may demand significant growth from a community’s members and leaders. (In our children’s and grandchildren’s time, bacterial infections may well move from the technical to the adaptive column, as the quick and easy solutions of one generation bequeath complex challenges to the next in the form of multiple-drug-resistant bacteria.) Responding effectively to adaptive problems always requires growth—as when a patient given a diagnosis of heart disease must make major lifestyle changes, or when a diagnosis of terminal illness challenges not just the patient’s but also the doctor’s ability to face our human limitations. One of the gravest mistakes a leader can make is to assume, or let a community assume, that a problem is merely technical when it is actually adaptive.

Creating the seminary of the future is an adaptive challenge of the first order. In this report we have only sketched some of the fundamental questions that seminaries must face. None of these questions have simple or quick answers, let alone “solutions” ready to hand. At the root of the current challenge for seminaries is establishing their credentials in the deepest sense—justifying why, in a dramatically changed church and cultural ecosystem, their manifold constituencies should entrust them with the task of shaping scholars, pastors, and leaders.

Every part of the seminary will need to adapt in order to strengthen the core of theological education while releasing creativity at the edge; to rethink Christian vocation after the demise of the sacred–secular divide; to fully enter the visual age while still proclaiming the Word who was with God and was God; to address the acute generational transitions that are challenging Christian communities worldwide; to develop leaders in a world that only has the thinnest of models for leadership and institutional health; to “augment reality” using excellent technology and excellent in-person instruction; and to provide education rather than just training or indoctrination.

And the sobering truth is that seminaries could address all these areas and more, and still find themselves in the midst of failing ecosystems, lacking the partners upstream and downstream to create vibrant Christian communities of witness and mission.

So envisioning the seminary of the future is ultimately a question of trust, or to return to more familiar biblical words, faith and hope. Our conversations gave us many reasons to be hopeful that the seminary of the future will indeed offer credentials worth having—signs of trustworthiness to a world looking for institutions they can trust. The truth is that the only kind of institution worth building, or keeping, is one which gives people good reasons to believe, hope, and love. The central task before us all is to make the seminary of the future that kind of institution. Because this task is adaptive, not technical, none of us today knows exactly how this will be done. But because we trust in God and in the good news of God’s reign—present and future—we believe it can be done.

1 Comments on Discussion Point 8: Adaptive Strategies
Reputation ManagementSeptember 27 2012 at 08:24 AM

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