I've reinvented the wheel so many times you'd think it was my hobby. However, thanks to the patience of some kind colleagues, friends and family members, I'm finally coming to realize an idea doesn't need to be new in order to be good. There's value in slowing down long enough to become conscious of the strides that already have been taken and the work that already has been done.
This "slowing down" is not easy for a lot of us, though. We're wired with a desire to jump in and do things uniquely (and if we're honest, most of us are quite fond of our own ingenuity). We don't like conforming, and we assume we know a better way to do things.
Not all of these inclinations are bad. Wanting to stretch in new directions is great. Innovation grows in ecosystems of open experimentation.
Yet, there are some noteworthy downsides of being forever-fixated on doing things in a different way than they've been done before. I know these downsides firsthand because, according to my mother, I've been determined to do things my own way since I was a headstrong toddler. "No! It's my life!" I asserted when it was snowing outside and she encouraged me to wear winter-appropriate footwear instead of sandals.
The problems with focusing too much on doing things differently include an incomplete understanding of history, a lack of awareness of how other people already have participated and invested and time that ends up wasted redoing things that already have been done.
There is worth in pausing to learn the history of a system before one sets about changing it. This is true for organizations, businesses, churches, volunteer groups, family systems and any other group of people. It's easy to jump into a new role and think, "The way this issue is being approached is stupid. I could do it better" and then immediately start fixing and changing.
Often, though, that's a short-sighted mistake (and one I've made many times). Pausing to learn some history provides a chance to being cognizant of the existing culture of the system and the factors that shaped it. It's also a chance to build trust and show respect. Oh, how I wish I could give Emily of Yesteryear this advice.
At work, I recently needed to learn about the history of the organization's logo. I emailed a couple folks, and they didn't remember. I was tempted to skip the history piece altogether and focus on the future instead.
Then the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Slow down." I reached out to the first leader of the organization, the Rev. Glenn Nycklemoe, to see what he remembered. I was tempted to just send a quick email but then picked up the phone for an actual conversation instead. I'm abundantly glad I did.
Not only did he have all sorts of information about the logo, Rev. Nycklemoe also told me about a book he'd helped write highlighting the first 14 years of the organization's history. That book has become an invaluable resource. His guidance wasn't limited to logo history either. Rev. Nycklmoe also shared a little bit of marital advice for Justin and me as a newly engaged couple: "Make time for one another. Always, always make time for one another. Lots of it."
What started out as a simple search for some logo history became a doorway into so much more.
We are all surrounded by insightful people of all ages all the time. And most of them are quite happy to share stories and experiences if we're willing to ask. We don't have to reinvent the wheel all the time.
There is value in slowing down and engaging the history of the systems we're part of before we try to change them. In the long run, this is the most effective way to impact sustainable transformation. If we really want to reshape a system, we need an awareness of who and what has come before us. It's always worth the time it takes to slow down, ask questions and listen.