Osborne, Larry. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (leadership Network Innovation Series). Zondervan, 2013.InnovationLittle Secret

Thanks to Zondervan for providing a preview copy of this book for an unbiased review.

This book provides some good common sense advice for leaders in the corporate and church world. Thus, pastors can learn from this book. But there is a caveat. I write this review as one who served as a former military officer and currently serving as pastor. At times I am uncomfortable with some of the language that is used because it can draw attention away from the true nature of the Church.

There many good sections in this book regarding the “business” end of leading in the church. Thus, most of the ideas are corporate oriented, very practical and useful. From that perspective, Chapters 1 (“Have and Exit Strategy”) and 6 (“Why Vision Matters”) seem to be the most useful for church leaders. The questions at the end of each chapter help focus the reader on critical application of the material.

Observing pastors for many decades I have discovered that sometimes we begin to think that when we plan something, it is obviously the best, maybe even describing it as “God’s will.” But such presumption can not only hinder current plans for the church, it can blind us to faulty logic and dead ends.

The chapter “Have and Exit Strategy” offers a planning alternative to avoid dead ends and cramping future plans in church activity. Perhaps the best advice given is the subsection: “Never Make a Change When You Can Conduct an Experiment.” As the author notes, “Unfortunately, this is a hard concept for many leaders and organizations to grasp” (p. 35).

Another helpful insight comes in the “Igniting Innovation” section, namely the difference between artistic and organizational innovation. “The unfortunate byproduct is confusion: it encourages leaders and organizations to take risks and behave in ways that are perfectly appropriate for artists, but foolhardy for leaders of organizations” (p. 44). Thus, something looks flashy, innovative, challenging may not be the solution for the pastor, church leaders. Good advice for church leaders.

Part 4 (“Sabotaging Innovation”) in the book shows the negative aspects of leadership pitfalls and failure. Sometimes in churches we are blind to the destructive effects of leadership failures. One of the weaknesses of the chapter is that the focus is on failure, but within the Church, there is another critical factor: forgiveness and restoration. This does not excuse or worse encourage leadership failures, but it is the heart of what the Church is. Interestingly in contrast the Part on Breakout Decisions highlights that the “two new keys to reaching the current culture: authenticity and compassion” (p. 125).

I am less enamored with the section on “Champion” mentality. This seems to contradict the notion earlier presented about avoiding the “curse of hype” (pp. 90ff.). As for pastors serving congregations, this book leaves a gap in leadership. In addition to serving as pastor, I teach seminarians and pastors. Hence my recommendation: this is a qualified good read. But…

Behind all the leadership advice and insights, however, is the issue of proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). That is the center, motive, and goal of the pastor. The pastor uses the Word and the Sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), the tools of the Holy Spirit, to lead, strengthen, nourish, and equip the saints for the work of serving (Eph. 4:11-12). This central focus is not the center focus of the book. Administrative skills, “championship leaders,” etc. are all fine, but they must always take a secondary place relative to the proclamation and teaching the Word.

That is, the business side of decision making (even mission statements and vision statements) consumes the the reader’s attention. Much good insights for leaders. So, for the reader, enjoy and learn, but keep that secondary to that which is most important. You will need to supplement this with books that address such issues. Consider theses:

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work by Eugene Peterson

Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John Kleinig

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson

The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament by Gerhard Forde

In the Face of God: The Dangers and Delights of Spiritual Intimacy by Michael Horton

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