4 Ways to Quickly (and UnIntentionally) Stop Your Innovation Curve And Miss The Future


Sure…the world has changed almost unbelievably since mid-March 2020, but stop for a moment and think about how much you’ve changed.

You’ve led through the biggest crisis in a generation, or perhaps a century.

And as a result, you’ve innovated.

You went from

  • Meeting in-person to meeting online
  • Leading your team in-person to leading your team remotely
  • A stable financial plan to a completely new financial plan
  • A predictable org chart to redeploying staff in brand new areas they weren’t trained for
  • Having no idea how to do what you needed to do to making it work

But, believe it or not, the progress you’ve made through innovation is already at risk. So is the progress I’ve made.

In fact, the innovation curve you and your church or organization are on could bottom out quickly, and as a result, you’ll miss the future.

As much as you’re feeling both tired and a bit disoriented (everyone is, myself included), the mission is too important to ignore what could be ahead if you keep moving.

Don’t just think about how hard this season has been, think about how much you’ve grown. What you’ve learned.

In fact, you’ve probably done more innovating in the last 60 days than you did in the last 6 years, or perhaps ever. And you did it all so quickly, almost in a heartbeat.

That’s what crisis does: crisis is an accelerator.

So…what if you continued that curve?

What if you stopped it?

It’s far easier to stop innovating than to keep innovating. Left on its own, you’re far more likely to stop innovating than you are to keep going. Same with me.

To that end, here are four ways to flatten your innovation curve and miss the future.

It's far easier to stop innovating than to keep innovating. Click To Tweet

1. Think of This As An Interruption, Not a Disruption

The best way to flatten your innovation curve is to believe that the current crisis is an interruption and not a disruption.

I’m hearing a growing surge of sentiment in the comments online (on my platform and others) that says:

Stop talking about a ‘new’ normal…things will go back to the way they were.

You’re overblowing this whole disruptive change thing.

People are longing for the way things were. Stop assuming they’re not.

So first, I hear you. I promise you, I miss normal too. I wish I could just hop on a plane and go for vacation, or to a conference and meet people. Or frankly, have family and friends over for dinner. Or go boating.

That’s all gone right now.

The best way to flatten your innovation curve is to believe that the current crisis is an interruption and not a disruption. Click To Tweet

For sure, some semblance of normal life will return, in some cases soon. It needs to.

So will in-person gatherings. And—one more time—the gathered church is here to stay. People need people.

All that being said, stop for a moment and look at what happened even outside the health crisis at the massive disruption we’re in.

When nations shut down borders, the economy falls off a cliff, millions instantly file for unemployment, businesses go bankrupt, industries aren’t sure what to do next (airlines, for example), and globalization quickly goes from 5th gear to reverse, it’s hard to call this an interruption.

Talk to any business leader for more than two minutes and they’ll tell you they’re rethinking everything:

The cost of rent when suddenly they realize working from home works.

How much travel costs in time, money and lost opportunity.

That virtual works when they were positive it doesn’t.

The most forward-thinking church leaders are doing exactly the same thing.

Still clinging to a return to ‘normal’?

Even if the economy miraculously rebounds, the other changes we’ve been through have disrupted things more than they’ve interrupted things. And, as I shared in this post, legal permission to do things (like gather) is very different than social behaviour (I can gather, but I don’t really want to).

Look, I’m not cheering on a massive disruption. I just don’t want to ignore the myriad signs that we’re in one.

I want to be prepared because if it is a disruption, leaders who see it as an interruption should prepare to be further disrupted.

If the current crisis is a disruption, leaders who see it as an interruption should prepare to be further disrupted. Click To Tweet

2. Settle for The Changes You’ve Made So Far

Some of the changes you’ve made haven’t worked, but let’s be honest, some you’ve made have turned out to be fantastic.

They’re worked far better than you thought they would.

Which is why you’ll settle for one of the chief killers of great potential: declaring victory too soon.

Just because you found something that works doesn’t mean you’ve found what works best.

Just because you’ve made progress doesn’t mean you’ve realized your potential.

What if your next iteration was better than what you’ve found so far?

What if a series of experiments would lead you to a breakthrough?

The best way to squander a great mission is to stop experimenting with the best methods.

Just because you found something that works doesn't mean you've found what works best. Just because you've made progress doesn't mean you've realized your potential. Click To Tweet

The pull of the familiar, the known and the proven is strong. And I’m not saying you should abandon all of that.

But if you stop experimenting and declare victory too soon, you’ll miss the future.

The future belongs to the innovators, and crisis is the cradle of innovation.

The best way to squander a great mission is to stop experimenting with the best methods. Click To Tweet

3. Let Your Fatigue Make the Decisions for You

I imagine you’re tired. I’ve run into walls of fatigue too in this season.

But one thing you can’t do is let your exhaustion and fatigue make your decisions for you.

Sure, your fatigue should make you call it a day early and put you in bed an hour ahead of normal. Or send you to your doctor or therapist. Or spur you to head out for a run or call a friend you haven’t talk to in ages.

Replenish yourself.

If self-care is important in normal times, it’s 10x more important during crisis.

I burned out 14 years ago and will never forget how deep the pain and exhaustion ran. So please, take care of yourself.

I share my story of burnout and how to both avoid burnout and come back from it in my book, Didn’t See It Coming. (By the way, the Kindle version is on sale right now on Amazon for $1.99.)

Leadership and change are exhausting at the best of time, and these aren’t the best of times.

If self-care is important in normal times, it's 10x more important during crisis. Click To Tweet

But since I’ve come back from burnout I realize I can’t let either my crazy inner drive or my exhaustion make my decisions for me.

No, your job as a leader is to take great care of yourself and your team and make what’s best for the mission drive your decisions.

Ironically, if you do that well, it isn’t exhausting, it’s energizing for you and your team.

There’s nothing like making progress in the face of adversity to energize and mobilize the people you lead.

Don’t let your fatigue make your decisions for you. Take care of yourself, and let the mission determine your decisions.

Don't let your fatigue make your decisions for you. Take care of yourself, and let the mission determine your decisions. Click To Tweet

4. Stop Disrupting Yourself

If you want to stop innovating and miss the future, stop disrupting yourself.

Even in normal conditions—which these are not—churches, leaders, businesses and organizations get disrupted all the time. So do industries.

You make the best horse carriages in American, but Detroit Henry Ford decides to keep workers stationary and move car assembly along a line, and the world changes.

You run a great hotel chain, but then three broke college grads who couldn’t pay their rent decide to rent out an air mattress for $80 and Airbnb is born.

The best leaders don’t wait for circumstances to disrupt them. Instead, they decide to disrupt themselves.

The more successful you are, the harder this is.

Success makes you conservative, and the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

Success makes you conservative, and the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success. Click To Tweet

It’s so easy to let success go to your head (and your heart) and to think you’ve got something figured out, when in fact you’ve missed something that could help you reach twice as many people or ten times as many.

If you want a quick exercise to help you stay motivated, make a list of how much you’ve learned since the pandemic began and all the things that have helped you grow your mission.

Now realize this: all those innovations came because changes beyond your control forced you to do them.

It’s a highly dangerous practice to let circumstances force you to change.

First, circumstances are entirely out of your control.

Second, they often catch you unprepared.

Third, often by the time external change happens, it’s too late for organization that were static.

The best practice for the future is to disrupt yourself.

Because the speed at which change was moving even long before the crisis was so fast, it’s fair to say that you either disrupt yourself, or you’ll be disrupted.

Disrupt yourself, or be disrupted. Click To Tweet

Lead Your Way Through The Continued Crisis. Access My New Course for Free.

As hard as it is to admit, it’s just really hard to know how to lead in times like these.

Especially with so much future uncertainty.

While no one has all the answers, there is help and a strategy that can guide you, and I’d love to come alongside you.

To that end, join 9000 leaders who have already jumped into my on-demand course, called How To Lead Through Crisisthat can help you lead your team, your church and yourself through the massive disruption.

The course is the gift from me and my team to you and leaders everywhere. In light of everything that’s going on, we decided to make it available 100% free.

Inside How To Lead Through Crisis, you’ll learn how to: 

  • Cultivate a non-anxious presence that inspires confidence and trust.
  • Care for yourself so the crisis doesn’t break you.
  • Master the art of fast-paced, clear decision making. 
  • Gather and interpret the most reliable data that will advance your mission
  • Advance digitally to scale past physical barriers and grow your outreach.
  • Lead your team and congregation remotely

While no one has all the answers in a crisis this big, in the course, I share the mindsets, habits, tools and strategies that I believe will help you lead through crisis to get you and the people you lead to a new (and better) future. 

You can enroll and get instant access for you and your team here.

Crisis Blog Series and the Future Church

I also have a free blog post series on the current global crisis and how the church can respond:

Avoid This Big Mistake: Stepping Back Into the Past When You Step Back Into Your Building

Some Awkward Questions About How to Measure Online Church Attendance (+ 5 Growth Strategies)

Half of All Churches Are Instantly Growing. Here’s Why And Here’s What To Do.

The Top 7 Reasons Everyone Ignores the Online Content You Produce

5 Ways The Current Crisis is Accelerating The Arrival of the Future Church

5 Predictions About the Future Church While Everything’s Unknown

Crisis Leadership, Christian Leadership and the Corona Virus

How to Lead Through Rapid, Unexpected Change

8 Ways to Lead in the New Digital Default Church

My Top 7 Rules for Leading a Digital Team

3 Simple Ways To Make Sure You Don’t Break In the Crisis

8 Early Tips for Producing Digital Content During the Current Crisis

Why Motivation Alone Won’t Get Your People (Or You) Through This Crisis

The Three Kinds of Leaders You See In A Crisis

5 Quick Things That Can Make a Long Term Difference During Your First Digital Easter

Hope this helps you and your team lead well in a very challenging season.

What Do You See?

I know this isn’t an easy post, but I’m passionate about it because there’s no more important mission in the world that the mission of the church.

If we miss it…if we try to go back to normal when normal no longer exists, or trade what we’re learning for a more comfortable pattern and forfeit the learning curve, the mission suffers and ultimately so does the world.

Anything luring you back to comfort, or denial, or inertia?

For the record, I fight this in me every day too.

Scroll down and leave a comment!

If the current crisis is a disruption, leaders who see the it as an interruption should prepare to be further disrupted


  1. Wiliam Reyes on April 27, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    Gracias por sus temáticas. Son edificantes y oportunas en estos tiempos de incertidumbre.Sirven para que la gestión pastoral esté informada.Que el Dios de los cielos les siga dando sabiduría.

  2. Craig Walker on April 27, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks Carey! I woke up two weeks ago feeling fatigued. I took a day off last week to rest. I woke up this morning and told my wife, “I don’t want to work today. I used to love my job as much as a day off, but today it feels like a job.” After reading your post I feel as though the lights were turned on for me. Two things are clear. I am tired, and I need more rest. And, this season of life is hard, but I what I do is to valuable to quit. Thanks a ton!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 27, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      Glad to help Craig!

  3. Christopher White on April 27, 2020 at 11:05 am

    I think you have been dead on with your analysis on this current crisis. Would I like to go back to February when this wasn’t a big deal? In one sense absolutely and it would also be nice to do church when on Sunday everything was closed and we were the only game in town. But thats not reality. We are a small United church in Oshawa ON, we have shifted everything online, broadcast on FB live, we have different people recording parts of the service at home and we put it in the broadcast. We have seen all sorts of new people join us for worship. After yesterdays worship I gathered our four member team, which includes me, spread across the sanctuary and asked “right, whats working, whats not, where do we need to pivot next?” The conclusion was more work on engagement through the week. We are planning for the contingency that we will not be worshipping together in person until Sept. We are going to be adding equipment so building our digital congregation is a permanent part of our ministry. We have no choice, the world has changed and I don’t believe we are going back to what was. At first I thought it was temporary hiccup, I don’t believe that anymore.

  4. Rev. Jeff Courter on April 27, 2020 at 10:21 am

    I completely agree, Carey – the world has changed, and we don’t even realize how much. This will change us as much as the printing press did 500 years ago. Look what happened after that – the Reformation. We aren’t just talking about online church here – it’s about how we organize, who we use, and how we connect. I am now having people watch our worship services from outside the US, and using people in other states to help plan and lead our worship services. Two months ago, none of this would have happened.

    Last week, for three days, there was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, with people from around the world participating. Know who was instrumental in organizing and leading that? Young people. This revolution is being led by young people, and if we want to get young people interested in the church, we need to let them help us online. We need to meet them online. Growth comes through social media (the expression “gone viral” didn’t mean the coronavirus), and we’re just seeing an inkling of that now.

    Consider what happened in Hong Kong – Twitter created one of the greatest protest movements ever seen, led by no one in particular. It can be scary, seeing movements happen without being in charge, and having multiple people involved in leading ministry in new ways means letting go of control. We have to learn to trust the Spirit to lead ALL of us during this time of innovation, because we will either try to cling to old ways of doing what we did before, or open ourselves to new life. New life will come, with or without our permission and help. Let’s recognize this and see what God wants to create.

    • Mark on April 28, 2020 at 7:29 am

      Many churches did not want the younger people because they did want to innovate while the powerful did not. That’s why people did things and bypassed the church and it’s leadership. Why do people always have to be in charge and have a formal org chart? All those people generally do is hold others back and say why something can’t be done.

  5. Dennis on April 27, 2020 at 10:11 am

    Thank you for the article—always challenging and inspirational. The principles you share here are ones we echo from previous disruption experiences (local tragedies, quickly-developing region, etc.). We’ve learned (often the hard way) but have taught our church family, and we were more prepared to enter the Covid-19 disruption than some others. We’re still in it, and we must be careful—the brick wall hit this weekend—but by God’s grace we’ll come out of this run looking forward to what God has ahead. Thanks for helping to stir up the faith.

  6. Josh Pennington on April 27, 2020 at 8:41 am


    This is my takeaway and action step for today. I think I’ll come back to this article regularly and do a self checkup.

    Simple profundity. Love it. A million thanks Carey 🙌

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 27, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      So glad to help you, Josh. These are challenging days. Keep pressing!

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