Earlier this year I heard an address by Professor Michael Porter, Professor of Strategic Management at Harvard.  He regards himself as an ‘outsider’ in relation to looking at faith groups, charitable organisations etc.  After expressing some genuine appreciation for the work of such groups in society, he offered this interesting insight.

“As someone looking in from the outside, the impression you give, is that a lot of what you do is related to your own need rather than those you serve.”  He went on to talk about some of the outcomes that this brings, notably that our efforts seemed to lack co-ordination and consequently undermined efficient delivery.

What he said made my heart skip a beat. I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I thought about:

  • how unaware we can be about our need to be needed, leading to a slightly over optimistic understanding of our perceived significance in wider society
  • the huge amount of wasteful duplication  that takes place with anyone and everyone setting up their charitable trust to enshrine their own interest (need?).  This is Porter’s point about lack of co-ordination.  Surely the best reason for a new trust or piece of work is that it is new.  ie. No-one else is doing it.
  • our pre-occupation with acting as though the world could still be understood as Christendom, which hugely undermines our strategic thinking.  Probably unfairly, I think that a lot of our “fresh thinking” seems a bit like a map publisher, publishing maps with the assumption that the world is flat.  Maybe this is as much psychological as theological.  For to allow that our culture is post-Christian might bring with it the paralysing fear that we are a pretty marginalised group in contemporary society seeking to cling on to old structures and power bases.

The more I have thought about this, the more I  see Porter’s words as tantamount to prophecy.  I wonder if anyone else can hear what he is saying.  Something about old wineskins here?