The Survival of the Irrelevant

“At the end of it all I hope we can say, that we did not purpose to live eternally but that we lived for an eternal purpose.”

The Relic
Recently, one of the groups I’m a part of held a meeting at a certain country club, and since I had arrived a little early, I spent some time looking at a little timeline they had displayed at the lobby. It was so amazing to see the history of the place, how it was a part of many historic events, how it hosted dignitaries and famous people, and how it survived the changing times. What a heritage to have. What a legacy to pass on.

Then I noticed two things, two things that burst my bubble.

One is that as the timeline progressed the significance of the place seemed to decline. While it can boast that many important people are still on its membership roster, it’s no longer the same. Soon, unless something drastic changes, it will be as historic as the history it remains so proud of.

The second realization was, “This place is ugly.” It felt old, and dusty, and caught in a time-warp that old clubs tend to fall into. Compared to the pictures of the past, the facility I was standing in was a shadow. But I think sadder than the regression is the missed future, what could have been. What would it look like if the walls were repainted instead of left to peal? What would it be like if the neon signs actually lit up like it used to? I wonder how the landscaping would look if the grass were trimmed instead of left alone? Maybe it’s time they took out the posters and banners of events of 2008 and 2009 since we’re already in 2010.

The Slow Death of the Irrelevant
This reminds me of two completely different meetings, one for business and one for a non-profit, that got slightly heated because, on both occasions, we couldn’t agree on certain changes. I won’t go into detail anymore. That’s not important. What’s important are the reasons for the impasse. We couldn’t move on, we couldn’t progress, because one was holding on to her position, and the other was holding on to his methods.

It would have been ok if the reasons for not changing the positions and the methods were because the current set-ups were sufficient, but they weren’t. We, both groups including me, were slowed down by two of the very useless arguments:

“I was here before you.” and “This is how it’s always been done.”

I’m not saying I’m always right, in fact, I’m usually wrong. Which makes “I’m sorry. You’re right. Let’s go with your idea.” a staple phrase of mine. And it’s not because I’m humble, anyone and everyone that knows me knows that humble David is an oxymoron. It’s more because more valuable to me than my position or my methods, more valuable to me than my ideas, or me getting the credit for my proposition, are doing things right and bringing value to society by fulfilling our purpose.

The bottom line is we can give all our excuses for not progressing, inexperience, lack of resources, cultural resistance, certain entitlements, or whatever, but if we don’t do things right we will inevitably deliver little value to society. When a person or entity delivers little value it becomes more and more irrelevant as time goes by.

A business that overprices and under delivers consistently over time will only survive IF it is the only one capable of delivering a certain product or service (no competitors) and IF that product or service is integral to its market. But there ARE competitors. And there’s tens of thousands of new offerings every year, what was integral yesterday might not be tomorrow. As soon as the people can find better value somewhere else, by value I mean more than just a low price but a better product, better service, a better experience, the decline will inevitably begin.

With non-profits, what would it look like if efficiency were improved? How much better would it be if we were actually incredibly good at helping people, and not just “have the heart”? How much waste generated by our current methods of helping can be redeployed to help more? I don’t know the answers but I do believe they’re worth looking into.

It’s the same with churches. Just because we carry what we think is the greatest cause, doesn’t mean we will be relevant to society. And it’s not that irrelevance in itself is sad, the goal is not to please man after all, but what is disheartening is when our inability to let go of positions or change our methods deprives people of the value of knowing and following Christ.

I don’t think we want to be like that. We have enough institutions around to remind us of the pervasiveness of the survival of the irrelevant. They’re gravestones for the living. It’s only a matter of time. What is a forgotten heritage good for? What is a dying legacy worth?

I can’t think of anything.

So I guess a better title for this is “The Slow Death of the Irrelevant.” But the good news is, if we’re dying, it means we’re not dead yet – so there’s hope. Let’s embrace our history and take it with us to the future. Let’s review our methods, see what works, and explore new ways of doing things. It’s not about who was here first and it’s not about how things have always been done. It’s about bringing value to the lives of people.

It’s Not About Who’s Right – It’s About the Purpose
A few weeks ago I presented a few innovations to another group I’m a part of. In the audience were a few business leaders, and after the presentation, during the question and answer portion, one of them passionately shot down some of my ideas. Standing in front, I could see that some of the others were a little embarrassed for me and wondering how I would respond. I thought through his comments very quickly and realized he was absolutely right. So that’s exactly what I said, “You’re absolutely right. I didn’t see that. Let’s make those considerations when we pilot this.” Some people asked me why I was gracious about it after, and my answer was simple, “He was right. I’m glad he brought it up. I’d rather be repeatedly corrected and have us end up in heaven than to always be considered right but lead us to hell.”

I’ve learned that if we are to lead we have to be able to address the needs and the times, or even the needs of the time. And we will never be able to objectively address these needs if we are driven by self-perpetuation. In fact it’s counterintuitive to this.

At the end of it all I hope we can say, that we did not purpose to live eternally but that we lived for an eternal purpose.

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David Bonifacio

David Bonifacio Entrepreneur, social worker, writer, artist, CEO of Bridge, CEO of Elevation Partners, Managing Director of New Leaf Ventures. #db

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