29 October 2011

Ask Bigger Questions: Steve Jobs and the City Council

Posted in Steve Jobs, Leadership, Church, Tagged with culture

JobsEveryone has a favorite Steve Jobs moment.

Mine is an rather unlikely one.

It's the 20 minute presentation Jobs made to the Cupertino City Council on June 7, 2011 to introduce Apple's plans for a new corporate headquarters, affectionately known as "the mothership."

This presentation caught my attention because it happened on the heals of Jobs' big introduction of OSX Lion, iOS5 and iCloud at annual Apple World Wide Developers Conference.

I laughed that even Steve Jobs had to deal with the local politics and I wondered how he would perform on someone else's much smaller stage. So, I watched.

Job's presented the new building to the City Council with his trademark charm. He talked about the architectural significance of the building, how it would create significantly more green space, the value of staying in his hometown of Cupertino and the accompanying economic benefits.

Free Wi-Fi? Really?

Following his presentation, one of the city counselors, inquiring about the benefit to the residents, asked Jobs - the Steve Jobs, the Edison of our time, the CEO of Apple, the second largest company in the world - "Do we get free wi-fi?"

Jobs responded by reiterating that Apple is the largest taxpayer in Cupertino, that it attracts bright and fairly affluent people (who also pay taxes), that they are vastly increasing the green space. He concluded, "I think we bring a lot more than free wi-fi." No kidding.

Our Questions Are Too Small

The memory of this presentation and this short exchange has remained with me - particularly in these days since Jobs' death - for the valuable lesson I took from it: that most of the time our questions are too small.

When faced with great challenge, great possibility, great vision, great people, we tend to ask small questions. Here was Steve Jobs presenting a visionary new project and the first questions was, "Can we have free wi-fi?" Really?

It's something I see in the Church.

  • We are afraid to ask questions we don't know the answer to, because, we believe religious leadership is about having the answers. (And let's be real: as much we say it isn't, we secretly believe its true.) We choose apparent certainty over wonder.
  • Before an idea has a chance to breathe and mature, we ask how and whether it can be managed. We ask tactical rather than strategic questions.
  • We boil many things down to money because it can be counted, calculated and contained on a spreadsheet. It gives us a false sense of control.
  • We think incrementally, both about our growth and decline, when the latter has been anything but.

Ask Bigger Questions

Right now is a time for asking big questions in the church.

Big questions open us to un-thought-of possibilities. Big questions, as Job's knew, leads to innovation. Big questions leave room for God and the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are confronted with the limits of our own knowledge and understanding, it is then that we turn to God and others.

In the face of challenge and change, when new thinking is being demanded of us, when new patterns of religious life are being re-imagined, we start by asking the bigger questions.

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