I admire entrepreneurs and inventors, and nothing makes me happier than to talk to one about his or her latest idea.
My friend Jack, a retired engineer, has been telling me about a concern he wants to put together in which farmers erect wind turbines on their land and use the electricity to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer out of air and water. Farmers could become more self-sufficient, wind power could be put to work on a product that’s used locally (no transmission costs), and the atmosphere would benefit from less CO2. Sounds great to me!
Jack’s problem is that one of his potential partners holds rights to some of the technology, and they consider it so earthshaking they don’t want to share it with anybody else. They’re afraid of losing control, so that somebody else will get the financial benefit from their invention. Without partners, though, it’s hard to get the money to do a pilot.
I mentioned this to another friend, John, an entrepreneur in his own right (he is growing tea commercially in the Skagit Valley of Washington State) and a consultant who has helped others develop the commercial potential of their inventions. John said (and I paraphrase), “It all depends on how you think about innovation. Is innovation like a fine gem, which must be carefully hoarded? Or is innovation like the Mississippi River, flowing by with such abundance that you can dip a cup any time you like and never know the difference?”
John said that those who think of innovation like the Mississippi River are more willing to partner with others. Those who hoard innovation like gems often end up hanging onto it until they squeeze it to death.
Which is it, gem or river?
For most individuals, innovation is extremely rare. I expect I will live my fourscore years without once arriving at one.
But God’s abundance has created billions of people. Millions are truly creative. That suggests important new ideas come into being every day. What happens to them? They must be developed into practical products. People must hear about those products so they can adopt them. The development and transmission of new ideas is just as important, and perhaps just as difficult, as the origination.
It is risky to partner. John says that people do sometimes lose control. If they think of innovation like the Mississippi River, however, it doesn’t bother them so much. They know they will think of something else tomorrow.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I connect this to the book of Ephesians. I’ve been leading our small group in studying it, and my eyes have been opened a lot. In Ephesians Paul is trying to connect a way of thinking about God with a lifestyle that draws different people together. Paul wants the Ephesians to understand deeply that God is love, and that as love he is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (3:17-21) Think “Mississippi River.” Paul links this to the development of a community that joins Jew and Gentile—in other words, that enables a partnership between two ethnic empires as hostile and suspicious as any of us can imagine. This partnership is the cause that captured Paul (though lots of other people were hostile to it). Looking back, we can see that he was right. Without that partnership, followers of Jesus would have remained a Jewish sect, without access to the wide world.
The differences were real. Only an understanding of the abundance of God made it possible for the two sides to come together.
This challenges me. In these days when polarization seems nastier and more trenchant than ever, I need to track back to the source. What kind of a world do I think I live in? What kind of God reigns?