Imagine this familiar scene: The old guard is sitting around a table, long-faced and bemoaning the bleak outlook for the next year. They have a meager budget, the competition has just cherry-picked their top talent away and cash is getting tight. So they start doing what they do every year: resort to their tried and true solutions to what have become perennial problems in order to survive.
No, this isn't your last seminary board meeting. This is a scene from Moneyball, the new Brad Pitt film based on the true story of a struggling, demoralized Oakland A's baseball team. It takes place in 2001 when the team loses its top three players to better-paying teams. The A's face a choice: Do the same thing or do something different.
And we all know the proverbial definition of insanity -- it was even mentioned in the Autumn 2011 issue of In Trust -- "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
So the team's general manager redefines the problem with the help of an unlikely young apprentice with an Ivy League economics degree and no experience in baseball. The two decide that they don't need to replace the players they lost. Instead, they need to replace the skills they lost. So they turn to statistical analysis to find the right players that they can afford, over the objections of their scouts' conventional wisdom. By reframing the problem, the general manager finds new solutions that, in true Hollywood fashion, have dramatic results. At one point, Brad Pitt smirks the line, "Adapt or die."
In theological education, we often have our minds made up about the problems: not enough students, not enough donors, not enough churches to employ our graduates. But are these really the problems? What are the conditions that produce them?
If we're stuck in the old ways of thinking, we employ old solutions too. We ramp up student recruitment or bring on a fresh development officer. And if these don't suffice, we fall back on retrenchment by reducing staff, selling a building, or even merging with another school.
Is it possible to reframe the problems? If your school is cash poor, what are its hidden riches? What innovative angles can you find to approach your problems from unexpected directions? And where might these insights come from?
Reframing the problem can be a game-changer, though probably not without running afoul of the old guard. But answering these questions in creative new ways may help your school not only stay in the game but hit the ball out of the park.