Prisoners of Prototypes

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As we gain knowledge and experience within a particular area of life, we tend to become prisoners of our prototypes.

I read and enjoyed the book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.

The title of this post is taken from the section I want to discuss today: Prisoners of Prototypes. The point of the section is that the more familiar we become with a particular domain or area of life, we tend to become trapped by certain ways of thinking.

We compare every new idea that we encounter against the templates of ideas that have succeeded in the past. For example, publishing executives said Harry Potter was too long for a children’s book; when Brandon Tartikoff saw the Seinfeld pilot, he felt it was “too Jewish” and “too New York” to appeal to a wide audience.

Star Wars and E.T. were both rejected by studio executives. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Diary of Anne Frank, Gone with the Wind and Lord of the Flies - all of which are now considered classics - were all rejected by publishers.

Why does that happen? How can experts be so consistently wrong?

Here’s a paragraph from the book:

Rice professor Erik Dane finds that the more expertise and experience people gain, the more entrenched they become in a particular way of viewing the world. He points to studies showing that expert bridge players struggled more than novices to adapt when the rules were changed, and that expert accountants were worse than novices at applying a new tax law. As we gain knowledge about a domain, we become prisoners of our prototypes.

This portion of the book made me think. It especially made me wonder whether I also suffer from a similar bias when it comes to the way I think about church. Do I have some prototype in my mind of how church should be? And am I forcing myself to think about the mission of making disciples within that particular prototype?

Am I locked-in to a certain way of structuring the church? Does the church service have to follow a certain pattern? Do we have to make disciples while trying to maintain a church-model that has already proven ineffective at producing disciples?

What assumptions have I become a slave to? Could I be forcing every idea to fit into some sort of mental template of what church should be like? Is it possible that those assumptions and templates could be limiting my ability to accomplish the mission of Jesus?

Have I allowed those patterns of thinking to be influenced by some traditions that I have never taken the time to examine? Have I unconsciously absorbed ideas and habits of mind that are not biblical? Do I know the reasons behind the routines and traditions in which I participate? Where did they originate? Are they non-negotiable?

But, isn’t making disciples non-negotiable? Of all the things that we are unwilling to compromise on, shouldn’t disciple-making be at the very top of that list? Are we willing to forfeit disciple-making in order to cling to traditions and ideas that are not explicitly biblical? Perhaps we should look to the Scriptures afresh and subject all of our patterns of thought, traditions, and routines to what we read in the Bible. Thereby freeing ourselves from every non-essential thing that may be hindering our efforts to produce disciples.

Read the book. Let me know what you think.