Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone Again

“The phonograph has no commercial value at all.” – Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1880s

He was right before he was wrong but now he's right again!

Victor Hugo, 19th century French novelist, wrote "All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. "

But what about an idea whose time has come and is then gone again?

This story was originally included in an article “Dan, Done” by Jonah Goldberg in National Review (March 28, 2005):

"At the beginning of World War Two, as the great powers of Europe were scrambling to mobilize their forces. Britain pulled out of the mothballs some light artillery that had been used in the late 19th century during the Boer War in South Africa. This piece required a five-man crew in order to operate it according to 19th century standards. However, when the piece was fired, two the crew members would perform an odd ritual. Three seconds before the weapon would be fired, two of the crew members standing behind the cannon would snap to attention and they would remain in this position until it was quiet again.

None of the current crop of artillery officers could figure out the point of the actions of the two crew members. The crew members themselves did not know the reason either. You see, artillery pieces always required five members to operate them. Finally, an old retired artillery colonel was brought in to observe the ritual. He watched the crew fire the weapon and the power of his recollection brought the truth to light. He announced, “I have it. They are holding the horses.”

You see back in the Boer War horses were used to move the artillery pieces into firing position so each horse had a crew member who was responsible for keeping the horse from bolting at the sound of the cannon firing. Over time, horses were phased out of the military, but the five man crew was not. Since only three men were actually needed to fire the weapon, two members of the crew became “mere place-holders.”

Innovations have a shelf life.

What is it that you, or your church, keep on doing, even though that innovation may have lost its purpose and edge?