Silicon Valley innovator John McAfee is currently a “person of interest” in a murder investigation in Belize; he is on the run with a teenaged girl and hiding from Belizean police.
“Silicon Valley culture really rewards a certain kind of single-minded pursuit of success,” said Leslie Berlin, a historian with Stanford University’s Silicon Valley archives and a fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. “It’s a culture that rewards success with financial rewards and with a real lionization of the entrepreneur who really leaves it all on the field. The inevitable question becomes, ‘What next?'” (Dan Nakaso and Mike Cassidy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory,” San Jose Mercury News, Monday, November 19, p. 1)
Entrepreneurial innovation often comes as part of a package with enormous ego and a certain lack of concern about other people’s emotional needs and feelings. To certain innovators, what is important is the need to be hypercreative, to create whole new structures and patterns, regardless of who gets hurt when the old patterns are demolished. And once they start innovating, sometimes they can’t stop.
“A lot of times (Silicon Vally entrepreneurs) go a little crazy, and the end result is they get in trouble,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose technology analyst. “They don’t want to be that one-hit wonder. They get excited about the celebrity of it all, and they start chasing that celebrity. Your behavior changes substantially.” (Nakaso and Cassigy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory”)
What is true for Silicon Valley innovators can be true for innovative religious leaders. The most familiar example a pastor grows a huge Christian megachurch, begins to think he (it’s usually a “he” in that field) is somehow exempt from ordinary rules, and next thing you know he’s embroiled in a sex scandal. The same kind of thing has happened to yoga gurus, and to Unitarian Universalist leaders.
We often seem to assume that innovation comes only from people that have big, overbearing egos, where the health of that person’s ego isn’t as important as their single-minded pursuit of success. I suspect this assumption is wrong on at least two counts: first, the innovator can have a healthy ego rather than an unhealthy singleminded ego; and second, I’m willing to bet that innovation isn’t ever the product of a single person (even if it’s only one person who gets credit). Or to put it another way:
“A lot of times (Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) go a little crazy, and the end result is they get in trouble,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose technology analyst. “They don’t want to that one-hit wonder. They get excited about the celebrity of it all, and they start chasing that celebrity…. (Nakaso and Cassigy, “Eccentric path put McAfee on wild trajectory”)
This is precisely the kind of thing we want to avoid in congregations. We want innovation without leaders who get in trouble.