My friend and colleague Ralph Starling recently shared this brief article by Seth Godin about paracosms. What’s a paracosm? Literally it means “a world alongside,” but listen to how Godin describes it:
A paracosm is an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.
[Let me interrupt long enough to say that the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus talked about it, sounds like a paracosm].
Managers at established organizations have a very hard time with this. Take book publishing as an example. Ten or fifteen years ago, I’d sit with publishing chiefs and say, “let’s imagine how the world looks when there are no mass market books published on paper…” Before we could get any further, they’d stop the exercise. “It’s impossible to imagine that. Paper is magical. Are you saying you don’t believe in books?” (I heard variations on this from people as recently as a year ago.)
[Let me interrupt again to say that the way the scribes and Pharisees responded to Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of Heaven sounds like that].
The emotional response is easy to understand. If one of the core principles of your business needs to be abandoned in order to act out the paracosm, it feels disloyal to even utter it. Sort of like asking your spouse if he’s going to remarry after you die…
The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn’t include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.
It’s not disloyal to imagine a future that doesn’t include your founding precepts. It’s disloyal not to.
If that’s true, do we need to spend some time today imagining a future that doesn’t include the church as we know it, but rather the kingdom as God knows it? And if so, what would that future look like? According to Seth Godin, “A paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they will take you.”
Go ahead. Knock yourself out.