The Wisdom of Transformers
Plus a Mother's Day thought!
That song was a constant in my house growing up. I was a follower of Optimus Prime and the Autobots and had great disdain for the evil Megatron and the Decepticons. As the chorus of that amazingly 80’s theme song alludes, they were “more than meets the eye,” in more ways than one. In addition to the TV shows and movies, there were the toys. *Cue my mother: oh, those toys were everywhere!*
Hasbro, the company behind Transformers is probably known to you as one of the great toy manufacturers of the 20th century. Up until the 1990s, they were the giants behind My Little Pony, G.I. Joe, Candyland, Monopoly, and so many more. At the time, they were the family entertainment company. If you wanted one of their products, you went to the local toy store (for me, that was KB Toys #rip) and bought it.
Now, Hasbro is a self-described “branded play company.” It has launched a TV network, broke into the global market, and even partnered with Disney to manufacture many of its popular doll products. Little ol’ Transformers has theme park rides, clothing, movie sequels galore, school gear, room decorations, and so much more. How it did this fully is beyond the scope of this post but one aspect I want to highlight has incredible application for the world of religion.
Vijay Govindarajan, Professor at Dartmouth and world leader in innovation created the 3 box solution which is a framework that offers institutions the tools to help manage change. Box 1 is sustaining the present and box 3 is creating a new future. I left out box 2, as “it is difficult and painful, as it may require...abandoning entrenched practices and attitudes.”1 It involves forgetting the past by cutting off practices, values, and traditions that will not serve in the future.
Hasbro had this ability in its DNA as it had originally pivoted from textiles to pencils to toys. They were always skilled at shedding past skins in order to morph into something greater. But, they still had to work at it, as companies that have been around a long time often find the “forgetting” part of box 2 particular challenging. As I read this, my mind immediately jumped to religious institutions.
Trying to maintain in the present? Check! Inheritors of a rich and vast past? Check. Building toward the future? Check! Like Hasbro, long-standing religious institutions have often had a hard time with box 2. If I had a penny for every time I heard some form of “well, we’ve always done that this way…” Cutting out that which no longer serves is painstaking work. Yet, there’s hope and actions to take!
First off, as Govindarajan notes, this type of work is an on-going process and not a project that has a determined end date. Once we recognize that, we can get started.
This work is non-linear so we need to constantly remember that we are in three different time zones at all times.
The more you can pay attention to the forgetting of box 2, the better off our future will be. The former protects the latter.
Create an attitude of learning and experimentation in religious institutions, beyond the wisdom of the respective tradition.
The future is already taking place so the quicker we can slough off older and less useful ideologies and practices, the better.
Assess the difference between “what is timeless (enduring for the long run) versus what is timely (ultimately perishable).”2 That is, there are things that have worked that will continue to work. Just because it’s from the past doesn’t mean it has lost its inherent value. But, if we’re not honestly understanding its usage or lack thereof, and we try to grandfather everything in, then we’ll fail.
Transformers, more than meets the eye indeed!
I would be remiss in this post if I didn’t mention Mother’s Day. The work of box 2 reminds me of emotional labor which many of us know burdens the mothers in our lives. It’s all the stuff that happens in your house without you realizing it has been taken care of. Refills of body wash in the cabinet? Yep. Extra toothpaste when the tube is empty? Think about it as managing all the thankless work that keeps a home afloat.
In many ways, it’s the ability to look at what has happened while planning for the days ahead and getting rid of what’s impeding that process. Sometimes it’s getting rid of stuff while other times it’s getting stuff. It’s some of the hardest work there is. Many of us (myself definitely included!) are guilty of shirking this. So this Mother’s Day, in addition to cooking a delicious meal or two, maybe we all can promise to do a lot more to alleviate this burden and help out in this family version of box 2.
Shout out to all the moms out there! Special shout out to those for whom this day is particularly painful. I am thinking of you too and you’re not alone.
Govindarajan, “The Three Box Solution” 6.