New Episcopal Communities

Gaze Heuristics for ministry priorities!

April 29, 2014

Starting the new year out right asks us to reconsider how we prioritize!

In the worlds of sociology and psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules proposed to explain how people make decisions and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. The field of study explains how we make use of “satisficing” – situations where people seek solutions or accept choices or judgments that are “good enough” for their purposes, but could be optimized.

Of course, in situations exposing us to high risk, ignoring relevant information is probably folly. But this is not so in a world of uncertainty. A world of uncertainty includes the presence of chaos. In moving from risk to uncertainty, we move from many moving parts to a scenario of moving parts each with their own motivations and force fields. Scientists can now show that, in this case, if you try to anticipate all of the factors or the “variables” of chaos, you are likely to make a poor choice.

Let’s assume that you resist the typical urge to “control” these variables in an attempt to minimize chaos, OK? Let’s assume that we already have tools at our disposal for managing this complex work of prioritizing our efforts, our energies, and our focus.

Baseball outfielders and transformative leaders both struggle to explain the decision making processes they use to catch a deep field fly ball or to initiate and sustain a vibrant faith community. It is often such an intuitive process that when scientists attempt to explain it, they often over-analyze the constituent steps and make the process unrealistically complex.

The Gaze Heuristic is an explanation of a remarkably intuitive and simple (not easy) process. The gaze heuristic is a adaptive mental process employed by individuals when trying to catch a ball. Experimental studies have shown that even the smartest of sports brains do not calculate windage, velocity, acceleration and spin before running to the predicted point of landing. Instead, they fixate the ball with their eyes and move so as to keep the angle of the gaze either constant or within a specific range. Moving in such a fashion assures that the ball will hit the catcher.

It was this same heuristic that allowed the pilot to save a jetful of passengers during the Miracle on the Hudson’s Flight 1549. Chesley Sullenberger had to determine whether or not they could make it back to LaGuardia with no engines. They had very little time – certainly not enough to calculate the flight trajectory of a jet with a full payload of fuel and passengers. Guess how this experienced pilot made the calculations! He looked through the cockpit windshield at the distant air traffic control tower of the airport they’d just left. He knew that if the image of the the tower rises higher on their horizon, beyond a certain point, they would not make it – they would crash. In that event, they would have to find the best spot to make an emergency landing in a very populated area. Fortunately, the entire crew and all 150 passengers survived! When asked later, “Sully” explained that everything in him made it clear that he needed to ignore all the warning bells and the gauges and use everything he had to guide the plane to a safe emergency landing. The point was not to interpret all of the data. The point was to choose best outcomes. He was using one simple heuristic – the same one that the outfielder or the trained dog uses in catching the ball!

So, here at the start of 2014, how will you manage all of the data and the variables and live in the presence of chaos? Will you give in to the temptation to “control” or will you find your own chaordic path?

Some questions to consider, together:

What do you believe we might learn from this Gaze Heuristic parallel in the world of prioritizing our ministry efforts?

What might be the equivalent of the air traffic control tower on your horizon?

When you look back at the Core Values you have been using in your 90 Day Micro-strategies, which one or two is foundational for your measure of success, on an ongoing basis?

How might you adjust the way you manage all of the variables (maybe even the “chaos”) of your ministry environment?

What metrics might you focus on, to the exclusion of the ball’s windage, velocity, acceleration and spin?

____  Engagement?

____  Joy Index?

____  Laughter Meter?

____  Fun Factor?

____  Ratio of Chit Chat to Hear to Heart conversations?

____  Ratio of insider ministries to outsider ministries?

____  Others?