The dream of the 90’s is alive in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
In 1993, Bill Murray starred in the fantasy comedy Groundhog Day. It became one of the highest grossing films of 1993, and went on to be considered one of the greatest films of the 1990’s and one of the greatest comedy movies ever.
I personal try to watch Groundhog Day every year, on, well, Groundhog Day (duh!), and each time I watch it I experience an extreme case of déjà vu.
Déjà vu: (from French, meaning “already dreamed”) is the feeling of having already dreamed something that is currently being experienced.
Unfortunately, life isn’t a Hollywood movie, nor a sleepy dream. It’s real. Real Life. And in real life, there are real problems. And many problems simply cannot be solved, simply. They can only be worked on. Joseph Bentley and Michael Toth, in Exploring Wicked Problems, says “the essence of life, in fact, can be concisely summarized as the experience of continually dealing with problems” (from The Introduction, xiii). They go onto to broadly categorize problems as tame or wicked. These are such helpful categorizations for me as a leader. I SO understand these categories, especially that of “wicked.” The wicked problems are complex, messy and unpredictable. These are the ones that most often make it to my desk and inbox.
I got one of them early this morning. I stared at it for quite a long time. I let it sit in my inbox unanswered for a couple hours, then looked at it again. I began a response, deleted it, rewrote it differently, only to delete it again. After a couple of hours I was able to send a reply that the original sender will NOT find to his liking, but I know it’s right. It was the right response to that particular wicked problem. Oh, and I can also tell you that the response will NOT fix the problem. I wish it could, but it’s, well, wicked.
That brings to mind a lengthy and difficult email I received years ago. While sitting in a local coffee shop I read the email completely, and as it went on I found myself getting more and more angry. I quickly hit reply and started to fire off a missive of white hot venom. In all CAPS I wrote the recipient’s name then proceeded to angrily peck out: I RECEIVED YOUR EMAIL…when, unbeknownst to me, a friend snuck up behind and startled me, causing my thumb to brush across my laptop trackpad, hitting SEND on the email. I heard the Apple Mail “swoosh” sound, and I let out an audible yelp, as my terse reply flew into cyberspace. I still giggle to myself thinking about that long, misguided email being responded to with a simple: I RECEIVED YOUR EMAIL. I didn’t take long for me to realize that I had perhaps, unknowingly, given the most appropriate reply. I should answer more email that way, knowing that I will most likely wake up the following morning with another one like it in my inbox.
Groundhog Day. Déjà vu. Wicked problems can only be solved over and over again. Or as Russell Ackoff puts it, “people do not solve problems; they manage messes” (Bentley and Toth, 75).
In modern leadership circles (like most of life), there are so many messes to manage and problems to continually fix. This is the case in most, if not all, industries, businesses and fields of work, including that of The Church. The Church, like other organizations, is experiencing constant and volatile change, and the wicked problems of our time are massively complex, messy, and unpredictable. The acronym “VUCA” has surfaced in the modern zeitgeist. VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Someone should write a book entitled “VUCA Church.” Perhaps I will.
Sure…I’ll start working on it tomorrow. So, when my alarm clock goes off at 6:00 AM, and the song “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher wakes me up yet again, I’ll work on it then. Yah, I start it then.
But until then, I’ve got 99 wicked problems, and writing a book about the VUCA Church ain’t one of them. And when all those wicked problems keep coming at me (and they are coming at YOU too), we can find comfort in remembering what Jesus said to us in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble (ie: wicked problems, swamps and pythons). But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In other words, Jesus wants us to know: I got you babe.
I got you yesterday.
I got you today.
I got you tomorrow.
That’s the Jesus-version of déjà vu.