Adapt or Die Series

Part 1: Danger of Stagnation

Have you ever heard the phrase “adapt or die.” For most of us that’s just a slogan or a self help philosophy, but in the past it wasn’t hyperbole. 

In the 9th Century CE  ancient Chinese weapon designers discovered the destructive potential of gunpowder weapons. But almost a thousand years later, an outnumbered British army relied on superior European cannons and muskets to defeat Chinese forces in the First Opium War. The Chinese mixed their gunpowder less exactly, Chinese officials estimated a 200 years disparity between western firearms and their own, and the Emperor couldn’t even arm all his soldiers with firearms: relying on bows and spears for the rest. In short, the Chinese had given up a 400 year technological lead.  

Now if you’re like me, you’re asking how the Chinese fell so far behind? How did the inventors know less about their own invention than their competitors? The answer is simple: they stopped adapting. While Europeans continually evolved their gunpowder technology in constant competition against one another, the Chinese rested on their laurels, depending on old military techniques and past glories. 

Now it’s easy for us to point the finger, blaming the Chinese leaders for exceptional complacency, but is that fair? If we are honest with ourselves, how often do we change our habits when things are going well? Do we disrupt the comfortable status quo before the looming catastrophe hits. 

Now you’re probably not expected to face down invading armies anytime soon, but you are called on to face down other rising catastrophes. “How am I supposed to make a living in a changing economy,”  “how do I capture the attention of my kids logged on to screens,” “how do I deal with a new pain in my leg,” “how do I best lead my ministry through a pandemic,” “how do I connect with my neighbor in an increasingly divided world,” or “how do I let my spouse know they’re loved through the peaks and valleys of life.” 

We can  keep using the same strategies and knowledge we used to answer these questions last time, but that will fail us eventually. Especially if we are in a competitive and demanding environment (overseas missions maybe). Just as for the Chinese, the world around us constantly shifts and we either keep up or get dominated and stuck, scrambling to respond. Don’t you want to decide your future, not just constantly put out fires? Change is hard but we can either adapt or see our organizations and goals die.  

Are you ready to learn and adapt?  Check out these courses….

Intentional Multi-Cultural Teams

Sustainable Resilience

Or  you can check back in next week for an answer coming from another Asian nation’s history: Japan.

Daniel Morgenstern is the director of youth and small group ministries at Restoration Covenant Church in Apple Valley, MN and proudly serves as a Sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard. In all his work, he relies on his background as a Missionary Kid who spent the first 12 years of his life in Ukraine.

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