Google made waves this week by announcing a major reorganization of their company under the new name Alphabet. In a blog post explaining the changes, founder Larry Page said “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies.” These companies include established businesses such as Google and YouTube, as well as long-term research and development outfits such as X Lab, most popularly known for its foray into driverless cars. It also includes an organization you may not be familiar with, called Calico.
Calico is self-described as a “research and development company whose mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan.” In simpler terms, they’re “tackling aging, one of life’s greatest mysteries.” Time ran a feature on the company in 2013, breaking down the company’s mission even further, titling their piece “Can Google Solve Death?”
A company with such aspirations is not shocking, but this is no mere start-up with limited funding. Google has committed over $600 million dollars to the project, and has said that it is in it for long-term goals rather than short-term gains.
Max Anderson penned a great article about a recent open forum in Silicon Valley between Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal, and theologian N.T. Wright that was aimed at exploring the concept of death. Thiel, the Silicon Valley start-up guru, thinks it is possible to defeat death by the steady advancement of technological innovation. Anderson summarizes Theil’s view: “The concept of indefinite life extension feels uncomfortable to people, thinks Thiel, because we have become acculturated to the idea that death, like taxes, is inevitable.”
Thiel’s view of death is symptomatic of a larger worldview that believes that all human problems are solvable through human innovation. The aforementioned Time feature article described it like this: “It’s a lot easier to take Google’s venture seriously if you live under the invisible dome over Silicon Valley, home to a worldview whereby, broadly speaking, there is no problem that can’t be addressed by the application of liberal amounts of technology and everything is solvable if you reduce it to data and then throw enough processing power at it.”
I bring all this up because it reveals so much about our contemporary view of leadership. Our American ethos of progressivism has spawned generations of leaders who place enormous amounts of time, energy, and capital into making life easier, simpler, and more convenient. And of course we all love many of the innovations that have occurred. But along the way, we have witnessed the law of unintended consequences that followed.
With the development of mass-farming techniques in the middle of the 20th century, we saw an increase in food production, but also began to see the decline of rural farming communities. The development of central heating in our homes provided heat to all areas of the house, but caused the hearth to lose its significance in bringing the whole family together. Smartphones have given us greater connectivity, but have also made us a more anxious, distracted, and lonely people.
So what if Google finds a way to extend life? Will those longer lives necessarily be better? For every technological advancement there are always unforeseen, unintended consequences.
Here is where leadership is necessary. We must make sure that our leadership ends are true and godly. If we allow ourselves to become intoxicated by our belief that we can solve any and all problems, we will begin to move into spheres beyond our capacity and calling.
Paul’s wisdom to “not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us”, speaks to the way he viewed his ministry as having boundaries. (2 Corinthians 10:13) This kind of leadership is antithetical to the way our culture views leadership. Culture says you should seek to endlessly expand your sphere, but Christian leadership is about being faithful to the sphere that God has called you to.
It’s not that Christian leadership is against dreaming and visioning for the future. It’s that we take those dreams and visions to God, and when we humbly submit ourselves to him, he shapes and changes them to his purposes. Humility, not hubris, is the ultimate disposition of Christian leadership.