Boardroom Ed Brenegar tackles The Intellectual Gulf between church thinking and business thinking:

There is an intellectual gulf that exists between the church and the business world. It is deep and wide, and has served to ghettoize the church and marginalize the business world’s contribution to God’s mission in the world. Complaints that churches are too consumerist or too business-like is not an argument against the church applying business ideas, but about the poor way that business ideas are applied. That is a leadership character issue along with the intellectual one.

Bill Kinnon noticed as well, and says it relates to one of my posts from this past summer, Church Structure & Leadership Smackdown: The Academy vs The Business Model, which led to some good discussion. I was enjoying Ed’s post, and when I came to his mention of Tom Peters, I was especially pleased.

<digression type=”rant”> As I’m thinking about this question again, it suddenly dawns on me (just imagine the serious head-smacking sound) that it’s the wrong question whether or not to draw lessons from the business world and apply them in the church. Typically, a sola scriptura objection is raised, paired with a fear of humanistic or capitalistic thinking. Duh. Firstly, can somebody tell me that the prosperity gospel is not itself an example of this, but built on “secrets” gleaned from scripture? Anyone? Anyone? There’s a lot of management theory that is more easily rooted in the teachings of Jesus than some of what gets spewed from some pulpits each week. Moreover, Jesus did it. What about the parable of the — wait for it — shrewd manager? The talents? He used examples from commerce to explain his point… and where we see examples from commerce which illustrate or explain what we need to know, take the application, baptize it, whatever. The question isn’t whether, but which. </digression>

So, excellent stuff there from Ed: take the time, and heed his advice for bridging the divide. Do understand though, that just like with Christian writing, there’s a lot of crappyjack business writing. In both cases, you can often find stuff where 2-300 pages would have made a great chapter in a book… but sadly was stretched out into an entire book. This is one of the reasons why the world needs more essayists, perhaps even to recognize that we’re in The Age of the Essay. This is something that blogging is helping to form — and that’s a good thing, no matter what Andrew Keen will tell you.

It is for similar reasons, that John Moore says he likes the Change This manifesto site — and so do I, as I’ve subscribed to the RSS feed for quite a while now. This time around, John was pointing out Craig Stull, Phil Myers, and David Meerman Scott’s “The Secrets of Market-Driven Leaders: A Pragmatic Approach,” which cites the failure of the Apple Newton as representative of “inside-out” thinking that tech companies fall into, rendering their second and third products as failures following an initial success. They see it as a leadership problem where those on the “inside” (within the company) are out of touch with the “outside” (the market, its customers).

Following Ed’s advice is not a stretch for me, as I’ve done this sort of multidisciplinary reading for some time now… and if you don’t or can’t read business literature widely, try to follow some who do, like Ed and Bill — and don’t forget to subscribe to my feed as well! ;^) Anyway, so here I am reading the manifesto that John Moore pointed out, and I’m wondering if the church has had some initial success, followed by an inside-out leadership problem ever since.

The manifesto (say “essay” if you like) offers “7 Secrets of Market-Driven Leaders,” and I’m going to quote John Moore’s summary as I interact with the essay itself on the seven “secrets,” inserting my applications or thoughts on how the material relates to a church context. First though, I don’t like the word “secrets” — there’s no magic formula and nobody’s trying to hide anything… these are just seven good leadership practices.

Before we get to the list, we find a bit of an introduction.

In the predictable evolution of a technology company, the second and third products developed (like the Apple Newton) almost always fail. Why? Evidence shows it is because the entrepreneurs who started the company and who understood buyer problems soon become occupied with the details of running their organization. They no longer focus on buyer problems and building products the market wants to buy, and instead become obsessed with the details of managing an ongoing business…. Outside pressure forces the company to become the opposite of a market-driven company. …So, how do you keep the right DNA in place as you grow?

Now we’re onto something. This is akin to ignoring culture and failing to amend the product or the presentation. In the case of the gospel, we don’t have an editable product for which we can devise new features (though that hasn’t stopped some people), but that’s no excuse to ignore culture. We can offer it in other colours… it is, after all, not a Model T Ford, which customers told they could have “in any colour you like, as long as it’s black.” (Henry Ford). More on this below.

SECRET #1: Work as a Trusted Advisor
People in market-driven companies largely ignore the competition. And they most definitely do not care about technology for technology’s sake. Instead they focus a majority of their energies on the problems that buyers are willing to spend money to solve.

A different quote sums it up: “[Today’s leaders] recognize that current customers are not their only target market and thus study market problems of non-customers as well. They interact with the market, not only to ask questions, but to participate.” I might paraphrase: get out of the ivory tower and see how the other people live. Instead of fearing the culture of non-customers, go and seek to understand it, even learn from it… and there you will find a way to relate to it, and communicate your product into it. The church is sometimes likened to a ship, so if you were steering a ship would you stare at the deck or survey the ocean and the clouds? We have better tools today than did the ancient mariners — make use of them.

There’s another tidbit in there about ignoring the competition… i.e., don’t be so worried about the mosque or whatever is down the street — stick to your mission and don’t spend so much time reacting to theirs.

SECRET #2: Build from the Outside-In
Market-driven leaders understand the complete picture of market problems before building products. they develop solutions in the context of the total customer experience.

This might be the classic contextualization observation: “The most important thing [market-driven leaders] do is to live in the prospect’s world and look at all the touch points that matter.” Some Christians like to go around saying that “Jesus is the answer,” but they never take time to listen to what other people think is the problem. As a result, they come across as, in the inimitable words of Ned Flanders, “Lisa Simpson: Springfield’s answer to a question nobody asked!” Sometimes people won’t pay $4 for a swizzle-stick, but they’ll gladly pay $5 for a glass of water with a swizzle-stick in it. Understand the problem first: their problem (they’re thirsty), not yours (swizzle-stick market share).

SECRET #3: Simple is Smart
Whenever market-driven leaders create products or solutions—for potential new customers, existing customers, or even new markets—it is always in the context of creating a simple solution to the problems people have.

The best companies create solutions that are narrow and deep. they organize around a single market problem and solve it completely with a solution that to the buyer seems simple, obvious and most importantly handles all the related tasks in one easy step.

Some churches I’ve seen are anything but simple. All they do in the process is make it hard to get at the product. Put the cookies on the bottom shelf and they’ll fly out the doors. I have in my mind the image of one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons, with the caption “Inconvenience Stores.” For the non-dedicated of you, I will explain that the picture is of a boy staring up at a shelf with a single product on it… the shelf is probably three times the height of the boy — there is nothing else: one shelf, one product, and one would-be customer.

SECRET #4: Leadership is Distributed
At industry-leading organizations focused on a market-driven approach, company operations are driven from the business unit or product management level. Leadership is distributed. Why? Because the business unit leaders and the product managers who work there are the people who are closest to the marketplace and best understand the problems buyers face.

Winning companies recognize it is better to distribute leadership and to employ a bottom-up strategic planning process that drives the business forward than it is for functional senior managers to collaborate on decision making and push new strategies, processes, and plans out to the organization.

Learn this lesson well. It requires very little translation, but if you need further examples, illustration, and convincing, read The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (highly recommended, btw. Go for a hybrid they describe if you aren’t comfortable with being purely leaderless. As the manifesto says though, “A top-down approach is much less likely to succeed.”

SECRET #5: Stop Being a Vendor
In our experience working with thousands of technology companies, we’ve watched a sequential decline each year in the level of “trust” between vendors and customers. We’ve learned that the most successful organizations … embrace the discipline of being a problem solver and solution-seller instead of a vendor.

Again, understand the other guy first… think not so much of customer relations, but of non-customer relationships. Build some of those, and watch what happens. Stop opening with the pitch. Also note, in business, when customers aren’t happy, the company tries to understand the customer better. In the church, when parishioners aren’t happy, the leaders just tell the parishioner that they must be wanting the wrong things.

SECRET #6: Marketing with a Big “M”
Industry leaders understand that marketing is more than just “marcom” (marketing communications) and that the role of marketing involves much more than just creating a message and delivering that message with the tools of advertising and public relations.

Companies get into trouble when they throw bucketfuls of money at the promotional aspects of marketing such as advertising, tradeshows, PR, media relations, analyst relations, and the like without paying due attention to the problem identification, market definition, and product management aspects of marketing.

Sunday School was born of the need for children working in coal mines to learn to read and write. That’s not so much what it looks like today, but maybe people need weekday day care services more than they need a Sunday meeting to show up at.

SECRET #7: Measure Only What Matters
Successful companies don’t fall prey to the typical requirements of the C-suite, investors, boards, industry analysts, and Wall Street for managing the minutia and death by metrics. the problem with measuring marketing activities is that too many companies have trained their employees to measure the wrong things. Market-driven leaders measure only what matters.

Churches tend to measure by the number of bodies in the seats each week. Really, is that the most important metric? Remember, the most important metric isn’t necessarily the easiest one to take.

Here endeth the lesson — this has really been an exercise in how to adapt business thinking to church applications. Don’t get hung up on terminology like “customer” or “product” or even “market-driven”… look to the principles being presented. In this case there’s a recurring theme: understand — and more to the point, seek to understand the outside, not just the inside. That is to say, understanding the gospel is good, but how much better if you could match that with an understanding of the people to whom it is addressed?

Share This

Share this post with your friends!