“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” – Jesus
Sometimes it’s helpful to step outside our familiar line of Christianized thinking and ‘consider our ways’ using a different model for our analysis. (Haggai 1:7)
My son Michael is orienting a large group of folks in his company toward ‘product thinking’ rather than the more traditional ‘project thinking.’ I was impacted by the relevance of that discussion to my desire (and yours) to focus on God’s priorities for me and others.
Here are a few highlights of project thinking:
- Projects: things we need to get done
- The focus is usually on delivery and output
- The measures are timeline and schedule
- It is assumed we know how to achieve our goal
- Success is following the schedule and hitting the targeted dates
In contrast, here are highlights of product thinking:
- Not focused on output, but outcome
- Not focused on timelines and dates, but on the important thing we want to achieve
- Because of outcome focus, delivery time often cannot be predicted beforehand
- We don’t know precisely how our goal will be realized. We’re learning more as we go forward
So, what is the benefit of product thinking?
Well, a project mentality assumes at the outset we know how to achieve our goal. But what if we were mistaken in our initial assessment? With schedules and dates set, project thinkers often find it hard to pivot and change. Product thinking, on the other hand, allows us to be adaptable and nimble, is more collaborative, and anticipates possible adjustments in the process.
While project thinking focuses on identifying solutions up-front and then delivering against a schedule, product thinking keeps the focus on the outcome. That involves a level of comfort with some uncertainty and room for new ideas, but for the right outcome, not just an on-time output, it is really the best approach.
I am likely in danger of losing some of you with this less-than-exciting glimpse into business processes. Let’s try to relate this stuff to our shared desire for ‘good outcomes’ in some areas of our lives.
Two important arenas that can benefit from product thinking are our homes and our churches. How can we think and act more beneficially within the relationships that likely mean the most to us?
HOME AND FAMILY
At home we often assume we know what each person needs from us to be affirmed and to experience a sense of security and well-being in that environment. If we bring what we think is appropriate, things should turn out all right, right? That would be nice, of course, but we all realize it doesn’t always work that way.
Many good people approach their relationships with a rather rigid idea of how others should respond to their sincere efforts. However, if their input doesn’t produce the desired result, they need the sensitivity and flexibility to change their approach. Yet it is surprising how many people hold to their preconceived ideas of how a marriage or child-rearing should work.
Remember, what they’re after is an outcome, not some quantity of output (Ex: a comfortable living, parties, affectionate phrases, gifts, other perceived goodies). The willingness to understand, adjust, and learn what that other individual truly needs is much more likely to move the relationship in a positive direction. Forget how your parents or some other influencer did this!
In order for the outcome in a marriage or in our child-rearing to be rewarding we must recognize how unique each person in this equation is, and the limitations of our own understanding of how that individual will develop over time. This is a learning process, for sure!
Married folks bring a huge assortment of ideas, fears, complexes, preferences, superstitions, and hopes to the relationship, all of which will require some sorting out and wading through by both parties. Having rigid ideas about precisely how the relationship should unfold is a recipe for misunderstanding and eventual conflict.
Again, product thinking focuses on the outcome, not the output. So, one’s output, to be effective, may have to vary significantly from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. But if one is committed to partnership and real collaboration in the relationship, he or she will do what is needed to help bring about the desired result.
So, at home we can benefit everyone involved by focusing on achieving a desired outcome, and by doing all we can to learn, adapt, and evolve, regardless of how much or how long it takes. A recipe for blessing!
As a young man I worked for JC Penney, and I learned a most important sales principle: ‘Don’t sell the features, sell the benefits!’ For example, a shirt might be a blend of cotton and polyester (a feature) but I’m going to tell the customer, “This will come out of the dryer wrinkle-free!” (the benefit) The needed application of this to the church setting is quite easy to see.
Typical American churches quite often advertise the many features they offer; a comfortable sanctuary and seating, lots of groups and activities, age-differentiated kid’s programs, charismatic pastors, hi-tech nursery, community outreaches, etc. And what is interesting is that many, if not most believers shopping for a church make many of these features a priority in their choices.
Modern Church planners stress the importance of these features to best attract the population demographic that church hopes to serve. The assumption is that with a rigorous output of desired services that project will be a success. Decidedly project oriented.
However, the vital question for a Church is: what is the benefit derived from this project? With this strenuous output, what outcome will individual believers realize?
So, let’s deposit this into the analytical process . . . .
The holy objective of God in Christ Jesus was “bringing many sons to glory,” (Heb. 2:10) This Divine outcome is the holy priority for every assembly of true believers.
Obviously, churches can quite easily hit their marks of schedule and numbers and yet run the real risk of missing the desired outcome altogether! Diligently working ‘the project’ can often obscure areas of spiritual distress or poverty in individuals and groups.
People are constantly changing due to a host of life factors and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to personal wholeness won’t often produce the desired result.
So, the challenge for churches is finding a way to be sensitive to individual needs and have the will to step outside the norms to address them more adequately. Finding time to listen and respond rather than simply preach, teach, and organize is causing church groups to rethink both size and shape to meet Kingdom goals.
To become outcome oriented is vital to the church in every setting. Are her efforts directed toward building and maintaining a community presence and profile, or are they helping raise up another generation of Spirit-energized saints?
When Jeanie and I established a rather traditional church years ago, very shortly I was asking myself the question, “The church (project) is prospering, growing, but are the individual saints (product) prospering and growing as well?” That’s a whole other matter.
Output vs Outcome. Both are necessary, but one is vastly more important than the other. In both our homes and our churches, let’s summon the courage to look this in the eye.