Three Phases in the Life of an Organization

Years ago, I read a book that said a start-up venture has three phases . . .

  1. Wander around until you find something.
  2. Grow it as fast and as profitably as you can.
  3. Change the game.

I’ve never forgotten it. And I could bore you to tears with examples.

The trick is 1) to know which phase you’re in and 2) staying in that phase just the right amount of time.

The “find something” part is for sure the hardest. Most of the businesses, ministries, and churches I’ve been involved with found their ultimate success by focusing on something a little different than what they started out to do. I love Reggie Joiner’s moniker about ministry models . . . “ever-changing methods for communicating never-changing Truth.”

But once you know you have something . . . once you have momentum, crowds of raving fans, ‘buzz’ in your market and competitors beginning to copy you, the key is to stick with it. I don’t know if the Boy Scouts give a merit badge for Creativity, but try to resist . . . try to keep focused on what’s working and keep fueling the fire. I’ve been taught that smart people with adequate cash can get 1-2% of any market if they’ve got a winning product or offering. If you haven’t yet captured that much of your market, hold your horses on getting creative.

But the day will come when you’ll see something else. A strongly felt need. A hole in your system . . . a ‘flaw in the slaw.’ A product that your customers want and will buy from you. An opportunity to bring something totally new to your client base with a completely different business model. This is “changing the game.” When IBM legitimized the personal computer, it changed the game. When Apple released the iPhone, it changed the game. When Amazon moved from selling books to selling everything in the book, it changed the game.

Changing the game is extremely risky and expensive. If you’ve ‘found something’ and grown it successfully, you’ll be able to fund your ‘change the game’ strategy from your surplus. If you can’t, you’ll have a much better chance at obtaining more cash if you’ve done the first two phases well.

So, here’s three suggestions . . .

  1. Keep working until you’re sure you “find something” . . . i.e., you’ve found an approach/product/service/app that you’ll be proud to be associated with and that has ‘legs’ in its market.
  2. Apply all your energy and capital to growing as fast and as successfully as you can. Stay focused. Don’t give in to your ego, curiosity, or ‘wanderin’ mind.’ Keep your eye on the ball and build something. Don’t be in too big a hurry to change the game. Louie Giglio says, “We die of indigestion of ideas, not starvation.” In other words, fully engage with what’s working and don’t swallow every new idea that comes along.
  3. When it’s time to change the game, investigate ‘the new thing’ seven ways from Sunday. Don’t worry about keeping it secret . . . get out there with it. Try it. Show it to people. Sell it small. Get feedback. And be ready and willing to shoot it quickly if it doesn’t work. Don’t let a new initiative kill the goose that lays the eggs you eat.

Scripture: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)

Mentor Tip: The last thing you want to become is a consultant to your mentees, their businesses or ministries. Never give advice . . . ask questions. Share stories from your experience. Point them to Scripture and to the God who inspired it.

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