Three Great Ideas and How They Grew

David Mays

Great Idea #1
Bob Adams developed a great new product. He called it Whole Life Advantage. Bob's product was a combination attitude development, diet control, and exercise system. Bob's idea was novel in two respects. First, it was synergistic. The system affected both health and attitude. Their good attitudes improved their health. And their improving health affected their attitudes. Secondly, people didn't just buy a product, they bought the system. This meant on-going training and that meant ongoing income for Bob.

Those who whole-heartedly bought into Bob's system were so transformed that many of them became natural volunteer promoters and salespersons for the product. Thus Bob had not only a service that produced ongoing income from each subscriber but a natural built-in free sales force.

Since Bob started with relatively little capital, he developed Whole Life Advantage as a home-based business. Bob and his customers invited people to Bob's home for lectures, demonstrations and testimonials for Whole Life Advantage (WLA). As people bought in, they continued to come to Bob's home weekly or even twice weekly for updates, new products, and ongoing advice for integrating the system throughout their daily lives.

The business grew rapidly and Bob was soon out of space so he enlarged his living room. Within a year Bob had to build a wing onto his home for the business, and three years later he relocated to a larger home, specially designed and constructed to accommodate WLA. By this time the number of WLA advocates was so large that customers were multiplying and Bob was already designing an even a larger building.

After about ten years of designing and building Bob was out of energy. Not only was construction eating up the profits, but the time and energy required to design and build was taking him away from developing and monitoring the product. Because of space constrictions, a lack of attention to customers, stale demonstrations, and a lack of new system development, business leveled off and began to decline.

In one sense this was a relief to Bob, for he was doing all he could possibly do to just to maintain the status quo. He had built a big and profitable business that was admired by the whole community, had been written up in several popular publications, and was being emulated by other entrepreneurs. Bob had achieved success.

Great Idea #2
Carson Baker had a great new idea for health care and it really boomed. People go to a hospital to get well after an illness or injury. As a hospital administrator Carson realized that many people go home from the hospital and through carelessness, lack of education, and poor habits, get sick all over again. Carson asked, "Why can't the hospital take on the responsibility for maintaining health? We don't have to limit ourselves to curing the sick, we can maintain the well."

Carson convinced the hospital board of directors to try out his idea by inviting those who were treated to come back to the hospital two or three times a week on an ongoing basis. Patients were not "released," but maintained on an active roster. Their records were maintained as active and each time the patient returned, his file was reviewed, he was checked out by a physician, and given counsel and medications or treatment as appropriate.

This service quickly became very popular because the maintenance service was done on an offering basis. While the hospital had a recommended fee, based on the patient's income, and it was frequently commended, there was no attempt to collect it and no financial records of donations were kept.

Because of improved health, the obvious value of having frequent attention by a physician, the camaraderie of patients, and a dozen other reasons the health maintenance service blossomed. Nearly every patient took advantage of maintenance sessions at least 3 or 4 times a month, and many twice a week.

Although the additional service provided a smaller profit margin than normal hospital service, the income was more than adequate because of the multiplying number of ongoing patients. Further Dr. Baker and his board felt it was worth continuing because of the growing hospital reputation and the value to the community. Dr. Baker had been interviewed on national TV because of his innovative program and the testimonials of patients were overwhelmingly positive. More and more people began to come from neighboring communities to become part of the ongoing health maintenance program.

Within a year, the hospital was full to overflowing. Of course, this had been foreseen and plans were already on the drawing board to add a wing. Two years later, plans were being made to two more wings, and within 5 years, all the hospital property had been used up for buildings and parking.

As the hospital maintenance service entered its 8th year, Carson Baker was overseeing a small staff of people designing a totally new facility larger than the largest hospital in the city. The completed facility was a masterpiece of design and engineering. And it was full within a month of opening.

At this point Carson could envision a hospital five times the size of the one they had just moved into, but he just didn't have the time and energy to pursue it. Several factors entered in. It would take perhaps twenty years for the income from patients to pay off the current debt. He wasn't sure how much additional money he could or should borrow. His time was now almost entirely taken up with design and building. The administration of the hospital and care of patients had long been delegated to others, not all of whom had the same vision and dedication Carson had. The novelty of the idea had somewhat worn off and the size of the institution was intimidating and unfriendly to many of the original patients as well as to newcomers. Somehow, the hospital had lost its reputation for fast, friendly, careful, patient-interested service it had once had.

Great Idea # 3
Earl Davis developed a new form of continuing education at his university. Being the founder and dean of the school, he had the opportunity to implement his revolutionary idea. In a nutshell Earl asked, "if life-long education is going to be the norm, why not have life-long students at the university? Instead of graduating students, we will simply shift them to liftime student status. After completing the basic four-year requirements, students will continue to attend classes as their schedule allows on a free-will offering basis."

Results surprised even the most optimistic observers. Perhaps half or more of all matriculated students continued to enroll in ongoing classes. Within two years, Earl found himself with inadequate facilities. By the time a larger building could be built it was already overcrowded. Immediately new plans were launched, architects hired, and construction firms lined up. Earl realized that for this type education, specially designed facilities were needed. He spent hours and hours with architects helping them to understand and design buildings to house the "new university."

By the time the second round of building was completed, the third edition was well into the planning. Even though Earl had hired a full time building planner, he still found himself spending the majority of his time on building designs, plans, oversight, facilities selection, etc. As a result, Earl was too tired and busy to keep up with the design of curriculum, hiring of faculty, and oversight of the educational process. As a result education began to slide. Within a few years a number of people had dropped out and many others were grumbling. It seemed they were hearing nothing but "buildings" while education was neglected.


What is your analysis of these three ideas?

What limited their ultimate success?

Do they have a common dilemma? What is it?

What do you think could have been done to keep their innovations expanding and impact more people?

Bob Adams couldn't get over the nagging thought at the back of his mind that there was a whole city, a whole nation, no, a whole world full of people whose lives could be enriched if he could just keep the business growing.But he had done all he could.

Carson Baker simply couldn't build a hospital big enough to accommodate all the people who could potentially benefit from his novel health care. He had reached his limit.

Earl Davis had a great idea, but it never reached its potential. Earl could only educate as many people as he could house and he was out of time, money, and energy. Hence his vision was limited by the building.

Suppose instead of the home sales idea, the hospital idea, and the education idea, we consider the expanding local church idea?

Do buildings preoccupying the staff? Do they take important time away from ministry? Are pastors having difficulty finding time for spiritual renewal, sermon preparation, and discipling leaders? Are people hearing more about construction than ministry? Are they getting the feeling that church is all about bigger buildings? When will the expanding local be church successful? Will it be successful when it becomes larger than the church next door? When it's the largest church in the suburb? When it's the largest church in America? Does that constitute success?

Has the church reached its limit when there are 1,000 people in the building? 10,000? What about those outside the building who don't know Christ? What about the million or more nearby and the few billion worldwide?

Is the vision of the church only as big as the building? Are church leaders satisfied to reach enough people to fill it? Is the vision of the church limited by the size of the largest container they can build?

A building can never be large enough to house even a small town. There is a whole world to win. We can't get them all in a building.

How can we solve the building dilemma?