Get out of the Building

A year ago, when I attended the Tools of Change conference in NYC, I attended a workshop led by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. In a future post I will give a brief description of what that whole process involves (and it is a unique process,) but today I just want to focus on one concept that he speaks about in the book, because it is so important for our future: Get out of the Building.

Eric himself was quoting Steve Blank, and in Steve’s blog, he mentions the importance of understanding customers and markets and how you can’t do that sitting in an office. It requires getting out and talking to people; at heart it requires understanding who your customers are and what they want. Some of the advantages are:

  • People who get out of the building have new ideas
  • People who get out of the building connect with new audiences
  • People who get out of the building are more creative in their approaches

Getting out of the building is not just physical, but mental. One barrier we often have to improving our performance at MennoMedia is our tendency to stay “inside” the buildings, both literally and figuratively. We are tempted to value our own opinions, but not have enough respect for what our broad audiences might think. As Steve Blank says, “An intelligent opinion is still just a guess.” Sometimes the buildings we stay in are literally our own minds.

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I love staffing a book table and interacting with customers–I notice where their eyes go, what they pick up to look at. I ask what they are interested in and what gets their attention.

One of the positive challenges of our work is that a lot of creative people come to us with their ideas. Yet more and more I am asking them, “What is the market for that? What are the needs and the values of that market?” It occurred to me that this concept of “getting out of the building” is a lot like the concept of being missional and intersects directly with the work we do as an arm of the Mennonite Churches in North America. My own personal definition of missional (a term heavily used but rarely understood in our faith community) is that we are to “discover where God is at work and go there.” As I travel, I am encouraged to find the “out of the way” churches that ordinarily get passed over, or the unnoticed people at work alongside God. I wouldn’t be able to do that unless I was actively looking, and “getting out of the office.”

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In January I took a trip to the wall/fence at the U.S. Mexican border along with Mennonite Church USA leaders, to learn firsthand the issues around illegal immigration.

I hope that over the next years as we work both in producing creative content for both within and without the church, we will work harder at being as relevant and responsive to the needs of new markets and audiences and that we will find value in getting our minds and bodies outside of our typical comfort zones, “outside of the building.”

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~Russ Eanes

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