Friday, January 02, 2015

Business Thought, by Dr. Obvious

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to business, so my thoughts are usually pretty basic (think Mr. Obvious). Here's one I had recently.

1. To make a business a go, you need customers--people who want your product and who will buy it from you.

2. Each product has an "average customer." So Harvard's "average customer" is a very above average student. The Democratic and Republican parties each have "average customers" in various locales. The different parts of IWU each have "average customers." Seminaries have "average customers."

3. OK, here's the really obvious thought. The number of customers must be sufficient for the business to survive.

The long and short of it is that if the "average customer" that a business, college, political party, etc. is targeting does not exist in sufficient numbers, the business won't survive, the college will close, the political party won't get elected, etc.

What's the point?

The point is that a lot of failing organizations formulate their identities on their ideals--what they want to be--rather than on their most likely average customer. Think of the seminaries that have brilliant faculty but no students. Are their faculty brilliant? Quite possibly so. The business will still fail if it doesn't have enough average customers.

The same applies to colleges. Faculty usually want to formulate the product on the basis of what they think is true and what they think is quality. If there are enough "average customers" who are interested in their idea of the product, no worries. But if there aren't, it doesn't matter that they're right.

Here's is the rub that frustrates a lot of us. There are institutions that we might view as inferior in quality but that are far more successful as businesses because they have more customers interested in their product. For example, it may very well be possible that some of the heady scholars at dying institutions could slice and dice in argument some of the professors at more "successful" ones. Doesn't matter. The popular institutions will grow gang busters if there is a huge market for their product. Survival and success in a business is simply not about being right. It's not about truth. It's about having customers.

Indeed, if I might be realistic. "Average" overall, by definition, is the majority of people. Therefore, any organization whose average customer is most like the average person is most likely to be the most successful organization from a business standpoint!

It's a frustrating thought but totally obvious. Those educational institutions that most satisfy the average possible student will be the most successful as businesses.


Ken Schenck said...

I hope you will excuse me for pointing out that the same dynamic applies to numerical church growth. Churches generally grow numerically, not because they are more spiritual or truthful, but because their product appeals to more average customers.

We like to spiritualize these things and it is far more important to aim at truth and the Spirit than to grow numerically. But as far as numbers go, this is just the way things work in the real world.

Martin LaBar said...

And I guess that your model applies to adherence to doctrine. Bad doctrine is sometimes attractive, good, not always.