I was thinking the other day about the relationship between quality and demand when it comes to the products or services our organizations offer to people. I think it is all-to-common for companies (or schools, or universities, or churches) to think that they have the very thing that people most need and that, therefore, they SHOULD come flocking to us to obtain it. Well that THEREFORE is a huge presumption. Just because you have a quality product does not automatically translate into a successful program. The other ingredient is demand. If the people don’t want it — no matter how “good” it is, then it will fail.
I see this problem a lot in churches and other non-profit religious organizations and it’s easy to understand. We religious people tend to believe we have the answer that everyone needs and that assumption often causes us to stick with strategies that just are not getting the job done. For-profit organizations usually can’t get away with this as long as a religious organization — but it happens there, too.
A good illustration of this is Polaroid’s Polavision project. It was supposed to have been the most significant breakthrough in camera history. The idea was simple: they would take their instant photo technology and do the same with videos! They had spent a decade investing in the development of this product. Of course, you probably already know, it was a failure that cost the company $89 million and started their downhill spiral into bankruptcy. The problem was that — no matter how great they thought their product was or how much they thought people SHOULD buy it — people just didn’t like it.
Now, I know that in hindsight critics have found all kinds of flaws in the Polavision camera. But let’s just assume for a moment that it was truly a high quality product. But quality alone is not enough to sustain an organization.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke some words that often trouble people (something he often did). He said: “Don’t cast your pearls before the swine.” What upsets people is they don’t like that Jesus called people swine. I don’t think he was really calling people swine. I think he’s using a metaphor (or maybe a kind of allegory). When the farmer goes out to feed the pigs, what are the pigs looking for? They are looking for FOOD. A pearl or diamond would have no value for them; they just want to eat. Maybe what Jesus was saying is this: “When hungry people come to you, FEED THEM! Don’t just preach to them.” No matter how great you think your product is, if that’s not what people want, then don’t toss away your hard work and dollars. Find a way to meet their demand and still get your point across.
In another place in the Bible, Jesus and his disciples see a fig tree in the distance and they get excited about being able to snack on figs. Woohoo! But when they get there, the tree has no figs. Well, the story says that Jesus cursed the fig tree (Yep, you heard that right. Jesus cursed). I don’t know if that shocked the disciples at the time but they were definitely shocked the next day when they walked by the same tree and it was all withered up DEAD. Bible scholars tell us this was a parable depicting Israel’s failure to produce fruit in righteousness and of God’s intention to pass judgment upon Jerusalem in the coming years.
But this story also illustrates the situation where there is high demand but low quality. There was a huge need for a nation to follow God faithfully and to open the floodgates for redemption to all the nations. But Israel at the time stubbornly resisted God’s plan. The quality of their religion in that day was very low grade — even though the demand was high. This was a wasted opportunity.
Companies miss out on opportunities when what they offer is of poor quality, especially when the demand is high. That leads to customer disappointment and people quickly switching their loyalties.
On another occasion, Jesus said to his followers: “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Of course, they were thinking about the literal harvest and Jesus was talking about people. He was telling them not to sit around and wait for the harvest. Don’t pace yourselves. NOW is the opportune moment. Take it!
When we combine a quality product with high demand we have a winning combination. That combination is difficult to maintain, but successful organizations — whether in the business of selling cameras or winning souls — have learned how to accomplish this balance.
Photo by Shannon Kringen. Available at Flickr.com