When Good to Great came out in 2001, the hype of the book extended all the way to a growing church in Gig Harbor, Washington. Our Executive Pastor who loved all things Patrick Lencioni, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell decided we, as a staff, needed to read the Jim Collins’ book together. The concepts of the hedgehog, the flywheel, and Level 5 leadership became the common language in our culture as we looked at programs, desired number growth, and effective staff interactions. Much good came out of the conversation in defining “great” within a church context (even prior to the “Social Sectors” monograph which Collins added later) with an atypical disciplined approach. The grappling forced us to look at what was important and distinct for our local environment.
However, I will confess to a distinct distaste to what the continued conversation from Good to Great created over time with “getting people off the bus.” Some staff seat positions were rearranged with changes that needed to occur. But what broke my heart, and eventually ended up contributing to my decision to leave the church staff, was the overconfidence effect that came into play as the Senior and Executive Pastors began to systematically remove staff members because they weren’t the “right fit.” Those on the bus had to agree with the definition of effectiveness developed through the process. To be exact, effectiveness became predicated on the number of new parishioners, superseding the focus on how to deepen relationships with God and others. The “great” became a question of quantity, not quality.
Over the next five years, staff changes created a revolving door whenever a staff member chose to disagree, or even simply ask for a longer period of time to decide, with an upper level decision. While a staff needs to work together for a culture to function well, disagreement with how things are done does not mean the culture is being undermined, rather it can create a healthier culture.
I do not blame Good to Great, especially in light of how Collins took to evaluating the value of his concepts for the Social Sectors. Rather, this type of book, as well as others along the way, serves as a reminder that fads can actually harm if discernment is based only on the “new best thing.” Even as Collins learned along the way, it is better to “invest more time being interested.” During that season while on staff, our desire for being cutting edge was to be interesting/exciting, instead of listening and pausing around what the whispers of the Holy Spirit were offering.
In retrospect, I appreciate my simultaneously required (through my Masters program) reading from Paul Hiebert’s anthropological work on “bounded sets” vs. “centered sets.” Bounded sets by definition are static, about the boundaries of who is in and out. Centered sets are dynamic where the movement is toward the center, rather than focusing on the boundary. Hiebert’s description of how missionary work effectively draws in others appeals me to me with the focus on the center of what’s most important. I am drawn to that focus of being centered, rather than defining who is on and off the bus. I recognize the need to make those hard decisions when there isn’t a “right fit” appreciating Collins’ words on eliminating a culture of “niceness” that can undermine the purpose of an organization. However, when the focus is only on who is in and who is out, or “in or off the bus,” something is lost in the desire for quantity over quality.
On another curiosity note, I’m wondering if there is a correlation between Collins’ book and his monograph for the Social Sectors with a movement towards social entrepreneurship. From that time and subsequently, there is an increasing number of businesses and non-profits from different ends of the spectrum looking at what it means to be a social entrepreneur type of company/organization – focusing on purpose versus the bottom line financially or numerically. For the non-profit with the possibility of making money, the advantage of using the Collins’ principles requires an honesty about finding an economically sustainable system while still centered on its main objective. For the business, the financial ends can be replaced by purposeful passion that measure with a more holistic approach and outcome. Just curious.
 James C. Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer ([Boulder, Colo.?]: J. Collins, ©2005), Author’s Note.
 Paul Hiebert, “Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories,” Gospel in Context 11:4 (October 1978): 24-29.
 Collins, 32.