Friday, December 20, 2013

The Tomato Effect

In reading through the book, Healthy Congregations, I came across an interesting phenomenon called the tomato effect that I want to share with you. This is what the author says:

Even if evidence steers us in the face that something is needed or effective, we may reject it. If it does not fit our ideas or if we do not want to change course, we can deny, neglect, or trivialize the evidence. Information always has an emotional side to it. The phenomenon has been called "tomato effect."

The tomato was discovered by the Europeans in the New World. Explorers brought it to Spain and from there it spread quickly to Italy and France. The Italians called it pomodoro; the French ascribe aphrodisiac properties to the tomato, pomme d'amour. By the end of the 16th century, the tomato had become a regular ingredient in European meals.

Strangely, the South American fruit transformed European cuisine but had minimal acceptance in North America. Belonging to the nightshade family of plants, some of which are poisonous, the tomato was not grown in North America. Cultivating tomatoes was cultivating death. Despite the fact the Italians and French were harvesting and in and ingesting tomatoes in larger and larger quantities, the belief persisted that tomatoes induced death.

Harvard business professor Theodore Levitt wrote a classic article on the tomato effect he focused on the demise of the railroad industry in America. At the turn-of-the-century, railroads did not cease growing because people and freight no longer needed transportation. According to Levitt, the railroads declined because they believed they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business. Alternative means of transportation developed. Railroads stayed mired in their narrow view. They confused means-railroad with ends-transportation.

In contrast to the story of the railroads is the genius of the Stanley Tool  Company. They train their sales people not to sell electric drills but to sell holes. Stanley is in the  hole business. They keep a purpose, a goal, or an end in view. The means are simply ways to get there, not the ends in themselves.

How many congregations believe they are in the we exist for ourselves business rather than the we are in business to the community, even the world business? How many congregations confuse the way we have done things for decades with the larger apostolic purposes? How many congregations mistake the means for the ends? Something to think about! (Healthy Congregations by Peter L. Steinke)