Turning Your Flywheel
Dr. James Emery White Dr. James Emery White's weblog
- 2020 Jan 16
In his book Good to Great, and in a subsequent monograph, Jim Collins talks about “turning the flywheel.” His research on companies that went from good to great revealed that there was “no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment.”
What did mark the great companies? They kept pushing at things as if they were pushing a giant, heavy flywheel. Collins writes:
Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing. The flywheel moves a bit faster. Two turns... then four... then eight... the flywheel builds momentum... 16... 32... moving faster... a thousand... ten thousand... a hundred thousand. Then at some point—breakthrough! The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.
Applying this concept to Amazon, Jeff Bezos and his team determined that their flywheel, that which powered their business, was low prices. As Brad Stone outlined in The Everything Store, the lower the prices, the more people visited their site. With added customers, you add sales as well as third-party sellers. This enabled Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers, not to mention the servers needed to run the website. All this in turn led to even lower prices. “Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.” So the principle is clear: push the flywheel at the points that power your business, and keep pushing.
Over and over and over.
So what is the flywheel for the church? What “business” are we in? Where do we push? It has been the same for two millennia: We are in the business of evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated and unleashing the discipled. Yes, we are called to worship, engage in community and practice the “one-anothers,” serve the poor and so much more.
But in terms of mission, the flywheel is clear:
And Collins is right. If we keep pushing at this, over and over, making it turn more and more times, at faster and faster rates, it becomes unstoppable.
One note: while the flywheel can and should be “pushed” at all four junctures, there is – as there are with most flywheels – a place to start. If you do not evangelize the lost, you have no one to assimilate. If you do not assimilate, you have no one to disciple. If you do not disciple, you have no one to unleash.
So push the flywheel—just don’t forget that for us, the “low prices” of Amazon are the “lost people” of the world.
James Emery White
Jim Collins, Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.
Brad Stone, The Everything Store.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.