The Come-to-Jesus Moment

When I worked in catering I had a co-worker who I honestly think enjoyed the power of reprimanding his employees. He used to refer to these chats as “come-to-Jesus talks” or as “come-to-Jesus moments.” While I was never fond of chewing people out, I was pretty fond of that term and its pseudo-religious overtones.

For me, a “come-to-Jesus” moment insinuates three things: reckoning, repentance, re-alignment. It’s the moment when you realize “holy shit, I completely wrong,” and the earth moves. True “come-to-Jesus” moments are rare but when they hit you, they hit you like the windshield of a speeding sedan and they flip you over the roof like every movie you’ve ever seen.

I had one of these moments recently. And I actually think that when I explain it, you won’t find it to be as big of a deal as I did—but I assure you that it shook the ground.

“For a truly great company, the Big Thing is never any specific line of business or product or idea or invention. The Big Thing is your underlying flywheel architecture, properly conceived” 

― Jim Collins, Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

The way that I had always understood Jim Collins’s idea of the flywheel could be found in Disney’s 1957 Marketing Plan

Basically, do stuff that’s similar. Make sure that everything connects in some way, and let them all feed each other. Your TV shows plugs your merchandise. Your merchandise promotes your theme parks. Your theme parks promote your movies. Your movies give you music for albums. And so on. And so on. Just create feedback loops.

But, here is the piece that I was missing; here’s was my “come-to-Jesus moment”: with a flywheel you focus your energy on the primary action and everything that follows is inevitable.

As an example, here’s a simplified version of the famous Amazon flywheel:

Focus your energy on growth and it lowers your cost structure. If you lower your cost structure you can sell things at lower prices. If you sell things at lower prices then you improve your customer experience. If you improve your customer experience then you’ll get more traffic on the website. If you have more traffic on the website then more sellers will want to be on your website. If more sellers are on your website then you have a greater selection of products. If you have a greater selection of products then you improve your customer experience. And that loop just keeps spinning. Hence the flywheel.

Now, look at all that again remembering the word inevitable. The lower prices are an inevitable consequence of a lower cost structure. A larger selection is an inevitable consequence of having more sellers on your site. These aren’t choices, they’re consequences. They happen because of what precedes them. What this means in the context of Amazon is, as long they pour all their energy into growth, everything else follows. Let me repeat that: as long they pour all their energy into growth, everything else follows.

Some of you see where I’m going and some of you are still wondering what the hell this has to do with me? Why is this a revelation?

We all have limited resources, which means that we need to maximize what we get out of the little that we have. If you were Jeff Bezos and you had $7B to invest in your company where would you put it? Would you put $1B into every step and get fractional returns on each? Or would you put all $7B into growth because you know that the other six will follow on their own and at massive levels?

Let me give this to you one more time using a video game scenario. You’re a paladin in a role-playing game and you’ve built your character up to level 26. You’re ready to explore a new area on your map and you stumble across a giant acid slug monster with the face of Danny Aiello from Do the Right Thing. He’s deadly. He spits acid, calls you racial slurs, slings garbage cans at you, and the minimum hero level to defeat him is—you guessed it, level 26. Your exact level. It’ll be tough but you can beat him. Theoretically. But here’s the problem, on top of dodging his acid and garbage can attacks you also have to deal with his spawning ability. Every 7 seconds this guy farts and 5 demon mosquitos fly out of his ass and attack you. So what do you do? Do you keep endlessly swatting the mosquitos to death knowing there will be more? Or do you ignore them and focus everything on the Boss, knowing that if you kill him no more mosquitos will erupt from his anus?

For too long, I have been swatting mosquitos. I’ve been splitting my energy into too many different places. I’ve been doing lots of stuff that is similar, but I haven’t been looking for a chain of ineviatbility. But suddenly here is this revelation: if you find the primary activity, you can put all of your energy not it, and still get everything else. BOOM. The earth shook. Reckoning. Repentance. Re-alignment.

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

— Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, The One Thing

I know my one thing. And I’ll burn everything else that I’ve built in order to follow it. Do you know your one thing?

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Categorized as Thoughts

By C.A. Hall

Writer / Podcaster I'm a well-written sentence marred by a curse word. In another life I might have been a criminal profiler, a jazz drummer, an architect, an acrobat, an actor, or a children’s book illustrator.