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Word of the Day: "EVANGELIST"

Jimmy Swaggart

"Buy my product!"

I was prepping to share product development war stories with an NYU MBA class, and I didn't know where to begin. So I thought back to when I first joined a skunkworks within a big tech company, and remembered how puzzled I was with the peculiar language that circulated around the executive team. Fast forward to today, and these concepts continue to be relevant to every risky or transformative initiative I start up.

So, I've decided to start a "Word of the Day" series which describe my personal take on essential concepts you too may encounter in your startup, business development, or Lean Six Sigma team. It's not gospel, so I welcome feedback or additional ideas/words I ought to cover. The words are in no particular order of importance.

Okay, boys and girls, heeeeeeeeeeeeeere's—Ha! Ha! [Peewee Herman laugh]—the Word of the Day!


This is a great word to start with because every great product begins with great ideas. And great ideas originate from, and are pushed into being by, change agents or "evangelists". These guys don't just drink the Kool-Aid, they live it and truly believe in the innovation they're about to introduce.

What separates evangelists and change agents from the rest of the flock, especially in large organizations where mediocrity and apathy can hide, is the intangible fire they possess. Evangelists are willing to bet their political capital and careers on that disruptive process change or that "bet-the-entire-line-of-business" product. Evangelists will talk about their baby not just to customers, but to their colleagues during lunch. They're very persuasive, and they are absolutely essential to getting buy-in from the rest of the organization. They are also the ones to nail down the first couple of flagship customers. If at least a third of your core team does not consist of evangelists, your initiative has a good chance of failing.

Why? Because evangelists conduct themselves like mini-CEO's. And that's what you need at a time when roles and responsibilities are still in the process of being defined. You need go-getters, self-starters, and learn-as-you-go people who are willing to put on different hats rather than expect to delegate to an assistant. Evangelists get their hands dirty. They're just as likely to crunch through a spreadsheet as to fly to a customer in frickin' Des Moines to close a deal (not that there's anything wrong with Des Moines! Well, OK, maybe). Only an evangelist can convince a grocer to buy little computers to be installed on top of shopping carts from a company that's known for selling cash registers.

Further, evangelists will help you to recruit other strong talent. The intensity of evangelists should scare off ho-hum 9-to-5'ers, and attract the A-team your startup or big change initiative will need, especially in the formative first 6 months.

"Be the change you want to see in the world."
- Mahatma Gandhi

How true. How true.