Back to the Garage


Last night I was listening to the latest episode of This American Life about origin stories of new industries and companies. Many well known companies have a myth that they started in a garage. Even if it really isn’t true, people want to believe that their company was created by someone with a crazy idea who invested her last $2000 on an idea and got started in their garage. For some companies, like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, there is truth to it and the garage has become a corporate icon for innovation. In the case of Google, they have tried to capture that feeling so much that in 2006 they actually purchased the garage which housed their offices for a few months in the early days.

It made me think of the virtual garage in which YMX was built. A few friends sat around in an AIM chat room one night and envisioned a new place for youth workers to hang out. That night the idea went from light bulb to a URL and was a big moment. Just 2-3 weeks later I pulled an all-nighter when we opened the site and in 12 hours went from idea to profit. For me, that was an iconic experience I will look back on for the rest of my life.

It made me think of garage start-ups right now. I thought of Bob Carter who started The Pod Drop in his basement. In just three years he has taken his small iPod repair business from his basement to franchises. I thought of Derek Johnson who started Tatango. In just 2 years he has taken his idea of a group texting service from his parents basement to hundreds of thousands of customers. We don’t need to think of the garage story think it couldn’t happen today. Today’s economy has forced the brightest minds on the planet from the board room to the garage. Out of this recession will come the next great innovations that shape the next 30 years. The question isn’t if it will happen. The question is, “Will I take my idea and run with it or will I end up working for the person who took his idea and ran with it?

More importantly it made me think about the fact that for most people– there is never a garage. There may be dreams of a time when you are passionate about a new idea– about thumbing your nose at the man and going on your own— but for lack of something [money, time, guts] it never happens. Most of us, even leaders of great organizations, never get to be a part of it in the beginning. The garage is merely a legend. We get hired some time well after the good ‘ole days of wheeling, dealing, and turning heads. If you got hired today by Apple or Hewlett-Packard you would never be allowed the freedom to truly innovate in a garage to try to make something happen as it’s simply too complicated now. You have to make payroll, you have to mitigate loss, you have to protect the brand, you have to guarantee the shareholders a return, etc. Certainly these jobs require leadership, but a type of leadership that knows how to innovate in mature ecosystems.

My challenge for you is simple. Whether you a leader for a government agency, school district, church, non-profit, or even a small business– my challenge is the same. Spend some time in the garage. Ask big questions. Thumb your nose at the status quo a little. (Even the status quo for excellence you created.)

Starter questions:

If we were to start a church today in this community, knowing what we know now, what would it look like? Where would we meet? What programs would solve the most systemic problems in our community? How could we manifest the Gospel best? What behavior would we thumb our noses at? Who would be the most crucial people to invest in? Who would we not care if we pissed off? Who is the most unreached people group in our town?

This doesn’t have to be about a church, does it? Make your own questions for what you are passionate about and go to the garage.

Are you ready? 1-2-3 GO!



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