Today’s post is the featured article from the April 2007 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.


Special note: Last week, when I wrote the feature article for this issue (Impact of the Uncommon Experience), I had no idea we would be faced with yet another national tragedy. But the community of Virginia Tech has reminded us, in the midst of the sorrow of their shared experience, what it looks like when the very best of who we are shines through. As I watched the extensive coverage of this horrible event, I was inspired by the examples of these incredible students. Imagine what our world would look like if we so embraced each other when tragedy wasn’t the glue.  

It was an incredibly beautiful Thursday morning. I hadn’t planned to drive all the way from Chicago to the University of Missouri, but there was no choice. It was my only keynote that wasn’t suddenly canceled that week. Regardless, I was enjoying the drive. It was peaceful and healing. Other drivers were courteous and everywhere I stopped, along the way, there was a sense of kindness from complete strangers. The morning would have been a perfect had it not been for the events just 48-hours before. It was Thursday, September 13, 2001. But in the midst of this horrific week, there was a goodness amongst complete strangers that I had never seen or felt before … or since. I have had hundreds of people tell me they experienced the same thing in the days following the attacks of 9/11. As horrible as it was, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 created a common experience. Maybe it stood out because it was such an intense tragedy. Or maybe because the “common experience” is now so uncommon in America. After all … America was built on freedom. On independence. On doing your “own” thing! Sounds good, in theory, until you arrive at the unintended consequence. It’s the consequence of the “uncommon experience”. And the exponential impact on business, family and community may be more devastating than you realize! I’ll admit, in my mind, this is a half-baked idea. But that is what “The Front Porch” is all about. Not to give you answers … just to get you thinking!

Back “then” our black-and-white television picked up the three major networks and the local public television station. That’s it. Four stations. Cable TV was not even conceived, much less available. And as you talked to people each day, you basically had a 1-in-3 chance that you had watched the same program they did the night before. There were a few choices in everything but those limited choices created common experiences. They weren’t created by design, but by circumstance.

Today is different … and it all sounds very enticing. The channels on television are in the hundreds and the websites are in the millions. My recent purchase of an I-Pod has only enhanced my ability to create my own world of entertainment … totally isolated from yours. On a recent trip to speak in Canada, I discovered Air Canada’s world of customized airline entertainment. Every passenger had their individual choice of numerous options of film, audio and gaming entertainment delivered right to your own seat. I suppose this individualized concept has always existed on airplanes, if you had brought aboard the low-tech version of customized entertainment called a book. But for some reason this feels more like “choice” on steroids. The freedom to choose endless options and the option to “have it your way” seems like the pathway to a more attractive life. Well, maybe it is. But then again, maybe not.

I have been wondering, a lot lately, about the impact of endless choices. I have primarily wondered abut the relational impact. In fact, I would suggest it might very well be a cancer that is eating away at our relational need to have a common experience. And it may very well be costing organizations millions of dollars in needless attrition. And the sad part is that it is evolving for all the right reasons … specialization.

I have witnessed this in more and more places. Let me give you a simple example in everyday life. It’s an example I consistently observed at our children’s high school football games last fall. This is one incredible school. On a Friday night you will find the football team specialized. The cheerleaders specialized. The band specialized. The student section specialized (kind of!). The irony is that each group is far more talented in their own right than any of these groups would have been 25 years ago. You would think this would all come together as one incredible event. Think again. Everyone is there for their own reason … and not together for each other. In their specialization, each group is there for themselves. It is a simple analogy, but the lack of intentional cohesion creates various isolated experiences. It creates a divided experience that I would suggest is significantly short of the ideal synergistic common experience that it could be. Most importantly, it misses a huge opportunity of teaching our youth how to create something bigger than yourself or your group. It undermines synergy because it segregates the potential for common experience.

It happens in business as well. We talk a good game of creating one vision or one organization, but then we measure and reward in such a way that undermines the possibility of creating a common experience. And then we wonder why there is no loyalty. Maybe it is because we have lacked creating a common experience. I know the motto “one for all and all for one” sounds old-fashioned … but it works. And it creates community that is healthy for humans who were designed for relational experiences.

Southwest Airlines has been commonly acknowledged for getting this right. That’s why they can turn a plane in 20-minutes (from the time the wheels touch the runway until they are up in the air again). Everyone, regardless of role, is focused on one common experience … getting the plane unloaded, loaded and back in the air. The irony is that Southwest Airlines allows great flexibility with employees delivering their best in a fun way. But the flexibility is all within the context of a greater common experience.

My good friend, Dave Ferguson gets it. Dave is the lead pastor for Community Christian Church in Naperville. He started this church 17 years ago with his brother, Jon and a few college buddies. This past year this church was named the 13th most influential church in the United States. A great part of the success has been in creating a common experience. They would call it “The Big Idea”. You might think this would be a simple concept for a church. Not when each weekend you are conducting almost 30 services in nine different Chicago locations, including delivery to children, teens and adults. And then you add in affiliate churches in 8 other cities from New York to California. And every weekend, every location and every service is on the same page. Not a bunch of disconnected little ideas. One focus. One big idea. One common experience. I was reading Dave’s new book, The Big Idea (co-authored with Jon Ferguson and Eric Bramlett) on my recent spring break vacation. The book reveals every step they take to plan and execute this common experience. As I read it, I not only thought about how every church leader needs to read this, but I quickly found my mind drifting into what effective business leaders could learn from this concept and then creatively apply it in an entirely different arena.

I think I have only scratched the surface of this idea. But I think it is worth thinking about … a lot more! I would love for you to think about it a lot more as well. Spin it around in your head. Check out my brand new blog this month (launching Friday, April 20th) where we can continue the conversation on this topic and many others.

Action idea: Think about the environment of your business, your community and your family. Are they environments of unrelated experiences or are they each environments of strong relational connections in the midst of common experience? What could you do differently that would begin a process of creating a more common experience?