Jason Fried

Be Inspired, Don’t Imitate

Posted by | Church Communications, Principles | 8 Comments

I’m continuing in my Reworking Church Communications series today, a blog series for church communications inspired by the book REWORK. If you need to catch up, check out: No One Cares About Your Church, Forget Your Mission & Vision, Stop Speaking in Tongues, Know Your Real Competition, and Constraints Are a Blessing.

One of my favorite TV shows right now is Hoarders on A&E.  It’s fascinating [and sad] to watch how people can let things accumulate around them and consume their lives. On a recent episode a woman had spent away her entire life savings buying designer handbags. At risk of having her home foreclosed on, her family intervened. They hoped by cleaning and reselling the over $350,000 worth of designer purses they could help save her home. As a team of appraisers began sorting through the huge collection they began to notice something unsettling… all of the purses were fakes. While they had Gucci, Prada, and Coach all over them, they were indeed imitations. The $350,000 collection only ended up being worth about $1,200.

It’s very easy to copy in our world today.

With a few keystrokes you can copy content, images, ideas, and code and repurpose them as your own. While it’s easy to do I’m fairly convinced that in most instances it’s not the right thing to do.

When we were all infants we learned to speak by imitating our parents. They would repeatedly say “ma-ma or da-da” until we could fumble our way to saying “mom and dad.” Imitating allows us to learn but eventually we need to find our own voice and begin telling our own stories.

In the church space especially we oftentimes think that because we are “all on the same team” that we can borrow, steal, or adapt content from one another and it’s ok. Well, it’s not. Some churches like are incredibly generous by sharing everything they create, and many churches offer videos, media, and other things they’ve created for a small price that is invested back into their ministry. Having resources available like these is incredibly valuable for churches who don’t have the ability to produce videos, media or graphics. However, when you are consistently copying, borrowing, adopting or adapting ideas from other places you can lose the true sense of who you are.

In REWORK, Jason Fried shares some great ideas on why copying is such a bad idea. He says that copying skips understanding, and understanding is how you grow.

“You have to understand why something works or why something is the way that it is. When you copy and paste, you miss just that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath. So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. It’s buried beneath the surface. The copycat doesn’t really know why something looks the way that it looks or feels the way that it feels or reads the way that it reads. The copy is a faux finish. It delivers no substance, no understanding, and nothing to base future decisions on.”

Strong words but they are so true.

When I first started in church communications I learned by imitating. I wrote to over 100 churches that were listed in Outreach magazine’s Top 100 issue and asked them for examples of what they were doing with their printed communications. I created an idea file and pulled from it for a few years as I was learning my way. Eventually I found my own aesthetic and voice and didn’t have to rely on others to create. From there, I took a posture of being inspired.

I think there is SO MUCH we can learn from watching other churches, organizations, and businesses. We need to learn from what works, we need to take notes and we need to be students… but we also need to understand that every church has its own story to tell and its own voice that needs to be heard. God has embedded something unique in each one of our churches that we are meant to bring to bear in the life of our communities.

When we copy what worked somewhere else we can be hindering what God wants to do through us right where we are. The Church is made up of people and people are all different with unique stories, needs, and experiences. Every church is different, requiring your creativity and insight to know how to communicate most effectively. Open source is great, learning from others is invaluable, but every church has a unique audience and importing what worked somewhere else might not translate in your context. You learn the most by doing things yourself.

The heart of the matter as it relates to copying for me is this: the first sentence of the Bible tells us we serve a creative God. God’s creativity is seen in the world around us. If we are made in His image then we have that same creativity inside of each one of us. We shouldn’t have to rely on other sources but simply look to the Source and find inspiration, creativity, and wonder.

Imitate as you are learning to find your voice… be inspired as you grow and mature… but don’t copy + paste. God is more creative than that and you have better stories to tell than someone else’s.

Avoid the temptation to copy + paste and commit to doing the hard labor of creating. Ask God to let you see your congregation and your community through His eyes. Listen to the stories being shared around you. Watch for the signs of what God is doing around you. Create from a place that is inside of you as God’s Spirit leads. Let the words you speak [or type], images you create, stories you tell, and things you craft be ones that bring life and light to the world around you. You can’t imitate or fake authenticity and originality, and that is what it takes to truly connect with others.

Jason Fried offers a simple way to determine if you are copying: if someone else is doing the bulk of the work you’re copying.

Control + C and Control + V makes things much easier to lift and adapt, but just as the Hoarders team discovered, imitations are just plain cheap. Be inspired, don’t imitate.

Monday Morning Mind Dump

Posted by | Just For Fun | One Comment
  • I only have three more Monday mornings at Park. That’s crazy.
  • Brooke Fraser was AMAZING on Wednesday night at Lincoln Hall. If her tour is coming to your neck of the woods you owe it to yourself to go!
  • Brooke is a worship leader at Hillsong and has a very successful career as a singer/songwriter. At her concert there wasn’t a worship set or any mention of church, God, or Hillsong… but she truly ministered to the crowd that was there. She, through the songs she wrote and the words she shared, proclaimed the Gospel. It was beautiful. <soapbox> I  really believe that’s what Christian art is meant to look like… Christians doing their art in public places, pointing people to the Creator, God. Not using religious words or by creating propaganda, but by using their gifts and talents to speak an unspoken message that causes people’s hearts to see and respond to the beauty of Christ that is glorified in what they create. </soapbox>
  • I drove home to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Thanksgiving was also my birthday, so it was fun to celebrate, even though the bakery got my name wrong!
  • Last week I shared a post on 27 things life has taught me so far. Check it out in case you missed it!
  • On Friday I celebrated “Friendsgiving” with some friends here in Chicago. I have been blessed with some amazing people in my life, and that was what I was most thankful for this year.
  • CatchPhrase has some VERY random phrases in the “Everything” category, but I still love it.
  • My friend Dawn Nicole Baldwin will be sharing ‘5 Ways Social Media Can Kill Your Brand’ with M2LIVE on December 2. It’s FREE! Check it out!
  • Jason Fried from 37signals did a great talk at TEDx Midwest on “Why Working at Work Doesn’t Work.” If you haven’t read REWORK [or even if you have] it’s worth watching to consider the way you work. LOVE IT.

  • In other news, I HAVE A JOB!!!!!! I’ll share more about it soon, but I WILL be staying in Chicago and won’t be working a church. I will be helping to serve the Church.
  • Angry Birds will be feeling the Christmas spirit soon.
  • Fast Company did a great article on Willow Creek. Check it out. Also, Willow Creek is looking for a marketing manager for the Leadership Summit. This is a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the largest Christian leadership conference that reaches over 120,000 leaders in 70 different countries in 30 different languages! Details here.

Monday Mind Dump

Posted by | Just For Fun | 10 Comments
  • Fall has officially hit Chicago. LOVE the cooler days and leaves turning colors. Only downside is that it means winter is on its way soon!
  • I spent the weekend with both of my moms. No, it’s not like that. I’m adopted but know my biological family and this weekend both of my moms came to visit. It was an amazing time and one I’m so thankful for.
  • Tomorrow I’ll be doing a webinar with M2LIVE at 11:30 AM EST on texting! Be sure to come and join the conversation if you’re curious about how we use texting at Park and how you can figure out if it’s a good fit for your church. Learn more here.
  • I completed my home office space this week… LOVE having a place to work, read and reflect that’s my own.
  • I’m officially over STORY hangover. It was such a phenomenal event. If you missed it, be sure and check out my STORY Appendix that includes links to all of speakers, sessions and everything else STORY related.
  • Personal highlight for me at STORY was being able to interview Jason Fried from 37signals. I’ve had the chance to get to know him over the past couple of years and think so much of what he has to say can apply to our context in the church. It was a blast to get to welcome him to STORY and have the chance to interview him on some of the ideas that he has that apply to our world as church creatives. One of the statements he said that impacted me the most was: “It’s always more about the message you are communicating and less about the technology that’s wrapped around it.” Brilliant.
  • I’m headed to Catalyst on Wednesday this week. If your’e going to be there, definitely try to make it to the Bloggers Meetup. Brad Ruggles does an amazing job putting on this event and it’s a great way to meet some of your favorite online personalities offline!
  • I’ll be an official blogger for Catalyst this year, so stay tuned for notes and updates from what’s happening in ATL.
  • I’ll turn around from ATL and head to San Francisco next week. My sister is getting married and it’s going to be like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Assyrian style. Can’t wait to celebrate with her and the rest of my family.
  • I haven’t seen the The Social Network yet. I feel so behind.
  • I’m a little floored/stunned/humbled that Ken Shaffer added the +41 to his Top 100 Church Blogs list. That made room for yours truly at #140! Pretty crazy and scary all at the same time. Thanks to all of you who read and follow.
  • Last week we had our first planning session for Cultivate11. More details are coming soon!

Hey Story Peeps, What Do YOU Want to Ask Jason Fried?

Posted by | Just For Fun | 13 Comments

Story is just a couple of days away! Unbelievable. We are so excited to welcome nearly 700 people to Park Community Church for a conference geared towards the creative class in ministry. Ben Arment and his team of volunteers have some amazing things in store and I’m so excited for what the next few days will bring.

On Thursday afternoon I’ll be interviewing Jason Fried as part of the conference. Jason is the co-founder of 37signals and author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller  REWORK.

I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jason over the past year or so and am thrilled to welcome him to STORY. I know he will have some great things to share with us. I’m working on a final list of questions to ask him but thought I’d give you the opportunity to let me know what questions you have for  Jason.

So comment below and let me know what you’d like to ask Jason… I’ll pick a few questions to ask him onstage at STORY!

Delivering Happiness :: Q & A with Tony Hsieh, Jason Fried, and David Heinemeier Hansson

Posted by | Notes | 72 Comments

On Tuesday, September 7, Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos, stopped by 37signals office in Chicago on his Delivering Happiness Tour to do Q&A with Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, and 37 other guests. I was stoked to be a part of the conversation! Below are some of my notes from the Q&A. Enjoy!

On writing the book Delivering Happiness:

  • Tony went on a retreat to get the book written.
  • Once I was in the mood to write it was easy.
  • The hard part was getting into the mood to write.
  • Tried alcohol, caffeine, RedBull, coffee beans in vodka, etc.
  • They just started a 3 month long bus tour hitting 23 cities to promote the book.
  • They’ve already been on the road for 11 days,  and have hit 4 cities so far.
  • The tour is more about the message, less about the book.
  • They are using the tour as an opportunity to see and learn about what’s happening out there.
  • They want to inspire and be inspired.
  • Learn more at and

Tony to Jason and David: One of the challenges of a bus tour is that there are 2-3 events per day. It’s like planning 80 weddings over a few months. The bus is like a startup. You guys are all about productivity and efficiency… what tips do you have?

  • Typically, we wouldn’t do a 3 month bus tour; we’d stay in 1 city for 3 months.
  • Everything we do is all about doing it the simplest way possible first.
  • Instead of taking on many possibilities, we take on the easiest one first.
  • Anything you do is more than adequate for people who want to get to know you.
  • Go as low-fi as you can go… add on extras only when you need to.

Tell us about what Zappos stand for, what makes it different, what is your book about?

  • Zappos has evolved.
  • It started in ’99 during the height of the dot com boom.
  • It initially all about selling a lot of shoes online
  • 4 years into it they had to figure out what they wanted it to really be all about.
  • They decided they wanted their brand to be all about delivering the best customer service
  • In 2005, they shifted to make culture their #1 priority.
  • Everything else would happen naturally with a strong culture.
  • As many companies get larger they tend to lose their culture.
  • At Zappos, they want to scale their culture to make it stronger and stronger as the company gets larger
  • Having a strong culture causes you to be very explicit about what people’s jobs are all about.
  • Your job is not a job you do, it’s a culture that is a part of what you do.
  • Making customers and employees happy is their thrust to deliver happiness.
  • Check out
  • They help other companies figure out their core values to build their own strong cultures.
  • What’s important is having a strong culture.
  • What separates good companies from great companies is a strong culture and a vision that has a higher purpose above money or profit.
  • By having a higher purpose you generate more.
  • Zappos’ higher purpose is about spreading the idea of happiness as a business model

How did you implement culture 4 years into the life of your business?

  • They had 100 people when they decided to make culture the priority.
  • It’s different than when you are starting from the beginning.
  • When you are at the beginning of a start-up everyone knows each other… it’s easy to know when someone isn’t fitting in.
  • It’s hard as you get larger to have a handle on that.
  • Tony used to interview everyone personally
  • Zappos established 10 core values as a means to establish and define culture.
  • The problem with most core values is that they sound like a press release and are incredibly lofty… you can’t tell the difference between a company and their competitor.
  • They aspire to have Committable Core Values.
  • They hire or fire people based on their values.
  • Core values are a way to scale culture.
  • Core values are a formalized definition of our culture
  • They are the DNA of the company
  • There are no leader birds in the movement… each bird has simple rules embedded in their DNA that allows them to fly in unison

What is 37signals take on all of this?

  • When you are small you can talk to almost everybody.
  • Lead by example
  • You can’t have the disconnect of asking people to do something and not do it yourself or show them how.
  • You have to set the best example
  • The trick of being a small company is that you have to learn how to do everything.
  • You have to get better at doing everything.
  • If you’re not good at what you are telling people to do it won’t work.
  • Small companies must be focused on efficiency; there’s no room for slack.
  • Half of their company is in Chicago half is in 10 cities around the world.
  • Now that they’ve built an office there is a more unique experience for people who are in Chicago, to keep balance and a sense of keeping everyone on the same page, most of their communication happens online via Campfire, even if they are sitting across the room from one another.

To Zappos: How do you manage the decision making process?

  • I [Tony] do as little decision making as possible
  • Decision making is pushed to the front lines as much as possible.
  • The advantage of that is that all of the teams are much happier.
  • Customers experience the consistent culture.
  • Zappos tries to align themselves culturally with all of their vendors.
  • Any place that has a distributive force makes it difficult to ensure culture.
  • Zappos has 2,000 employees… 1,000 in Kentucky and 1,000 in Las Vegas
  • Visit to see their office if you are in Vegas.
  • They send employees in both directions…  every employee has to see the packaging and shipping in action.

Jason Fried to Tony: You aren’t price competitive. What’s cool about that is that on the internet people go to the cheapest place. Zappos culture and service is more important than price. Was that intentional?

  • Zappos doesn’t offer coupons, etc.
  • They want customers to shop with them for service and selection, not the price.
  • They launched as discounted service site they offer but doesn’t have the same service, etc
  • Whatever doesn’t sell on Zappos goes to 6PM. It’s like an outlet mall.

To Jason and Tony: In Rework: you say failure is not a rite of passage, they you shouldn’t learn from your mistakes, etc. In Delivering Happiness, Tony says that we need to fail our way towards success.  Please explain!


  • There is something to be learned from failure.
  • There’s a lot to be learned from success.
  • Not enough people focus on that.
  • If you keep focusing on what didn’t work you’ll keep learning what not to do.
  • Since everyone is talking about failure,  look at what’s working instead.
  • Keep doing what’s working.
  • You get better by doing something better each time.
  • It’s not a great way to learn if you keep looking at what you did wrong.


  • Learning from your mistakes is an oversold idea.
  • Failing doesn’t mean you’re succeeding.


  • There’s a difference between correlation and causation.
  • Learning from success can be hard because you could be learning the wrong thing from your success.
  • There are very few entrepreneurs who did their first thing very well to the point that it succeeded.
  • If people fail at something they can look at themselves as a failure.
  • Failure is part of the path to where you are going to end up.
  • It’s a necessary step in the journey.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit is about optimism and creativity.
  • Being an entrepreneur is like being MacGyver for business.
  • It’s never a question of not having a enough resources but not having enough resourcefulness.

How do you both feel about the issue of transparency?


  • I don’t know what transparency really means.
  • Transparency doesn’t mean everything is available to everyone.
  • Some things are not people’s business.
  • It doesn’t benefit anyone. It’s like trivia. It doesn’t help.
  • It’s fine to give something away for free but you have to have something to sell.
  • Example: First Citywide Bank skit from SNL:
  • It’s only in the web industry where FREE is a qualification for success.


  • One of the fastest ways to grow trust is through transparency.
  • Initially focus on being transparent with your employees.
  • Transparency gives every employee the feeling of greater ownership.
  • They livestream all employee meetings to the general public.


  • There’s a lot of techniques for running companies and building culture that work at a certain skill.
  • Techniques and tools are different dependent on the scale. Advice can be very context-specific.

The service industry has a bad reputation… if you have a huge staff in customer service, how do you instill value in them?

  • It goes back to having a greater purpose.
  • They are building Zappos to be all about delivering happiness to the world.
  • The same tasks have different meaning and value to people.
  • There’s many ways to motivate employees [money, fear, incentives].
  • There’s a major difference between motivation and inspiration.
  • If you can inspire your employees with your higher purpose and values that match their own you can accomplish more.
  • Motivational incentives are detrimental to creative/knowledge-based fields.

To Jason: How did you decide to NOT take money from investors when you were starting out?

  • Fundamentally, it all comes down to your schedule.
  • Are you on you own schedule or someone else’s?
  • When you take money early on you are someone else’s schedule.
  • When you start something and invest in it yourself, you are on your own schedule.
  • 37signals started as a design company and now they do software… they choose to do what they do.
  • Being on your own schedule, deciding what you want to do, how you want to do it, etc is the best way to go.
  • Own your own schedule, don’t rent it from someone else.


  • Control and progress are essential ingredients in happiness.
  • Faster progress can be addictive.


  • If you do take money you give up control.

Rapid Fire Q&A

  • Slow down growth to build for the long term.
  • Most entrepreneurs have a strong bias towards fast.
  • Slow down growth by raising prices.
  • Focusing on culture isn’t expensive.
  • Be explicit about allocating attention to culture.
  • Implement your personal core values from day 1.
  • In the interview process at Zappos, they ask people what their top 5 happiest moments are in their lives. Those uncover your key core values.
  • People desire connectedness and being a part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Happiness looks different for different people.
  • Once you break even, invest as much as possible into your customers.
  • At Zappos, most money that would have been spent on marketing is focused on building the customer experience.
  • Customers will do their marketing for them via word-of-mouth.
  • Interestingly, people who spend the most aren’t the ones who talk the most.


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