“Evangelism” is a good word!

“Evangelism” does not seem to be a popular word in many circles – even Christian circles nowadays. I was intrigued to read it now being used by those involved with Open Source projects and software development. I found the lessons very relevant actually. This article is worth some “translating” for our own context.

Guy Kawasaki’s 6 Simple Rules for Evangelism
Posted on: 04/16/04
by Mary Tyler

Many Open Source projects fail to catch fire not because they aren’t useful or interesting technology — it’s just that the project wasn’t evangelized properly In search of evangelizing dos -and don’ts, Open Enterprise Trends spoke with legendary high-tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki, one of the men behind the visionary and commercial success of Apple Computer.

To help Open Source advocates with their momentum-building efforts, Kawasaki has some simple rules and perspectives on what makes a good software evangelist. Some are deceptively simple to understand and apply. Others may sound simple, but can be tough to do right.

1. Your Code Isn’t “Cool” Just Because It’s Open Source.
Kawasaki’s first caution may suck the wind out of the sails of some Open Source evangelists, but he says it’s simply good advice. “I wouldn’t position products as ‘Open Source’ for the sake of being Open Source cool,” Kawasaki said. While Open Source does have some growing momentum — and cachet behind it — advocates need a much fuller story behind their Open Source project. As Kawasaki put it: “Companies don’t buy things because they are ‘Open Source’ — they buy things because they work — obviously. Open Source can help ‘working’ come true, but a piece of crap that is Open Source is still a piece of crap.”

So, while Open Source can be a great departure point for the capabilities and features of your code, don’t let it be the whole trip. As Kawasaki warned: “Never expect people to buy a piece of crap for religious reasons.”

2. You Gotta Believe. If you can leap over the (low) hurdle of proving that your code project is Open Source — and it does something useful, Kawasaki said it’s time to move on to the nature of your evangelist.

By definition, evangelists want people to “believe in [the] dream,” Kawasaki told OET. “Evangelists deliver the good news and get people to believe in it and spread it further.” So, it stands to reason, to be an effective advocate, the evangelist must first be convinced that his “good news” is helping make the world a better place. Unless he believes– really believes — he can’t be authentic, Kawasaki said, and people can spot a faker a hundred e-mails away.

Evangelism is not publicity or public relations — those deal mostly with drawing attention from the media. Evangelism is about regular people, not tech journalists. Moreover, “a publicist or PR person doesn’t have to truly believe in what they do,” Kawasaki explained, “– though it sure helps. An evangelist starts from a belief and goes from there.” In spreading good news about a better, cheaper, more secure product, evangelists empower decision-makers to step away from the status quo. This requires the ability to think out of the box — beyond the traditional ways of doing things.

The good news? It really doesn’t require any special technical knowledge to be an evangelist, Kawasaki confided. “Evangelism is all about believing — not what you studied or where you worked in the past,” he went on. “Evangelists can have an absolutely irrelevant background — for example, I have a psychology major and worked in a jewelry company before evangelizing Macintosh.”

3. Blend Enthusiasm with Knowledge. While enthusiasm is key, product knowledge is a must for evangelism to be most effective. But the best strategy for finding evangelists isn’t to cull out the product gurus and choose from that group. Instead, expose as many people to the product as possible. “This seems like a duh-ism,” Kawasaki joked. “But, you need to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ and then work with flowers that are blooming,” he said. “Don’t waste your time with buds that don’t open. Once you have people enthused, it’s time to get them conversant with the product, deeper into what they need to know to be really effective.”

4. Don’t Start at the Top. Once an Open Source project has an evangelist, now those people need to figure out whom to evangelize. The answer, Kawasaki says, is to avoid starting at the top. Success almost always comes from evangelizing to the middle and bottom of an organization. “Few CIOs will buy an ‘Open Source’ product,” Kawasaki explained. “It just sounds too risky.” Yet by making it possible for many people to test drive your product, you avoid seeming like you’re trampling them with your “cause.” Underneath this is the idea that people are smart and they are looking for better ways to fulfill their needs. When they find a better way that they understand and can use, they’ll adopt it.

Kawasaki suggests that evangelism drives word of mouth – it’s a formalized grassroots outreach. The evangelist gets people charged up at the lowest levels. So, the official evangelist’s role will often be to evangelize from outside organizations — with companies they don’t work or consult for. “This isn’t a sales job. This is opening people’s eyes to a technology that you love,” Kawasaki noted, adding, “Not everyone joins the revolution on the first day. Whatever you do, don’t blow them off as ‘bozos.’ Anyone who’s not fighting against you is fighting for you.” Though you might be the official Project Evangelist, you can’t be everywhere at once.

5. Sow Seeds with Individuals. Kawasaki recommended always remembering, as you evangelize your project, you are tapping into the needs and imaginations of individuals — not passionless companies – especially at the outset. Although individual project members can help you evangelize, he noted, most Open Source project members don’t work on those projects full-time; they have “day jobs” and other outside interests that might also benefit from your project.

To help members evangelize better, Kawasaki advised offering them some training in demo-ing your project and in talking about its benefits. As a rule of thumb, Kawasaki said your “lead evangelist” should develop four or five simple “talking points” that should be conversational and slightly provocative, to promote discussion about the product. Though you may know the most about your particular area of development, you must guide the product demo without seeming too intrusive. The most convincing benefits, Kawasaki noted, are ones people find themselves.

6. Avoid Evangelism Gotchas. “Inside evangelism” can be complicated by the fact that, as an employee of or consultant to a company, you’re not supposed to “work for” a potential vendor. “Be careful about appearing too enthusiastic about an [OSS] product,” Kawasaki said, “or [you] might be typecast as a wacko.” What’s more, you can face serious repercussions if you’re perceived as not putting your employer’s interests first.

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