After 20 years and more than 600 articles, videos, and blog posts on TntConnect, I want to let you know that this is my last post in TNT.tips and I am officially retiring from my volunteer role—and joy—of supporting TNT. And I want you to know how much I appreciate your enthusiasm and support over the years!
Read on and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking…
Greetings from northern Minnesota and the Greyhound Bus Museum.
Hibbing, Minnesota, is home to this gem of Americana. In 1914, two enterprising young men bought two new cars, Hupmobiles, with the intent to sell them to people in this small mining town.
They offered free rides and got many … free riders, but no buyers.
A friend suggested they sell these sample rides for 15¢ between Hibbing and Alice (two miles away), and the inter-city bus business was born. Prior to this, walking was the only option. They added more towns, and as ridership grew they started a side-business to stretch cars to make the multi-passenger vehicles that later became the buses we know today; by the 1940s, Greyhound was the largest transportation company in the world.
The museum traces Greyhound’s history from 1914 to the late 1980s, with the best part being the many classic buses they have on display. Greyhound is a rare company that not only invented an entire industry but also became the undisputed leader of it for decades.
Many innovations start as one person’s solution to a problem. It grows from there, first to early adopters, then gathering steam until it becomes mainstream, and then eventually it saturates the market where there are effectively no more customers. The innovation moves from highly manual to [in most cases] almost entirely automated. In some cases, these innovations were incremental over decades; for example, people used to pump water and carry it into the house which they heated using a fire they stoked; now they just turn on a faucet and hot water pours out.
The innovation AND adoption curves look something like this:
The steep part of the growth curve comes when the innovation, infrastructure, and mass production drive the costs down to where the [whatever] becomes affordable to the masses. Prohibitive cost was not the only obstacle to owning a car in 1914 in rural northern Minnesota… lack of roads and gas stations (infrastructure) limited the reach of this exciting new tool.
While many common household ‘technologies’ (such as indoor plumbing, telephones and television, electricity, air conditioning, etc.) are now universal and taken for granted, software technologies are the relative newcomer. And unlike those sweeping innovations, software adoption sometimes faces a “reverse adoption” curve (green) where both the number of users and the amount of usage declines even as the technology itself reaches a point of maximum improvement.
This reverse adoption happens when people try a new software tool/productivity product, often with great enthusiasm, but then over time either stop entirely, or at least revert to the way they used to do it. Usually the expectations were unrealistic (and for good reason: unlike TNT, most software home pages promise to solve every problem with little work on the user’s part!).
Lately I have been thinking about this “reverse adoption” curve, not just with TntConnect, but with other powerful productivity tools such as Quicken, Excel, and Word (all of which I have used for 30ish years).
In 2003 we did a survey of our staff about how they budget, and 80% of them used Quicken. Last year I surveyed 100 of our new staff under age 30, and exactly ZERO use Quicken. Fewer than half use any software, and those that do use 7 different products (several of which I had never heard of). You can imagine how difficult it has become to teach personal budgeting in such a fractured space! We’ve had to stop teaching software and focus only on principles; but the downside is that this leaves people having to learn software—and apply those principles—on their own; this is where the big gap is today.
So what changed? Quicken and TNT were in the family of “Killer Apps”, productivity tools that gathered all of the best practices into one powerful tool and had a near-monopoly in the market. Through the suggestion boxes from countless users and rapid innovation, these tools reached a point of near-perfection. People flocked to these tools in hopes of leveraging the new technology to ‘excel still more’. These tools were a quantum leap forward over the paper-based methods used before; they revolutionized how finance and PD were done. I can remember huge displays of Quicken at the office supply store, especially when each new release came out. I also remember a seminar I held after TNT had an upgrade, and more than 300 of our staff came to it. People would stop me in the hall to talk about it.
As these tools matured and the web/mobile began to grow, the software world began to splinter and proliferate. Instead of trying to compete with a single dominant tool, new software began to deliver only a piece, innovating on one element instead of trying to conquer the killer app. People now cherry-pick their tools, using just the most helpful features from a variety of tools rather than seeking to master one super-powerful tool.
Of course, power users still swear by the killer app because they relish the excellence, power, speed, and control over data that these tools offer, much of which is sacrificed by the leaner, web-based tools. For them, these super-tools fill a “sweet spot” and are, in fact, a sheer joy to use.
But the audience has shifted.
It’s not that those missionaries care less about PD. It’s just that they are not looking to software to do it. One of my opening lines when teaching a TNT class to new users was: “TNT will not do PD for you. You still have to do the work!” In my research over the past 8 years, the single-most popular PD tool by far is … a spreadsheet. I use a spreadsheet for PD work!
A few months ago, I sensed it was time for me to wrap up my hobby supporting TntConnect.
Recently I had lunch with Troy Wolbrink and was chatting about this. He made an astute observation: “You’ve written everything you could write about TntConnect.” And he was spot-on. As I looked at the 100+ blog entries in my future blog calendar, every one of them was something I had previously written on.
This won’t change my own use of it, of course. I usually have TNT open on my computer whenever I’m working as it is my primary personal management tool. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that using TNT has actually shaped how I do partnership development.
TntConnect continues to serve thousands of missionaries effortlessly, but the real innovations coming from TntWare are the organization tools that help ministries do online giving and/or collect/deliver donation information to their missionaries.
Conclusions and Concluding
It was never, ever, my primary goal to get people to use TNT (as an end in itself), either growing the number of users or helping the users “be better users and love it like I do”.
My primary goal has always been to help people build better relationships with their partners and be fully funded so they can thrive in mission. The intangible impact of TNT is that the collective usage of it worldwide, by freeing up some hours each month for every user, equates to sending hundreds of additional missionaries into the field.
If I may be so bold, my work in TNT resulted in some of my greatest friends in my ministry career: Troy Wolbrink, Martha and Duane Conrad, Horst Reiser, and Sus Schmitt.
I met Troy while writing my first book on TntMPD (as it was called at the time), Exploding TntMPD, and today he is one of my closest friends.
I met Martha (a USA staff member with our organization) in Germany in late May 2006 when Troy and I did the first international rollout of TNT; we stayed a week with Martha and her husband Duane for a week. Martha personally translated both the software and my book into German. Horst came from Switzerland for that rollout and became a TNT champion across Europe from a team/fund-development perspective.
As I look back, I consider that week to be the most pivotal week in the entire history of TNT, at least for our organization. Returning from that one week, I immediately switched to our international division, spearheading the launch of TNT and TntWare’s other ministry tools all over the world. Because of that week, thousands of missionaries started using TNT to support their PD efforts.
The crucible of growth. Long nights and lots of food led to some of the most transformative developments in the history of TntConnect.
I’ve also become good friends with Sus Schmitt whose blog eQuipping for eMinistry has been a huge encouragement to me and many other people. She is like my tandem bike partner, doing what I do but for ministry tools in general. She loves TNT as her core PD tool and has really helped me hone my teaching and writing by giving me solid “outsider” feedback. Her blog audience is way bigger than mine!
Thanks so much for reading and your support over the last 7 years of this blog, and even for the last 20 for those who have been with me since I first started this work.
Yours in Christ,