Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Locos Tacos and the Church

If only I had bought stock in Frito-Lay in the late 50’s, early 60’s, when it was the Frito Company and my dad was a sales driver. For a few years, I spent my summer riding the route and working with dad, delivering Fritos and a few other marginal products. Eventually, Frito’s corn chips and Lay’s potato chips merged, and the rest is history.

I was thinking about this after reading the latest The Atlantic magazine. In an article entitled “Doritos Locos Tacos”, the story is told of how a few years ago Taco Bell invited a group of snack manufacturers to their California headquarters for an ideation session.  Eventually, a product was created that made a taco shell out of Doritos. It sold 100 million in the first ten weeks, and one billion were sold the first year. It is easily the most successful product launch in Taco Bell history. Today, Doritos Locos Tacos are the iPhone of Mexican fast food.

Obviously, there is something to be said for creativity and imagination. What’s required are “resident disrupters” who understand that the world is changing, and changing fast (e.g. Uber disrupting the taxi cab industry). Disrupters ask—“How do we reinvent what we do?”

In the case of Taco Bell, disrupters could see that Millennials wanted food to deliver more than energy—they wanted an experience. So after lots of R&D, 40 prototypes, and several years of testing, a product was born. It took both tenacity and timing. The idea behind Doritos Locos Tacos was actually conceived nearly twenty-two years ago. According to David Peterman, who was VP of new concept operations at Taco Bell in the 90’s, were it not for timing and intercompany exigencies, the product would have existed decades ago. But this is how innovation tends to work. It’s not just the big idea; it’s the timing, the execution, the politics, and the luck.

I’m thinking about all of this because I believe the same “resident disrupters” need to be heard in the church and the seminary.  In his Leadership Axioms, Bill Hybels writes about “Blue Sky Days”.  He writes: “One of the most amazing gifts that God gives people is the ability to think creatively. So when things get stale at a church, it is a fair bet that God is not to blame. Usually it’s that church leaders don’t carve out the time, establish the right environment, and rally the requisite energy to think new thoughts” (what he calls Blue Sky Days).

For a day, resident disrupters are allowed free reign. People are encouraged to break out of their normal restrictive patters and into new, unshackled ways of thinking. Hopefully, old couches are ditched, and well-worn ruts are eventually plowed over, making room for new paths.

I dream of the day the most imaginative ideas are generated—not in the corporate world–but in the church and the seminary. Imagine a day the seminary is the R&D of the church, where theologians partner with pastors to launch the church of the future. Imagine a day the church is flourishing, where creativity and solid tradition embrace one another, with outcomes that make Doritos Locos Tacos seem trivial and small by comparison.

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