10 Reasons Why Concordia Publishing House is a Model for Innovation in the Publishing Industry

For the last couple of years I’ve had the privilege of serving as a consultant for Concordia Publishing House. I’ve worked with them on a variety of projects ranging from the exploration of future models for publishing to emerging trends in education staff development, networking with stakeholders in the Lutheran education system to conducting research on the use of mobile devices and one-to-one programs. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed helping edit a collection of essays about the Pedagogy of Teaching the Faith. During this time, I’ve worked with editorial staff, executive leadership and even had a chance to give a presentation to the CPH board. Amid these two years, my admiration for this publishing house as a promising model for innovation has consistently grown. Here are the ten reasons why.

1. Mission-minded Innovation

Concordia Publishing House is the publishing house of the The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As such, CPH has a clear mission and commitment to the teachings of this church body. CPH’s commitment to innovation is not just about the pursuit of the greatest revenue streams. It is a strong commitment to innovation as a servant to the greater mission of the organization and the church body that it serves. This is a model for innovation throughout the non-profit world.

2. A Balance Between Sustaining and Disruptive Innovations

CPH exists to serve a target population. While the company has the intellectual capital to far exceed what its stakeholders are ready to use, it does an exemplary job balancing two types of innovation. Sustaining innovations are those innovations that are incremental in nature; largely improvements, enhancements, or iterations of past products and services. There are countless examples of such innovations at CPH, because they approach innovation with an important measure of humility given their target audience.

At the same time, there are some promising disruptive innovations in the works as well. A disruptive innovation is that which creates a new market or potentially disrupts a past technology with something new and eventually improved. One such CPH innovation is Church 360, a “complete suite of web-based church management software.” This is an example of a high-value product that has the potential to transform the management of church information, financials and the like. It is a technology that shifts work that was previously disconnected or only managed on a single computer in a church office to something that allows collaboration and shared work across staff and volunteers regardless of one’s physical location.

3. Collaborative Innovation

A simple but significant project was launched at CPH in the last couple of years. It is an internal innovation site, a place where anyone serving any role in the organization can view and share innovative ideas. While there are certainly great ideas that come from executive leadership, this simple addition does three things. One, it honors the ideas and creativity of every person in the company. Two, it capitalizes upon great ideas wherever they might emerge in the organization. Three, it provides a forum where people learn from and build upon the ideas of each other.

4. Innovation Space

Design matters and it has an impact on the way people think and interact with one another. As such, I’ve enjoyed seeing the newer spaces designed at Concordia Publishing House. Their Innovation Center is a wonderfully creative space for people to collaborate, the type of space that you might find in some of the powerhouse companies of Silicon Valley. The same is true for some of the newer offices and collaborative areas where much of the research and development (called emerging products) happens. This awareness of the importance of re-imagining physical space to encourage more collaboration and creativity is abundant among leadership at CPH.

5. Customer-Centered Innovation

I had a wonderful chat with Mark Knickelbein, Associate Editor and Developer of Worship Arts Resources at CPH; and he explained one innovation that they implemented for their large music selection. Mark explained that, in the past, customers liked physically browsing through music via an in-store experience. While not having an in-store option for every person, the team has made significant headway in creating somethings as good or better. They have created a solution that may be one of the only in the music sales industry. In the words of Mark:

We now have an “interactive CD” included with our catalog, which, when used on a computer will show and play all of our new music, with the music synced to the pages (turn the page and the music jumps there; or watch the pages turn with the music). I’m not aware of any other music publisher doing this. Online, we have YouTube videos that also show the music as it plays a recording. We’ve also been going through our 3000 titles and improving our data for the web, including descriptions, contents, look-insides, and recordings.

Down the road, Mark envisions a Tivo-like experience that could use data to determine what people want, sometimes before they even realize that they would like it. Theses sorts of data-driven innovations have gained traction everywhere from Amazon to Netflix. Perhaps we will soon see something similar for church music as well.

6. Innovation School

They don’t call it that, but I do. If an organization is truly committed to innovation, it will show up in the practices, resource allocation and shared vocabulary of the organization. As such, there is an internal commitment to providing workshop and training opportunities that help staff embrace the power of creativity and innovation in their work.

7. Rapid Innovation

The traditional publishing process is time-intensive. There are many steps, many people, and hundreds, even thousands of hours devoted to some of these projects. Such projects can also be expensive. Even given this fact, CPH is ready to move quickly when they have a great idea. They can take something from idea to market in quick order, rallying different teams together to make such things happen.

8. Focused but Diversified Products & Innovations

Concordia Publishing House is more than a producer of books and paper publications. It provides quality print publications, electronic and interactive products, software and cloud-based products, music, magazines, church bulletin printing services, and it essentially a one-stop-shop for core church-related products. While this looks like an overwhelming variety of products and services, they are all held together by a core mission and focus on the needs of their target audience. This sort of diversified portfolio gives CPH the stability to be able to innovative and even meet needs of smaller audiences that, in other settings, could not be served.

9. Listening, Learning and Responding

Out of all the organizations that I’ve worked with, I’ve rarely seen one that is so committed to eliciting feedback, listening to, and learning from their customers. They are truly committed to responding to what they hear and learn by refining current products and creating new ones. Sometimes it can be challenging to meet the needs of customers with different priorities, but I’ve come to have immense respect for how CPH navigates such differences, remaining faithful to its mission and loyal to its customers.

10. Visionary and Tough-Minded Leadership

The executive leadership at CPH is world-class, and they are “all in” when it comes to embracing mission-minded innovation. Dr. Bruce Kintz, President and CEO of CPH completed his doctoral dissertation on innovation in the industry, focusing on electronic curricula. He is laser-focused on the mission of CPH and leveraging innovation in the service of that mission. The same thing is true for Jonathan Schultz, Vice President and Corporate Council; Reverend Paul McCain, Publisher and Executive Director of Editorial; and Karen Capps, Executive Director of Production Control and Quality Systems. There are many other top-notch leaders in the organization. These are just the ones with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working more closely.

I’ve had the honor of working with and learning from quite a few world-class organizations over the years, and there is always a tough-mindedness about the leadership in these organizations. They have an intensity, a discipline, and a focus that allows them to achieve the level of quality and excellence that they do. That is what I see in the CPH leadership. Others have seen it too, as evidenced by a list of awards: the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, 2009 Missouri Quality Award, and a 2008-2012 Best Christian Workplace winner.

Put these ten traits together and you have an impressive organization; one that is well-positioned to meet the current needs of its core customers, help those customers imagine promising opportunities for the future, and even to do some groundbreaking research and development that will prepare them for the innovations of 5-10 years from now.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.