“Me, Myself, & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables” by Phil Vischer
Bob the Tomato is a fancy vegetable.
So fancy, in fact, that he isn’t really a vegetable at all! Like his partner Larry the Cucumber, Bob is technically a fruit, but who cares?
Phil Vischer is a creative guy who knows how to tell a story, and in this book, he tells the story of his creation of VeggieTales. As stories go, it’s a pretty interesting one, documenting the meteoric rise and catastrophic collapse of the VeggieTales franchise, and its parent company, Big Idea Productions.
The story begins with events in Phil’s life that shaped him and the quirky personality type that devises a wildly successful video series based on talking vegetables. From a pedigree that includes a great-grandfather who was a pioneering radio preacher, to the divorce that rocked his Christian family, to his expulsion from Bible college, there were many factors that influenced his dream to find a way to get a positive message into homes around the world, in a way that wouldn’t feel “cheap” or “cheesy” like so many lame Christian productions.
(Having recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I took special note of the seemingly unrelated things that ultimately led to Vischer spending most of his childhood tinkering with movie-making equipment and computer graphics programs, ending up with him uniquely positioned to take advantage of new technology at just the right time to make it big in the CGI video industry.)
No doubt about it: Phil Vischer is a talented guy, with a knack for generating great ideas and figuring out how to make them work. The success of VeggieTales was no accident! I was fascinated to see the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into making the videos, even though I’m not a huge fan of the series.
It was also fascinating, though, to read about how such a seemingly successful business/ministry was destined to fail almost from the beginning. For all his creative gifts, Vischer was seriously lacking in leadership ability. Without the know-how to set up a successful business model or the conviction to stick to his guns about the vision and direction of the company, Big Idea’s success ended about as quickly as it began.
By the time he realized his mistakes, Vischer found himself surrounded by artists and businessmen who did not share his vision for the ministry impact of the company. Many on his staff, including the president he brought in to run the company once it began growing, were not even Christians. This quickly resulted in vision drift, and accounts for the feel-good, moralistic “theology” of many of the later videos (one of the main reasons I’m not a big fan).
In the end, Vischer totally lost control of his company, and was forced out altogether. He accepts the responsibility for this collapse, and ends the book with some good reflections to help other Christian business/ministry ventures avoid his mistakes. Most notable was the Walt-Roy dynamic modeled after the Disney corporation, where Walt was the creative genius, but could not have survived without his business-minded brother Roy. Vischer encourages Christians with creative gifts to seek out Christians with administrative gifts (and vice versa) to form partnerships that can be truly world-changing. This is something I’ve found invaluable in my own experience. I know I’ve got a lot of good ideas, but the church-based School of Performing Arts that I administrate would never survive without my reliance on the counsel of the members of our Advisory Board, who bring lots of business, accounting, marketing, and pastoral experience to the table.
This isn’t a book that’s going to change anyone’s life, but it’s a light, easy read that will benefit folks trying to walk the business/ministry line, and will hold the interest fans of VeggieTales. The writing gets a little clunky at times (especially as he describes the development of CGI technology and his role in pioneering elements of it), but on the whole, reading this book is a few hours well spent. Buy it here.
For more on Phil Vischer and what he’s doing now, visit his website.