Thursday, March 31, 2016

IAmPilgrim

I recently read I Am Pilgrim, a novel by Terry Hayes (2014).  


In this superb thriller, TH includes all the ingredients I love:  international espionage, a tough but noble-minded hero, deceit, intrigue, political machinations, life-or-death-of-the-planet implications, clearly defined good and bad guys, a ticking clock.

The primary plot revolves around the hero, a CIA operative with aliases galore, racing the clock to interdict a lone wolf terrorist (aka, Saracen) bent on unleashing small pox among the U.S. population.  There are plenty of interwoven subplots and some remarkable serendipitous connections.

This was my first reading of TH’s work, but it won’t be the last. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

InformationConduits

Information flows, whether we want it to or not.  Always has, always will.  Even the most oppressive and restrictive governments on Earth know, without doubt, that they cannot control the flow of information.

Information can run through a myriad of conduits:  carrier pigeons, ambassadors, smoke signals, Pony Express riders, telegraph, lanterned night-riders, phones, television, advance scouts, telepathy, social media - the list goes on without end.  In today's environment that information flows almost instantly, and it gets ricocheted through other portals without end.

While we can't control what others say/think about us, we can control what we communicate about ourselves.  The only question is, what message(s) do we want to send?  We have the power to frame the opinions and impressions of others, but we must be intentional in the process.  

What signals are we sending?  Are they the ones we want sent?


Saturday, March 26, 2016

FearFactor

The Fight-or-Flight  (4F) Response is widely accepted and taught in the field of psychology.  It posits that humans respond to fear/threat in one of four ways: 

  • Fight - aggressively resist the threat, by violence or other means.
  • Flight - flee the threat as quickly as possible.
  • Freeze - shut down emotionally, intellectually, and/or physically in the presence of the threat.
  • Fawn - quickly acquiesce to the needs/wishes/purposes of the threat.
When we fear for our physical safety, the fight or the flight responses seem most often the ones to kick into gear.  However, when the threats to us are political/social/emotional in nature, it seems our natural response is too often to freeze or fawn.

The prospect of change often represents a threat to us and makes us fearful.  Thus, we respond in one of the 4F responses noted above.  We are wise, however, to discipline ourselves to face change primarily with the fight response (but not necessarily with violence).  We can and should "fight" intellectually and strategically, by seeking to understand the threat, by discerning what adaptions we should/must make in order to counter the threat, by learning how we can leverage/assimilate the threat to make us better and stronger.

Threats, interestingly, can be the trigger to our self-betterment.  The real danger is not the prospect of change (it is, after all, life's most intractable constant); rather, the danger is in our failure to adapt to change effectively.  

Fear not.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Persnickety

We all know people who major in the minors.  They critique, dissect, cajole, nitpick anything and everything.  We also know those people as persistent pains and energy drains.  It's even worse when they're in charge.

None of us want to be known as one of those persnickety types (not even those who are the persnickety types want to be known as such).  

So, when is the right time for fastidiousness?

We should notice, acknowledge, and address issues under the following circumstances:

  • When mistakes become persistent trends.
  • When the variance in performance impacts our reputation and/or quality.
  • When we clearly have folks in the wrong roles.
  • When the heartburn is being caused by ethical deficits.
  • When those who are responsible are ducking the responsibility.
  • When a team member is unable and/or unwilling to get better.
We should be persnickety only when it really counts (and leave the small stuff alone).  If we're persnickety about everything and everybody, it'll be a long and lonely life. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Manufacturing

A common conceptualization of us humans is that we have four dimensions: mind, body, emotion/heart, and spirit.

Our best selves are manifested when we employ all four dimensions into our endeavors.  It is from such integrated and holistic enrollment that we experience wholeness and self-actualization.

However, it is often the case that we bring only two of those dimensions to our workplace:  mind and body.  When we do that we have robbed ourselves and our vocation/profession of the very drivers of creativity, innovation, and service - the emotion/heart and the spirit.  

When we invest only our mind (i.e., knowledge) and our body (i.e., physical structure) into our work, we allow ourselves to become little more than automatons or machines.  In essence, we simply function as robots, in the business of "manufacturing."  

We can do, and be, so much more.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Status

If we're measuring ourselves against others, then status must matter.  If status matters to us, then we'll never be fully happy, nor will we ever be fully ourselves.  There will always be some other(s) who are smarter, faster, richer, prettier, more clever, funnier, more famous, etc. 

When living with purpose is more important to us than achieving status, then we are freer (and more apt) to:

  • Love others more authentically.
  • Serve others with fidelity.
  • Premise our decisions and actions on principles instead of outcomes.
  • Focus on the spiritual more than the material.
  • Live more simply.
  • Listen more and talk less.
  • Seek inner peace.

If we're truly interested in being our fullest selves, then status shouldn't matter.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

ShortMenu,UglyOptions

The first and most profound lessons folks learn as they move into leadership positions are the constraints of decision-making.  Monday morning quarterbacks are quite fond of second guessing leaders on the difficult decisions they (must) make.  That second guessing is almost always accompanied by the preface of, "Well, if it were me, I would..."

The reality is this:  The decisions that most often present themselves to those in leadership positions are the difficult, ambiguous, and complex ones.  Other folks in the organization readily make the decisions that are easy and low-risk.  The tough decisions, the politically risky ones, the ones that have the look/smell/feel of dilemma, most often get "kicked up the food chain."

Thus, when it's time to make those tough decisions, the menu of remaining options is almost always short and almost always ugly.  The higher up the leadership food chain you get, the shorter and uglier the options become.  

Welcome to leadership.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

FoodSanity(18.0)

I've heard the argument that it really doesn't matter what you eat as long as it's filling.  Really?  If that were the case, then by far the best and cheapest route would be to shred some pasteboard, sprinkle it with some salt and sugar, then eat to our heart's content.  BUT WAIT!   Much of our processed food is little more than that.  We would never fuel our car with water and expect it to run well;  since our bodies are much more complex organisms than a car we can't it expect to fuel them with food void of nutrition and achieve optimal performance.    

What our bodies need is nutrition, not volume.  Nutrient dense food is a little harder to find, but well worth the search, and the price.  Why?  It's what our bodies want and need.  My physician, Dr. Ben Edwards, calls it "God Food."  Many authors in the health debate/literature are now calling it "real food."  

So, what is real food?  It's food that is in the form closest to what it looked like when harvested.  It's food that is raised with zero or minimal chemical inputs (e.g., pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, hormones, etc.).  It's food that hasn't been sliced, diced, mushed, crushed, frozen, boxed, waxed, and/or colored.  It's food that has been raised in healthy, living, vibrant soil.

Moreover, we're learning now that we should probably consume about half of that real food in raw form, if we're seeking maximum nutrition.  Real, nutrient-dense food is pretty much all we need to live long and healthy lives.  

Come on in, the water's fine... 

Friday, March 11, 2016

TheDevilInTheWhiteCity

I recently read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (2002).  


Once again, EL has taken historical events and researched them to them extreme.  In this work, he melds the conception and eventual deployment of the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago with the concurrent diabolical activity of one of the nation’s most notorious serial killers.  Making non-fiction read like a novel, EL details the political machinations, the professional egotism and gamesmanship, the logistical challenges, and the monumental success related to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  And, amidst all of the national and international hoopla, a nefarious physician was doing the work of the Devil only blocks from the fair.  

I learned a LOT of stuff I didn’t know from reading this work.  EL is an amazing author, digging deeper and connecting more dots than any other I have read. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Doubters

The strongest people I know are doubters.  The best leaders I know are doubters.

What do they doubt?

  • They doubt whether or not they've learned enough yet.
  • They doubt whether or not they've fully anticipated the potential disruptions.
  • They doubt whether or not they've prepared the team well enough.
  • They doubt whether or not they've sufficiently expressed enough care for valued others.
  • They doubt whether or not they've communicated sufficiently.
Their doubtfulness is almost always the look-in-the-mirror kind of doubtfulness - whether they've been enough or done enough.

That's what makes them so "strong" and so "best."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

RedemptivePurpose

Work can be drudgery - dispiriting, suffocating, and de-energizing.  Or, it can be the opposite of all those things.  

What is the difference?  It's what we choose to glean from our work that makes all the difference in the world.  If our objectives are to just put in the hours, clock-in and clock-out, earn a paycheck, pay the bills, move slowly toward retirement, then work will most assuredly be unfulfilling.  

If, on the other hand, we choose to undergird our work (no matter its nature) with higher purpose, then we can approach it with much more aplomb than when our motives are purely material, pragmatic, and/or superficial. 

An example is a screen printing company I consulted with a few years ago.  One way to look at that business is to see it as simply painting fabric and clothing, for profit.  That's it.  Another way to view that work is to see it as a partnership with communities, schools, churches, and families dedicated to helping them express themselves, communicate their uniqueness, and celebrate their common pursuits.  Same business, two different views. 

The story of Johnny the Bagger is a powerful testimony to this dynamic.  Ditto for Trudy, who I worked with in a large high school.  And, Manny, the guy who loads my truck at the feed store every week.  You've seen 'em.  You know 'em.  They make a difference, no matter their job title or work assignment. 

Work can, and should, bring redemptive purpose to our endeavors.  At the end of the day, all noble and purposeful work is about serving others, somehow, some way.  We can do this.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Golden

"Black gold" is known to most of us as oil.  Many landowners who have had oil discovered on their property over the years became extremely wealthy (monetarily speaking).  For us baby boomers, the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies brings back memories of the comical tale of rural folks who hit the jackpot when black gold came bubbling up on their land.  Oil, thus wealth, thus assumed financial security, changed their lives forever (in some ways good, in some ways bad).  

Time has changed my perspective on a LOT of things, and striking it rich via black gold is one of them.  No longer does the discovery of oil on our property interest me.  I now value two other resources on our land far more than I do the prospect of an oil discovery:  compost (another sort of black gold) and fresh water.  Those two priceless elements are critical for our longterm food security, the natural abundance on our land, and our personal longterm health.   

Moe (my lovely bride of 39 years) and I are now learning how to manage and sustain both in a way that is cyclical and recursive.  To my knowledge, my friends who have oil wells haven't figured that one out for their black gold (yet anyway).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Greatness

In this TED Talk, Dr. Clayton Christensen notes that we humans, because our minds are finite, have to aggregrate data in order to make some kind of sense of it.  We have to use trends, graphs, spreadsheets, and polls in order to digest and parse the voluminous amount of information with which we are confronted.  Via that process we "keep score" on ourselves, and others.  

Dr. Christensen (at the very end of the video) posits that God, however, has an infinite mind, thus is not subservient to attempts at data aggregation in order to make sense of things.  In effect, Dr. Christensen argues, God sees the whole, and does not need to slice and dice data in order to understand it.  Neither does God have need to score us against one another.  

What then are the implications for us, as we consider the meaning and impact of our lives? Our personal greatness does not and will not depend on salary made, titles achieved, trophies won, businesses started, books sold, elected offices held, widgets shipped, or customers satisfied.  

Rather, our greatness is dependent on only two things:  

  1. How faithfully we have adhered to God's plan for our lives.
  2. How well we have loved and served those who were placed within our sphere of influence (whether that number be one or one billion).  
All else is inconsequential. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

WhineVaccine

Whining is the act of bellyaching about something (everything?) without investing oneself in the process of making it (whatever it is) better.  "Sick" organizations are full of whiners, their toxic behavior never checked.  "Healthy" organizations also have whiners, but the culture of the organization marginalizes them.  It's sort of like our physical bodies always having present some dangerous bacteria/viruses in or on them, but, if the body is healthy those dastardly creatures are kept at bay.

So, what do organizations that are "whine vaccinated" look/feel/smell like?

  • Their culture is built around EVERYONE owning the problems perceived, and EVERYONE being responsible for trying to improve upon them (not just report them).
  • Venting is allowed, but should always be declared as such, and accompanied by possible solutions. 
  • They constantly build into their thinking an IMPORTANT VS URGENT barometer where the important always trumps the urgent (unless safety is involved).
  • They live, breathe, and act upon the belief that perfection is not the goal, getting better, everyday, on purpose, IS.
  • They systemically notice and acknowledge and celebrate efforts at getting better - no matter how small.
Organizations are defined as anything from a single family to a small business to a multinational corporation.  We're all part of several, and each one lies somewhere on that sick-to-healthy continuum.  

Whiners make sick organizations sicker; healthy organizations make whiners scarcer.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Shaping

I've written a lot about the impact of mentors on my life - how they have shaped me.  

To be sure, we are we constantly being shaped (i.e., influenced) by the thinking, the behavior, the beliefs, and the modeling of valued others in our lives.  However, we are, at the same time, shaping (i.e., influencing) those around us.  

Shaping is a recursive exercise.  Our thinking, our espoused beliefs, our enacted beliefs, our biases, our level of enthusiasm, our service orientation, our etiquette, our speech, our empathy, our zealous pursuits, etc., are constantly impacting and "moving" those within our sphere of influence.

With that in mind, here's a powerful question to ask of ourselves:  
Am I shaping others in a way that improves their lives?

If the answer to that question is "no," then it's time for some reflective personal recalibration.