Friday, December 31, 2010

Seven Billion and Counting...

The world's population will reach seven billion during 2011.

What does that mean to you? National Geographic magazine has a great article in the January issue that will give you something to chew on.

For example, take the world's largest cities. In 1975 only 3 cities worldwide topped ten million in population. Today there are 21 such megacities, most in developing countries, where urban areas absorb much of the globe's rising population.

Large cities = large problems = large opportunities.

What will the church's response be?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Going Long is Still a Great Play

Does the flood of tweets, status updates, and text messages indicate that we are no longer able to contemplate deep subjects and mine them for their richness?

Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine doesn't think so. In "The Short and Long of It" in the January 2011 issue, Thompson thinks that the torrent of short-form thinking is actually a catalyst for more long-form meditation.

News events trigger a blizzard of status updates - half-baked, gossipy tidbits that might not even be true. That's the short take; it's not intended to be a weighty consideration of things, just a snap shot.

On the other hand, the long take - deeply considered reporting and analysis - used to take months or years to produce. Now it is cranked out in longer blog posts in a matter of days after an event.

Thompson finds that the long take also has a long tail - online, searchable databases can provide thoughtful analysis from last week or five years ago that once only lasted for the life of a magazine article.

And that introduces the dilemma of the middle take - reportage and essays reported a few days after a major event, with a bit of analysis sprinkled on top: weeklies like Time and Newsweek stuff. They're neither fast enough to be conversational nor slow enough to be truly deep.

So what about you and your organization? Are you focusing on only one length of communications? Do so at your own peril.

The Internet is once again a game-changer.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


In the middle of all our family Christmas gatherings, we were able to surprise Amy with a graduation party.

Do you know how hard it is to find an orange and black cake in December?

Pretty sure she's worth it, though.

Most of the time...
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story for You

Do you know the Author of this story?

If you do, then celebrate His birth not just today, but everyday - by telling His story to others.

If you don't, then contact me - for the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Remember the Stories You Hear

It’s likely you will be with family over the holidays.

Great times. Reunions. Happiness. Tears of sadness and joy. Great food. Gifts. People you love. People you kind of love.

During the Christmas season, families will gather and talk about old times. Growing up, vacations, past holidays. They all start out, “Remember the time that…” and they go on to tell a funny or poignant story. These stories can be gold for you.

In your presentations and meetings, telling and exchanging stories should be at the core of rapport, relationship building, and creating a learning atmosphere.

These golden lessons and stories are all around you, and many of them fit your leadership situations, and relationship-building process. Real stories authenticate you. They make you more human, more approachable, more relatable, and even (if the story is right) more trustworthy.

Here are some strategies and details of story collecting by master sales trainer Jeffery Gitomer; the full article is here.
  • Get the stories rolling - start by asking everyone to tell their most memorable story.
  • Listen with the intent to understand (this means don’t interrupt) - listen for incidents where a lesson was learned; take notes – you will never remember everything without taking notes
  • As the stories are being told, listen for the lessons behind the endings
  • Often the lessons are the result of something extreme
Once you have the story, and can see how it can fit into your style and delivery, then it’s time to convert it to your unique need in a presentation:
  • Get the story to fit into your presentation - to overcome an objection or create common ground
  • When retelling the story, keep it short and sweet – 1 or 2 minutes if you’re telling it one-on-one; 2 or 3minutes if you’re telling it to a group
  • Don’t set it up, just tell it
  • Tell it at the right moment – you’ll know – don’t force it
  • Put passion into it
  • Make your point at the end, not at the beginning
The secret to storytelling is your enthusiasm and passion. If you’re talking to one, or one hundred and one, each person must feel like you’re telling it for the first time, even though you may have told it 100 times before. The passion of your conveyance will lead to the emotion of their response and your call to action.

Stories are yours – no one else can tell them.

How will you go listening for stories this Christmas?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Facts Are Facts...

...Stories are how we learn.

So claims Alan Webber in his great book "Rules of Thumb." Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, has compiled a list of rules for the new game we're in today - a complex, fast-changing, and confusing world. Here are some excerpts from the chapter on "story."

Facts are facts, but stories are who we are, how we learn, and what it all means.

Why are stories so much more powerful than plain old facts or boring PowerPoint presentations?
  • Stories are about people
  • Stories are about people doing things
  • Stories create meaning
  • Stories are how we learn
  • Stories have always been at the heart of starting and leading organizations
  • Organizations celebrate their great successes and even their heroic failures through stories
The work of leading a great organization is the work of telling stories.

What story will you tell today?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Your Life a Story?

Tom Peters thinks so.

In fact, he goes even further. In his book "The Little BIG Things!" Peters has a chapter entitled

You Are Your Story!
So Work on It!

A few highlights:

He/she who has the most compelling/most resonant story wins:
  • In life
  • In business
  • In front of the jury
  • In front of the congregation
Stories are 100 percent about emotion - and emotion, far more than dynamite, moves mountains.

  Your schedule today is...a short story with a beginning, narrative, end, and memory that lives on.
  Your current project unfolding story about making something better, exciting users, etc.
  Your organization's reason for existence and therefore its effectiveness, is...a story.
  Your career is...a story.

Master the art of storymaking-storytelling-story doing-story presenting

How are you writing - and telling - your story today?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Celestial Light Show

A total lunar eclipse and the winter solstice collided head-on early this morning for the first time since 1638.

It's a celestial light show.

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. But if you are watching the sun's time closely, you will notice that the winter solstice is neither the day with the latest sunrise (that's two weeks later) nor the day with the earliest sunset (that was two weeks ago).

It has to do with the length of the solar day, the path of the Earth around the Sun, and the Earth's rotation. The January issue of Wired magazine has the full scoop for those who want to know the science.

A total lunar eclipse will be visible to most of North America (weather permitting) on the shortest day of the year.
For the best view of the eclipse, look skyward at 3:17 AM EST, and you will see the eclipse in its deepest shadow, casting a red hue on the full moon.

I'm not sure if this is "the glory of the Lord" that shone around the shepherds in Luke 2, or the "star of the east" in Matthew 2, but it surely is a vivid reminder of the miracle of Christmas.

God uses the natural order He created in exceptional ways to achieve His redemptive purposes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Power of a Word

The immediate reaction is the only reaction that matters.

When we meet someone new, when we introduce a new thought into a conversation, when we send a text, we are making a first impression.

As soon as we do that, people begin to make judgements about us - the same way we are making judgements about them. We may not intend to and they are mostly subconscious, but we are making them nevertheless.

You've probably heard the saying - "you don't get a second chance to make a first impression".

It's right.

What will your "first impression" be today? To your spouse, children, or other family members? To your boss, employees, or co-workers? To the neighbors walking the dog? To the barista at the coffee shop? To the checkout person in a long line at the store? And so on...

Make your first impression your best impression.

It may be the only one you will ever make with that person - and it may be a life-changing one.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A New Graduate

My daughter graduated from college this weekend. We're proud of her: she finished with honors in 3 years with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion. After taking her last class online during the summer while serving as a camp counselor, she started divinity school this past fall.

Graduation ceremonies are full of traditions - something which we often overlook but should pause to reflect on:

  • Pomp and Circumstance - written by Sir Edward Elgar, is actually one of a series of marches composed for orchestra. The lyrical strains we hear at graduations is known as the Trio section "Land of Hope and Glory" of March No. 1. It was first played in 1905 at the Yale graduation in which Elgar received an honorary Doctorate of Music.
  • The Campbell University Mace - The academic procession is led by the Commencement Marshal, carrying the official mace of Campbell University. This tradition has a fascinating history in academic ceremonies. In 1589, Queen Elizabeth I visited Oxford University. At a special convocation in her honor, students speaking in Latin were lavish in their praise and flattery of the Queen, pretending to love her. They assumed she was unfamiliar with Latin. As a gesture of her thanks, the Queen stood and gave an eloquent speech in flawless Latin and presented Oxford with her royal Mace.
  • Academic attire - The traditional academic robe with mortarboard goes back to medieval Europe. Modified throughout the centuries, it is now common for undergraduates to wear a plain black robe while graduate and doctoral students wear hoods of varying colors and decoration. The faculty section of the ceremony was a rainbow of institutions reflecting the various academic fields.
  • Bag Pipes - Reflecting the Scottish heritage of the founder of Campbell University, a lone piper led the procession, followed by the banners of the six schools of the University.
  • Military Connections - Campbell is located close to the largest Army, Marine, and Air Force bases in North Carolina. The school has long-established educational relationships with these bases. The largest and longest clapping at the ceremony was for the newly commissioned Second Lieutenants from the ROTC.
While I love history and traditions such as these, I think of them as bridges to the future rather than anchors to the past. It's the same way with the education my daughter just finished (and is continuing).

The education is finished - now the learning begins.

Congratulations, Amy - your Mom and I are very proud of you!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The 10 Words of Effective Communication

From Dr. Frank Luntz's "Words That Work"; the abbreviated version:
  • Simplicity
  • Brevity
  • Credibility
  • Consistency
  • Novelty
  • Sound
  • Aspiration
  • Visualization
  • Questioning
  • Context
What matters is not what you say, but what people hear.

Check his book out here, buy it as a gift here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Man vs Machine Redoux

In 1996, two IBM staffers succeeded in building a computer that was ready to take on world champion chess player Garry Kasparov.

6-0, man wins.

Learning even in defeat, the aptly-named Deep Blue made history by defeating Kasparov 3.5 games to 2.5 games in a 1997 rematch.

Move over, Deep Blue: it's time for Watson to take the stage.

In February 2011, a computer named Watson (for IBM founder Thomas Watson) will take on two humans in a battle to the end...

... in the game show Jeopardy!

“After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy! clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response,” IBM scientist David Ferrucci said in a statement. “Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson’s breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives.”

Ken Jennings (biggest money winner) and Brad Rutter (most games won) will square off against Watson in a three-way duel of the arcane and useless.

Be still my trivia-saturated brain...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Simple Blood Test... usually anything but simple.

At least trying to understand it is usually not simple. The lab report of simple blood tests are often beyond our comprehension. But they don't have to be. Better design and more context can clarify the results - and help us understand our options.

Wired magazine has a great article on how something as simple as blood test results can become confusing and not helpful at all. The solution? A redesign.

After a recent visit to the doctor, executive editor Thomas Goetz was inspired to overhaul the lab reports of medical test. To insure the outcomes were indeed clear, function, and elegant, Wired art director Tim Leong tapped three illustrators and writer Steven Leckart consulted with a team of medical experts.

Here's one of the redesigned blood test reports; follow this link to get a better look.

Now for your challenge: what kind of report do you currently use in your organization that can be redesigned to provide clear, functional, and elegant information to end users?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Neither Rain, nor Sleet, nor Snow...

Today is the busiest mailing day of the year.

The U.S. Postal Service will handle almost twice as much mail today - 830 million pieces - as on a regular day.

What would you do if your organization knew it had to double its output for a day?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Watching the Tape

Six Lessons from a six-time Pro Bowler

Antonio Gates, tight end for the San Diego Chargers, is a film nut. Not the kind that watches all the new movies as soon as they come out.

Game film.

ESPN The Magazine had a great article recently about the positives of being a film geek. Gates is not satisfied with the mandatory film sessions that begin the day after a game - first for the offensive and defensive squads, then for position groups, and as the week progresses, highlights of their next opponent. Most teams spend parts of four days each week viewing film.

Then there are players like Gates, who spends up to 12 hours per week voluntarily watching film. He got into the habit after an injury in 2007 slowed his game down. He was losing his edge, and needed something to  help regain it.

Enter the technology that allows game film to be available as soon as the final whistle blows. Coaches can break down games frame by frame, rewind, and do it again. Players requesting special packages can get them early in the week and study them all week long.

It worked for Gates. In 2009 he had a career-high 1,157 yards receiving and is on track for another stellar year in 2010. Gates says that "watching film doesn't guarantee that you're going to play at a high level - but it gives you a chance."

Gates gives 6 reasons why watching film makes him a better player:
  • The camera doesn't lie - no matter what you think in a game, the truth is on the tape.
  • History repeats itself - knowing your opponent's tendencies against teams similar to yours will reveal information that will help you out
  • Recognize the VIPS - certain types of defensive sets will have clues as to what is coming up; by focusing on the key players, it will be easier to outsmart the defense
  • Know when to say when - too much just clutters the mind; know what you are looking for and watch in multiple sessions rather than a marathon
  • If you think you're in "Inception," you're on the right track - study film intently enough, and the plays are running through your head long after you stop watching them; you will be able to run through situations before the game, and will make it easier to pull off in real time
  • Seeing is believing - when reality aligns with what you've studied, it's like deja vu
Okay, this is all well and good for a football player, but what does it have to do with normal leaders, like in ChurchWorld?

Only this: how do you as a leader evaluate what you do week in and week out? Do you sit in a staff meeting and discuss what happened last weekend? Do you wonder why things didn't go as you planned? Do you want to figure out how to repeat the service where everything went right?

Maybe it's time to watch some film - of yourself, in the "game."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

See Dick and Jane learning in school...


A couple of articles in the past few day about the future of education are spot on - any parent of young children, teenagers, or college students (maybe) ought to pay attention. So should church leaders!

Dr. Tim Elmore, of, writes in "Left Brain Schools and Churches in a Right Brain World"

Based on our research, learning that sticks in the minds of students is connected to three elements:
  • A healthy, trusting relationship with the teacher
  • An interactive learning community
  • Creativity and innovation that stimulate the "right-brain.
Our Dilemma: Right-brained Students Must Attend Left-brained Schools

Let's discuss how education primarily takes place and why it fails to be effective. In the two columns below, I summarize how the information we teach is usually delivered to young people today:


Right brained thinkers
  Left brained delivery

Learn by uploading; expressing themselves
  Teach by downloading lectures

Experiential in nature
  Passive in nature

Music and art enables them to retain information
  Music and art classes cut

Desire to learn what is relevant to life
  Teach for the next test

Creativity drives them
  Curriculum drives them

Frightening. True.

And just as troubling: many of our church "learning" situations are the same.
Follow the link above to read the whole post; it should be a sobering wake up call that any leader - especially those in the church environment - should pay attention to.

In a post on "presentations" but very much on topic, Garr Reynolds writes in "The Need for Connection and Engagement in Education" about the differences between "just sitting there" and getting students "doing something." There's a great story about an 8 year old observing a college physics class that tells it all.
Follow the link above to the whole story, including a couple of video presentations on the topic.
What's the takeaway for ChurchWorld?
Dr. Elmore challenges church leaders to move beyond the left brain tendencies and engage in activities like the following:

  • Teaching must not merely supply information for students, but be an inspiration for students
  • Teaching must do more than measure a kids' memory; it must motivate a kid's imagination
  • Pastors must include not just the facts of the Bible but the heart and fruit its supposed to produce
  • Pastors should not be reduced to increasing intelligence (knowledge), but increasing innovation
  • Teaching cannot be only about what to think, but how to think
Pay attention students: class is starting...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thirty One-derful Years of Marriage

Today Anita and I celebrate 31 years of marriage. We first met each other three years prior, so our relationship began over 34 years ago.

We've traveled a lot of miles in that time, in every way imaginable: We've lived in four states, called eight different places "home," raised four children, between the two of us worked in thirteen different jobs, owned fourteen cars (most passed on to kids!), belonged to the PTA for twenty-six years, had two pets, added two beautiful young women to our family and now have the two most wonderful grandchildren in the world.

Life is good.

Along the way there have been plenty of mistakes, too. Things said and done that shouldn't have been; words and actions that should have been said and done that weren't. 

And yet God is good.

 So today begins our thirty-second year of marriage, and I am forever grateful to God for bringing Anita and I together in the first place, keeping us together along the way, and showing us how to love each other, and make a difference in our world, together.

Happy Anniversary Anita!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Tunnel of Chaos

All team members will have their fair share of disagreements and conflict; we all bring our dysfunctions to work. But grace will allow conflicts to be resolved - not allowed to fester.

This value – trust tempered with grace – will allow conflicts to be readily resolved. If someone passes you in the hall and didn’t say hello, you don’t have to worry that they are upset with you. If you say something in a staff meeting that offends a team member, you know that they will have the guts and integrity to talk with you about it.

It’s called the “tunnel of chaos.”

It’s a phrase that communicates urgency for team members to get one-on-one, discuss the issue, and resolve it.

Bill Hybels coined the phrase after hearing psychiatrist Scott Peck talk about the differences between participating in genuine community and experiencing what he called “pseudo community.”

If community involves things such as knowing and being known, serving and being served, loving and being loved, and celebrating and being celebrated, then most relationships, Peck asserted, are constantly devolving into pseudo community. It’s the temptation for small groups of people to slide into a state where they’re not quite telling each other the truth and they’re not quite celebrating each other. Instead, they tolerate each other, they accommodate each other, and they settle for sitting on the unspoken matters that separate them.

Hybels taught on this idea at Willow Creek Church by drawing two circles on a flip chart and labeled the one on the left “Pseudo Community,” the one on the right “True Community.”

He said that we all want to get to true community, but we find ourselves in pseudo community. So how do you move from one place to the other?

Hybels connected the two circles with a tunnel and said people need to be willing to go down into the tunnel – the tunnel of chaos. Frightening as it is to enter that tunnel; those who do so are the ones most likely to pop up one day into the fresh, life-giving daylight of true community.

The tunnel of chaos is where hurts are unburied, hostilities revealed, and tough questions asked. No matter how unpleasant the tunnel of chaos is, there’s no other route to authentic relationships.

Being a part of a team can be like a series of battles, and a lot can get said on the front lines that may not be exactly edifying. Every leader must constantly ask direct reports “Are we okay? How can we clean up the messes we’ve made along the way?"

As leaders, be prepared to enter the tunnel of chaos whenever necessary.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Put Down the Duckie...

They don't make 'em like they used to: if the title of this post is unknown to you, click here for a quick trip to Sesame Street and an appropriate close to this week's posts on reading.

Ernie is having trouble learning to play the saxophone, so he asks for help. Hoots the Owl sings, " You gotta put down the duckie. Put down the duckie. Put down the duckie if you wanna play the saxophone!"

Yesterday I challenged you to the discipline of deliberate practice. If you're passionate about your vision, you'll put in the work of reading to improve yourself.

What duckie are you willing to put down today so that you can pick up a book and be an excellent leader in your organization?

One book.


Need a suggestion? Contact me.

Want to share a great book that other leaders might find helpful? Leave a comment.

Follow these guidelines for getting the most out of reading.

Put your reading into action!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deliberate Practice Required

I'm borrowing the title quote and thoughts from James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner's excellent book "The Truth About Leadership". It's one of my top books of 2010 (read the full list here).

Researchers are clear about this point: It doesn't matter whether it's in sports, music, medicine, computer programming, mathematics, or other fields. Talent is not the key that unlocks excellence.

You need a particular kind of practice - deliberate practice - to develop expertise.

Since the theme this week has been all about books, reading, and learning, I want to paraphrase Kouzes and Posner's discussions on deliberate practice and apply them to reading.

Five Elements in the Deliberate Practice of Reading
  • Design a reading discipline to specifically improve your performance - if you want to become an expert, you have to have a methodology, a clear goal, a way to measure success, and a specific process for accomplishing the goal.
  • Reading has to be repeated a lot - sloppy execution is not acceptable to top performers. Read far and wide in your chosen field with sustained effort.
  • Feedback on your results must be continuously available - every learner needs feedback. As you are reading, make it a practice to share your insights, comments, and questions with a group of peers, a mentor, or some other third party to help you analyze how you are doing.
  • Reading is highly demanding mentally - developing expertise requires intense concentration and focus. Reading sessions need to be free of those daily interruptions that are commonplace in everyone's day-to-day routines.
  • Sometimes reading isn't all that fun - while you should love what you do, deliberate reading practice is not designed to be fun. The knowledge that you are improving and getting closer to your dream of superior performance should outweigh the sacrifices you make.
The best leaders are the best learners.

The best learners are the best readers.

Want to join me on the "practice" field of reading?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010

To get to my favorite books of 2010, you need to understand the numbers. Through 11/30/10:
  • 130 books checked out from my local library
  • 61 books added to my personal library
  • 15 magazines subscribed to monthly
  • 12 blogs checked daily
I like to read; no, I LOVE to read!

Did I read every word of every book, magazine and blog post listed above? No. I have a selective reading process described here that helps me focus on the important stuff.

One of the reasons I'm talking about books is because of the time of year: the holiday book season. Bookstores are one of my favorite places to visit at any time, but especially so at Christmas. A holiday visit to your local bookstore can provide a personal oasis of calm in a frenzied shopping day. Books can spur the imagination and take you on journeys that you never thought you might go. Books are also a great gift idea for anyone on your list. Don’t know what to give? The holiday season is also the time when the books lists come out – you know, the best seller’s lists, the Top Ten this or that, or the Best 100 Books of all Time.

It’s in that spirit that I offer some of my favorite books published in 2010. Here are the titles only – I will leave the discovery of why I chose them to your own reading!
  • The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence, Tom Peters
  • Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to ask God for the Impossible, Steven Furtick
  • Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin
  • The Christian Atheist: Believing in God But Living as if He Doesn’t Exist, Craig Groeschel
  • Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer
  • The Truth about Leadership: The No Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Truth You Need to Know, James Kouzes
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath
  • The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith, Gabe Lyons
  • Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, Nancy Duarte
  • Buy-in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, John Kotter
  • Lead with Your Customer: Transform Your Culture and Brand into World Class Excellence, Mark David Jones
  • Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition, Alan Roxburgh
  • Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently, John Maxwell
This is a highly subjective list, but I believe all the titles above would serve leaders in ChurchWorld well. As soon as I write the list, I'm not satisfied with it. There are many more candidates that had an impact on me, and literally dozens of books are on my "To Read" list I keep in my journal.

For me, reading is the ultimate way to develop yourself and get insight on becoming the best leader you can be. Steve Sjogren noted these reasons for reading:
  • Reading increases your well-roundedness
  • Reading gives you consistent sources to draw from
  • Reading is very attractive to big thinkers and other highly skilled leaders
  • Reading helps you develop insight
  • Reading breeds wisdom
As 2010 winds down, will you consider taking a look at one of the books on my list – or chose one from another list?

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting the Most Out of Reading

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, is someone I respect a great deal. I first met him at Catalyst 2009 during a Backstage Pass luncheon hosted by Hyatt and Thomas Nelson. He is a great blogger and speaker, and has some great thoughts on how to get the most out of reading. Here are a few of these; for the complete version, I highly recommend you follow the links and read his entire post.

How to Read a Non-Fiction Book
  • Don’t feel that you need to finish-read till you lose interest; most books aren’t worth finishing
  • Start with the author bio-understanding more about the author helps you understand the book
  • Read the table of contents-leaning is often best when placed in context
  • Quickly scan the whole book-giving the book a quick glance, especially at illustrations, charts, etc. will help you understand what is ahead
  • Highlight important passages-mark anything that resonates with you for later action
  • Take notes in the front or margins-the act of committing your thoughts and reactions to what you are reading will help you recall it later
  • Use a set of note-taking symbols-see below
  • Dog-ear pages you want to revisit-bookmark the really, really important passages
  • Review the book and transfer actions to your to-do list-scan the book when finished for the key symbols mentioned above
  • Share the book’s message-if the message in the book resonates with you enough to read it, then share it with others
Recovering the Lost Art of Note Taking
  • Note-taking enables you to stay engaged with the book
  • Note-taking provides a mechanism for capturing your ideas, questions, and actions
  • Use symbols so you can quickly scan your notes later
  • If an item is particularly important or insightful, mark it with a star
  • If an item requires further research or resolution, mark it with a question mark
  • If an item requires follow-up, mark it with an open square
  • If an item requires action by someone else, mark it with an open circle
  • Schedule time to review your notes
How to Retain More of What You Read

Hyatt has developed a system of summarizing his reading. He is currently using it not only in his personal reading but in a mentoring group he started early in 2010. The exercise he uses forces him to distill key insights from the book and then determine what he is going to do differently as a result.

The format of his summary consists of:
  • Bibliographic heading-title, author, date
  • Quick summary-one paragraph, distilling the essence of the book
  • Key insights-Selected highlights from the book, with page numbers for further reference
  • Personal application-two or three things you will do differently as a result of the book
  • Meaningful quotes-any author worth reading is going to say things in a way that is worth remembering for later use
The key to the actions described above is to distill the entire book into one page (two if you add the section on Meaningful Quotes.)

The discipline of keeping it short makes the content easier to remember, thus retaining more of what you read.

And therefore more useful to your life.

Isn’t that what non-fiction reading is all about?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reading 101

Leaders read...
Read to succeed...
Read to lead...

You've probably heard phrases similar to the above. You may agree with them, too - but do you practice them?

They're true.

In his very unique style, here is what noted leadership author and speaker Tom Peters has to say about reading in his book "The Little BIG Things":

Read Wide!
Surprise Yourself with Your Reading Picks!
Read Deep!
Read Often!
Out-Read the "Competition"!!!
Take Notes!
Share with Others What You Read!

With that spirit, in this week's blog posts I want to: share some reading insights I have learned along the way; look at some great ideas by Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt on reading and note taking; give you my version of the best books for 2010; and make you an offer and a challenge.

How to Read a Book

Literally - that's the name of a classic book by Mortimer Adler.  The first lesson of reading is to learn that you don't need to “read” each book the same way. Here are Adler's 4 levels of reading:
  • Elementary Reading – What does the sentence say?
  • Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?
  • Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?
  • Syntopical Reading – What does a comparison of books on the subject reveal?
Some books are only meant to be read at the first level; others are meant to be digested at some of the other levels. Know which is which!

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:
  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and sub-headings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized. 
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.R
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always. 
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.
If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn't capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic - there are always more waiting for you!

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren't reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book this week?

Then share it with someone!

Making the Grade

Spending Thanksgiving with my family in the house (four children, two daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren) was a great reminder about the power of lifelong learning.
  • At two months, my granddaughter is a sensory sponge. She is attracted by bright lights and faces, a little jumpy at loud sounds, and likes to view the world from an upright position.
  • At almost three, every experience with my grandson is a learning opportunity. Climbing in McDonalds's PlayPlace with his aunt, walking through the store amazed by all the things to look at, asking to read books all the time, and creating his own world with a firehouse playset, he is soaking it all in, learning and applying his lessons in life.
  • At eighteen, my youngest son "volunteered" to ride with me to take my grandson back to his home after a spending a couple of days with us. The two hour ride started off with a couple of bouts of sickness, but all in all was quiet. Some lessons you can't find in books or on the cloud.
  • All the rest of our kids - spread out from age 22 to 29 - through their stories of life, speak volumes of the learning that is occurring.
  • As for my wife and I, well, we learned you can go through every dish and pan twice (or more) while preparing a big Thanksgiving meal; that the kitchen ballet to pull that off is funny to watch at times; that a long walk with kids of all ages running, walking, or being pushed in a stroller is one of the best sights of all.
I have deliberately focused on my family, but the idea behind this post is applicable to everyone of any age in any organization:

To Make the Grade, Lifelong Learning is a MUST!

The world we live in is accelerating; the pace of life is increasing, and to maintain this pace you must always be LEARNING.

Learning certainly means different things for different ages and stages of life, but I am going to suggest that one of the best ways to learn is to READ.

Want to know more? Come back tomorrow to begin a journey in reading!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Morning...

...a feast for the senses.

Wafting through my door comes the smell of a turkey roasting. An Adams family tradition, the turkey is my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast. Simply prepared with a rub of butter and seasoning salt on the outside, and apples, celery, and onion in the cavity, it roasts slowly overnight. It's the last thing in the oven before we go to bed - and the first sensory experience of Thanksgiving Day.

A small plaintive cry from the guest bedroom upstairs signals that Lucy has awakened from her sleep, tummy telling her it's time for the first Thanksgiving meal of the household. At two months, she's having a lot of firsts: the first long trip to Nina and GrandBob's; a new sensory world to take in; this four-legged furry thing that goes crazy when people come in the door; and an adoring family that just wants to snuggle with her. But she likes to see the world from a vertical position when she's awake, so we're learning to carry her cradled upright in our arms.

A clickity-clickity on the hardwood floor from the hall outside my bedroom door signals that Luke is ready for his Thanksgiving breakfast - the same meal he was had twice a day for 9+ years: lamb and rice Iams. He slurps the water, scarfs the food, and then impolitely burps (yes, dogs burp). Having expended all the energy he can muster in the pre-dawn hours, he ambles over to his bed, circles three times, and plops down for the first of his many naps of the day. Life is rough when you sleep 20 hours a day, so you have to start early.

Sliding out of a warm bed, my feet hit the cold floor-first my bedroom floor, then the kitchen tiles. Since in the wonderful last-minute switcharoo of rooms to accommodate Lucy's sleeping preferences, I have forgotten where my slippers are. A quick walk to the back door, then outside on the back porch and to the yard for Luke to take care of business so he can get back inside for his breakfast and nap. It's a cool, crisp Thanksgiving morning; the quiet hour just before the moon set and sunrise. The birds aren't up yet, the squirrels are still sleeping, and even I-77 in the distance is quiet as the world sleeps on.

Just a day or so past full moon, Luke and I look out across the brightly-lit back yard. The trees are almost bare, discarding their leaves for the long winter sleep. The moon shining through them casts shadows in sharp relief against the grass below. Wisps of clouds across the sky foretell the likelihood of rain - maybe some today, surely some tomorrow.

I close this sensory trip through Thanksgiving morning with the taste of a steaming hot, early-morning cup of Earl Grey tea swirling around in my mouth. I'm not a big hot tea drinker, but there's just something about a house full of family, laughter, cooking, and the promise of more to come that makes it seem just the perfect way to start the day.

For the first time, all 10 of us are going to be together: Nina, GrandBob, Jon, Hallie, Jack, Jason, Jaime, Lucy, Amy, and Aaron. It's just for part of the day, but it's those hours that make a lifetime of memories.

We thank God for the blessing of family.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reverse Mentoring Revisited

You're probably very familiar with the concept of mentoring, the principle of the older and wiser instructing the younger and less experienced.

Reverse mentoring assumes a completely opposite perspective on learning. Earl Creps' book "Reverse Mentoring" is a guidebook for older (ahem) leaders like me who want to experience a new richness of personal formation that only comes from the generations of young leaders below us in age.

I've written about Creps' work before: here, here, and here. I had to stop because it was getting all over me. Now, some months later, I'm picking it up again because, well, I'm in a season of reverse mentoring.

Part of the season is due to my church's current series: "One Generation Away," a focus on the power of a generation to change the world.

I would like to think I can be a part of that generation.

Not the younger generations around us - I don't think you can turn back the clock. But my generation can invest in, learn from, and serve with this current generation of young leaders.

Re-reading "Reverse Mentoring" this week, I came across this quote:

Reverse mentoring is cross-cultural in that it actually uses the unlikely possibility of a relationship to benefit both parties through mutual learning from honesty and humility.

That makes me think...

...and dream...

What about you?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Failing to Listen =

Dysfunctional Leadership

Case in point: Rehoboam, upon assuming the kingship of Israel after his father Solomon's death.

Ancient history, you say? No application for today?

Wrong on both counts.

At my church, Elevation Church in Charlotte, Pastor Steven Furtick is in the middle of a series called "One Generation Away". It's all about the possible danger - and incredible potential - of today's younger generations. But it's a message for all of us: the 83 year-old GI Generation, the 52 year-old Baby Boomer, the 30 year-old Gen Xer, and the 18 year-old Millennial.

We are all one generation away from changing the world.

For some of us, it's in finishing our lives well, passing along decades of wisdom and experience. For others, it's pouring ourselves into those we lead, work with, and serve alongside. For still others, it's balancing the eagerness and impatience of youth with the need to proceed with deliberate haste.

It's about listening.

John Maxwell had some great thoughts on listening to accompany the story of Rehoboam in 2 Chronicles 10:15:

Leaders must listen for two reasons:
  1. To connect with others
  2. To learn from others
To fail to listen results in:
  • Narrow vision
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Self-centered focus
  • Demanding and impatient style
The opposite? Listen well to the following:
  • Your followers-do you know each member on your team?
  • Your customers-keep in contact with those you serve.
  • Your competitors-don't imitate, but listen in order to learn.
  • Your mentors-no leader can afford to be without a mentor's insight.
  • Your inner circle-listen to those closest to you to feel the heartbeat of the organization.
Check out Pastor Steven's sermon here.

Practice listening here...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Does Your Church Have an Open-Roof Policy?

Many churches today unintentionally turn their backs on those who need Jesus the most. There is an inward focus-we go to our Bible studies, we take care of one another, we listen to our favorite Christian music-basically, our activities are directed towards those already claiming Christ as their Savior.

One day Jesus addressed this with both word and deed. The story is so familiar to most believers we forget the message within. Jesus was teaching in a home. Pretty soon the home was filled to overflowing, with people standing in the doors and windows just to hear Jesus speak.

For the crowd, the meeting was about them. What could they get? What could they learn? What could Jesus offer them? Churches today are filled with well-meaning Christians with similar attitudes. You can hear it in their self-centered words:
  • We love this church because it is so convenient for us
  • We go to this church because our kids love the day care
  • This church makes me feel better about myself
If your ministry has become focused on the already-convinced, then it’s time for an open-roof policy. Out of the entire crowd in and around the house that day, at least four people got it. These four had a crippled friend who desperately needed Jesus, and they were determined to go to any lengths to get him there.

In his book "It", Pastor Craig Groeschel outlines some very practical lessons from these four friends. First, they recognized their friend needed Jesus. Too many believers forget that the lost really need Jesus.

We also see that it took four different people to get this one to Jesus. Reaching people is not just the pastor’s job; it’s everyone’s job. We do our part, others do their part, and God does his. We’re never the answer; Jesus always is.

The story also tells us that love overcomes obstacles. Their love for their friend compelled them to climb on the roof and tear a hole in it so they could lower their friend right in front of Jesus. They didn’t worry about what everyone would say-they were focused on getting their friend to Jesus.

The open roof policy depicted in this story is another way of saying your church has to be outwardly-focused. 
  • Do whatever it takes to make your ministry a place that welcomes those who don’t know Christ
  • Your ministry must have a clear, consistent presentation of Jesus’ story
  • Leaders need real faith; if you believe with every fiber in your body that Christ can and will instantly transform a life, people will sense it, feel it, and believe it as well

Identify the barriers that are keeping your church from reaching others – and then tear the roof off of them!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kitchen Choreography

The other night my wife, son, and I were treated to absolute poetry in motion. A group of trained professionals were executing their craft, each one knowing his specific responsibilities as well as supporting the rest of his team. Hours - no, years - of practice was evident in their graceful moves, focused intensity, and clarity of purpose. We had front row seats, and the show was excellent.

No, we weren't watching a ballet or dance company, or an athletic event - we were eating dinner, celebrating my son's 18th birthday.

This was not just any restaurant, but Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen, where the "open kitchen" concept reigns. The kitchen is right in the center of the restaurant, and we had reservations in the prime observation spot - the Chef's Counter - where all the action was just a few feet away.

The food was excellent: fresh ingredients, prepared in such a way to bring out the natural flavors, served by a warm and friendly waitstaff. But this isn't about the food, as good as it was.

It's about two fundamentals of the restaurant business that can be applied to your organization: efficiency and mise en place.

Rooster's doesn't have a large kitchen, but it is designed to function with efficiency. The saute' station anchors one half of the center; this is where constant motion is an understatement. Saute' is where the chef is juggling eight or ten pans at a time, making flames, making things jump.

Around the corner at the rear of the kitchen is the namesake of the restaurant: a wood fired grill and oven. The chef here grills all the meat dishes called out, sending them to the front to be paired with side dishes - some from the saute' station, others from the other half of the kitchen center - the salad, soup, and fry station. To call these dishes "sides" is an injustice - any one of them (we had five among the three of us) could stand alone as a signature dish.

The front area is grand central station: here the expediter calls out the orders as they come in, checks on orders in progress, and makes the final touches as they head to the guest. The final touch is important - it may be the finishing touch of sauce, or a garnish, or a quick wipe of an errant splatter on the plate.

The corners of the kitchen: pastry chef, preparing delicacies to finish out a wonder dinner; meat chef, taking larger cuts prepared on the grill and finishing them to order; and the support staff, taking out dirty pans and bringing in clean ones and bowls, plates, cups and saucers for the chefs to cook and plate food.

A picture doesn't do this justice - you would have to have a video camera to catch all the movement involved above. But I want to drive home the point: it's all about efficiency: no wasted movement. Everyone in the kitchen knew what was going on, what their job was, and how they can support the rest of the team as needed. The pastry chef would slip around the saute station, helping the chef plate items as they came off the stove. Once, she literally held out a plate to her back, out of sight, and the chef plated the dish, while she was moving another one with her other hand.

The meat chef helped out on the grill; the expediter helped out on saute'; the pastry chef started an item on the grill when that chef had to step away for a moment.

That is more than efficiency - it's the solid work of a team that knows individual and team roles, to the point that they are one.

Mise en Place
French for "put in place", this is what allows all the action described above to take place. It is the hours of work that start before the first meal is fired: washing, cutting, peeling, pre-cooking, weighing, portioning, and positioning of all the ingredients that go into the wonderful final product. Taken broadly, it is the slow simmering of the soups for the night; the baking and preparation of individual items that comprise the wonderful complexity of desserts. It even goes to the preparation of the wood fires that will later cook the wonderful meats that anchor the meal.

Mise en place doesn't get any attention in the final review, but you wouldn't have anything without it. It's all those things that aren't noticed till they're not there. It's the saute' chef reaching in the cooler knowing that he has all the right ingredients to prepare the dish just called out. It's the pastry chef preparing 3 different kinds of ice cream for the desserts on the menu. It's the fry chef making sure the oil is fresh and hot, ready for use. It's the salad chef having everything ready to assemble a variety of salads from the same few ingredients, differing in presentation and dressing. It's the dishwasher, knowing if he doesn't get the dirty pans out and clean ones back, the whole kitchen grinds to a halt.

Mise en place is all about the knowing everything that is required to produce the finished meal, and making sure all the ingredients are ready to use when needed. It's about thinking through things before they happen, so that when they happen, you're one step ahead.

It's all about being prepared.

Our evening at Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen was delightful on so many levels. The front of house staff were gracious in working with me to make sure we could have a front row seat to all the action; the waitstaff were friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive; the chefs prepared wonderful food while displaying their skills to an audience.

But it was more than just a meal - it was a demonstration of excellence from top to bottom, one that any organization could learn from.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Face in the Mirror

Whose face do you see when you look in the mirror?

Recently I went on a business trip that’s took me through 5 airports, boarding 5 planes, and taking off and landing 5 times in 4 time zones. Along the way, I waited in lines, looked in a lot of faces, and heard lots of conversations. One conversation in particular stands out – two young women in their early 20s were behind me talking about another person. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but voices in a jet way are quite clear. The comment that stopped me? “Yeah, he’s 35 you know, and that’s like, you know, old.”

I’m almost two decades past the age of 35, and I obviously have a different outlook on life than those two young women. Or do I?

I’m not normally the type that looks at myself in a mirror. But this comment, along with much more positive comments from my colleagues related to a change in hairstyle, made me look in the mirror in the hotel that night. Just who was that looking back at me?

The face I saw was that of my father. Instinctively, I know this was triggered by recent changes in his health. At 83, issues are beginning to arise. Emails indicated a gradual change in demeanor and lifestyle. Unexpected phone calls late at night recount hospital visits that begin bringing a new image to mind.

This morning, I looked long in the mirror and the vision I saw was that of my father, coming into focus like a picture being developed right in front of my eyes.

Thought of another way, however, that familiar face embedded in my mind morphed into my son’s and then into his son’s - my grandson. Like a modern day mashup, those collections of lives lived, and yet to live, offer a considerable span of history. A life in waning years, a life at halftime, a life in early adulthood, and a life just beginning – that’s quite a few faces in the mirror.

It doesn’t take a magic mirror to see the past in your own face, or wonder about the future in the face of your children and grandchildren.

Who knows when you will glance into a mirror and meet a past you hadn’t expected and weren’t ready for, or a future that is yet to come.

Look in the mirror – what do you see?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rites of Passage

My youngest son turns 18 today.

This is a significant event - one of increasing responsibility on the journey from boy to man. Turning sixteen and getting a driver's license, going on the first date, the first job - all of these events are signficant - but they are not really a "rite of passage."

Ancient cultures (and some modern ones) have different methods for marking the movement from boyhood to manhood. Many of these rituals would seem primiive, even barbaric, to our civilized society. and yet these cultures have something our culture does not - well-defined rites of passage that allow a boy to know when he becomes a man.

While I'm not advocating for a return to boys spending days in the wilderness, hunting wild game, or being methodically beaten by your elders, there is something to be said for rituals. They are intimately bound up with a sense of accomplishment, the achievment of an adult identity, a connection with adult socitety, and the memory of overcoming the obstacles needed to get there.

A rite of passage is a marker of sorts - marking a change in status. It marks what will now be, not just what is. The child is now recognized by others to be leaving one stage and entering the next stage of maturity.

For my son, I don't think of a single event, but a progression of events - especially in the last year - that mark the passage of adolescent into young adulthood:
  • Being a camp counselor for the past two summers at a Christian boy's camp
  • Taking active leadership roles at his church - not only in the youth area, but in the church at large
  • Taking younger guys under his wing to train them in technical roles at church
  • Exploring his artistic side - taking culinary classes in school, preparing meals for the teachers, and bringing those skills home
  • Demonstrating academic skills in his senior exit project
  • Beginning to understand financial responsibilities (job, car, etc.)
No single event above - or even all of them collectively - signify that my son is now a man. But they do indicate progress along the path.

Turning 18 is only the end of the beginning.

Happy birthday, Aaron!

I love you!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toolkit for Innovative Thinking

When you're working on a project, things always go smoother when you have the right tools at hand.

If your mind is working on something innovative, the same is true.The mind is full of ideas from past experiences and from observations gained through conversations, movies, television, etc. While you may chose to rely on your subconscious mind to access these ideas, why not take a more structured approach, using specific tools and techniques?

In her book “The Seeds of Innovation”, Elaine Dundon has created a systems thinking approach to innovation. At first those two thoughts seem contradictory, but in reality it can become a very powerful synergy. For example, here’s a “toolkit” you can dive into when you are faced with a challenge in your ministry.

Rummaging in the Attic – elements of previous solutions or ideas can prove to be very valuable fuel for jump-starting your idea engine. Find old ideas, dust them off, and reconnect them in new ways to your current problem or opportunity.

Cultivating Obsession – a great way to find new ideas it to become obsessed with the challenge that confronts you. It means you have to immerse yourself in the challenge, to seek out all the information you possibly can. Obsession will lead to better insights.

Analyzing Frustrations – one of the most fertile areas for identifying new ideas is discovering what frustrates others about the current problem. Focusing on what is not working will sometimes be the origin of a new breakthrough idea.

Identifying the Gold Standard – no matter what the challenge you are facing, someone else has already been down that road. Seek out these people or organizations that have solved a similar challenge in an outstanding way. Make a list of the elements of the process or program that made it work for them, and relate this list to your situation.

Adopting and Adapting – great ideas already exist all around you. Find them out and adopt them as your own. Look within the category of your opportunity, but also look outside the box. Innovators look beyond the borders of their own situation to find new ideas to adopt and adapt.

Combining Ideas – innovative thinking is a little like a cake you bake: take a little of this, a little of that, put them together and you have a delicious dessert. Creative thinkers are aware of the objects and ideas around them and look for new connections by combining diverse ideas and objects.

Finding Similarities – think of other challenges that might be similar. Draw analogies to similar situations, let your mind wander, and you will most likely discover a new connection from an unlikely source.

Breaking Down the DNA – what if your problem is overwhelming? Break it down into its component parts and focus on it bit by bit. Analyzing every step in the process will allow you to discover new answers.

Listing and Twisting – this is actually a follow-on step from the previous one. Once you have listed the steps in the process, you can “twist” them around to find new ideas.

Become a Visual Thinker – something happens when we move away from a linear process of thinking and start to doodle or draw. I’m a big fan of this method; I have a 4’ x 8’ whiteboard on my office wall that I’m constantly stepping up to and sketching out an idea. It seems that your subconscious mind takes over and new connections begin to appear.

Whether you use a process like the ones above, or just pull up a chair with a cup of coffee in hand to think, the point is that innovation is a process. You know where you are; hopefully you know where you want to be. Let your imagination run wild in the space between, and before long you and your team will have a plan to move forward.