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.