Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grace Through the Ages - by Dr. Bill Smith

Grit & Grace: One New Yorker’s Thoughts on this newly released daily devotional...

I consider myself a New Yorker now...six years in this city will change a person.  One tends to find themselves more defensive, more on-edge, and less trusting than perhaps previous lifestyles have led them to be.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I want to mirror Him to others but find myself struggling against the grain.  To be gracious and kind when the world around you is rough and rude - how is that possible?

Bill Smith, in his poignant, kind and sometimes ironic tone, identifies the only real transforming ingredient of our lives: the grace of God. While I read this devotional, I see glimpses of the character of a God Who blows me away with His gracious response to rude, disrespectful, and demeaning human beings: i.e., ME.  The only way I can live as a daughter of Him in this messed up world is to know the transforming power of an unimaginable grace that has been levied on me.  Just like the parable of the forgiven but ungrateful servant, I face a choice to pass that grace onto others OR show the world that I have not yet really and deeply understood just how much I have been forgiven.

The next time someone pushes me on the subway I'm going to try and remember that.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Tipping Point - by Malcolm Gladwell

The basic idea of this book is that epidemics spread based on ingredients that are often different than what we'd expect.  And no, not medical epidemics per se, but whenever anything 'goes viral' and suddenly moves from a small, cloistered few to a large, sweeping point of interest.  One illustration in the book is how hush puppies made a comeback, from a small group of eccentric fashion-forward people in the East Village of NY to a country-wide fashion phenomena. 

Gladwell's points were few, but heavily illustrated.  I have to admit that I'm of the temperament that would prefer less illustration and more direct writing...however...the illustrations did help me understand his points more deeply.  Still, I think I could have skipped a few illustrations and still come away with the basics of author's ideas.

The Three Rules of Epidemics - The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.

The Law of the Few - Social epidemics are "driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people." "sociable they are, or how energetic or knowledgable or influential among their peers."   These few can have a powerful, far-reaching effect when the idea or product they are promoting engages with the two other rules of epidemics.  Three kinds of people help move ideas to epidemics:  connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  A  connector is someone who is well networked, and seems to 'know everyone' and continually be introducing one person into another network or world.  Connectors spread ideas through the simple fact of being linked with a wide variety of people.  Mavens are those who are the watch-dogs of quality, and will research and correct those who miss the mark.  Mavens are rare, but they delight in correctness for its own sake and will insure that a company knows about his/her presence.  Mavens promote products they believe in and speak loudly both about those they like and those they dislike.  The concept of  the salesman is a bit self-explanatory.  True salesmen can sell 'ice to an eskimo,' and in so doing, be part of the spread of an epidemic. 

The Stickiness Factor - this is Gladwell's attempt to describe that illusive something that forms the difference between a commercial that is entertaining, and a commercial that not only makes us remember the specific product but also want to buy it.  Stickiness is what makes something more enduring, memorable, and effective.  "Stickiness means that a message makes an impact.  You can't get it out of your head.  It sticks in your memory."

The Power of Context - "The power of context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem."  Gladwell uses the 1984 NYC subway system as an example.  Dirty, ridden with crime, and full of graffiti, it wasn't exactly the kind of system that promoted public pride.  Fare-jumpers were common, and police didn't even bother with them.  The whole system was broken, and the public knew it.  But when the system came under new management, things changed.  One of the very first actions of the new manager was to clean every subway car, scrub off the graffiti, and keep it that way.  What?!?!  When crime and broken trains and fire were rampant every day, why the focus on cosmetics?  Because - the CONTEXT that patrons were in every day bred a lack of responsibility and ownership.  The system was abused because the graffiti sent the message that nobody was minding the store.  As soon as someone began to mind the store, things began to change.  This idea suggests that for an idea to stick - we are extremely susceptible to our environment and the messages it sends.  Epidemics can be fueled by context.

I agree with Gladwell that the power of context is enormous, while I do think that the author went a bit TOO far in his application of the idea.  While context influences us all more than we realize, we are still responsible for our own actions and must therefore have an outside source to help us know what is right and wrong.  Gladwell describes a murder that takes place on the subway in that time frame and why, in his thinking, some of the 'blame' went to the context that the gunman was in every single day.  Again, context IS powerful and I cannot deny that - but BECAUSE it is powerful, as a Christian, I believe that is why we must have an even more powerful 'context' in which to think, act and live.  For me, that is the Word of God and the Holiness of the God I serve that dictates my actions.  We are all susceptable to decline based on context, but we still make personal choices. 

As a Christian, there are plenty of things that I would like to see become an 'epidemic.'  Church-planting and missional lifestyles.  Gospel-based thinking and actions of mercy.  Scripture-memory and engaging prayer.  Justice for the down-trodden and food for the hungry. 

From a Christian perspective, I think that what Gladwell is describing captures some of the ways that God uses His own people to move ideas from small pockets into large networks.  As a leader, I want to think intentionally about these three 'rules' and where they might apply in my own context.  What is my role?  Who else do I need on my team in order to move big dreams into reality?  Where can I find a Maven, a Salesperson, and more Connectors?  What makes my vision 'sticky' for the Body of Christ in NYC?  And what context do I need to either 'create' or act in defiance of in order to see movement happen? 

Good to Great - by Jim Collins

I have always liked the idea that "good is the enemy of great."  I have always been drawn to things that challenge the status quo, and this is one of those things. 

Jim Collins is one of my favorite authors (and we need to pray that he comes to faith!).  He identifies key concepts in leadership and management that, not surprisingly, often mirror Scriptural principles. 

This book captures the elements of what moves companies from "good," to "great."  With strict standards and much research, his team interviewed leaders and developed these key concepts.  There is a lot of great material in this book - but let me share what impacted me the most. 

Level 5 Leadership: - in summary, someone who has leadership ability, vision, competence and talent, but MINUS the ego.  The ego, in a sense, is subservient to the cause or purpose/vision of the organization.  It was certainly a challenge to me to look at my own ego and evaluate where it falls.  To be human is to desire growth and accomplishment, but we can't allow this desire to overrun the real reason we exist and serve.  C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that he could not work too hard to avoid thinking of his own success and fame. 

What We Can Be Best At:  Jim Collins describes the three circles:  "What you are deeply passionate about," "what you can be the best in the world at," and "what drives your economic engion."  Where these three circles overlap: this is your sweet spot, what your company should pursue to the exclusion of all other distractions.  He calls this the "hedgehog concept."  I love this simply because our tendency, especially in Christian ministry, is to do too many things...and to do them all half-way.  I have heard the phrase, "if something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly."  While I intuitively don't like that expression, there is truth in it at the beginning...UNTIL you figure out what you should focus on, and then pursue it with all excellence and exclude the things that distract you. 

Start a 'Stop Doing' List:  In order to apply the hedgehog concept well, we must STOP doing a number of things that distract us.  Time wasters, time drainers, or even worthy things that take us away from our main goal.  Once your core purpose is identified, everyone should keep a "stop doing" list in a promonent place!

Create a Culture of Discipline/Get the Right People on the Bus and in the Right Seats:  While the 'bus' concept may already be familiar to you, I appreciated Collins' challenge to create a culture of corporate discipline that keeps standards high.  One issue that clogs up an organization is someone in the wrong seat on the bus who has no passion for what they are doing, and thus no inward drive that can push them into excellence.  If you've ever been in a position that doesn't fit for a long season of life (I have), you know the intense drain emotionally and even physically that results.  However, in contrast, getting the right person into the right position naturally will release their passion and interest and drive - which will naturally build into your culture of discipline.  This reduces the amount of time that management needs to spend in making sure that there people are working hard enough or producing results.  Instead, your people will be motivated internally to produce results that lead to excellence.

In conclusion, a worthy read!!  I think the "level 5 leadership" was the biggest take home for me and the "one thing" from this book that I will remember well and attempt to apply.  May God transform ME into a level-five leader someday!

Friday, September 7, 2012

How Successful People Think - by John Maxwell

How you think is how you live.  Our thought life is not some hidden, personal area of our lives.  It 'leaks' into our actions and behaviors and interactions with others. 

John Maxwell, in his usual direct and succinct way, discusses 11 areas of "thinking" that influence our lives.  In this small book, he is trying to identify the key areas of thought that determine if a person will be successful or not in any area of their lives.  His theory?  Change your thinking = change your life. 

His list of "thinking" areas is as follows:  (1) Big-Picture Thinking, (2) Focused Thinking, (3) Creative Thinking, (4) Realistic Thinking, (5) Strategic Thinking, (6) Possibility Thinking, (7) Reflective Thinking, (8) Question Popular Thinking, (9) Benefit from Shared Thinking, (10) Unselfish Thinking, and (11) Bottom-line Thinking. 

'Successful' people tend to think in those ways.  They engage the big picture and are not limited by narrow views.  They focus their thoughts on what is most important.  They are not dry and static, but engage in creative problem solving.  They blend positive thinking about what is possible with realistic thinking in order to plan for the worst-case scenario.  They plan ahead with strategic thinking, learn from past mistakes with reflective thinking, and never automatically follow popular-thinking without first questioning its foundation and truth.  Successful people include others in their brainstorming and projects so as to benefit from shared thinking because the wealth of the whole is greater than one part.  They engage in unselfish thinking and behavior, which is always a 'win' in the long run for their organization's purpose and health. And, finally, successful people never lose sight of the bottom-line: why they do what they do. 

As with all of John Maxwell's books, I often finish a book feeling inspired to grow and lead in a better way...and I feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of ideals and new actions he suggests putting into practice.  John states things to simply and practically that it sounds as if it is the easiest thing in the world is to put these new actions into place.  Well, that may take some time!  I feel that the best way to read John's books is to select 2 or 3 key action areas to put into practice, and consider it success if you do!

Summary - a good read...but not my favorite...too many ideas packed into one little booklet makes it hard to know which one to focus on!