Sunday, May 24, 2009

Opportunity Disguised As A Lion

Book Review: In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day: How To Survive And Thrive When Opportunity Roars By Mark Batterson

I've got to say that I really enjoy Mark Batterson's books. I read Wild Goose Chase first but haven't yet written a review. That will be coming (hopefully) soon. In A Pit presents a principle about opportunity: opportunity seldom looks like opportunity at first. I just read the following quote from Harvey Mackay's weekly newspaper column about James Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape. Barksdale had a maxim about opportunity known as the three-snake rule:
  • The first rule: If you see a snake, kill it. Don't set up a snake committee. Don't set up a snake user group, Don't write snake memos. Kill it.
  • The second rule: Don't play with dead snakes. (Don't revisit decisions.)
  • The paradoxical third: All opportunities start out looking like snakes.
Batterson makes the argument from the life of a biblical character, Benaiah, and an encounter he had with a lion, in a pit, on a snowy day. Benaiah chose to fight the lion, and went on to become the leader of King David's army. Benaiah's life and career hinged on this event, and he ended up in charge of the army of the greatest king in the history of Israel.

Batterson calls us to become a lion chaser; someone who would chase down the lion rather than someone who would run from it. The book is energizing, empowering, encouraging and challenging. Each chapter is engaging as the author discusses facets of embracing opportunity even when it's disguised as a lion, or a snake. I admit I took my time and savored the book. One chapter called Unlearning Your Fears he asked: "Are you living your life in a way that is worth telling stories about?" Well are you?

Another chapter and one that I studied the most was titled Guaranteed Uncertainty. It begins:
I know one thing for sure: Benaiah didn't wake up on the morning of his lion encounter and plan out every detail. It wasn't scheduled in Outlook. It wasn't on his to do list. I'm not even sure it was on his wish list. The lion encounter was as unplanned as a toothache.
God makes opportunities out of the uncertainties of our lives. If you think about the great moments in your life, they were seldom planned. Batterson uses examples like the Pentecost, and other major events of scripture. They weren't planned. Those people (and us at times too) didn't get up on the morning of the day in question knowing it was going to be a day with a life-changing pivotal opportunity. Embracing God requires us to embrace the uncertainty of our lives and use perspective and trust in God to allow Him to make the most of each opportunity (or lion or snake).

In the same chapter, the author explains something that made a big impact on me: Explanatory Style. What is your normal interpretation process for the events that happen your life? When someone stands you up for lunch, do you think "Something must have happened to them," causing you to worry, or do you think "That turkey stood me up!" causing you to be angry. The author calls that our explanatory style. He goes on to explain that our default explanatory style can cause us to see problems as opportunities God has placed before us or it can cause us to blame God or someone else for the problems and drop into victim mode. Great leaders seldom rise from victim explanatory styles.

The book was thoroughly encouraging and challenging. As a Christ-follower, I am encouraged to continue to work on my Explanatory Style. I commit to refuse to blame God or others for my circumstances. My prayer is that I can honor that commitment and that I will be found faithful to embrace the opportunities God presents in my life, whether they look like snakes, lions, unemployment, loss of income or any other type of setback.

Please let me know if I can help you in that area as well. I recommend the book wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why I'm Not Following You on Twitter

I've become a bit fascinated by Twitter. In just over 5 months on the service, I've made friends with people from all over the world, some business leaders, an author or two, and several other folks. I've even had a few phone conversations with some and one or two have been a great help to me in my new business. I enjoy meeting new tweeple. If you haven't, you can follow me here. I will (at least initially) follow you back.

I like to follow people who tweet about interesting ideas, leadership, teamwork, making the world a better place, people who are generally encouraging or add something to the twitterverse, and fellow followers of Jesus.

However, today, I just unfollowed several people on Twitter. I do it once a week or so. While Twitter is non-reciprocating in it's organization structure, I believe my twitter account is. I made that decision a couple of months ago in an effort to develop a standard follower policy. So here are the reasons I might un-follow you.
  1. You chose not to follow me back. It's just as simple as that. Unless you're a news feed or a product I'm extremely interested in, you won't last. You may make it for a few weeks but after a while, I'll unfollow. One other exception to this, at least for now, is friends who just don't seem to pay much attention to Twitter. I have about 20 people I know personally that have accounts but haven't seen fit to tweet or follow anyone. No wonder you don't understand it!
  2. You're a celebrity. I don't follow many celebs and only local politicians. As a note, it's unfortunate that the local politicians don't interact more on Twitter. Many of mine fall in category #1 above because they don't understand the value of the service.
  3. You tweet a ton. I use a Firefox add-on called Greasemonkey and a script called FollowCost that ranks your tweet volume. If your count is over 1000 milliscobles (a value derived by the authors), you risk being dropped at any time. Also any accounts that post multiple versions of the same tweet (more than two or three a day, which I sometimes do) then you can expect to get unfollowed.
  4. You have some association with porn, foul language, hate, etc.
  5. You send a bunch of direct messages (DM) to me. By a bunch, I mean one or two unsolicited ones. I understand people who choose to send DM's as Thank You messages. That's a personal preference and I don't have any hard feelings about those. But if you send me a "Hi" DM and you haven't sent any standard tweets, you're a goner.
That's about it. Maybe we just haven't found each other. I may from time to time follow you because of someone you follow or something you tweeted, but if you don't follow back or if you hit one of the other categories above, you can just give me a few days and I'll disappear. For me, Twitter is about the friends I can make, the relationships I can build, and the people I can help. Thanks for reading this and being part of my Web 2.0 world.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Paths and Principles

Book Review: The Principle Of The Path: How to get from where you are to where you want to be by Andy Stanley, published by Thomas Nelson.

I just spent a few conflicted hours with Andy Stanley's latest book. As usual, he delivers a powerful message, with biblical accuracy and pointed simplicity. The point of the book, and the principle stated plainly is: Direction - not intention - determines our destination. Later in the book he adds that our attention determines direction or what we focus on determines our path and our path determines our destination. It seems so obvious to me and yet I am also very tempted to lobby for an exception.

The book is well written. The author has used great examples from personal life and important passages from scripture to make the point that the choices we make determine our destination. The points are well explained and even argued as he understands well the questions one might ask. In fact we all ask many of the questions of this book and we all make many of the mistakes in the book as well. Who hasn't wished they could eat whatever they wanted or skip exercising without gaining weight (or worse)? Who hasn't wished there was some shortcut to happiness.

I understand and agree with the ideas in the book. I take responsibility for my choices of what I eat and how I spend my time; of the thoughts I choose to dwell on and the habits I've allowed. I take responsibility for those things and therefore I accept responsibility for where my life is after 51 years.

But there is little to encourage those of us who are a number of years or miles away from where we'd like to be. The book offers little more than a suggestion that we seek out a mentor or that we submit to God. Maybe there is little more than that for someone like me with several years of bad decisions behind them. This is a great book but I'm left more disappointed with my life for having read it. I don't know why. Maybe I'm arguing with submitting to God. Maybe I want to reserve the right to try to take shortcuts. But I felt after completing the book that the answer to the question "How do I get from where I am to where I want to be?" is that I can't get there from here. I have to go back in time or accept some compromise for a destination. The book seems to offer little regardless of my desire to change.

Therefore, I don't know how to recommend the book. I will probably offer it to some high-school graduates at my church, but I don't see recommending it to many of my friends at my age. I'm a big fan of the author's and I've appreciated his works like Next Generation Leader and Visioneering, which I both enthusiastically recommend. But I'm left with an empty recollection of The Principle Of The Path, wondering, contemplating where my life will end up now that I'm this far from my dream path.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tribes Group Blog - Day 19

What a treat to participate in a group blog project about Tribes by Seth Godin started by ChurchCrunch! Today, we're discussing pages 91-96.

Leaders Go First

Seth begins today's reading with an interesting post on how leaders resist the status quo. Leaders become leaders in the Tribes world because they go first. They disregard the status quo in exchange for an idea that is bigger and better than the status quo. The idea may not succeed; many don't. But in every case, someone had to go first. Someone had to stop being "everyone" and step out. Quoting the book, "'Everyone says it's impossible.' Guess what? Everyone works in a balloon factory and everyone is wrong." The chapter ends with the comment that "Over and over, everyone is wrong - unless you believe that innovation can change things, that heretics can break the rules, and that remarkable products and services spread. If you believe that, then you're not everyone. Then you're right."

We all can be everyone to someone. As a boomer, I find myself telling my kids sometimes that they can't do something. I really don't like it when I notice that, but I'm also afraid that I don't notice it as often as it happens. Too many times, I'm everyone to my barbarian kids. Do you notice that about yourself? Do you see that in your relationships with your peers, or coworkers or children? To what degree or to whom are you an everyone?
But, wait. Seth's not done. There's a great deal more. The two examples he uses are the music industry and Microsoft. Both are in a state of decline, however I'd venture to say that more people would agree that the record industry is in decline than would agree the same about Microsoft.

Watching The Music Business Die

Seth goes on to write an accurate and scathing rebuke of the music industry. As usual, his perceptive eye marks the decline of the industry and he provides some accurate criticism and an encouraging challenge to start trying to build a career self-publishing. The music industry was built for another time and it's economic model worked so well, that huge systems were created and many people made a lot of money operating the system. In fact, I wonder if the church hasn't made so much money working the system that we (I'm one of the church) missed the opportunity to take the lead and take advantage of the very process Seth describes. Is it possible that we (the church) made too much money and we missed the chance to really be the change in the music industry?

I've often wondered what would happen if the church gave away Christian music. What if we just gave it away. Wasn't it Keith Green who said something to the effect of, "If we call it music ministry, then why are we charging for it?" What if we created a site where people could download music for free? If the consumer states that they're a believer, they're sent to a donation page. If they state that they're not a believer, they're sent to a page where we explain that we give it away because someone paid for it. The advertising would be of an outreach nature and artists would be paid per download. No record companies, no distribution deals, just music with a Christian message. What do you think?

Don't Panic When The New Business Model Isn't as "Clean" as the Old One

The final entry is a conviction to me. Why don't I step in and do something? Am I God's heretic for this? If not, where is the leader or heretic for this idea? Actually the idea is probably not original with me. Even Seth mentions that "This isn't about having a great idea (it almost never is). The great ideas are out there, for free on your neighborhood blog. Nope, this is about taking the initiative and making things happen."

Is there a heretic Christian reading this blog who's in or around the music industry? My distance from the industry itself is a challenge, but I would quickly join with anyone else in beginning this venture. Is anyone willing to take some action and be a part of the change that's taking place in the music industry? It doesn't have to be the idea presented above; that's just the conversation starter. Open up the discussion with your thoughts and let's change something!