Archives For March 2011

I’m working on a reference form for a student who’ll be enrolling in college next year. One of the sections instructs me to do this:

Rate the applicant’s potential for success:
   -should be discouraged from going to college
   -below average
   -average
   -above average
   -outstanding

I have to admit, I’m struggling with the question a little bit. Not because of the qualifications of the applicant, but because of the nature of the question itself. What is success? How does the college define success? Who am I to determine whether or not a 17 year old kid has the capacity to achieve what someone else defines as success?

Partially, I’m just bristling a little bit because I’ve had to fill out other reference forms from another college that are identical to this one. Not ‘closely related’, not ‘asking similar questions’, but boiler-plate identical in their wording. Which makes me wonder how much thought is put into the potential freshman information gathering process.

But more than that, I wonder what damage has been done to young people who grew up hearing ‘average’ applied to their potential… Can you really say, at 17 years old, what someone’s potential is? Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I want to say, “limitless”. I want to say, “Stop pigeonholing people into the shells you’ve constructed and let them hatch.” I want to say, “Teach them how to put their lives in God’s hands and watch Him crush the limits everyone else seems to put on their potential!”

Then I remember that I was just filling out a college reference form that will get glanced at, filed, forgotten, then thrown out in 20 years when the secretary decides it’s time to purge… and maybe I’m taking something a little too seriously. Or maybe… just maybe, I really do believe that anything’s possible.
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If you had to write a reference form for your 17 year old self, what would it say?

Kawasaki’s Enchantment

Mike —  March 8, 2011 — Leave a comment
Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki
You already knew that, right? Right? I’ve been reading Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment and this is the conclusion I’m forced to draw: I am enchanting. (Or at least I was until you read that statement!) Well at least my mom thinks so… and I passed a test to prove it. (This is going downhill already isn’t it?)

In the interest of full disclosure, and in deference to Kawasaki’s 3rd chapter, I received the book in exchange for reviewing it here on my blog. Why would writing this blog earn me a free book? Because my blog is listed on Kawasaki’s Alltop (halfway down the page somewhere between Eric Bryant and Ragamuffin Soul, two very enchanting guys whose blogs you should be reading way before this one), which puts me on an e-mail list for the offer of a free pre-release book. Why is my blog on Alltop? Because I submitted a form and someone at Alltop deemed my blog sufficiently stocked with content to warrant inclusion on their site, I guess, but this is getting way off track – we’ll be taking no more questions at this time.

The point is this: If you want to hone your skills in “the art of changing hearts, minds, and actions” this book has some great content. It’s not a ministry specific book; in fact, some ministry minded readers will probably be ticked off by a few things, but it is very applicable to ministry, where changing hearts, minds, and actions is definitely our hope. And if you get so ticked off by something like this that you can’t get anything out of it, you’re probably not very enchanting, so you should probably read the book so you can learn how to be less prickly.

I’ve been told that I’m really good at talking people into doing things they don’t think they can do. (There are mountain peaks with teen footprints, and cliffs where their fingers clutched granite to attest to that.) And in a sense, that’s Enchantment, or at least my own spin on it – helping someone see a potential they didn’t see before and helping them find a compelling reason to step into it.

Kawasaki’s stature in the business & finance world (Apple, Alltop, Garage Tech Ventures… and a whole bunch of other stuff he’s got a pulse on) affords him access to a lot of great stories from enchanting people and places all over the globe. He shares these often in the book as examples of the principles in action. Similar in theme to Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Enchantment is the attempt of one guy who’s winning to help other people win, too. And in the process, he’ll make a lot of money and do good things with it… right, Guy?
In all seriousness, this is a pretty good book if you’re in any kind of position (like living & breathing) to influence action. Read it.
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It occurs to me that I have one more thing to disclose. Not only did I get the book for free in exchange for reviewing it, but if you buy the book from the Amazon links I’ve provided in this post, I’ll receive about 53 cents or something as an Amazon affiliate! I’m not enchanting at all… I’m a paid shill. Oh, man…
Seriously… the positive nature of my review has not been influenced by the fact that I’m about to get rich by telling you to buy the book and read it. I promise.

Back In the Market

Mike —  March 7, 2011 — Leave a comment
A few years ago, I wrote a post which consisted of a quote from Erwin McManus’ An Unstoppable Force (still one of the best books about leading a church that I’ve read), followed by a quick thought about the cost of the assumptions we make. I called the post Assumptive Language. The post has ended up being one of the top 3 most visited posts here on this blog. Why? Because of the title. It was entirely accidental, but I ended up using a phrase that was connected to something entirely different than my intentions: Sales.

In the sales world, assumptive language is the practice of speaking to your prospect as if the deal is already done, as if all obstacles will be managed. It’s touted as a good closing strategy. (The quote I used in my post spoke of the way we speak to people as if they understand what we’re talking about even when they don’t.) The term “assumptive language” has been the number 1 search term that’s brought people to my blog – even though my blog has nothing to do with sales. I’m not search engine savvy enough to know exactly why this is true, but at this point, I feel an apology is owed to the misled masses of used cars salesmen and realtors looking for a quick tip. Sorry.

Your industry had a bit of a chance for revenge this weekend however, as we are looking for a replacement for our oh so tired mini-van. 
At the first dealership we visited, I already found the perfect vehicle. LuAnn’s not convinced, though, that you can replace the family Caravan with a 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 (which is #689 or something of about 1100 if anyone’s interested). White with blue racing stripes, 6 speed manual transmission, 6.4L V8 cranking out more horsepower than any Caravan will ever dream of, (not to mention the sweet blue stitched leather interior)… This car had my name on it. Alas, the bank account with my name on it doesn’t have $48,000 sitting around.
I really don’t like shopping for vehicles. There were two lots we looked at and we actually were able to wander around unaccosted for quite a while. At 35, we still don’t look like real buyers, I guess! That’s part of one of my least favorite things about car buying:
  • You either can’t get help, or you can’t get rid of help. I realize this is a no-win for the salesmen, too.
  • The ‘right car’ is never the right price. Car loans are stupid. I hate that I may have to get one – should’ve saved more, should’ve got a better paying job, should’ve planned better, blah, blah, blah…
  • Staying content in a culture that does everything it can to make me discontent so I’ll spend more money.
  • The unknown. We’re not looking at new cars. Whatever we buy, it will be something that someone else deemed “not good enough to drive”. Why wasn’t it good enough? What gremlins are hiding underneath the hood?
  • Assumptive language. When I sign, and my name’s the only one on the title, then it’s my car. Until then, let’s not try manufacturing emotional attachments, ok…
So what are your least favorite aspects of buying a car?

Sticks & Chisels 3.1

Mike —  March 4, 2011 — Leave a comment
Image: Kyle Key via creationswap.com

Without interaction, social media is basically pointless. Dare I say it… “Like so much other media!” Without the give and take and sharing of opinions, social media is just a bunch of introverted narcissists staring deeply into their own mirrors. Blogs are one part of the social media parcel. This blog, for example – I started it, I write it, I am responsible for it. But I don’t want this blog to just be me spouting my opinions & collected thoughts. That’s what books are for, right? Just kidding authors! A blog is completed (or maybe fulfilled would be a better word) by the thoughts of a community sharing perspectives. But there are some obstacles to that sort of interaction online. Here are several:

  • Fear of Broaching Boundaries – We are afraid to say something wrong. Is there a different etiquette to online interactions? It seems some people lose all sense of civility when digitally interfacing. We know we don’t want to be those people, but we’re not quite sure where the line is, so we just stay quiet. If this is you, step out a little bit. Don’t be a jerk, but share your thoughts.
  • Fear of Exposure – We’re afraid to reveal something about ourselves to people we don’t know. A colleague recently stepped into the realm of facebook, very reluctantly. He’d been afraid that specters from his past would arise to cloud the respect & relationships of today. It was great to see those fears assuaged a couple days ago as he connected with a long-distance grandson he loves like crazy. Remember that the internet is a very public place and not every detail of your life needs to be shouted from the rooftop – but really being known in relationship requires taking the risk of letting someone close enough to see our faults.
  • Technological Roadblocks – Sometimes, we just can’t figure out how to comment the way we want to. I know this has been a problem here. I get e-mails often from some of you who wanted to comment, but had a hard time navigating the comment section. While I’ve tried to make it easy, the system doesn’t always work. And if I make it too easy, the comments can quickly become a dumping ground for all kinds of unwanted junk. I’m actually looking at a couple options to make this easier – possibly installing a different commenting system in the template if I can figure that out, or moving the blog altogether to another service with easier commenting.

What other boundaries do you see to connecting online?

Image: Chris Orr via creationswap.com

I started this post yesterday while I should have been finishing off a paper that was due last night.
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I should be writing a paper right now. I planned to have it done two hours ago, but our staff meeting was canceled, so my afternoon just blew wide open. So, instead of sticking with that deadline, I’ve been organizing my inbox, reading some articles, returning messages and overdue library books, thinking about some Scripture passages… (I made the overdue library books part up, besides, if you wait until Wed. here you don’t have to pay the late fee!) And now, I’m posting some thoughts about the avoidance strategies that I often employ to keep from doing the one thing I should be doing.

  • Do something useful that’s not really that useful. For example, it’s always nice to have the children’s books alphabetized and cordoned off into their appropriate sections. Who can stand it when the Golden Books get mixed in with the Kidz Lit Classics, right? So, instead of fixing that flat tire that has your wife stranded at home, you could tackle the munchkin section of your home library. At my house, that’s a solid 4 hour project, minimum. And by the time it’s done, it’s too late to start something new…
  • Distract the Tasker. Someone needs something from you. You know the request is coming. They’re about to ask. So you speak up right before they say something and get them engaged in some other conversation with so many rabbit trails, they’re hopelessly lost and forgot to ask before you send them on their way. Good work.
  • Hide. Again, you know someone’s coming. The boss finally remembered what he was going to ask you yesterday and you find out he’s on his way. But what if you’re not in when he gets there? What if… hang on, someone’s coming…

Sometimes, when it really comes down to it, though… just do what needs done and get it over with.

Kota’s Online Adventure

Mike —  March 2, 2011 — 1 Comment

A couple days ago, I heard a sound from the kitchen (where the computer sits in our house) that seemed a little out of place. LuAnn and I were watching something in the living room, 3 of the kids were downstairs, and Kota was in the kitchen on the computer. He’s always been the one the other kids go to for electronic assistance, so he’s pretty proficient when it comes to finding his way from one online game site to another. He also knows how to find his way to other stuff, as well…

What I was hearing was certainly not the sound of a game. As I walked into the kitchen, I could plainly see that he wasn’t playing anything – he just sat there staring, mesmerized by the dancing pixels on the monitor, mouth slightly open, eyes fixed and dilated (ok, maybe not dilated, but at least wide open). I could see the YouTube logo in the corner of the screen… “Uh-oh… what’s he staring at… awkward conversation on the way… what did he stumble into…”

This:

He was impressed.

So am I.

We raise geeks at our house.

3 Thoughts on Worship

Mike —  March 1, 2011 — 4 Comments

Nervous isn’t quite the right word, but whenever I lead worship I get a little bit concerned. There’s a certain level of angst present leading up to our time together. Maybe there shouldn’t be, maybe it’s a sign of a distracted, fragmented mind that should be better focused. At any rate, last week was that kind of week, since I was leading worship Sunday while Shane was at our couples retreat (which I’m hearing was a great weekend).

It’s not that I don’t like to lead worship, or that I haven’t done it much… Most Wednesday nights include a significant worship time with our students. I’m not delusional enough about my musical ability to have any kind of performance anxiety… But as I sit down and pray and try to craft a service that will leave people wanting to step out of the sanctuary and worship with their lives, I often lose track of who will actually be in the room and the musical preferences they bring with them. (I can also cause people to run out of the sanctuary covering their ears, but that’s not really the same thing is it?)
I’ll study songs, scriptures, videos, & other service elements and then, often too late to do anything about it, I’ll realize I’ve picked a bunch of stuff that will be completely unfamiliar to half the people there. For the most part, I’m ok with that – but with a caveat; too many times, when people don’t like the songs, they project that on the song leader. I don’t like to be disliked, so that puts me in a bit of a bind – my therapist says it’s because I was coddled as a child and rewarded too much for being so likable, but I think he’s just making stuff up to make me feel better. Thus, the concern. 
An older gentleman told me that he really enjoyed the music, and his follow up comment really caught me off guard. “It’s fun doing those old songs.” Totally not what I’ve ever been accused of… He put the whole service into the “those old songs” category. He’s not a musical guy, not a song critic by any means, but he liked it. Now, “liking it” isn’t the point of a worship gathering, I know, but it’s not supposed to be torture, either, so I was glad he left with a favorable disposition toward the experience.
Here’s the kicker-fact to his comment, though: 1999, 1939, 2000, 2010, 2010, 2005.
Those were the copyright dates of the music this week – 1 song that legitimately qualified as old, 2 that can’t even walk yet, a kindergartner, and a couple slightly awkward tweens! As I pondered that between Thursday night after practice and Sunday morning, I was a little apprehensive. Too many songs. Too many new songs. Uh-oh… people are gonna get mad… pot-roasts will be dry… But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced the selections would be used. We prayed, the service went well, I’m sure there were some that would have preferred a more familiar palette of music, but God is being worshiped.
I received an encouraging e-mail Monday morning regarding the way the service was being used by God to reveal a glimmer of hope and a salve for someone’s loneliness. Part of the e-mail was worded in almost carbon copy language of what we prayed backstage just before beginning the service.

A few, final thoughts:

  • His grace really is amazing. I love it when my efforts are maximized by a team of people who draw together for God’s purposes and He steps in and moves beyond what we imagined.
  • We need to pray for our worship leaders and thank them for what they go through week in and week out to musically inspire, comfort, challenge, correct, rebuke, teach… Don’t let this be a thankless, can’t-ever-please-everyone job in your church.
  • If you lead, be sure your attempts to appease the worshipers don’t get in the way of pleasing the one we worship. When it comes to music – someone’s always going to prefer something else.
  • And just for the record, a good gravy and a can of pepsi will do wonders for a dry pot roast.