Permission to learn


Yesterday I mentioned how much I love Harvard Business Review, and I was reminded of how true that is today after reading Amy Edmonson’s article, The Competitive Imperative of Learning, in this month’s issue. Her article contrasts those organizations focused soley on executing business strategies and those that execute with a conscious desire to learn throughout the process. She used two eighties-era mega-companies as examples (GM as an example of the former and GE as an example of the latter). She points out what most of us know but so many managers are blind to see – that those companies which build opportunities for feedback and learning into their processes win over the long haul. In effect, they give permission to their employees to spend time learning (and not necessarily in a classroom) and they create, as she calls them, “psychologically safe environments.” These are places where people don’t work in fear of punitive reprimands, but are intentionally encouraged to try new things (which will often fail), learn, and share.

What a wonderful lesson for the Christian and the Church. For us Christians in the workplace, it’s up to us (particularly those in leadership) to reinforce what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:16, that “every prudent man acts out of knowledge.” Not every idea will be successful, but failures can produce invaluable knowledge. We have the power to create environments where learning and collaborating is not only safe, but deeply valued, and where rank and status take a backseat to dedication and thoughtfulness. Likewise, this is one of those arenas where the Church (the Christian church as a whole) can learn from it’s own mistakes and that of the marketplace. Like a company too rigidly focused on a tactical business plan, faith is not a series of tasks to be executed by legions of minions, but rather a dynamic and inspiring process during which we, as God’s precious creation, learn more about him through our shared experiences following Jesus. As Paul told the church at Rome (now, somewhat ironically, the Vatican) in Romans 3,

“But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight – not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”


Better aisles


Happy Monday – I hope you had a blessed holiday weekend! I had a great one because it was thoroughly relaxing, and I even managed to read a book in-between hanging out with the wife and kids. I confess, though, it wasn’t a business book. Is it just me, or is reading business books slightly less fun than most dental exams? With the exception of a few gems (my favorites still being those brand books by Marty Neumeier), I’ve found most options on the business aisle shelves at Barnes and Noble remarkably empty. My biggest issue with them is that most, including those considered to be modern-day classics (Friedman’s The World is Flat) and vogue newcomers (Heath brothers’ Made to Stick) is that the content gets precipitously less interesting after the first chapter. In some cases, the author just goes to deep, but often  it’s the opposite – that these books really could have been written in 100 pages or less but the author or publishers felt the need to unpack until the suitcase is in pieces.

There are exceptions, though. In the vogue author category, Seth Godin’s marketing books are short and to the point. Here’s a guy who is smart enough to know that some of us will pay $15 for a 80 page book (as I did recently with his book The Dip) if it means we won’t be bored to death reading it. But the best business read out there, in my opinion, isn’t a book. It’s Harvard Business Review. It’s better than almost any other resource and I actually enjoy it.  And while it’s expensive, it’s not compared to the dozen business books I wish I hadn’t bought last year.

But if I really consider what I read and how I’ve grows at work, I’m not sure that business books hold a candle to my other favorites – political biographies and, of course, the Bible. With respect to the former, I thoroughly believe that learning how Washington leveraged his exceptional but horribly dysfunctional advisory triumvirate (Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson) is much more useful than reading some guy’s new management theory. But even those biographies I love to read so much pale to the wealth of riches that can be found in scripture, particularly the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps it’s time we all re-evaluate how and what we learn in preparation for future career growth. As the Apostle Paul once told his protege Timothy in 2Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” You just can’t find it in the business aisle.

A different take on workaholism

As a die-hard hockey fan, I can’t believe that I’m about to confess this, but I really enjoy watching the show So You Think You Can Dance with my wife. I’m just catching up on last week’s episodes (because, ironically, I’ve been working a lot). Last night, I watched this really interesting routine done to illustrate the odd and unfortunate role that work can play in a relationship. Check it out.

The Nouwen Challenge, pt. 3 (rocks and pebbles)

Howdy. I’ve not gotten a chance to blog since early last week thanks to a crazy, crazy work life at work. I’m afraid that it’s going to be that way for a few months – bummer. For those of you following or participating in the Nouwen challenge, I must admit that it’s had a rocky start for me. I found that I really have enjoyed those moments of silence with God, but if I’m even slightly sleepy (and thanks to work, I’ve been exhausted), I tend to drift into half-sleep unless I’m meditating on some thought… a thought of thanks, a scripture to meditate on, or even just thinking about who God is. Even then, I’ve been a little distracted. Empyting my mind has proven tough, but meditating on something God-related has proven to be more fruitful. The key for me will be to make regular time for this, which I intend to do.

The bigger learning for me relates back to that old story about the rocks in the jar. Heard that one? If not, skip down and check it out. Each of us must ask ourselves, when work takes up more and more of our time – or in other words, when we’re dealt a rock that we can’t easily shove in the jar – how will we fit the rest of what’s important to us in there? I’ve been trying to fit a lot of very large rocks into my jar and the result has been a lack of sleep and lot of harried evenings and weekends. The jar can only get so big without breaking. So, I’ve determined that some God time (in the form of some quiet mediation) and family time are the biggest rocks. Work is a rock that can’t be avoided, and church and other charitable activities are big ones too. Beyond that, my hobbies (including blogging, I’m afraid), the gazillion projects around the house, the stack of books on the night stand, and even the hockey blogs predicting what will happen when free agency starts tomorrow will just need to be fit in where they can. I’ll still be blogging, but probably not every day (but maybe the quality will go up as the quantity goes down!). In the end, my inability to enjoy the Nouwen Challenge helped me to see something bigger (praise God!).

One more thought about that big rock called work. Someone once told me that a good way to order your life is to look at it from the end and work back. What do we really want to accomplish while we’re here? Since work is a rock that we can’t avoid and it will take up a big portion of that jar whether we like it or not, it’s confirmation for me that work isn’t just a way to get the bills paid, it’s part of the ministry that the Lord gives us. We need to treat it as such. Along with our family, “work” contains the details – the who, the what and the where – of how we might bring a little light into the lives of others.

‘Till next time…


A high school science teacher wanted to demonstrate a concept to his students. He takes a large-mouth jar and places several large rocks in it. He then asks the class, “Is it full?

“Unanimously, the class reply, “Yes!”

The teacher then takes a bucket of gravel and pours it into the jar. The small rocks settle into the spaces between the big rocks.

He then asks the class, “Is it full?”

This time there are some students holding back, but most reply, “Yes!”

The teacher then produces a large can of sand and proceeds to pour it into the jar. The sand fills up the spaces between the gravel.

For the third time, the teacher asks, “Is it full?

“Now most of the students are wary of answering, but again, many reply, “Yes!”

Then the teacher brings out a pitcher of water and pours it into the jar. The water saturates the sand. At this point the teacher asks the class, “What is the point of this demonstration?”

One bright young student raises his hand and then responds, “No matter how full one’s schedule is in life, he can always squeeze in more things!”

“No,” replies the teacher, “The point is that unless you first place the big rocks into the jar, you are never going to get them in. The big rocks are the important things in your life …your family, your friends, your personal growth. If you fill your life with small things, as demonstrated by the gravel, the sand, and the water…you will never have the time for the important things.

So, what are the “Big Rocks” in your life? Spending time with your children, your parents or your spouse? Taking the seminar or class to get the information and perspective you need to succeed? Making the time to set goals, plan or evaluate your progress? When you are hassled because there is no time, remember the story about the Big Rocks and the Jar!

Author Unknown


The Nouwen Challenge, pt. 2

“But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me.”  (John 16:7, 13-14)

Well, I gave it a shot today. I closed the door for 10 minutes, sat in the quiet and tried to see if God has anything to say. After a few minutes of pretty much nada, I started to get the sense that, at least for tonight, sitting quietly with God was the point. I’ll admit that sometimes it’s difficult figuring out the difference between God speaking through my conscience and my mind just wandering about, but I was clearly reminded that for many years my prayer life consisted of a dialogue, an ongoing conversation with God about the tapestry of daily events, instead of just lobbing up predictable requests (which he graciously fulfills).

There’s clearly a parallel here with what’s happening at work. In years past, I had a small group of coworkers with whom I spent a ton of time. We talked work, talked life, took coffee breaks together, and sometimes went out for a beer (after work, usually). Today I work with a great team of five others that I rarely see.  We call into team updates, use file sharing tools to swap documents, and most of all, use our Blackberrys to have quick chats or shoot off five-line e-mails. Perhaps my work lifestyle has overrun my work life. Is it possible that I’ve begun a Blackberry prayer life, shooting off quick businesslike requests without ever enjoying the presence of our omnipresent Creator? It’s time to reverse this trend.

Not a bad start for day one. In fact, when I glanced at the clock, thirteen minutes had gone by. More later. 

The Nouwen Challenge, pt. 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about silence lately. I don’t encounter much of it in my life. Even when I’m alone at work, the silence is only external. Inside my head is a running dialogue of to do lists, e-mails, and ideas for getting stuff done. At home, the sounds inside and outside of my head are much more enjoyable, but the the noise exists nonetheless. I’m beginning to think that I thrive on it… I even have an iPod dock in the bathroom so I can boom music when I’m getting ready in the morning (music preferences in the bathroom… TMI?).

If you happen to be one of my regulars, you might remember my blog post about Henri Nouwen’s classic writings on solitude. Since writing that, felt a little convicted that I should go and revisit the post as a reader instead of it’s author. I’ve been noticing just how little time I give God to actually speak to me in silence. One of my favorite persons from the Bible is Elijah, and one of my favorite stories is found in 1 Kings 19 where God speaks to Elijah not in the deafening chaos around him, but in a still small voice. In my spiritual life, I’ve found that God works this way more often than not, perhaps waiting on the periphery until we make room for Him in the priorities of our daily lives.

All this to say that I’m challenging myself to something new this week and I’m inviting you to join me. I’m going to do what Nouwen suggests – starting off with just a little time every day to sit in silence and let God speak. I’m going to pick 10 minutes every day (not sure when yet… either during the work day or at night after the kids go to bed), go someplace dark and quiet, clear my mind of all the chaos, and try not to fall asleep.  Whaddya say, ya up for it?

In need of a little good medicine

Today was a cruddy day. A day filled with frustrations that seemed to pile on top of one another. I know that my little issues at work are nothing compared to the many, many people that hate their jobs or all of the issues that people around the world are facing. Nonetheless, I was checking my watch as early as 3pm waiting for 5pm to roll around.  

Thankfully my friend Reid sent me a great YouTube video a few days ago on e-mail that I got around to watching this afternoon. We should be thankful for work friends and silly things that put smiles on our faces. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Don’t let your bones dry up. And don’t smell like a turtle cage.

To view the video, click here (it’s safe for work).