Here’s the intro:
One of the world’s top physicians, Dr. Eric Topol, has a prescription that could improve your family’s health and make medical care cheaper. The cardiologist claims that the key is the smartphone. Topol has become the foremost expert in the exploding field of wireless medicine.
Here’s a link to the video in case it doesn’t show up for you.
(HT: Matt Heerema)
Excellent thoughts from Greg Foster, following up from Justin Taylor’s post on whether there is a distinctively Christian way to think about all of our vocations.
A great article from the 99%.The 5 most dangerous creativity killers are:
- Role mismatch
- External end goal restriction
- Strict ration of resources
- Lack of social diversity
- Discouragement/no positive feedback
Here’s one of the most important highlights of the article. There is truth to the fact that constraints often add to our creativity by creating the “entrepreneurial gap” that requires novel solutions (and thus creativity) to cross when resources are scarce.
Sometimes, however, that reality is used to justify strict rationing of resources in an organization and a caviler imposition of restraints on creatives. That is a complete misunderstanding and misapplication of the entrepreneurial gap. As the article points out:
Although self-restriction can often boost creativity, the Harvard study shows that external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking. This includes subtle language use that deters creativity, such as bosses claiming “We do things by the book around here,” or group members implicitly communicating that new ideas are not welcome.
Here’s one other important point: a shortage of time is not good for creativity!
While money and physical resources are important to creativity, the Harvard study revealed that mental resources were most important, including having enough time.
Creative people re-conceptualize problems more often than a non-creative. This means they look at a variety of solutions from a number of different angles, and this extensive observation of a project requires time. This is one of the many reasons you should do your best to avoid unnecessary near-deadline work that requires novel thinking. Also, when we are faced with too many external restrictions we spend more time acquiring more resources than actually, you know, creating.
Live58 is a movement to end extreme poverty in our generation. This is a helpful connection from the latest email newsletter by the team:
When we think of justice, the environment isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps we think of human rights, or all those crime shows. But when Paul said in Colossians 1:20 that Jesus came “to reconcile all things to Himself,” you’ll notice that he doesn’t say some, and he doesn’t say people. He says all things. This means all of God’s creation.
Earth Month (with Earth Day earlier this week and Arbor Day today) is a reminder for us as Christians to take care of the creation God has made us stewards over. One of our solutions to extreme poverty is Environmental Stewardship, as most of the world’s poor are completely dependent on their environment for survival. Unfortunately, up to half the trees being cut down in developing countries are used for fuel wood, creating rampant deforestation and adding to the devastating effects of rural poverty. This fuel wood is then used for traditional cook stoves, which are causing indoor smoke pollution and killing almost 2 million people, mostly women and children, each year.
Our Environmental Stewardship partner, Plant With Purpose, works with communities to build improved cookstoves. These stoves require 50 to 60 percent less wood and also burn cleaner, which decreases the need for cutting wood and the risk of smoke-related illness or death.
While we shouldn’t make the environment an idol or fall into the notion that nature is equal in importance to people (it’s not: Matthew 10:31), we shouldn’t look down on good environment stewardship, either. In fact, as Live58 shows, there is often a relationship between better stewardship of the environment and not just improved human lives in general, but helping the poor specifically.
You can read more about the work Plant With Purpose is doing to improve wood burning stoves in the developing world. Also, for a good example of thinking wisely and Christianly about environmental issues, especially through the lens of climate change, see Glenn Brooke’s helpful post Thinking Wisely About Climate Change.
Justin Taylor gives a great answer to this question, which helps us all understand how any area of life or occupation we have — whether bus driver, marketing director, CEO, web designer, programmer, custodian, or anything else — relates to our faith.
Justin shows that the single question of whether there is a “Christian” way to do seemingly “secular” things actually breaks down into several questions. These are the questions he answers, using a bus driver as the example:
- Does the Bible teach how to be a bus driver?
- Does the Bible teach how to be a Christian bus driver?
- Can a non-Christian be a good bus driver?
- Can a non-Christian be a better bus driver than a Christian?
- Is there a distinctively Christian way to think about the particulars of each vocation?
Here’s what it comes down to: the gospel changes three chief things concerning the way we go about work that is chiefly in the arena of common grace:
- Our motive
- Our standards
- Our foundation (source of strength)
That is a slightly different way of stating it than Justin, but it is based on the same principles and comes down to the same thing.
As Justin points out, the gospel does not chiefly change our methods. For example, the Christian bus driver doesn’t have to put on special glasses before hopping into the drivers seat, still stops at red lights rather than green lights (let’s hope), and turns left by steering the wheel to the left and not right.
Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Amhed nail it in their article in the April Harvard Business Review:
- Better before cheaper—in other words, compete on differentiators other than price.
- Revenue before cost—that is, prioritize increasing revenue over reducing costs.
- There are no other rules—so change anything you must to follow Rules 1 and 2.
I disagree with their critique of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence, but it’s noteworthy that their conclusions are essentially the same. That is, the findings of Collins and Tom Peters can be boiled down to these three things. Or, perhaps better, these three rules are derivatives of the even deeper and more foundational realities that Collins and Peters show.
The extent to which these three rules are violated is truly breathtaking!
Some helpful tips on inspiring excellence from the Harvard Business Review blog. Here are three that are especially key:
- Regularly, genuinely, and specifically acknowledge and appreciate people’s successes
- Create and protect periods of uninterrupted focus
- Tie the pursuit of excellence to a larger mission
David Murray has done an excellent service by listing more than 200 of the top leadership resources he’s collected over the last few years. They are divided into (1) Christian leadership posts and (2) other leadership posts. As he said, “there is much to learn from both.”
A helpful chapter on speed leading in the book Taking Control of Your Time points out that leading in the midst of highly ambiguous environments requires a different approach than we typically think.
The typical approach for setting direction is geared for relatively known territory. It goes like this:
This is basically a “ready, aim, fire” approach.
But in unfamiliar and ambiguous territory, a “fire, ready, aim” approach is usually more effective. Here are the steps:
The essence of this approach is that, since the environment is ambiguous, you don’t have a map and can’t even see very far ahead. Hence, you have to move forward by trial and experimentation — similar to the scientific method. As the article says, “speed leaders experiment in order to advance knowledge.”
Many of our problems in leadership come from trying to use an approach for known territory in the midst of unknown territory.
In a couple of weeks, there is a very exciting conference occurring in Chicago- Pastorum 2013. If you are able, I would encourage you to make the trip to Chicago to attend this time of learning and connecting with other teachers, pastors, students, and scholars. Speakers include Mark Futato, Ed Stetzer, Lynn Cohick, and many more. The conference begins the morning of Thursday April 11, and runs through the afternoon on Friday April 12.
Sessions at Pastorum begin with Bible Backgrounds, then move to Old Testament and the Intertestamental Period. On Friday, session 3 walks through the New Testament and then the conference wraps up with session 4- Connecting the Dots. There are also panel discussions “where speakers and attendees collaborate and share ideas for applying academic subjects to the local church.”
The folks at Pastorum have been kind enough to offer free registrations to ten readers of What’s Best Next. To win one of these registrations (a $100 value!), be one of the first ten readers to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you further instructions. Note: you will be responsible for providing your own transportation to and from Chicago, as well as your lodging and meals while attending the conference.
Here are four principles of leadership we see in Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:8-11 (note: that text is on leadership!), and 1 Peter 5:1-5:
- Leaders are not an elite class with special privileges (that’s Matthew 23:8-11).
- Leaders should not see themselves as privileged or entitled.
- Leaders should not use their power for personal enrichment or to unfairly maintain their power.
- Leaders are not to approach people from above, as a virtuoso. Instead, they are to take a position alongside, as a fellow traveler, a partner sharing the same burdens. They look across at others, not down. (Note Peter’s approach in 1 Peter 5:1-4.)
I am really impressed with the vision of Poverty Cure:
PovertyCure is an international coalition of organizations and individuals committed to entrepreneurial solutions to poverty that challenge the status quo and champion the creative potential of the human person.
This vision, rooted in their biblical understanding of poverty and the true solutions to it, is why I am so excited about their work. They recognize, as they summarize on their website, that the solution to poverty comes from partnerships, not paternalism; enterprise, not (primarily) aid; and empowerment, not dependency.
They have a new six-part DVD series on charity, justice, and human flourishing that fleshes out the core principles of their thinking, and which I am really looking forward to watching. The series is based on this premise: We often ask how we can alleviate poverty. But that’s the wrong question. “The real question is, how do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and their communities?”
In other words, overcoming poverty is not first about bringing aid, though that matters. The long-term solution to poverty is in the people themselves, and we recognize this when we consider people in light of what the Scriptures have to say. People are innovative, creative, talented, and capable. One of the chief problems in the developing world is that injustice — often through lack of property rights and rule of law — shackles people from being able to create wealth. The best way to serve the global poor is thus to address these roots and help enable people to thus lift themselves out of poverty, rather than to focus on tactics that ultimately create a dependency rather than unleashing people’s innate potential.
I love how they put it in the DVD: “when you recognize that people are made in the image of God with creative capacity, it changes absolutely everything about how we approach charity, missions, and development.”
I hope to watch the full series soon, and will let you know my thoughts when I can.
I’m really looking forward to Hugh Whelchel’s recent book How then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. I’ve had a chance to dip into it a bit, and one of its stand-out features is a very helpful, succinct, and clear history of the different views on work and calling through the ages. I especially love his summary of Luther’s recapturing of the biblical view, especially his points that:
- Vocation is the specific call to love our neighbors. That’s the essential meaning of the doctrine of vocation.
- We live out this calling in the world, not by retreating from it. “Accord to Luther, we respond to the call to love our neighbor by fulfilling the duties associated with our everyday work.”
- “We can only truly serve God in the midst of everyday circumstances, and all attempts to elevate the significance of the contemplative life are false.”
Hugh is executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, whose mission is to equip Christians with a biblical theology of work and economics. They are doing excellent work, and I highly recommend them and their work.
They reject that idea because trust is at the foundation of an effective workplace. And if you require your people to “earn” your trust first, that means they are starting with an assumption of distrust. You’ve just killed 80% of what makes a vibrant workplace and engaged employee right from the start.
Marcus Buckingham has some good things to say on this in his book First, Break All the Rules:
“For a mistrustful person, the managerial role is very stressful. The rules rarely succeed in anything but creating a culture of compliance that slowly strangles the organization of flexibility, responsiveness, and perhaps more important, good will.” “Great managers reject the idea that trust must be earned.”
A great quote, I think from Scott Belsky:
In a knowledge economy it doesn’t make sense to use time as a measurement for a job well done. Knowledge work requires a different set of assumptions about productivity. It requires fluidity (ideas can happen at any time), concentration (being rested and engaged is more important than being on the clock), and creativity (regardless of the hour).
A good point from Michael Novak:
Worse still, experience teaches, religious leaders speak inadequately about business — more so than about almost anything else they preach on. Their professional vocabulary, for the most part, so misses the point that it is painful to listen to them….Those whose religious and moral vocation in life is played out in one of the many fields of business get little enough help, then, from those they would normally turn to for instruction.
Let’s change this!
I recently took notes over Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Written in 1947 (when “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” were equivalent terms), Henry’s call was for a theologically informed and socially engaged evangelicalism. Henry was concerned that, through its separatist mentality and tendency to separate social action from the concern of the Christian, modern evangelicalism was becoming irrelevant — and, more than that, unbiblical.
Henry’s call is just as relevant today as it was then, though evangelicalism has made immense progress. There is still a tendency to over spiritualize, to focus on the “spiritual” side of things in a way that tends to diminish and demean physical and social needs. And, on the other hand, when being rightly practical and concerned about social action, there is a tendency to do this apart from the important doctrinal foundations on which the Bible places these concerns. We need to continue increasing in our concern for social issues and addressing large global problems, while at the same time doing so on a theological foundation, recognizing that classical Christian doctrines are actually the best foundation for diligent social action.
In order to do this, however, we need to understand how Christianity and culture relate. Henry’s book is one of the best expositions of that issue. It is not only a call to action, but also gives the basic fundamentals for thinking about the relationship between Christianity and culture and how Christians can effectively partner with those who do not share our faith but do share our concern for confronting large global problems head on.
Russ Moore recently had a good post on Carl Henry, writing about this book that:
Henry’s “Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” is perhaps the most important evangelical book of the twentieth-century. It is just as relevant as it was in 1947, and should be read again by all those with a serious commitment to applying a kingdom vision to every aspect of life. The kingdom Jesus inaugurated spoke to the whole person, to spiritual lostness, to physical sickness, to material poverty, to the need for community. A church that joins Jesus in preaching the kingdom will too. We need that reminder every generation, perhaps especially now. The evangelical conscience is, after all, still uneasy after all these years.
It turns out that today would be Carl Henry’s 100th birthday. So, in honor of his 100th birthday, and in light of the call to us as Christians to care about all suffering and be intelligently and helpfully engaged in social issues for the good of the world and glory of God, here are my notes on perhaps his most important book, which is just as relevant today as ever.
5 Characteristics of the Effective Executive — And Why This Matters for Everyone, Including People in Ministry
- Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under control.
- Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.
- Effective executives build on strengths — their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths of the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.
- Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first — and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
- Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.
But Does This Apply to Everyone?
It’s easy to dismiss counsel on effectiveness by saying “everyone is different and has their own way.” But that objection falls apart upon closer inspection.
It is certainly true that everyone has their own style and uniqueness. Drucker points out that effective executives differ from another widely in their style and temperaments and unique talents — and so do ineffective ones.
However, effectiveness is not about style or temperament, but rather a set of practices. “What all effective executives have in common is the practices that make effective whatever they have and whatever they are. And these practices are the same, whether the effective executive works in business or in a government agency, as hospital administrator or university dean.”
He goes on:
But whenever I have found a man, no matter how great his intelligence, his industry, his imagination, or his knowledge, who fails to observe these practices, I have also found an executive deficient in effectiveness.
Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned. Practices are simple, deceptively so….But practices are exceedingly hard to do well. They have to be acquired….Practices one learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again.
Is Effectiveness Possible for Everyone?
Since effectiveness is a practice, not an innate talent, the answer is yes:
There is, in other words, no reason why anyone with normal endowment should not acquire competence in any practice. Mastery might well elude him; for this one might need special talents. But what is needed in effectiveness is competence. What is needed are “the scales.”
In fact, even if you are really bad at being effective and getting the right things done, there is much hope, because it turns out that nobody (except, I think John Piper) is a natural at being effective. As Drucker points out earlier:
In forty-five years of work as a consultant with a large number of executives in a wide range of organizations — large and small; businesses, government agencies, labor unions, hospitals, universities, community services; American, European, Latin American and Japanese — I have not come across a single “natural”: an executive who was born effective. All the effective ones have had to learn to be effective. And all of them then had to practice effectiveness until it became a habit.
But all the ones who worked on making themselves effective executives succeeded in doing so. Effectiveness can be learned — and it also has to be learned.
Does Effectiveness Matter for Everyone?
There are two other, and related, significant objections that can be raised. First of all, one might misunderstand and think I am only talking about top management here. That effectiveness matters if you are a CEO, vice president, or otherwise very high up, but not if you are in the other far more common positions in an organization.
Drucker dispatches this objection very well. He points out that “executive” is not equal to “top management.” Rather, an executive is anyone whose decisions affect the capacity of the organization to make its contributions. This means you don’t even have to be a manager at all to be an executive. You could be a developer who codes the website, or a content editor who writes content for the web, or someone in customer service. If your work requires any self-direction at all (and all knowledge work does) and you make decisions that affect the performance of your organization, you are an executive.
This means that just about everyone in today’s knowledge economy is an executive.
On the other hand, you can be a manager of people and not be an executive at all, if your goal is simply to supervise, do what you’re told, and get other people to do what they’re told. If you remove all need for judgment from your role, you are not an executive, no matter how many people you manage or how high up you are.
Should Even People in Ministry Learn About Effectiveness?
The second objection that could be made here is that this may apply to knowledge workers in all areas of life, except for those who work in churches and at ministries. There has indeed been, I would say, an unfortunate lack of attention to the unique needs and situations of those who work in ministry roles. Many books on effectiveness and getting things done focus almost entirely on the secular arena. I’m seeking to change that in the things I write by directly applying things to and thinking things through in relation to the non-profit and ministry sector, just as much as the business sector.
But there is also an odd notion among some in ministry that everything is different in ministry, and that therefore people in ministry ought to look with skepticism upon most thinking on being effective and getting things done.
I disagree. The reality is that whether you are in ministry or the business world, your work is about dealing with people and managing yourself. These things are the same across all industries and areas. There certainly are unique factors that apply to ministry, as to any specific area. There are some real adjustments that need to be made. But, having worked extensively in both ministry and non-ministry roles, the unique factors are about 10 – 25% of what you do; a full 75 – 90% of the principles for effectiveness and managing yourself (and your organization) well are the same across all areas.
Further, and ironically, I think some ministries get things backward here. They think that if you learn from “the business world” you risk bringing worldly thinking into your organization. But in my experience, worldly thinking exists just as much in some churches and ministries as it does in the business world, and often this is precisely because of looking upon business practices with skepticism and failing to learn from the best of secular thinking.
The reason is that there are two kinds of business thinking: good business thinking, and bad business thinking. Most of the time those in ministry who reject “business thinking” have only been exposed to the bad kind of business thinking. They then superficially, and wrongly, think that’s what all business thinking is like.
But it’s not! The bad business thinking is, in fact, bad not just in ministries but in businesses as well. The best business thinkers in our day are realizing this, and coming to show that effectiveness in business actually comes from putting others first, from putting people before profit, and from seeking to serve others and do them good before yourself. They are coming to see (as the best business thinking always has) that the most significant trend in business is actually the downfall of the barracudas and sharks and the rise of “nice, smart people” (as Fast Company summarizes Tim Sanders’ excellent book Love Is the Killer App).
In other words, some in the business world are actually outdoing the church right now in their commitment to serve others and put them first. Ironically, by closing ourselves off from this kind of ”business thinking,” we are not protecting ourselves from worldliness at all, but rather inviting it to come in by roping ourselves off from the very important practice of “outside-of-your-area-awareness.” By roping ourselves off from “business thinking,” the all-too-often-result is that we actually end up adopting the worst practices of business out of the air, while remaining ignorant to what truly are the actual best practices that apply across all areas of life, work, and ministry.
Hence, to tie this back: effectiveness is indeed possible for you, whether you work in the business world or in ministry (or whether you stay at home with the kids), and there is a lot we can learn from the best business books out there (though, at the same time, we certainly need more written from a specifically Christian perspective).
If you are seeking the need to become more effective, especially if you work in ministry, here are three books I’d recommend for where to start:
- The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Peter Drucker)
- Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends (Tim Sanders)
- Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Keith Ferrazzi)
Some helpful points from Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management:
“Real work is what advances your business or your job” (69). It uses your skills to the full and often takes you out of the comfort zone. It is challenging by nature, and thus meets with some resistance in your mind.
Busy work is “what you do in order to avoid doing the real work.”
Real work involves lots of planning and thinking; for that reason, busy work often looks more like real work, because it is more immediate and you are rushing around looking busy. Sitting quietly and thinking, on the other hand, does not look like real work.
Doing work that someone else could do is also busy work.
Signs that you have fallen into the trap of busy work:
- Your work overwhelms you but doesn’t challenge you. “Real work is challenging but not overwhelming” (70).
- You are doing the same kind of work the people under you are doing. “Real work requires your individual skills and experience” (70). “If what you are doing could be done by someone who doesn’t have that skill and experience, you are working below your capacity.”
- There are vital actions you haven’t gotten around to. “Real work is those vital actions.”
- You never have time to stop and think. “Real work is thought expressing itself in action. If you are not thinking, you are unlikely to be doing any real work” (70).
- Your time horizon is very short. “Real work involves planning further ahead than the immediate horizon” (71).
- You are continually running up against problems. “Real work insists on excellent systems to support it.”
Some helpful points on what it looks like to actually be in control of your time and your day, from Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management:
- You are able to complete your work every day. Even though your to-do list never ends, it is possible to know exactly what you need to do in order to get your work done each day.
- You know what a days’ work is and thus when you’ve finished it. “Before you can say that you have completed your work for the day, you need to know what it consists of” (49).
- If you can’t get through a days work in a day, you can diagnose the problem and fix it.
- You can complete all your routine daily actions very quickly.
- You can complete projects in the quickest possible time. “Knowing how to get projects started and how to keep them moving is a major skill” (51).
- You can identify exactly what the right workload is for you. When you take on (or are given) too much work, it doesn’t all get done, or done well. The problem is that what does and doesn’t get done tends to happen at random, rather than by deliberate choice. It is much better to make conscious decisions. This is easier when you know what constitutes the right workload.
- You can bring new work online without disrupting existing work. To do this, you need to have mastery of the previous point—knowing what the right workload is for you.
- You know how to deal with genuine emergencies, without being pulled off track by things that seem like emergencies but are not.
- You can get moving on all the things you dream of doing “someday.”
- You know how to follow up properly.
- You can keep track of the tasks you’ve delegated.
- You can deal with other people’s bad time management. “Even when we’ve solved the problem of our own poor time management, we still have the problem of other people’s poor time management to contend with” (53). When things are out of order for us, we tend to respond to the things that make the loudest noise. It’s the same with others. You can utilize this principle to get your stuff accomplished with them.
- You can motivate yourself to power through the days’ work.
Keeping an Eye on the Backward Clock: How Getting Things Done Relates to the Biblical Call for Holiness
Scott Belsky, in Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality:
The notion of the backward clock is simple: if you were told the exact year, day, and time that your life would end, would you manage your time and energy any differently? Even if that date were seventy-three years, twelve days, two hours, and thirty seconds from now, would you become more aware of time passing, minute by minute?
In essence, we all have a final date and time ahead of us, but we are not burdened with a countdown. This is probably a good thing, given the anxiety that such information would create. Nevertheless, there are some benefits from keeping an eye on the backward clock. As you seek to capitalize on your creative energy, insights, and ideas, the window of opportunity is always closing. A dose of pressure is a good thing.
The fact that time is ticking should motivate you to take action on your ideas. When little opportunities present themselves, you might decide to seize them. An eye on the backward clock helps you stomach the risk because, after all, time is running out. Get on it.
Belsky’s point is that we all have a limited time here on earth, and so if we have ideas we want to make happen and things we want to accomplish, that should motivate us to get going.
His point is profoundly true — and biblical. Notice how the apostle Paul, for example, argues similarly — and how he seems to have one difference at first, but which upon further reflection really isn’t. Here’s what Paul says:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself….Besides this, you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime… (Romans 13:9, 11-13).
Like Belsky, Paul is calling attention to the fact that the time is short. Here the emphasis is on the fact that Christ will be returning, and as each moment passes we grow closer to the final day. Then, like Belsky, Paul also points out that this should be motivating to our behavior. It should lead us to “walk properly as in the daytime,” walking as children of light, not darkness.
And here is where it looks like Belsky and the apostle Paul part ways. For at first it looks like Paul’s application is very different from Belsky’s. If we were in to overspiritualizing, we could accidentally (and unfairly) Jesus-juke Belsky here by saying something like “Belsky, he’s great, but you know, what’s really important in light of the fact that our time is short is that we live holy lives — not get things done.” To say that would diminish the value of Belsky’s point here, something that is true and significant in its own right.
The biblical approach, I believe, is to affirm the truth and significance of Belsky’s point, and then notice that it connects to some biblical realities that give it an even deeper foundation and wider application.
And when we do this, we find that Belsky and the apostle Paul are actually very close together in their applications.
But, that’s hard to see. The reason that’s hard to see is because we so easily translate the biblical calls to holiness in to the avoidance ethic. That’s the notion that biblical holiness is chiefly about avoiding evil rather than proactively doing good. It’s the notion that if we sit at home every night watching clean PG-13 movies with our family, avoid cussing, and stay far away from anything that appears sinful, we are doing fine. That avoiding evil is the essence of biblical holiness and what God requires of us.
But it’s not. Biblical holiness is not simply about avoiding evil, though that is important; it is about proactively doing good. The call of the Scriptures is that we are to be eager and creative and proactive in doing all the positive good we can — and doing it in humble reliance on God’s power. That is the essence of a holy life.We are to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God,” not simply “stay squeaky clean by avoiding evil.” In fact, if the essence of your Christian ethic is what you don’t do, you’ve failed to grasp that you’ve not succeded in avoiding evil at all — for the greatest of all evils is right in your heart, in your refusal to proactively take action on behalf of others, “loving your neighbor as yourself.”
How does this relate to Belsky’s point? Belsky is talking about making ideas happen and getting things done in his book. Here’s the connection: When Paul is calling us to “walk as children of the light,” he is not simply calling us to stay away from sin (the avoidance ethic); he is calling us to proactively do good for others. This follows not only from the very meaning of “light” and “holiness” in the Bible, but also from the fact that Paul had just quoted the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” and is actually elaborating on that. The biblical ethic of loving our neighbor as ourselves is the essence of the proactive ethic I am talking about here. For we love ourselves proactively (for example, I don’t wait to run out of gas before filling my car; I anticipate how much gas I have left and obtain it in advance), and we are to love others the same way, with just as much energy and enthusiasm as we have for our own happiness. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means to love your neighbor with the same enthusiasm, eagerness, forethought, and creativity with which we meet our own needs.
And to do this — that is, to be proactive in doing good for others — requires getting things done and making ideas happen. Knowing how to get things done is a chief tool in our arsenal for going about the world with our eyes and ears open, seeking to do all the good we can in all the ways we can.
When you are making ideas happen, in other words, you are serving your neighbor and serving the world, if you do it in faith and for the glory of God. Further, by learning how to make ideas happen, we learn how to be more effective in executing the initiatives necessary to meet the needs of others — and thus become more effective in serving others and loving them in ways that actually help (and work, without taking forever!).
That’s what getting things done is about. And that’s why Belsky’s point is not only true and correct in itself, but also even more true for the Christian — who has even higher and greater motives to make their ideas happen: chiefly, the good of others and the glory of God, which is especially urgent not just because we will one day die, but because this age is drawing to a close and “salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”
Being a self-starter is one of the most important ingredients for effectiveness. If you can’t motivate yourself and get yourself going, it’s hard to do anything.
Ironically, however, once you get going, being a self-starter also creates your biggest problem. Your own talent of being a self-starter can work against you. The reason is that self-starters are very good at doing everything themselves — that’s one reason they can get things going so well. But, in order to scale, you need to move beyond doing everything yourself to working through others. The (very good) characteristics of being a self-starter interfere with that and thus interfere with the ability to scale.
Scott Belsky says this well in his excellent book Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality:
Self-starters are often successful doing everything themselves. However, when forced to grow beyond a one-person show, many creative people struggle to make the leap from a solo success to a successful collaboration.
There is a way around this. The key is to develop the capacity and habit to delegate more and turn the work over to the team. This is very hard to do, and actually takes practice, but can be done. And the first step is in recognizing that there is a difference between doing and leading. It’s possible to do both; but we need to be aware of the differences and make the intentional shift from one to the other, lest your focus on doing undo your ability to lead.
If there is one chief misunderstanding about productivity, it’s that productivity is mainly about getting more things done faster.
But in reality, productivity is just as much about (or, even more so about) doing things better than doing things faster.
Getting less done, but doing it of higher quality, is often more useful, significant, and hence “productive” for your organization and the world.
One of the most important conferences of the year is happening this Friday and Saturday at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The conference is The Gospel at Work, and it’s about helping Christians live extraordinary, gospel-centered, faith-filled, fruit-bearing lives in their workplaces.
The reason it’s one of the most important is because the subject of faith and work goes to the very heart of the biblical vision for how Christians transform their communities, cities, and the world. Yet there are almost no conferences and hardly any (good) books on this subject (with some very notable exceptions, of course, including some excellent recent books I hope to blog on in the near future).
The Gospel at Work conference is a great way to be encouraged, connect with other believers also interested in how the gospel relates to our work, learn more about the biblical vision of how our faith and work relate, and gain some helpful practical tips as well.
- Os Guinness: Work As Calling
- Mark Dever: Work as Worship
- Bob Doll: Work as Discipleship
- Eric Simmons: Work as Faithfulness
- Michael Lawrence: Theology of Work
And, I will be doing a breakout session on productivity and the gospel. My chief thesis is that the key to productivity in the workplace is highly counterintuitive and surprising — namely, to pursue the good of others before yourself.
In other words, the Golden Rule applies not just in our personal lives, but also in our work lives. Very often we think that we are to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” at church and in our personal lives, but that our work lives are to play by different rules. I’m going to argue that this is an unbiblical dichotomy. We are to put others first both in our personal lives and in our work lives. This is not about hijaking a true biblical principle and forcing it into an out of context reality for our own ends. Rather, it is the right and biblical thing to do. It is the way we ought to treat people because they are in the image of God.
Further, and counterintuitively, the best business thinking is showing that this is what actually leads to the greatest effectiveness in your work and for your organization.
Here’s another way to put it. What does it mean to make God supreme in your work? The chief and first thing it means is to seek the good of others by putting them before yourself in your work itself. This gives great meaning to our work no matter what we are doing, is an essential implication of what it means to love God, and, paradoxically, leads to the greatest effectiveness.
Standard registration ended yesterday, but you can still register at the door.
Would be great to see you there!
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
– Psalm 82:3-4