Thomas Sowell does a good job of explaining in a recent column how costs are not reduced simply because you pay them in another form.
We are incessantly being told that the cost of medical care is “too high”– either absolutely or as a growing percentage of our incomes. But nothing that is being proposed by the government is likely to lower those costs, and much that is being proposed is almost certain to increase the costs.
There is a fundamental difference between reducing costs and simply shifting costs around like a pea in a shell game at a carnival. Costs are not reduced simply because you pay less at a doctor’s office and more in taxes– or more in insurance premiums, or more in higher prices for other goods and services that you buy, because the government has put the costs on businesses that pass those costs on to you.
Costs are not reduced simply because you don’t pay them…
This list could get very long, and could be sub-divided into many different areas. So I’ll just limit this list to five of the most helpful and shaping books on the nature of God and the work of redemption that I’ve read.
1. The Pleasures of God by John Piper
2. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
3. Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
4. Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification by R. C. Sproul
5. Knowing God by J. I. Packer
Here are the top 4 books on productivity that I recommend:
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
2. First Things First by Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill
3. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
4. How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein
5. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. This is to get at more foundational issues regarding priorities and how we should be spending our time.
A good word from Josh Etter’s blog, quoting John Calvin:
It is an error to think that those who flee worldly affairs and engage in contemplation are leading an angelic life… We know that men were created to busy themselves with labor and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when each one attends to his calling and studies well to live for the common good.
My wife told me that when I do these posts on recommended books, I should mention that I read 50-100 books a year. So, I’m not recommending things off the cuff here. These are the best books I know of on the subjects.
When it comes to management, here are the top seven books I recommend:
I’ll be continuing off and on for the next few weeks our discussion of rules, and why they should be minimized. Let me give an example from personal experience.
This is the story of the time a cashier would not sell me Gatorade, even though I was in dire need, because of a rule.
What is contained in the 3,000 emails and documents that were released last week after the Climate Research Unit’s emails were hacked? The Wall Street Journal gives a brief overview, and you can find even more details here. Here’s one part of the overview from the WSJ:
Yet even a partial review of the emails is highly illuminating. In them, scientists appear to urge each other to present a “unified” view on the theory of man-made climate change while discussing the importance of the “common cause”; to advise each other on how to smooth over data so as not to compromise the favored hypothesis; to discuss ways to keep opposing views out of leading journals; and to give tips on how to “hide the decline” of temperature in certain inconvenient data.
That is not science. Science is about allowing and giving air to disagreement over the data so that everybody can come to a better understanding. A unified view that comes as a result of smoothing over data is not authentic.
It is especially important for science to give air to different points of view—rather than be afraid of them—, because science by definition proceeds by trial and error. This is what most scientists do. And this is what the scientific method is. Observe, hypothesize, predict, test, repeat.
Therefore, covering over disagreement is contrary to the entire enterprise of science.
It also shows that the problem is not science, but what we do with it. It shows us that science itself is and must be governed by higher principles. For example, honesty.
I’ll be doing some posts this week and next recommending some of the top books I’ve read on various subjects. First off are books on managing non-profit organizations.
Here I have three primary recommendations:
1. Managing the Nonprofit Organization, by Peter Drucker
2. Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant
Josh Etter interviewed me a couple of weeks ago with three questions on productivity. The questions are:
- What’s the most common mistake people make when developing a system for productivity?
- In the last three months, what is the most helpful insight that has helped you be more productive?
- In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive?
My view of management is that you don’t control behavior with rules, but instead shape behavior through values. You do need some rules, but the principle is to minimize the number of rules you have, and not to default to “making a new rule” when you encounter a problem.
(I distinguish rules and principles, by the way — principles are enduring and guiding; rules are particular applications which are context-specific. And, I am a big fan of standards that capture the essence of what really makes certain things tick, although the standards need to be open to revision.)
Anyway, why minimize rules? There are lots of reasons, and it would be interesting at some point to go into detail. At this point, here are two reasons:
- A reliance on rules tends to dehumanize, treating employees as potential problems to be controlled rather than adults who are responsible stewards. A default, “what can it hurt” approach to rule-making seems to assume that the manager always knows best, which is not the reality in our knowledge economy. By definition, a knowledge worker is one who knows more about his job than his manager.
- The tools that eliminate risk often eliminate action.
This approach also syncs with how I think society best functions. “He who governs least, governs best.” That is true in government and management.
So often, the multiplication of laws (in government) and rules (in management) is more about enhancing the power of the ruler (or manager) than serving the person.
Here is an excerpt from a great manager interviewed as part of the research for First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. His words here are typical of what they found most great managers to be saying:
Interviewer: Tell us a couple of the ideas that have helped you over the years.
Manager: Well…I suppose the first would be, pick the right people. If you do, it makes everything that much easier.
And once you’ve picked them, trust them. . . . If you expect the best of people, they’ll give you the best. I’ve rarely been let down. And when someone has let me down, I don’t think it is right to punish those who haven’t by creating some new rule or policy.
People often say: “Are you sure that it’s such a good idea to trust employees by default? Won’t they let you down?” The answer lies in what this manager said: You have to pick the right people. And once you do, trust them because you get what you expect.
There will be some times when people let you down, but it won’t be as much as you think. And when they do, it’s not right to create a stricter set of rules that hinders the 95% of the people that haven’t.
I have a guest post today at Abraham Piper’s blog 22 Words. It’s on an easy way to tell if you have a bureaucracy, in just 22 words.
On this subject you might also be interested in my post avoiding the bureaucratic death spiral.
A good list from BNet.
Jim Collins states the two ways to shape society in his comments on Peter Drucker:
There are two ways to change the world: the pen (the use of ideas) and the sword (the use of power). Drucker chose the pen, and thereby rewired the brains of thousands who carry the sword. Those who choose the pen have an advantage over those who wield the sword: the written word never dies.
This is from the introduction to Drucker’s Management, revised Edition.
From the Puritan Richard Sibbes:
Having a well-ordered, uniform life, not consisting of fits and starts, shows a well-ordered heart; as in a clock, when the hammer strikes well, and the hand of the dial points well, it is a sign that the wheel are rightly set.
Here’s a quick statement of the reason, from my notes on the subject:
The mystery of capital is this: Assets (property, money, the means of production) are not automatically capital. Capital is like electricity. Until it is there, the assets are dead. Property rights are what close the circuit and bring dead assets to life. This is chief reason third world capitalism is not flourishing.
This is the premise of the book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.
De Soto’s book has revolutionized our understanding of capital and “points the way to a major transformation of the world economy.” According to The Economist, it is “the most intelligent book yet written about the current challenge of establishing capitalism in the developing world.”
I’ve always found it helpful to remember the four main levels of thinking:
- Analysis: Taking an alarm clock apart to find out what makes it tick. Involves description and classification.
- Synthesis: Putting parts of three clocks together to make one functioning alarm piece. That is, you put parts of the old together to form something new.
- Application: Using information to do something.
- Evaluation: Using information to decide whether something is of value.
Jim Collins: “When you put these two complementary forces together — a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship — you get the magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results.”
But, realize that you can’t jump straight to disciplined action. You have to first have disciplined people, and then disciplined thought. Then you have the foundation for disciplined action. This is the fundamental point of Good to Great.
“Disciplined action without self-disciplined people is impossible to sustain, and disciplined action without disciplined thought is a recipe for disaster.”
Sometimes there is a tendency to think that managers are slow and controlled, and entrepreneurs are exciting and progressive. The manager thus hinders the entrepreneur and makes everything boring.
And this can happen. But that is bad management. And in the same way that bad management makes things too controlled, bad entrepreneurship makes things unsustainable. We need both good management and good entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is a key component of the managerial task.
Here’s how Peter Drucker puts it:
One important advance in the discipline and practice of management is that both now embrace entrepreneurship and innovation. A sham fight these days pits “management” against “entrepreneurship” as adversaries, if not as mutually exclusive.
That’s like saying that the fingering hand and the bow hand of the violinist are “adversaries” or “mutually exclusive.” Both are always needed and at the same time.
Any existing organization, whether a business, a church, a labor union, or a hospital, goes down fast if it does not innovate. Conversely, any new organization, whether a business, a church, a labor union, or a hospital, collapses if it does not manage.
Not to innovate is the single largest reason for the decline of existing organizations. Not to know how to manage is the single largest reason for the failure of new ventures. (The Essential Drucker, p 8.)
From Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions (Contours of Christian Philosophy) by Arthur Holmes:
[There are] motives, intentions, and underlying dispositions. What these have in common, first, is that they are all inner states rather than overt behaviors and, second, that they are affective rather than purely cognitive states.
A virtue is a right inner disposition, and a disposition is a tendency to act in certain ways. Disposition is more basic, lasting and pervasive than the particular motive or intention behind a certain action. It differs from a sudden impulse in being a settled habit of mind, an internalized and often reflective trait. Virtues are general character traits that provide inner sanctions on our particular motives, intentions and outward conduct.
…virtue is the love of what is just and good.
I made note of these two interesting points when I read the original Freakonomics a few years ago, to remember whenever buying and selling a home. They are from pages 7-9 and 71-76.
1. On Incentives
Incentives not aligned between seller and real estate agent—if the agent sells your house for $10,000 less, they lose only $150 in commission, while you lose $10,000. Thus, the incentives create a motivation for quick sales, and $150 or so is a small price to pay.
2. On Code Words
Real-estate agent code: Descriptive words (granite, state-of-the-art, corian, maple gourmet) mean it is a good house, and are associated with a higher selling price and used by agents when selling their own homes. Empty adjectives (fantastic, spacious, charming, great neighborhood, !) are code for “not much worth describing.”
- Fantastic and charming = not much worth describing
- Spacious = impractical
- Great neighborhood = this house not that great, but there are nice ones around
- ! = real shortcomings
- Granite, gourmet, corian, etc. are specific and straightforward. If you like granite, you might like the house; but even if you don’t, granite certainly doesn’t connote a fixer-upper.
Here’s a good quote from Reagan:
Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided on is being carried out.
Note three things.
First, delegate authority–not tasks. I’m not saying there’s no place for delegating tasks, but if that’s your focus it won’t scale. You have to delegate responsibility areas and give people the authority to carry them out. (Responsibility in the final sense, of course, rests with the leader–he or she is the one ultimately accountable for results.)
Second, that means that you consequently need to let your people act–if you keep interfering and micromanaging, you haven’t truly delegated authority.
Third, notice that Reagan didn’t simply say “don’t interfere.” Which is interesting because the one main criticism of his leadership is that he was too hands-off. What he said was don’t interfere as long as the policy you decided on is being carried out.
There are defined outcomes. Let the person find their own way to accomplish them. If the policy that was decided on is not being carried out, then you need help the person make some course corrections.
Below is an interesting paragraph I jotted down a few years ago from a book called The Mind and the Brain.
It’s dense but makes a really good argument against materialism. Materialism is the view that only matter exists, and thus people do not have souls (OK, I grant that no materialist would put it that way, but that’s what it amounts to!), or that the soul is merely produced by the body and is not a non-material component of our being in its own right. Here’s the paragraph (which I’ve divided up):
But if you equate the sequential activation of neurons in the visual pathway, say, with the perception of a color, you quickly encounter two mysteries. [In other words, if you think that the perception of color can be fully explained simply by physical processes in the brain, you encounter two big problems.]
The first is …that just as the human brain is capable of differentiating light from dark, so is a photo diode. Just as the brain is capable of differentiating colors, so is a camera. It isn’t hard to rig up a photo diode to emit a beep when it detects light, or a camera to chirp when it detects red. In both cases, a simple physical device is registering the same perception as a human brain and is announcing that perception.
Yet neither device is conscious of light or color, and neither would become so no matter how sophisticated a computer we rigged it up to. There is a difference between a programmed, deterministic mechanical response and the mental process we call consciousness. Consciousness is more than perceiving and knowing; it is knowing that you know. (25-26).
And here’s a good quote on how materialism would necessitate that we abandon any conception of moral accountability:
[materialism] reduces human beings to automatons. If all of the body and brain can be completely described without invoking anything so empyreal as a mind, let alone a consciousness, then the notion that a person is morally responsible for his actions appears quaint, if not scientifically naïve. A machine cannot be held responsible for its actions. If our minds are impotent to affect our behavior, then surely we are no more responsible for our actions than a robot is. It is an understatement to note that the triumph of materialism, as applied to questions of mind and brain, therefore makes people squirm. (52)
This is one of the best books on leadership for those in ministry.
A good article over at BNet. They note:
Entrepreneurs worry too much about what they’re going to develop, make, or market. What’s more important is that they make, develop or market something. The odds that they end up making it big doing something different are apparently pretty high.Here are 15 companies that became famous, not for what they started doing, but for something that came later. Sure, they may be related, but the point is still valid: better to get started on something; innovative people find a way.
This jibes with Jim Collins’ research in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. They argue against “the myth of the single great idea.” In other words, great companies are often not the result of an initial great idea that propels them to success. What makes them great is that the product becomes the vehicle for the company, not the other way around.