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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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.
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
I recently received a helpful question from a reader who was looking for a framework to help him think through his business in a comprehensive way. I thought it might be good to make this more broadly available as well, so here’s the main part of what I shared (less the actual links and, of course, the book images!).
Great question regarding frameworks. I agree that discovering the framework behind anything helps you understand it much better. For business and management, I follow the framework Tom Peters gives in one of the first three chapters or so of his book In Search of Excellence, which I find to be super helpful and without holes:
- Guiding concepts (mission, values, standards; should be unchanging)
- Strategy (how to get from here to there; changes with environment but must be consistent with guiding concepts)
- Structure (how everyone is organized to get from here to there; so must align with the strategy and, again, must reflect the guiding concepts)
- Systems (mechanisms that make things work and keep them running that are woven throughout the structure–things like hiring practices, firing practices, performance management, the systems for executing the specific work of the organization, and so forth)
- Skills and style (people’s abilities and strengths harnessed in the service of the organization’s purpose)
- People (the actual people)
An excellent article at the 99% on how ”non-cognitive traits like optimism, zest, gratitude, and grit make children (and adults) more likely to succeed.”
This article discusses scientific research backing this. What’s interesting is that this is an excellent statement of the character ethic, which states that success is most fundamentally a function of your character rather than your technique (I talk about this a bit in my book). Here we have scientific confirmation.
Not that scientific confirmation is essential, or that success is first about what you achieve in life, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Individualize. Understand our uniqueness so that they treat us according to how God has made us, not how they wish he had made us.
This is why those who say “The Golden Rule is off-based — when I treat others how I prefer to be treated, they don’t like it.”
The problem with that statement is that it misses the crucial step. Each of us want to be treated individually and understood accurately. Do that for others first, then do unto them as you would have done unto you if those things were true of you.
The reason is that the work God enables you to do for him is a gift. A gift to you, first of all.
This is why it makes no sense to compare. Why would we begrudge that God did not give us a gift intended for another? It wouldn’t fit. It would be like giving size 8 shoes to someone who needs size 10.
It is not that one size is better than another, but that one size fits one person rather than another, so that the full spectrum of God’s varied grace may be displayed.
(Note: If you truly want to excel, pursue love and seek to “outdo one another in showing honor” [Romans 12]. Love is the competition no one loses.)
I’m not sure that the essence of repentance is being able to list of all your sins to the Lord.
Obviously, it is crucial to recognize our specific sins, confess, and repent.
But it seems to me that we also have to recognize before the Lord our sin of not being able to see all our sins.
We need to cast ourselves on his sheer mercy. Yes, confessing what we know, but also asking forgiveness and mercy — and then sanctification — for the sins we are not aware of.
(Which may be the most substantial arena of sin!)
Peter Drucker: “The greatest need in underdeveloped countries is people who build … an effective organization of skilled and trained people exercising judgment and making responsible decisions.”
Who can endure a doctrine which would allow only dentists to say whether our teeth were aching, only cobblers to say whether our shoes hurt us, and only governments to tell us whether we were being well governed?
Not even sure how to categorize that, but it has a thousand ramifications. Great insight.
Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
“Buy truth” = you can know truth. It’s obtainable.
“Buy truth” = it’s worth getting. That is, it is valuable.
“Do not sell it” = states the same thing from another angle: it’s valuable. Hold on to it. It’s worth keeping.
(From Jon Rittenhouse, A Biblical View of Truth.)
The 3 things are:
- Personal management: how to get things done and know what the right things are to get done
- Career management
As a result, most of us need to learn these on our own, on the job. If you really try to figure them out and do them well, it’s a painful process — especially if most of the people you are working with are in the same boat (which, since these things aren’t taught well in school, is usually the case).
There are good seminars and courses and training workshops on each of these areas for those in the workforce, especially if you work at a large corporation. The leadership teaching that is out there is often pretty good, because it emphasizes that leadership is about building people up just as much as making things happen. But even that is less effective without a broad set of foundational knowledge already in place that you can relate it to. If you start learning about leadership, for example, at 28, when you are put in a leadership position in your organization, you are still 14 years behind where you could have been (or 20 years behind). This makes the journey that much harder. Same with learning how to manage your career and manage yourself, even if you encounter the need to learn these much earlier (toward the end of college or shortly after).
I’m not saying that there aren’t excellent leadership opportunities available in the educational system; there are. And, that does a lot of good. (So things aren’t nearly as bad as they could be!) But I’m talking about explicit teaching on what leadership is, how to do it, and so forth, in addition to actual leadership experiences.
This has large costs to us as a society, as so many people end up spinning their wheels trying to figure out what direction to go long-term with their career, trying to figure out how to manage themselves, and learning how to lead that they could have spent actually leading and, in terms of their career management, avoiding some wrong turns.
And it’s not just the education system that has dropped the ball here. Churches have too. Churches are mandated by God to be led well and to develop leaders (that’s the meaning of Isaiah 32:1-8, if you understand it correctly, among other passages). Because of the priesthood of all believers, this means teaching all believers how to lead well, not just those in ministry. Yet, strangely, much of the time the church opposes leadership development because of the notion that it is somehow worldly or unspiritual.
This is a long-term problem. Obviously I have lots of thoughts on how this could be fixed, but this is enough for now.
Actually, schools tend to teach almost nothing on how to do knowledge work — that is, on the actual process for high performance workflow management (as opposed to the specific skill sets for various jobs, such as creating financial statements, etc., etc., which is taught in abundance).
Here are three things that you especially never hear, but are true:
- You will have to spend more time than expected doing seemingly strange and mundane tasks like organizing your computer files (or trying to figure out how you want them organized!) and figuring out where to capture and store all the various ideas you have.
- If people make fun of you for this (like my pastor has!; good-naturedly), ignore them. These are essential components for knowledge work, and your actual ideas, plans, and work products are better if you can keep yourself organized.
- This is because, somehow, in the process of organizing your ideas and knowledge work inputs and outputs, real work gets done beyond just the organizing (though that is important in itself).