It's Your Own Fault!

The age of the Internet, with always-on ubiquitous connectivity to everyone, has created a friction-free path to exposing the worst of people: attacking others for their own failure. It's ugly and mean, but ultimately only smears the person doing the attacking. I saw an example just today posted to a support site for an app I really enjoy. The smear didn't just complain about the app, but used an expletive and called it the "worst ... app ever." Now, this is obviously an exaggeration. And the expletive just gave it a bigger barb to do greater damage to the indie developer who wrote the app. It worked. The developer was hurt by the attack, although he responded with grace and humility in the best way possible, and that's really hard to do. I already respected him. I now respect him even more.

That said, what's behind this is an attitude that may be missed, so I'd like to underscore it: many people today want to blame others for the consequences of their choices, but only when they don't like them.

So, in this case, for some reason, the customer bought the app but doesn't like it. I'm not sure why. I love it. But, to each his own. Regardless, even though he can easily get a refund from the Apple App Store, he chose to blast the developer and the app on Twitter. Instead of owning that he bought something that he doesn't like, or going on to the developer's (very active) support site to get help, he just slammed it on social media.

When I read it, I just thought, "Here's a guy who isn't willing to accept the consequences of his choices and expects others to agree that they are wrong and then fix them when he doesn't like it."

This isn't healthy. It hurts the one who is using it to feel better. It represents an abdication that cannot actually be made: your life is your life. Your choices are your choices.

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day." --James Joyce (1882-1941)

When we try to blame our consequences (regardless of how harsh or challenging) on someone or something else, we give up our power. We convince ourselves that we cannot control the outcomes of our lives. Instead, we try to stay risk-free and "undo" the consequences that turn out different than we expect or want.

But, it never works. And therein lies the rub.

We know. Under it all, we know what we did, we know what we deserve as consequences, and over time it eats away at our character. Our integrity is stained by the cheating. Even if no one else sees it, we know. And we die a little each time.

Take back your power. Own your choices and their consequences. Succeed on your own merit.

Customer Success

When you apply this reality to customer success, you begin to see a few things. One of them is that the old adage "The customer is always right" is clearly false. This is the first principle I discuss in my customer relationship success program. While the customer isn't always right, it's critically important to show respect and humility. This is a first step towards success as a business, especially in the age of the Internet.

The Morality of Blocking Ads

Whether sitting at my kitchen table last week checking the latest news or viewing my Twitter or Facebook feeds on the run, the conflict over iOS 9's new ad blocking capability has created as much controversy as the Pope's message being in conflict with both the political right and the political left. Why?

I've read a number of useful insights into the ranging from Seth Godin's long-term perspective on caring for customers first to Dennis Seller's report of its impact on publishers and the advertising perspective of Randall Rothenberg.

However, as an analyst with a focus on root causes and the purpose of business, it's clear the none of these actually go far enough to get to the bottom of the real issue: value.

Fundamentally, advertising is a communication medium from the provider of a product or service to the prospective consumer of that product or service. So, for example, Apple wants to sell you a new iPhone, so it creates an advertisement to communicate to you so you will purchase it. The communication may take virtually any form, from the promise of a better life to the description of various iPhone features, but its goal is always to get you to buy.

So, how do they get that message to you?

They use middlemen who have your attention for other reasons. Perhaps a medium you use to enjoy entertainment, like TV, or maybe a blog you read for education. Since those media have your attention, they sell it to advertisers to support their production of more content. There are other middlemen, of course, including those who create and produce the ads, those who do the work necessary to deliver the ads on whatever media, and so on, but ultimately, that's the picture: a producer buying access to consumers to convince them to buy.

The problem is, the exchange happens between all the other players without the permission of the consumers. Your permission is assumed. It's the price you pay for consuming the content, and the various providers believe that you know this and are conscious of the arrangements. Ironically, the prevalence of the advertising means that consumers learn to tune it out and avoid it. We buy a DVR that allows them to skip over commercials, we change the radio station when a commercial comes on, and, yes, we install and use ad blockers for our web browsers on iOS.

There are times we don't, however. The Super Bowl, for example, has become a showcase for advertising. Super Bowl ads are ranked and discussed for weeks both leading up to the event and following it. They have created massive demand for brands, and web sites have crumbled under the crush of interest they generate.

But, these times are rare. We become jaded. It gets harder and harder to get our attention. So, the ads get more and more intrusive. Remember those animate GIF ads? How do you like hover ads (the ones that block the page so you have to look at them before you can read whatever you came to read)? More and more obtrusive, more and more expensive to experience.

So, we get ad blockers.

Now, some advertisers and the ad networks are working on options to get around blockers and the consumer choice they represent. What does that say about the entitlement they feel towards the time and attention of those they target with the ads? Exactly.

What about those who earn their livings by the ad revenue they receive and who are damaged by the loss of your attention?

The solution is simple, but hard: it takes a shift in paradigm, but the time has come. Change the way you think about ads, whether you buy them, create them, deliver them, host them, or consume them! Create value, and find ways to effectively "pay" consumer for their attention. If you have something to share with me that matters to me, I'll pay attention. If what you want to show me is something that has no value for me (like the mortgage ads I see any time my ad blocker is off!), it's a waste for both of us. Figure out a way to stop doing it!

Advertisers complain about the poor return on their online advertising investment. Here is why they have the issue: the ads are ugly, inconsiderate, obtrusive, and irrelevant. In a world where time is the most value commodity most people have, this is insulting. Stop doing it!

I understand that this means more work than has traditionally been done in advertising, except by the most advanced and creative teams. It's time to follow their lead.

To publishers who make their living from advertising: Don't blame Apple or those building the best-selling apps. You brought this on yourself.

For those who are primarily consumers, I have a challenge for you, too: don't expect great content to be free. It costs time, energy, talent, and effort to produce, and just because you can get it for free doesn't mean you should. Artists deserve compensation for their work, whether it's a news report, a painting, or a song. Compensate them for the benefit you get. It's the right thing to do, and it feels good to do it!

The Age of Deception

Have you noticed that trust is disappearing? As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we've fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.

Truth seems unwelcome.

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:

  1. make an educated guess (hypothesis),
  2. design an experiment to test the guess,
  3. verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.

Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:

  1. make a claim of something desired to be true
  2. design an experiment to prove its truth to others
  3. modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn't support the claim

This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.

"There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics." -- Benjamin Disraeli

This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:

  1. Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
  2. How will I behave in the face of this deception?

As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity -- perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them -- I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, "Trust until evidence of deceit is clear." Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it's closer to Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Trust, but verify." Which is to say, "Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit."

I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.

"Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living" -- Buddha

"You shall not speak falsely to others" -- the 9th Commandment

"And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly." -- Quran, 2:42

The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.

"Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is." -- Barbara Bush

For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, "Lead the Field":

"It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?" -- Earl Nightingale

Yes. It's worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?

My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.

"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." -- Adolf Hitler

Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!

What is "The Economy"?

More than a decade ago I sat in a data center staring at a screen containing backup logs for a major agency of a state government. The logs made it clear that backups had been failing for months. My job was to find out what happened. I'm just built to get to the bottom of things, and part of my skill is to take apart the complex, interconnected pieces and find the simple parts. It makes it easier to figure out what happened.

Recently, I've done this with "The Economy."

People, especially experts and those who want to sound knowledgeable, talk about "The Economy" like it's an entity unto itself. Like it has a mind of its own, and it will head in various directions based on select, complex ideas like GDP, trade, and unemployment rates.

But, it's not. "The Economy" is nothing but a set of metrics (values of measurements) that communicate various historical truths (since most measures are 3-12 months ago). Economists, politicians, and pundits all use the numbers to beat up their opponents and to bolster their own theories, with all sides claiming proof for their viewpoints. And it's all mostly a great big show.

"The Economy" is nothing more or less than the collected decisions of human beings, including those responsible for making decision for corporations and governments. People decide to buy, save, or invest. As a result, funds become available as revenue, for loans, or in exchange for equity. The cumulative impact of these decisions results in the measures that become the economic metrics.

Underneath it all, however, are these decisions. They are made in an effort to keep a job, to profit, to look good, or to benefit one's own financial position. Sometimes, the decisions are speculative in the hopes of creating a large, fast gain. Other times, they are extremely conservative in an effort to avoid any risk or any possible loss.

But all of these are the decisions made by individuals and (sometimes) multiple individuals as part of a collective.

That's all "The Economy" is, though. It's the consequences of financial decisions of collections of people: cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

When people stop spending and/or investing, we have a recession or depression. When business managers stop hiring, joblessness goes up. And so on.

We are a society that attempts to avoid the consequences of our actions. We want to believe that our intentions drive the consequences. They don't. The only thing that drives consequences is the natural laws that apply and the decisions that others make.

You can't escape consequences forever.

What's Really Up With the Economy?

What's the most clear path to ongoing financial success for you? Creating value others desire to receive.
What happens when things turn sour (layoff, reduced business, financial challenges)? Being of value to others! Finding ways to communicate your value becomes critical. Knowing what your value is is the first step.

How does money really work? Where does it come from? What are your answers to these questions?

1) money comes from an employer

2) money comes from the government 

2) money comes from those to whom I provide value 

3) money comes from the divine

My challenge to you is to change the way money shows up in your world: money is tangible gratitude.

Think about it. What does it take for you to hand over money that is in your possession? Exchange for something you value, of course. For example, if your dishwasher dies (like ours did just recently) and you decide you want a new one, you'll be willing to pay an amount that aligns with the value you receive from having one. If the cost is too great, you'll elect to wait, to change the options, or reassess what matters.

Similarly, when someone is considering handing you money for some reason, whether for a used treadmill or for a month worth of skilled labor, they are assessing the value received against the cost. Are they grateful enough to make the exchange? Or not?

As you consider the current economic realities, ask yourself one question: are you creating enough gratitude to earn the compensation you seek? If not, find new customers or deliver greater value -- or both.

Leading a Church

Here's an important question for you to answer if you attend a church in any capacity: What does it mean to "lead a church?" The more I have stepped back to examine churches and their leaders, the clearer it has become to me that there is an epidemic of festering misconception of what it means to be a leader who claims to follow Christ. In The Myth of Christian Authority, I outlined an aspect of this confusion which is especially pernicious: insisting on obedience of church members in direct opposition to Luke 22:25-26.

In addition, though, there are additional disturbing aspects of the way that most of those in positions of oversight in churches that are rampant, the most prevalent of which is codependency.

Many churches rely on providing "support" to their members and others in their community as a source of identity. As Thom S. Rainer mentions in his article "The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches," churches have become more and more insular with the focus on the members and no outward focus. However, he doesn't go far enough in his analysis. Digging deeper, it is clear that the underlying issue is an unwillingness to allow the laity to shine and step into the fullness of their gifts, talents, and skills. Instead of growing members into their full selves, church leaders work to make them comfortable and "happy." This is what Rainer outlines as a focus within, but the underlying reason is that the people in the church are not allowed to be all that they were created to be. They are kept passive and content through the organization catering to their desires and whims, believing that it exists for them.

It doesn't.

At least, not in the way they are led to believe.

Romans 12:6-8 makes clear the purpose of the church: to encourage everyone to step into their gifts and calling, to develop the skill to align with their gifts, and to, in a nutshell, become all that they were created to be. When people are allowed and encouraged to shine, they focus outwardly since there aren’t enough ways to exercise those gifts internally to keep them fully engaged.

The moment the entire body is encouraged to step into that reality, the church cannot possibly look within; there is too much energy and drive as a result of full engagement.

Of course, it requires a recognition that the leaders are not in control. No human is. So, it's messy, but it's supposed to be! It's part of the growth for everyone to let go. But, it's scary and forces the leaders to let go of the illusion that they are dictating the future. It's an attractive illusion, though, and allows the leaders to feel important and powerful. But it's a lie.

So, if you are a leader, set the people free!

If you are a member of a church, expect to be guided into the fullness of who you are. If your leaders aren't doing that, be clear that you expect it. Call them to their bigger selves. Don't compromise on this, though. You are the one who is responsible and accountable for being all you were made to be. Anything or anyone keeping you from that is an obstacle to overcome. You don't need to be obnoxious about it, but be insistent.

Be free. Love yourself.

The Myth of Christian Authority

In his seminal book that serves as an accurate guide for those who want to understand how to navigate their work life, Robert Ringer focused on the three kinds of people there are in the business world: The person who is after your chips, and lets you know it; the person who is after your chips, but tells you he's not; and the person who is after your chips but honestly doesn't believe that he is. In "Winning Through Intimidation", Ringer describes the third type of person as the most dangerous of all. (As an aside, if that title bothers you, I strongly recommend you read the book! A revised version is entitled, "To Be or Not To Be Intimidated.") Ironically, I have discovered over the past few years that many Christian pastors and leaders are of this third type: they honestly believe they aren't after your "chips," but experience will prove that they are. Your "chips" may be any combination of your time, talent, and treasure, but they are the essence of what you bring to your service.

These are those men – and less often women – who will assure you that they have your best interest at heart. And, to be explicit, they actually believe they do. But, they don't. Over time and when viewed objectively, it becomes clear that what they interpret as your interest they see through their own interests. They want to be right, they want to be loved and accepted, they want to believe they belong in the role in which they find themselves, and, most unfortunate of all, they want you to fit the mold they have shaped for those they can be proud to call their own. All of these concerns of theirs form their truth and make it impossible for them to actually hold your interest ahead of theirs.

This is further complicated by the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Christian scripture over the past hundred and more years. Many Christian leaders believe that they are "in authority over" those who attend their churches. However, scripture makes it clear that this is not so. On the contrary, the role of a "Christian leader" is twofold: on the one hand to be a "servant of all," and on the other hand to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." That's it! Nothing in there about telling the sheep what to do!

In fact, sheep are notoriously difficult to herd! …and shepherds know better than to try to teach them any tricks. Sheep just don't do what you want them to do. So, smart shepherds focus on guiding them to fresh grass and clean water, allowing them to wander within relatively safe confines, and do what sheep do.

Unfortunately, many Christian "shepherds" aren't so wise. They use guilt and manipulation to coerce their flock into what they believe the sheep should and should not do. They exercise their "authority" over their flock, making demands of the sheep, and using the tools at their disposal to get the behavior they deem "holy". Ironically, this violates the core of the Christian gospel!

If you are a Christian leader, my hope is that you can honestly examine yourself and adjust your expectations and behavior as necessary (it might help to review Romans 12:3 and the verses following it. There's work to do in the church!). Serve the body, equip them, allow them to do what they do, to fail and to succeed, to eclipse your status, and even to make a mess.

On the other hand, if any Christian leader you know places behavioral expectations on you or other members of the church, run away! You must protect yourself! You have found a pastor who is not mature enough to step into the full truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the gospel is grace. And grace, at its most basic, is this: there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more... or any less. There is nothing you can avoid doing to make God love you any less ...or any more. He loves you infinitely right now at this moment regardless of anything you do or do not do. It is impossible for you to diminish his love for you. It is also impossible for you to increase his love for you. It is out of your hands. It is grace, and only grace.

Thank God!

The Presence of God

As I sat across the table from a good friend who has shared his walk in Christ with me for many years, he said those words that cause me to wince on the inside: "The presence of God is what really matters to me..." To many, this idea sounds wonderful: let's do whatever we can to have the presence of God be in greater abundance in our times of meeting together. Let's be sure to do those things that bring God's presence to a greater degree and avoid those things that would cause His presence to wane.

There's only one problem with it: it isn't true. Let me explain.

The assumption behind this is that God's presence waxes and wanes; that it is strong in one place at one time, but weak in another. Furthermore, that what we do or do not do somehow effects the supply available. None of these are true.

In fact, God's Holy Spirit has been poured out on everyone. The prophet Joel foretold this outpouring and recorded it in what we now know as Joel 2:28: "Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people." God made sure that we would understand that this had happened the moment Jesus breathed His last:

Matthew 27:51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Why? And why is Matthew so careful to give us the details? Remember that Matthew's primary audience was those of Jewish faith who would understand the depth and power of this statement. First, that curtain could have been a foot thick, making tearing of it impossible. It was also 15 feet high, making the human tearing of it impossible from the top to the bottom. God did it. Before He did, it separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Afterward, the separation was obliterated as God communicated once for all time that He cannot be confined to a time or a place. He poured Himself out on all people.

The unknown author of Hebrews makes clear the significance of this event by writing in chapter 10 starting in verse 20: "By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water."

There is something very important to notice in this passage in Hebrews: there is nothing for us to do in order to enjoy the presence of God. We can go right in. We don't have to be somewhere that He is, do certain things to please Him, avoid those things which displease Him, or anything else. We cannot effect His presence!

It's always there in full power. God is omnipresent and omnipotent.

So, you may ask, why do some God loving, God fearing people believe that God's presence is greater in some places and some times than it is in others?

The answer is actually quite straight-forward, but its incredibly important to understand. The reason is that they experience Him more in some places and times than they do in others. In fact, most of us do. For me, I have felt that I can almost touch God as I've stood on a mountain top, gazed at the ocean, and held my newborn child. There are also times when it's hard to believe He's close. Those are the times that I've learned that He is and that all I have to do is tap into the truth, step into my faith, and recognize His presence. He is there. He always is.

Given that truth, you may next wonder why it matters. If someone believes that God is more present with certain activities going on than with others, what's wrong with that?

The answer is uncomfortable, but important: it places the emphasis wrongly.

The core truth of the Gospel is grace. The reality that God loves us independently of anything we do or don't do, think or don't think. There is nothing we can do to cause Him to favor us more... or less. That is the good news; the Gospel of Jesus.

Believing that there are certain things we can do or think that will cause God's presence to show up--or disappear--belies the truth of the Gospel. In doing so, it also reduces us to rule followers trying to please God so He will show up for us. That, to put it bluntly, is endeavoring to seek God's approval (His presence) by our actions, which is the opposite of the wonder and truth of grace.

Given this, why is it that it sometimes seems that God is farther away than other times? What is the cause and how do we get back to that connection with God?

What do you think the answer is?

Faith. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1) By faith you know that God is there and His presence never wavers. By faith you know that He loves you infinitely and nothing you do or do not do can ever or will ever change that.

When you're missing that connection, step into the truth that He hasn't changed. He is for you. He is fully present.

..and if singing certain songs helps you, sing them. If being in a certain place makes a difference, go there. If standing, sitting, dancing, or crying connects you, do those things, too. In spite of all that, though, recognize that these are tools that help you to step into the truth that God is fully present with you in that place and time, not that you must do anything so He will be more present.

Our Father wants to be with you all the time. Step into the awareness that He's always there in full power.

Enjoy His presence.

The Amazing Good News

The truth about God and the Gospel is foolish to men. Unfortunately, many of those men are in churches. The church for decades--and perhaps centuries--has just flat missed the point. In the always-tempting pursuit of right and wrong, good and evil, and believing that they are wise, those governing the church have lost the Gospel. The Gospel is both too simple and too extraordinary to make any sense at all to the human mind.

The Gospel is this:

You are capable of being more than you can imagine and living a life beyond your dreams. God knows this and believes in you far more than you believe in yourself.

It doesn't change God's opinion of you when you fail to be perfect, when you fail to avoid what's not best for you, or even when you choose to speak poorly of Him, ignore Him, or otherwise mistreat Him or His reputation.

He loves you anyway.

...this drives the religious people mad!

...and it demonstrates just how different they are from God. also explains why the Church is so far out of favor in the world and has become increasingly irrelevant.

Who are the most judgmental people you know? Probably the religious people you know. And this is a sad commentary on the perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the years. For the most part, the Gospel is lost, overwhelmed by the drive to sign up people to agree with those in the church. The Gospel is very simple:

"God loves you and there's nothing you can do to change that."

...the corollary to that is: You can't change anything you do or say or think to make God love you more. You can't change anything you do or say or think to make Him love you any less, either. He loves you as much as He possibly can right this instant. He always has and He always will. Simple as that.

...although what He means by "love" will probably surprise you!

He loves you. You can be sure of that!

Pause and let that sink in. Like a proud papa, God favors you. He brags on you. He thinks you're a great kid. He couldn't possibly care for you more, pull for you more, or think more highly of you.

...and that's Good News!

Farewell, Steve

Yesterday, just after hitting "publish" on my iPhone 4S recommendation post, I received the news that Steve Jobs had passed away at the too-young age of 56. I never met Steve, but his uncompromising focus on doing the right thing has influenced me. Today, Ken Segall (I read his blog religiously) shared the impact that Steve had on him, and I must agree, although I never had the experience of working directly with him.

Although I have been accused of being an Apple fan boy, my relationship with Apple is relatively recent and based on only one thing: my use of Apple products has given me a far more productive and pleasant experience than any of the environments I have used in over 25 years of daily technology use.

...and the reason for that is the insistence that Steve had on building products for people, not "users."

Yesterday, I was struck by how sad I felt when I learned of Steve's passing. I was rocked when I first saw the news, and found myself grieving far more than I would have expected.


I think one of the reasons is the rarity of Steve's insistence on building technology that works for people. Just reading the industry commentaries about Apple products shows this clearly. The complaints are universally about "speeds and feeds," complaining that this phone has a bigger, higher-quality display than the iPhone or that tablet is available in a 7-inch form factor, missing the only thing that matters: how the product works as a whole. This is why the iPhone is the most popular phone in the US and the iPad is really the only tablet that matters.

So, farewell, Steve. You have inspired me and I am grateful. My commitment is to apply what I have learned from your approach.

Thank you.

My Word is My Bond

I grew up in the Midwest, land of wheat and corn, lazy summer days by the pond, sleds and skis in the winter. As I watched men interact with each other, I learned one thing: the handshake of an honest man is worth more than any written contract any day. As I moved into my career, I was blessed to meet a group of brilliant engineers during my work with the InteropNet at the gigantic Interop trade show. These men and women were the best of the best, elite network engineers at the top of their game. We worked at the bleeding edge of technology, expecting -- knowing really -- that things would go wrong and we would fix them. As a result, engineers from competitive companies often worked together to fix interoperability issues (that is, after all, where "Interop" originated). This team was the Interop NOC team (NOC stands for Network Operations Center), and to this day they remain among my best friends and among those I respect the most in the world.

As a team, we operated under the "NOC moral NDA," an unwritten agreement that was stronger than any written word could make it. When we work together even now, years later, a simple, "this is under NOC NDA" is all we need to be assured of confidentiality. It's unquestionable. Take it to the bank, it's trustworthy.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly rare in the world today. It seems that many people are comfortable telling "half-truths" (which is another word for "lies"), breaking promises, breaching confidentiality, and generally playing roughshod with integrity. Regardless of any excuses that perpetrators may offer for this kind of behavior, it's all dishonest. And done once, it means that the perpetrator can no longer be trusted with any commitment, promise, or communication.

I don't think the short-term benefit of such a strategy is worth the long-term loss.

For your part, what does it cost for youth give up your integrity?

When dealing with others, I think Ronald Regan's strategy is the best I've heard:


...but verify.

Where are the Jobs?

Last week there was another jobs report. The economists wait around their computers to learn whether or not their estimates were right, and the investors and money people make decisions based on those numbers. There's a real problem with all this that appears to be invisible to virtually everyone: jobs are a myth, those that did exist are disappearing, and there is nothing anyone can do about it! A couple of weeks ago I wrote in Revelation and Transformation that I had been reading Seth Godin's books Linchpin and Poke the Box. In Linchpin, Seth makes a compelling case for the cooperation between industry and government to create a large base of reusable employees for factories by building the educational infrastructure to train people to do what they are told, fit in, follow rules, and be efficient. This was the world of our fathers and grandfathers.

The problem is that their world is no more!

Just as quickly as it arrived, it is fading.

If you're looking for a job, stop. Their time is passing quickly. Instead, find a way to add value to others.

How can you do that?

Promises, Promises

As I begin a new day, I am thinking about the power of commitments and agreements... When I make an agreement with myself or another, I create a reality that didn't exist before. The agreement creates a bond between present and future, intent and reality. What happens next? What happens next is a function of whether or not I keep the agreement and whether or not I'm moving towards its keeping. When I am active in the actions of a plan to complete my agreement, there is a sense of accomplishment and awareness of integrity.

When I am not active in moving towards my promise, I tend to hide from my commitment. I "forget" it, avoid it, and most often procrastinate in creating any plan to achieve it. While I may suppress my sense of integrity lost, it is there, gnawing at my self worth, reminding me that I am untrustworthy, and keeping me from moving forward in my life.

There is a false antidote to this struggle: I just avoid making commitments. If I don't commit to you that I will do or be something, I can't fail to deliver. Unfortunately, this means I leave behind in my wake an ambiguous mess of misunderstanding and confusion. "I thought you said..." "No, I never said that! What I said was..." Together with phrases like "I'll try..." "If I can..." and even "Sounds good!"

But underneath the outward assurance, inside you know. You avoided the commitment, created a sense of agreement to avoid conflict, and built a line of defenses based on waffle-words.

The problem is that we pay the price for this lack of agreement and commitment. We live life out of integrity and feel the weight of deception and doubt. We lose clear priorities. We have no clean lines.

So we look for others to tell us what to do. And we repeat the cycle: You will commit to only what you know you can easily accomplish. You hide from any possible failure by not promising more. You create a bastion of reasons. You're so busy. Family commitments call. Work needs you. Bad traffic. And on and on we go, spinning excuses and watching life tick-tock, tick-tock to the end.

And we die before our time.

Want to live? Take a risk! Commit to an accomplishment that means something to you. Commit it to yourself, someone important to you, or to God.

Then take the first step: figure out the first few steps on the path to getting there. Create review milestones when you'll correct your plan, expand it, and clarify it. Get to the end. Pick small promises at first. Take out the garbage. Sort the recyclables. Wash the dishes and put them away. And do what you promise. Create a habit. Then build on it.

Live your commitments. Everything else is noise and smoke.

Revelation and Transformation

Sometimes discovery sneaks up on me. I've been fighting lately. I had one of those "big" birthdays recently (one that ends in a "0") and have been doing a lot of self-examination and thinking about what's next in this random miracle that is my life. I've also been facing really difficult truths. Friends who have betrayed their commitments to me, customers who took advantage of my trust and keep promising payment that hasn't come, and the pain of mysterious gossip and slander that hides in the shadows every time someone is successful... and I am no exception.

Sometimes, it rears its ugly head and demands attention instead of the brush off I usually give it.

That just happened to me.

Two weekends ago I attended a conference in the mountains west of Golden. Called Men at the Cross, it was a time of introspection, reflection, challenging my deeply-rooted beliefs about myself, and examination of why I do what I do and am who I am. It snowed 6" (in May??!), I was challenged and took action I normally would have avoided, and faced authenticity from others that is exceptionally rare.

It was great!

As I reflected on the past few years during my time there, I realized that coaching others has its joys, but when I'm not careful, I miss those learning opportunities that show up for me. Such was the case that weekend. Fortunately, I was forced to slow down enough to examine myself and my life in order to see what I might have lost. It was an interesting process as I both went through it and observed myself going through it... There were times I stood off to the side and just watched, others where I lost myself in the process.

I decided to risk believing that the Father had something to show me. He did.

It is an incredible gift and blessing to see clearly, and I did see it. I guess it was time. I saw the stories I made up to myself in the process of trying to understand what was going on and why. I also got clarity about how to deal with it all.

Here's the deal: if you have something you want to say about someone, say it to them. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, don't say anything to anyone. Own your own stuff. Don't blame it on the person who happens to trigger the response in you. It's yours. Own it.

So, if you've got something to say to me, please say it. I promise to listen, whether I agree or not.

I'm going to own my stuff, too, confront those who have been believing gossip and slander about me, and I am going to move forward.

More on that move forward next time. Have you read Poke the Box and/or Linchpin by Seth Godin? If not, you really should.

That'll be next...!

Brilliant Skiing

My good friend Weems Westfeldt wrote a most excellent book on skiing called "Brilliant Skiing. Every Day." Over the summer he revised it and now it's even better. Get a copy if you're a skier or know one. In his book, he introduced me to the idea that every day can be brilliant, even when you're not skiing your best. It's a brilliant idea, and one that has carried me through challenging days.

Last week, I had three days that didn't need that reminder.

As a certified ski instructor, I am required to maintain my certification by taking continuing education of at least two credit every two years. I was a bit behind. So, I had signed up for two days of clinics to catch up. The curriculum guide described the Alpine Extreme Mountain Performance clinic as an opportunity to "explore the technical and tactical aspects of skiing steep to steep off-piste terrain and all types of snow conditions," and I was looking forward to learning how to overcome some of the challenges that I faced when the terrain and conditions became especially challenging for me.

But, I never would have expected what happened...

Monday, Loveland reported 14" of new snow for our first day. It snowed all day, never stopping. By Tuesday, they reported an additional foot of snow. We were skiing steep, deep, and challenging terrain and conditions constantly for two of the greatest days of skiing in my life. Trees, bumps, powder, steeps, rocks, flat light, brilliant blue skies, wind, above timberline, climbing, exploring... we had it all.

More on this in the next post, but in the meantime, what's a favorite memory for you?

Define Your Terms

In a scene from "The Princess Bride" that keeps running through my head these days, Inigo Montoya turns to Vizzini and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

It seems to me that much of communication suffers from the same issue: in a rush to reduce conflict, words have been watered down and their meanings changed to the point that one person says or writes a word intending one meaning while the hearer or reader interprets another. Then, communication doesn't happen.

So, it's time we review one of the first rules of good communications:

Before you say something important, define your terms.

It's easy to assume that your listener understands your words as you intend them, but we've discovered that more often than not, they don't. Often, it is very difficult to precisely define some terms, and it is those that it is best to address in your communications.

For example, I've lately been struck by the use of the word "love" in contexts as varied as Sunday sermons and teenage gigglefests. While I'm working on a series of articles about it that I'll post here in the future, right now I'll make the observation that many people would not agree on what it means. Is it a good feeling? A commitment? Physical intimacy? Or something else? How is it different from "like" or "devotion"?

Furthermore, it's not that any of these uses is wrong. It is simply that you, by using a word without clarifying what you mean by it, may deliver a very different message than you intend.

What words do you think are particularly troublesome in this way? How do you define your terms?

Creating a System

It's easy to wing it. It doesn't even matter what subject we're discussing; winging it makes it all seem easier. It really doesn't, though.

In the back of your mind you deal with the niggling sense that you might be forgetting something. Did you pack your socks? Turn off the oven?

And that's true of everything you do, from something as simple as packing for a trip to something as complex as building a new business.

For the more basic tasks of our lives, we typically have or make a list. When we go to the grocery store, we take a list of the items we need to buy. When we plan a trip, we have a checklist of what we need to pack... don't forget the swim suit!

But in business, leaders often put off building the list. In many cases, there is a lot of activity and the appearance of forward movement even though there are much more effective ways to do what you are doing. At least you're moving. It seems to be progress.

But, it's not. It's confusing activity with productivity, and it's lethal.

Build your plan first. Make a list. Then (and only then) go to it.

Do You Feel Valued?

Three weeks ago, I took a drive to the mountains. I love the mountains and always enjoy any opportunity to get up to the thinner and cleaner air. This time, though, I exited I-70 earlier than usual and pulled into downtown Idaho Springs. Idaho Springs is an old gold mining town nestled in a valley along I-70. You can see the old gold mine from the highway, and stopping for a tour is a common summer activity. The town also sits at the foot of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's glorious 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000' in elevation), and is a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

This day, though, I was there to visit with a new client; a small business with a broad reach worldwide. I love their offices! You turn into one of the storefront doors along Miner Street (effectively Main Street) and a broad, beautiful stairway opens before you. Upstairs, their offices have high ceilings and the feel of 100 years ago. The energy is productive and there is a lot of work getting done. The office dogs and owners greeted me as I ascended. We smiled at one another and caught up. Then, we got to work.

Whenever I work with them, speak with them, give them my best counsel for their business, or simply exchange a few emails, I feel valued. I know that they care about me and appreciate the expertise and value I am bringing to them and their business. And you know what? As a result, their business is going to improve. We're going to find ways to grow their customer base, to improve their office efficiency, and to increase their profits.

I'm sure that you can tell me similar stories about businesses you have visited as a customer, placed you have worked, and other companies you have contacted.

I'd be willing to bet that you also have stories about companies where you didn't feel valued. Companies who, although you are paying for their products or services, seemed intent upon making it clear that they couldn't be bothered helping you and, in fact, you were simply interrupting their day by being there.

Do you feel valued?

It's a good question, and one that's worth more than a conversation. It's worth finding out which organizations value people--and which organizations don't.

This idea came to friends at Newmeasures, an organization dedicated to improving organizational culture. A couple of weeks ago, they launched to find out which companies value people. It's a great idea. Let's find out which organizations do a great job of valuing people... and which don't. Go visit and put in your thoughts on companies you appreciate... and those you think need to be known as places to avoid.

And let me know what you think in the comments...

What God REALLY Feels About You

It is one of the questions of the ages. Right after "Is there a God?" is this question: "How does God really see me?" Here is the truthful answer:

I am patient with you. I'm not in a hurry for you to get it right or for you to understand. I have the time. Take your time. It will be better for you when you come to your senses and have a revelation of the truth and why it is so much better for you to walk in My ways.

But in the meantime, I'll be patient. I can wait. I am patient toward you.

I am kind toward you, too. I intend to benefit you, not profit from you. I am considerate of your needs and wants; I made you, after all. I am charitable towards you; I am lenient in judging you, giving generously to you in your helplessness. I know that you are lacking, and I take it upon myself to give you what you need... although perhaps not what you want.

I am confident, content, satisfied, and trusting in you. I am not resentful of you; you are not injuring me or insulting me in a way that causes my displeasure or my resentment.

I have no need to speak with exaggeration or excessive pride. I see clearly who you are and I delight in you. I feel no need to have a high opinion of my own dignity, importance, or superiority. I will not lord my divinity over you.

Do you expect me to be rough, harsh, or ungentle with you? Do you expect a violent or vengeful response to you when you fail to be perfect? No! For that is not love!

It's time for you to understand that I have no interest at all in forcing you to do what I want. You have misunderstood the purpose of my instruction; it's not to force you to do what I want... it's to show you the better way. It is my caring offer of wise guidance. You get to choose what you want to do. I am committed to giving you my best wisdom and making it available to you whenever you need it or want it. But, I will never force my way on you. You can take my advice or not. It's up to you.

I am not easily annoyed or angered with you... you do not irritate me. I am not frustrated with all you have done in the past. In fact, not only do I not remember what you've done, I didn't even write it down. I have no record of it. I've forgotten it, so for your sake and mine, please forget it yourself. Let it go like I have. Wad up those records and throw them away. Burn them. In fact, while you're at it, throw away those records you're keeping on other people. They are taking up your energy and holding back your love.

When life is unfair and wrong, I am not happy about it. You do NOT deserve it! On the other hand, when truth wins out, I am delighted. It's awesome when the good in you is rewarded.

No matter what, when it comes to you, I will never give up. I will NEVER give up! I will ALWAYS believe in you. I am steadfast in trusting you to do the best you can. I look forward to you becoming everything I created you to be. Remember, you are the pinnacle of my creation. The best I can do. I'm looking forward to your emergence as you see yourself just like I do.

In the meantime, no matter what, I will be here. I will be on your side regardless of what comes. I'm on your side.

I love you. In fact, I AM love. I AM.

I wrote this truth from 1 Cor 13:4-7, and it really is the truth. This morning at Vinelife Church in Boulder, Colorado Senior Pastor Walt Roberson asked me to read this over the body at the end of his message.