Getting It

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Steve Jobs

When I read that quote on Quoth Steve today, I thought about this series on Apple's recent announcements and the ongoing discovery that many in the industry are communicating as the Apple WWDC continues this week. It underscores a key differentiator between Apple and most of the rest of the technology industry. In doing so, it also illustrates why so many in the technology press are fundamentally confused about both why Apple does what it does and why people buy Apple products.

Back when Japanese cars first began to gain a real foothold in the US, there was a similar dichotomy: Japanese cars had virtually no "options," while US cars were effectively custom built for each customer from an extensive list of options. Since I grew up in Michigan, the capital of the car industry in the US, I remember the derisive laughter about the limited options, the lack of this or that feature, and the expectation that the Japanese manufacturers would have to abandon the US or offer a better Chinese menu.

In retrospect, all of those observations and expectations were completely wrong. It turns out that the consumers appreciated the simplicity of getting a car without having to decide what to get on it -- and without having to wait for it to be built to their specifications. In fact, I lost out on a Pontiac Trans Am when my order turned out to have a very limited edition engine and the dealer decided he could get more for it from someone else, even though I had ordered it and waited for months.

1986 Trans Am

Today in technology, we have a similar situation: Apple is working on design in a way that Jobs thought about it. Most companies don't. Most put in a faster processor, more memory, more pixels, and expect those changes to compel purchases. Even customization is touted as a primary desire for consumers when that's not the case for many who just want to purchase a system that is ready to go, isn't bloated with a lot of distracting extras, and is designed in a way that allows it to disappear with use.

How do you want the products you purchase to be designed?

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.

So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?

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...!

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 ifeelvalued.com 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 ifeelvalued.com 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...

The Void of Leadership

I've been saying and writing about it for a while, and the rising din of those frantic to avoid the loss of power that seems to be building is making it clear there is an anger simmering. Why?

There are no leaders. There are controllers and authoritarians, kings and rulers, but no leaders.

In her exellent article "The Liberals are Losing It," Liz Peek describes the current state of panic within political circles because there is no leader. I disagree with her in one area: I don't think it's a "liberal" issue. It's an issue for all of the "career politicians." (A phrase which should be an oxymoron!) Those who seek to earn their livelihood from making laws, discussing policy, and "governing" are all waking up to the fact that they are not only distrusted, but disliked, denounced, and denigrated. We don't need politicians to tell us what to think and do. We need leaders to rally us around a common vision for the benefit of all.

It remains amazing to me that so many are being so easily misled. Many apparently believe that wealth is not earned. Apparently, they think, the way that one becomes wealthy is to steal from others.

At the same time, those people want to themselves gain wealth. They play the lottery, try get-rich-quick schemes, and maybe even try to "bend the rules" a bit to get more.

I guess because they don't succeed they think that those who do are cheating, lying, and stealing. Hollywood doesn't help, of course, and ironically, given the earnings of so many who work there!

Politicians today are fanning these flames. Jealousy and enmity serve the unproductive governing class. They keep those who could succeed from realizing their personal power and the path to success. By doing so, they keep the politicians and policy-makers in the money while appearing to "care" for those "who are less fortunate."

If they really cared, they show them the path out.

Starting with my next post on this topic, I'm going to do just that.

A Prayer for the Fourmile Fire

On Monday, the Fourmile fire raged. This photo was taken Monday afternoon near Gold Hill very close to the source of the conflagration:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the fire overshadowed much of life in and around Boulder. Thousands of people were evacuated. 166 home burned. We had friends in the path of the fire. We knew many who were evacuated and waited to hear of their homes. Our friends Bob and Betty spoke with us on Wednesday morning. They are among the resilient who take the good with the bad in living in the mountains. Betty laughed as she said, "Well, we called the house this morning. The machine picked up, so we know it's not a puddle of plastic... yet..."

For them, the fire missed their home.

As the fire started and raged, a close friend of my daughters was evacuated. Both of my daughters dance with Sarah, and she texted them on Monday of her fear as the fire was very close when they evacuated. My daughter Rachel remembered a story that she had been told by her youth group leader Jamie. In the story, a pastor's home was threatened by a raging wildfire. His church members gathered around him in prayer as the fire raged.

When they returned to pick through the remains of the pastor's home, an amazing picture met their eyes. The black desolation stretched across the land from horizon to horizon. But there, in the middle, was an island of green surrounding the pastor's home, still standing.

With that picture of faith in her mind, Rachel prayed for Sarah and her family as the fires burned completely out of control across the hills. She asked God to do it again. She held that picture in her mind and prayed for the red-roofed home of her friend.

You see that home in this near-infrared image in the middle right surrounded by burned homes? Here's a closer view of that home, with it on the right hand edge of the photo:

The fire went around their home.

Asking, "Why?" is dangerous when there is nothing to be learned from the answer. In this case, the faithful prayers of a loving friend had an impact on the unpredictable path of a violent wildfire.

More about the idea of learning from the "Why?" shortly. For now, celebrate that sometimes amazing things happen.

Burning Above Boulder... The Fourmile Fire

Monday morning during our Labor Day weekend, I was sitting in my family room working on a new series for coaching business leaders when the light changed. I knew right away. The light which had only moments before been Colorado bright and streaming through the trees had turned an eerie orange. Fire.

But where?

I stood and walked out onto the back porch. White grey smoke was covering the sky to the south and moving east. I looked towards the mountains and the thicker smoke that direction. I walked to the front of the house to get a clearer view of the source of the smoke and that's when it was clear that the mountains were ablaze. What is now officially the Fourmile fire had ignited around 10am, burst through stands of trees dried by death from the bark beetle infestation of the past few years plus the typically dry summer weather of Colorado's Front Range. First reports were of a fire that was moving fast, pushed by the mountain winds, devouring trees and brush, buildings and propane tanks.

By midafternoon, the sky was full of smoke, and a glow of fire colored the cloud. That afternoon, I went to the nearby grocery store for food and took this photo:

The fire dominated the sky, the air, and our thoughts. We have friends who live up there.

By late in the day, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres. The smoke created an eerie view of the bright Colorado sun as we headed for nightfall:

The evacuation notices were coming quickly. Friends were texting and tweeting their whereabouts. Boulder exhausted its firefighting resources within the first few hours and state and national resources were called in. Reports of exploding propane tanks, homes destroyed, the historic town of Gold Hill threatened, and livestock needing shelter were all filling the airwaves and the Internet.

We did what we could to help, but at the time it was mostly to stay out of the way and offer assistance to those that we could.

By nightfall, the orange fire was clearly visible along the ridgelines, although this digitally-zoomed photo from my iPhone doesn't do it justice:

We wondered what Wednesday would bring.

More in the next post...

How You Can Change the World

It's been beautiful here in Boulder for the past week. Cool in the evenings, sunny during the day, with the occasional thunderstorm to brighten up the afternoon. During this week, I've had a great exchange with Stephanie George, my brilliant friend who helps businesses to see their current business situation through objective eyes, offering business development and strategic consulting. One of her emails to me yesterday was so perceptive that I'll share it with you in its entirety in this post. Her insights are right on. The rest of this post (with minor edits for the change of medium) is from her:

I think that we also need leadership. The two quotes were right on and - they came from leaders. Leaders do not have to be the President alone, Leaders emerge at all levels. I think it would be refreshing for a bold, non-partisan heavy hitter to enroll some outstanding legislative leaders, the President, and the media to stop cramming fear and uncertainty down the public's throat.

Bad news sells better than good news, so the media may be challenging to enroll on a wholesale basis. Also, I don't think a pollyanna outlook would sell well.

It's not just a policy or a budget patch that we need to crank the engine and that's all that I've heard proposed from our legislative and executive branches so far (red or blue). There is no Unity. Remember "Together we stand, divided we fall"? That's what's missing. There is too much interest and money to be made in dividing up the sentiment and no one working to unify it.

A mortgage broker actually told me once that he didn't care if the market went up or down, as long as there was some sort of change, he would make money. His interest was not in seeing an overall rising of the tide or in others successes, but in keeping things off balance, because it kept creating opportunities for him to make money.

I think that Bush actually tried to connect everyone on the war - it worked immediately following 9/11 and in WWII, but when there is dishonesty as the foundation (WMDs anyone? then one after another different reason for making war was brought forth, none of them more substantial than 4th grade retribution), the rest of the construct falls apart. And when our leadership cannot be trusted, people lose confidence. As long as our bodies of leadership snipe at one another endlessly, it firstly, seems utterly arrogant and self-righteous, and secondly, does not engender faith in their ability as a corporate body to get on the same page.

I know that I have simplified foreign, economic and political policy in there. It's not a simple problem. However, on confidence:

I don't stand on there being THE ONE omniscient leader; all of our elected officials have the freedom be the leader that we need. However, they would need to give up personal hubris.

So, that's top-down confidence.

How about bottom-up confidence? Enroll and empower everyone to develop their own confidence. Probably creates a bigger tide than waiting for the top-down to get it done.

Educating everyone we meet that who they are is bigger than their circumstances; they are not defined as a possibility in the world by their checkbook balance or net worth or job or their diploma. Joy, confidence and happiness are not a function of any material detritus they manage to assemble in their lifetimes. Acknowledging one's own true personal power is at the source of confidence. It is not someone or some thing outside of us, it is in each of us. (Cue Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”)

Maybe we should bring back that old Skin Bracer commercial with Jack Palance telling us all that Confidence is sexy. That's it! We need a new marketing campaign for Confidence! Confidence is Sexy. (Editor: As I mentioned to Stephanie in a follow-up email, Palance had it right in City Slickers, too.)

I went through the Harn Museum of Art a week ago and they have on display a series of public propaganda posters from around 1924 - 1936. How about some National Confidence propaganda - lots of it - that is not one diva or guru's pocket lining? That's not tied to some partisan agenda? That doesn't come out of Obama's mouth or John Boehner's mouth?

What Should the Government Do?

This morning, one of my good friends--a brilliant and insightful business analyst you should know--asked me what I thought about the latest McKinsey Quarterly newsletter article entitled, "Where are the jobs." Given the questions that I have had on this, I'll share my thoughts that came from my response to her: he key job growth will come from small businesses, including innovations in retail (did you see this article about 4Food?). And the only way to get businesses in those sectors to grow is to free up money that is not being used to pay them right now: consumer's money and larger businesses' money that is used to buy products and services from these smaller businesses.

What is going to free those funds? Confidence.

Yeah, I know it's not the whiz-bang idea that everyone thinks we need, but it really is what we need. Confidence. It was the key difference between two speeches from a generation ago:

"The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

"As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning." (that was Jimmy Carter's infamous speech, that entirety of which is here... how familiar does that sound and how true (again) today?)

Compare it to this:

"If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

"It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope."

That, of course, was Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address, and it's no less true today.

After that speech, the country went on a tear that lasted a couple of decades.

The facts are that creativity fuels innovation and innovation fuels the economy. Without confidence, there is no creativity.

What can the government do? Stop the spending, drop the taxes, create a predictable environment for innovation to be free to develop. Otherwise, the innovation gets spent trying to get around governmental interference.

What do you think?

More on the Remedy for the "Hireless" Recovery

There are a number of very specific reasons that this worldwide economic situation persists, primarily, as I wrote earlier, due to the very poor decisions and lack of clarity from politicians. While we do live in a worldwide economy, the United States remains that primary engine of that economy. For that reason, what happens in the US leads the rest of the world in a particular direction. Right now, that direction is aimless wandering. For more evidence of the repercussions of the unpredictable environment that the US government has created with its fast-changing taxes, fees, and laws, realize that the 500 largest non-financial corporations are holding more than 10% of their assets in cash according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. That's about a trillion US dollars sitting on the sidelines. It's not hiring new staff, developing new products, or buying new capital. It's sitting there doing nothing.

Why? Because the management of those companies doesn't know what they are going to have to do next as the US government changes the rules yet again. So, they hold on to the funds just in case they might need them to handle yet another "great idea" from government bureaucrats who have never had to make payroll or delivery a product or produce a service that customers value. They are utter unequipped to understand -- much less implement -- effective solutions to economic issues involving the complex interrelationship of business.

The first thing to do is to promise and then deliver predictability to the market, and not just for interest rates. Interest is not the only expense that businesses have to plan to address, so predictability must extend to the other areas such as regulation, taxes, fees, and other mandates. When that happens, those funds will find their way into investment, turning into jobs, investment, and an economy on the rebound.

Until then...? A continuing malaise.

The Value of Decisiveness

Earlier this past week I was in my home office working on a new iPhone app for a client when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a northeastern accent that I recognized right away. Last winter, this friend and I had spent the better part of a day skiing around Copper Mountain. He and his family were visiting from New Hampshire, and I had the joy of showing he and his two boys some of my favorite secret stashes on a day that still had some powder to be found. As I answered the phone, he asked me how I was doing, and I mentioned to him the wonderful Colorado weather. "Yes," he said with a wistful longing in his voice, "the boys still talk about that day with you at Copper. That was a great day!"

Yes, it was. But, that's not why he called. You see, he's a Vice President of Marketing at a major corporation and he was calling to find out if I'd have time to take on a small project for him. We chatted for a few minutes so I could get a basic understanding of what he needed. "Yes," I said, "that's something that is a good fit for me, and I'd really like to work on it with you."

...and like that, it was a done deal.

We had our kick-off call the next day, and I'll be working with him over the next few weeks to build content for marketing one of their product lines as they launch a new set of communications.

Decisiveness.

It can really make a difference for you and your business. It's going to help him with their process, we'll get a lot done, and their customers will get some great insights into their products.

Your decisions are best in this order:

  1. The "right" decision
  2. The "wrong" decision
  3. No decision

Today more than ever the adage applies: You can't steer a ship that isn't moving. Make a choice. Get moving. And adjust as you go along.

How Do You Judge Your Worth?

First, by the gift the Creator gave me in breath this morning. I am worthy of His care and His love. That is enough. But there is more...

Second, by the knowledge that I am unique in all history. There never has been nor will there ever be another just like me. As a result of the rule of rarity, that makes me priceless. Finding the path to the exercise of that value is a lifelong journey, but that does not diminish the truth that I am of exceptional worth.

Third, by those who have chosen to love me, starting with my amazing bride who has put up with my vagaries for more than 26 years. My kids, who love me even in their teen years. And the friends and mentors who have been so generous with me.

Lastly, by the value I am able to bring to others through who I am and what I know and do. Being valuable and generous in the eyes of others is a reminder of my worth. When I am not there, there are things that won't (or can't!) happen.

What about you?