Nate's Perspective

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I am the light...

Our last two sermons at church have left me thinking about the idea of God being the light of the world. As a biologist, I have thought about the importance of light in many respects that parallel the spiritual implications.

God is in all things. In order for us to see anything with our eyes, light must have been reflected off the surface. We see nothing unless light reveals it to us.

God sustains all critters of the world. Light is the energy source that plants (and other photosynthetic organisms) convert into chemical energy and subsequently into the organic biomass that feeds every living organism. No light - no life as we know it.

How many other ways does this metaphore contain truths?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Where is your fulcrum?

I have seen many depictions of Life's Balance Beam with two arms - Work and Home. I have decided that it is necessary to add a third arm - Liesure - and to emphasize the point that one's Faith should represent the fulcrum (an idea I adopted from Wayne Cordero at the 2007 Leadership Summit). My reasoning is this, a two arm balance beam immediately becomes unbalanced if the weights on each arm change or if the fulcrum is moved in either direction along the beam axis. However, when the fulcrum is appropriately positioned on a three-arm beam, it remains balanced even when there are slight adjustments in the respective load on each oposing arm (think about how an airplane stabilizes its flight with a tail fin). The liesure arm is necessary because no matter how much a person loves their family (or job), each one us needs a periodic outlet that involves neither home or work. The amount of liesure time each of us requires is different, but I have yet to meet a happy person who has none.

My inspiration, My motivation, My muse, My therapists, My anchors, My springboards, My advisory council, and
My proof that God answers prayers

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Actions and Opinions

One who lacks in actions often makes up for it in opinions.

I have come to this perspective after several years of analyzing the process of building new programs. The great team builders of the world have managed to overcome this phenomenon, and I hope to invoke a practical lesson for my daily life from this observation. To illustrate, ask yourself how often you have heard someone begin a sentence with, "you know what the problem is"? Then ask yourself how many times the person expressing the problem is the person that is accountable for the process they are criticizing?

In many respects, one can appreciate that 'doers' are less critical of other 'doers' than they are of 'non-doers'. This is not to say that persons who are proficient in the skills of observation, managing, or planning are not of value to the process or the outcomes of a program's objective. Quite the contrary. It is to say, however, that in general, I see more opinions about 'what needs to be done' emerging from the 'non-doer' group than the 'doer' group. When the opinion makers do not have a realistic conceptual framework about the amount and quality of action that is required to executed their opinions, I typically observe a negative impact on the overall program. On the other hand, when the opinion makers have intimate knowledge of the actions required to complete an objective, I typically see a positive impact on the program / objective outcomes. I have found the advice I receive from those 'in the trenches' is far more valuable than the advice I receive from those looking into the trenches from their comfortable perch. So I find myself selecting advisors that are themselves 'doers' (rather than fully accomplished 'non-doers').

Here is the twist. Unfortunately, the persons in the trenches are far less likely to offer criticism of the process into which their reputation and performance evaluation is vested than those who have nothing to lose (in terms of personal performance evaluation) by criticizing the actions of thow who are in the trenches. So the trend is for those who's opinion I value most to be the least vocal in providing the necessary advice to improve the outcomes. So how did the great team builders of the unvererse overcome this phenomenon?

I must believe they innately developed a process for screening advice into 'wow-that's useful' and 'what a crock' categories and subsequently developing their team into a unified group of 'doers'. In retrospect, I have been hitherto (unconsciously) utilizing the following questions as an advice metric when engaged in conversation about program activities. I hereafter plan on utilizing the questions more actively and overtly in my strategic planning efforts.

1. On what experiential basis is this person offering their advise?
- I have tried to..., In the process of doing......, When I do it this way...... OR
- I have noticed...., If (John/Jane) would try to........., The problem I see is......

2. What level of involvement can this person have in implementing their own advice?
- I would like the responsibilities of....., If I only had ___ I could accomplish _____, OR
- I think we should (hire/assign/delegate) ________ to......., If only (John/Jane) would...

3. Is this advice intended to fulfill the person's personal agenda or intended to improve the organization/program?
- I have always (wanted, felt, intended, believed)..... OR
- Since the program is striving to, ........

4. Is this person describing 'a problem' or advising 'how we might fix the problem'?
- The problem I see here....., The problem with ____ is _____ OR
- If we (action statement), then we could (improve, enhance, etc) (objective outcome)

5. In what respect is this person a 'doer' in their performance achievements to date?
- Gifted/Talented achiever (Shooting star)
- Gifted/Talented under-achiever (Radioactive waste)
- Average Talent achiever (Best bang for the buck)
- Average Talent under-achiever (Resource sink)
- Below average talent achiever (Work horse)
- Below average talent under-achiever (Dead wood)

After I have had time to contemplate the answers to these questions, I usually feel like I can appropriately place the opinions that I am receiving into the strategic plans for the program, and when I look back on my life, I hope that I have asked "What can I do to help you?" a whole lot more than I have asked "You know what the problem here is?"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Labels and Limits, inspired by the reading of Rob Bell's, Velvet Elvis

What would our world be like if each one of us was defined by our actions rather than our labels? I try to imagine what my resume would look like if I could not reduce myself to a series of 'credentials'. How would I describe myself without using professional, social, or religious labels?

As a social species, human-kind is driven at some fundamental biological level to compartmentalize and conceptualize our perceptions of the role each one plays within the group. This process is natural and important for helping to maintain social order and efficient decision making regarding the distribution of duties, resources, and expectations. However, the nature of society has evolved to allow our perception and/or definition of 'labels' to replace our perceived impact of one's 'actions', which results in an imposed limit on our ability to perceive the real contribution of each individual within the group. These limits can be exemplified by thinking through how your answers to the following questions might be perceived by others.

1. Are you a democrat, a republican, or an independent?
2. What does a person with the following initials do for society? Ph.D., M.D., M.S., B.S., M.B.A., R.N., C.P.A., E.E., G.E.D., etc...
3. Are you a Christian, if so, what denomination?
4. Where did your family doctor go to medical school?
5. Is your oldest child showing tendencies toward scholarship, athletics, or the arts?

Unfortunately, we tend to perceive the answers to these questions within the relative context of 'alike' or 'different', not in the objective context of 'what actions do I see in this person to support their claim to that label?'. In my opinion, the real danger is the consequence of excusing our ability to evaluate the real actions of a person because we have preconceived what their actions should be based on the ideal of a given label. We tend to waive accountability because we lack a mechanism to decide when a person is acting within the 'label' and when the person is acting outside of the 'label' - not because we are ignorant, but because we can't erase the fact we started our conceptualization of this person by putting a label on them. Cognitively, the person has been placed in our mental address book as 'Bob the family doctor', not 'Bob, the person who met me at his office on Sunday afternoon when my child had a fever to make sure we started the appropriate medication as quickly as possible'.

Labels impose limits by genericizing, normalizing, and generalizing the actions of the collective group of people who share said label. For instance, how has the social context of the word 'priest' changed in the last five years? What triggered the perceptual shift in this word? Have you adjusted the process by which you evaluate a person with the label 'priest'? Have you ever used the adage, "it only takes one bad apple to spoil the basket"? If the collective whole (all individuals who share a label) are, as a group, doing more good than bad, then should we not consider the group 'good'? Ironically, we tend to assess the individual as he/she is earning the label. But once labeled, we no longer assess the individual but rely on our global perception of the group who share that label. Each of us can probably personally relate to a group, organization, or profession that has suffered severely from this phenomenon. We can look at our history and identify decisions we have made, often personal choices toward career, family, or friends, that are a consequence of this phenomenon.

So I close today's thoughts with my original question, what would our world be like if each one of us was defined by our actions rather than our labels? Could I write a series of value statements that describe what I believe? Could I write a series of examples of actual events in my life where, because of that value statement, I have acted in a manner supportive of that principle? Would someone outside of my circle of friends and family look at my belief statements and subsequent actions and come to the conclusion that I am who my credentials claim me to be?