When I joined the London Times in 2002, it was my dream job. Soon, however, the pressures of heading up a department with a million-pounds-per-year budget and a staff of thirty-three were overwhelming. Every day I looked at between seventeen and twenty-five thousand photos. I soon went from a ten-hour day to a twelve-hour day, to a fourteen-hour day, to a sixteen-hour day. I stopped eating and sleeping properly and my marriage fell apart. I ended up having a nervous breakdown. In 2011 I decided to leave. Looking back, I don’t regret it at all.
It came to me when I attended a friend’s wedding, and they introduced me, not as their friend Paul, but as the “picture editor of the Times.” I suddenly realized that the job completely defined me. I was no longer a Christian; I was no longer a father; I was no longer a friend: I was just the job. I had been so frightened of losing that job because I would lose the salary, which would mean losing the house and then losing my family. I lost my family anyway as, sadly, my wife and I separated.
For the first three or four years of my son’s life, I wasn’t a dad; I was just a person in the house who occasionally ate with the family. I was always busy: talking on the phone, answering emails, watching the news, and reading the newspaper. I spent all day rushing and trying to sort things out. As soon as anything newsworthy happened, that was it. Now my son is the most important thing in my life and we spend a lot of time together.
When I first started taking landscape pictures I tried to emulate photographers I admired. I bought similar equipment to what they used, and drove around a lot, but I didn’t take many pictures and it only made my depression worse. I got to a place where I just wanted to end it all.
One day I went down to Beachy Head on the South Downs to take pictures. The camera was a big, square thing that takes plate film. I had a light meter and put it on the ground beneath the tripod. When I moved I kicked it and it went over the edge of the five-hundred-foot cliff. I reached to grab it and I suddenly had the heart-stopping moment of – “What are you doing? There is so much more to life than what you’re stressing over. You’re going about it all the wrong way.”
I’d been a Christian on and off since the mid-nineties. More off than on if I’m honest; the media world doesn’t really gel with being Christian. So I picked and chose when I believed in God, usually when I wanted to ask for something, but never when I had done something that I needed forgiveness for. I didn’t expect to feel anything when I was sitting up there on the cliff because I felt so alone. But then I felt as if there really was somebody next to me, telling me to find a different path. It was as if someone was saying: “You have got more to give. You’ve put your values in all the wrong places. There are people around you who love you if you let them love you. You need to just open your eyes.” I went away feeling completely different.
I started going to church again, but told the minister that I didn’t come very often because I have a little boy on alternate weekends. He told me that God isn’t just in church, and that if I find God when I am out taking pictures then I should do that. That was when I started shooting purely from the heart, and stopped worrying about the technical side of things. Now I go to places and I wait to feel moved. I try to show the emotional and spiritual moment I am in. Sometimes I pray that the light will improve. It is a matter of connecting with what I’m photographing: the world that God has created.
Even in taking pictures, which is such a small part of life, you’ve got to have a faith, something that holds it all together. My faith
in God centers and grounds me. I used to think I was the most important thing in the world. Now I see myself as a small part of something enormous.
And I think God looks after me. Wherever I go, my eyes are open to different things. It might be just a curve in a river, light through a tree, or even shadows. I’m in awe of all the beauty I see. I have been guided to it, and I concentrate on that.
Leaving my job flipped my life on its head. Getting rid of everything I had valued made me realize the value I placed in things. Why do we run through life blinkered on the money? Life is so much more than that. By photographing ordinary things – a pole in the sea, some trees on a mound – I can show people that there is so much beauty around. I used to drive to work at eighty or ninety miles an hour. Now I don’t drive over fifty, partly because it is more economical, but more because I look around. If I come to a corner and see something that surprises me, I stop for a minute and admire it. It doesn’t have to be as pretty as a field of poppies. It can just be the light through trees.
I always come away from a shoot smiling. It might be an inside smile because most people think you’re mad if you walk around smiling all the time. But it’s the sheer joy I get from seeing the waves breaking on the beach and the shape they make when they curl, or from watching clouds move and how, when the light in them changes, the shadows become menacing. And from the way the colors change from blue during the day to purples, oranges, reds, and this amazing blue after the sun sets.
A balance sheet is a basic accounting document for corporations. The company’s assets; cash, property, various equity go on the left and it’s balanced on the right by outstanding debts, and other liabilities. Interestingly bank deposits show up on a bank’s balance sheet as a liability. Reason being is that they can show up as an asset when they lend money to borrowers or are receiving interest on some other financial instrument. Otherwise it’s money that the bank has to pay you if you take it back. I worked in corporate finance for twenty years and a big part of my job was evaluating corporate financial statements (a balance sheet being part of the overall statement). Bank financials were kind of a pain, because they are kind of backwards compared to the standard corporate balance sheet.
I guess that is the justification for the following from Inc Magazine: “‘Balance Sheet Utilization fee’. JPMorgan Chase’s euphemism for the 1 percent yearly charge it levies on cash deposits.” (July/August 2015 p 23, quoted from Bloomberg Mag.) Basically if you deposit money with us, we will charge you one percent per year to record that transaction on our balance sheet. I also get the feeling that they did not go out of their way to let people know either. Full disclosure I worked for Chase, they were actually my first real full-time corporate job. I worked in commercial finance, not consumer/corporate bank accounts, so I have no first hand frame of reference. But as a consumer, I would be kind of twisted if that charge started showing up on my statement.
Being put on a company’s balance sheet is their responsibility, not mine, I’m lumped in with the rest of their liabilities, be interesting if they charged their vendors to be listed as a liability too. Betcha that wouldn’t go too far. As a Christian business person, do I start somehow disingenuously levying ticky-tack fees, or do I straight up let people agree that they will pay the charge and acknowledge it as a part of the service I perform, in this case maintaining their checking account.
The article goes on to note: “In related news, Tony Soprano will begin charging New Jersey residents a ‘kneecap-enjoyment tax.” Yea, it is kind of like that, doesn’t make for a good Christian witness, does it?
The distrust continues to grow in general in our society Morgan/Chase, certainly isn’t doing anything to reverse that. As Christians in the workplace how do we live a lot more above board and transparently?
Let’s talk about it or continue on the study we’ve been in for awhile in our Coffee Break Bible study. Any suggestions for how we can grow this ministry, living our Christian life in the Workplace to meet, or do more on line, breakfasts, dinners, picnics? For now we meet Wednesday mornings at the coffee shop at the corner of W King St and Beaver Sts in York, Pa. 11 am. Park behind the church 140 W King St and walk about 50 yards.
Just finished Patrick Morley’s book A Man’s Guide to Work I got a different perspective that I wanted to share that emphasizes how God is at work in all the parts of our lives. Yes, that includes work.
“What is the ‘main thing’ that God is always doing in the world? It’s bringing people into right relationship with Him and right relationship with each other. To achieve this God has established four universal purposes for us – two for relationship and two for tasks.
The Great Commandment: To love God (Matthew 22:37)
The New Commandment: To love one another (John 13: 34)
The Great Commission: To build the kingdom (Matthew 28: 18-20
The Cultural Mandate: To tend the culture (Genesis 1:28)
The Genesis reference is God telling Adam and Eve: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
While I’ve never really thought about Genesis 1:28 in terms of our work, but reading it I can certainly understand.
Morley goes on to write: “The marketplace is the great arena of human events – innovating, manufacturing building, buying, selling, serving customers, making markets. And the main thing happening in your work is that God is sovereignly orchestrating all the seemingly unrelated occurrences of your day to bring you – and the people you touch – into right relationship with people.
This is the ultimate purpose of work: to bring people into right relationship with God and with each other.”
Morley built one of Florida’s 100 largest privately held companies. I have no doubt that he’s been there, done that and for him to recognize what the marketplace is, that it is certainly included in God’s sovereignty helps me to live and confirm that to those I reach out to.
As much as I see people try and compartmentalize their vocation and their Christian faith, the fact is God is in control of all. He uses your life in your vocation to work on you, and to work through you to reach others. Based on my own experience the faster your adjust accordingly, the more your life will change. It might be better, it might be more difficult. But if we are talking relationships, the one you have with the Father trumps everything. You will find that joy and assurance of being in His will. If you’re priorities are in order, God first and then His will for the rest, life might not be “fun”, might be tough, but it will be an adventure. At the end we hear from Him: ““His master replied, ‘Welldone, goodandfaithfulservant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” What is most important? And as Morley points out: “He doesn’t leave it to human will or effort. Instead, He sovereignly oversees His plan purpose.” (Romans 9:16)
We get together for a mid-week break, the coffee shop at the corner of Beaver and W King Sts, you’re welcome to park behind the church at 140 W King and walk about fifty yards. Wednesday mornings 10 am, I will even buy your first cup of coffee. If you have any ideas for a group of Christians to share their lives in the workplace, please let me know.
Ah yes, worry, worry, worry. Oh believe me, I can get sucked in so easily. Then, a few hours later, can’t even remember what I was all twisted up about, but at the time, literally it was like I was feeling my stomach dissolving.
Chuck Swindoll goes so far as to call worry sin! Why? For a Christian it’s lack of faith. Is God in control or isn’t He. If He is, could He possibly be leaving you just spinning in the wind? No. Are there times when we worry because of sin we’ve committed? Oh yeah! Are we worried about the consequences? Unless you’re not paying attention, of course. But even then, God will work it out. It may not be pleasant, yes there are consequences to sin, but trust in Him and it will work out in His wisdom.
Thomas Goetz in Inc Magazine (June 2015 p 48) writes: “What I’ve learned is that sleeplessness is part of the entrepreneurial condition. There’s just no escaping the all-around anxiety that comes with running a startup, brought on not only by the tenuousness of the enterprise, but also by the sheer volume of tasks that crop up each day. Though my recent insomnia is partly a barometer of fear, it’s a measure of effort as well. After all, when i can’t do everything I need to during my waking hours, at least my brain is trying to get something accomplished in the off-hours.”
Come on Thomas. First, from a practical management point, if there’s something you really can’t get done, you hire someone, cut out something you really don’t need, time management, or let it go.
I hear you saying: “Whaddya know about being an entrepreneur?” Fair enough, I always worked in established corporations, and now I’m a church pastor. I was vetted at seminary as a “church planter” and was called to do a church “renewal”. This is intended to reestablish a long-established church. In this case, this church will be observing its 140th anniversary in October.
Now Thomas, you want to talk about tenuous? There really is no established protocol for a “renewal”, we are all trying to figure it out and in the meantime, really just flying by the seat of my pants. I’m not trying to play tit for tat. Thomas has a lot of personal money and sweat equity in his effort. By the same token, I spent a lot of money for seminary, picking my family up from our home of twenty years, the city my wife, children and I grew up in to move from the Boston area to the midwest, then get called to another brand new city. So I think that I can weigh in and with a Christian perspective.
As you might expect I refer you to Matthew 6: 25-34: “”Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? ‘For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Did Jesus have something to say about “worry”? Yea, I guess so. In essence, knock it off! Yea, meek and mild Jesus when He says “O you of little faith. You have enough to deal with right now, deal with that and then when we (you and the Holy Spirit) get to tomorrow, you’ll deal with it then.” Thomas is talking about waking up at 3am worrying about all his stuff. Really, is there anything that you can really do at 3am to do what you were supposed to, solve some problem? No. Basically you’re spinning your wheels. Is that good management practice? No. It’s seriously taxing your resources, in particular your physiology. You break down and what? You sure aren’t going to solve any problems being treated for a psychological breakdown. I’ve seen it personally, everything’s about your work, your stress, the stress that you’re inflicting on your family, the overall environment becomes destructive. Again, good management practice? No! What do you have to do to constructively deal with this particular issue and move on? Dwell on it at 3am? That’s not accomplishing anything and inflicting actual physical damage.
What’s God’s answer? Knock it off. Are you going to trust me or not. I’ve had times when I’ve dropped the ball, certain that civilization as we know it will now come to a violent end. I’ve seen God work out some of those situations just so incredibly, almost as if I wasn’t supposed to do what I was supposed to. Other times, it got addressed and taken care of.
Believe me, I know what Thomas is talking about. But Thomas I’ve had to deal with life and death. At least 1800 hours of underway time on Coast Guard boats. Nothing you’re doing is going to result in anyone’s death. It might make life tough, but it’s not the end of life. You talk about waking up at 3am, try getting pulled out of bed at 2am to do a search or pull someone out. As a police chaplain getting up at that time to tell someone a loved one just died, or counseling someone who has just been a victim of a serious crime. Thomas and yes too many others of you, you need to get some perspective. Your final comment is “So what keeps me up at night? Knowing that if i start sleeping like a baby, that’s when I should really start to worry”. What as “if I’m not worried, I’m not paying attention”? Come on, all you business types are supposed to be smart guys. Tell me are your resources being wisely allocated? Is your time being used efficiently? Are you setting yourself up for failure. Believe me, it’s been five years for me of 50-60 hour weeks, with very little time off. Ministry is a 24/7 job. I’ve been called the away from a day off because of death. This year, we really can’t even afford a vacation, so probably won’t be one, except a couple of days here or there. I get it, but beat yourself down about it at 2am and see how that works. I’m feeling like a crispy critter myself, but I’m just not going to get into what we called “the overhead watch” in the Coast Guard (that’s laying in bed staring at the ceiling).
Now having said that, yes there seems to be a particular time of day that I’m really vulnerable to this. I’ve been getting up around 5am since pretty much my Coast Guard days started at 17 years old. I’ve been waking up at or a little later since then, it gives me time to pray before anything else and that is when I really feel it. And I really feel it as a demonic attack, I know but seriously it’s like I’m being just dragged through. Christian or not I think that is what is being experienced by anyone who is going sleepless. Now the difference for me is this, when I’m up at that time and really feeling under siege, I take the time to lift it up in prayer. This is where I show faith. I don’t always do it great, and yea I can get really spun up, but I do also feel the Holy Spirit sitting me down, giving me some perspective, reminding me Who really is control. Rubbing His hand over my head, kicking my sorry butt out into the dark and cold to run 7k and get on course for what I need to do in the day.
As I said at the beginning, lack of faith = sin. Seems harsh, but hey, if you’re just rejecting the Holy Spirit, “it’s all up to me and no one can help me”! Another time Jesus said “oh you of little faith”? The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee and being tossed around by a storm and in imminent danger of drowning. Jesus stepped up and calmed the storm. He then turned around and said “wow, I’m right here and couldn’t trust that I’m going to keep you safe?” How would you feel if someone close to you just rejected you like that? Yea, we’re telling the Creator of the Universe, that He’s just not sufficient to work out our problem. That problem that a week from now you won’t even remember? Yet you lost all that sleep over it. Oh yeah, that’s a smart move, Mr big deal entrepreneur, or anyone else!
Get some sleep, really help yourself. Then wake up a little earlier, spend some real time in prayer, enough for God to let you hash over your issues and what He’s going to do and to calm you down, focus you and send you out there to serve Him.
Wednesday mornings, 10am, we get together to discuss how we live our Christian life in the workplace, anywhere God puts us from Monday to Friday. We’re at the coffee shop at the corner of Beaver and W King Sts in downtown York. Park behind the church and I will buy you a cup of coffee for you first time.
I really encourage people to journal. It’s a rare sermon when I’m not encouraging the congregation to do take the sermon topic and write about it from their own perspective. “Spiritual memory is crucial in the Christian life. Do you vividly recall times when you know God spoke to you? It would be tragic if, in your haste to advance in your Christian faith, you neglected to leave spiritual markers at the key crossroads of your life.” (Henry and Richard Blackaby Experiencing God Day by Day p 174).
“Hearing God” means a lot of things. That movement in your soul, heart, head however you put it, when it’s almost impossible to resist that you know God is moving you. The Blackabys refer to spiritual markers in physical terms. God picked me up and moved me from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, so I’m not going to see physical markers. But there are those markers I remember, I think the Holy Spirit brings them, to mind as a way to keep me on course.
We need to do a much better job of remembering the times when God moved us in our lives. That doesn’t mean the tedious evangelical testimonials, “God spoke to me because I’m special and He told me to tell you”‘ ya? No! God speaks to all of us, sure share what He says to you; Mark it down in your heart, mark it where He’s doing it, why, what’s going on around you. God moved you, He moves all His children, so for the tedious, self-absorbed types get over yourself and develop a spirit of humility and grace. I’m really tired of the big mouths that make Christians and Christianity look like buffoons.
“A spiritual marker identifies a time when you clearly knew that God had guided you.” I know exactly what Blackaby is saying. I can’t pinpoint it and I’m not unique because God did it to me, but I am loved by my Father who takes an interest in all those who He has made His children and is constantly working in their lives. We should keep track of those times. As I’ve written, I make a point of what the people in the congregation should take home and journal about. I have no doubt that God will use that to reach each person and guide them the way He wants them to go. Sit down and journal about these times in your life and use them to grow in spiritual maturity. Praise and glorify God for the things that He has done in your life and encourage others to learn from what you’re doing and apply it in their own lives. Go back on a regular basis to see what God has done in your life and raise up thanksgiving and share those with others. Not that you’re somehow spiritually superior, but to encourage them to see God working in their own lives.
We’ve been talking about vocation in many ways at our Wednesday Coffee Break Bible study. Certainly our vocation in terms of our job, profession, position. Position can mean many different things in terms of our spouse, children, parents, siblings. Our position in the community. Any responsibility we hold in the church, on and on. Positions God puts us in, in His service, but to serve others. I’m sure we recognize that God doesn’t need our service per se. Jesus has done all that is necessary, and God sustains us in every way. We are in His service for what we do for ourselves and for others.
I serve by working to better myself in every possible way nutrition, exercise, study things that are edifying. We are in His service when we serve our neighbors. Surely God puts us into situations where our service to a neighbor would be pleasing to Him. In fact I would hope that we would do works to glorify Him, that others may know that what I did was a result of what God does to me and through me. So anything I do for another is only a result of the Holy Spirit in me.
Henry and Richard Blackaby “Experiencing God Today”, p 122: “God deserves our love and He demands that we love others in the same way He does.” And yes, I will say it again God’s love is of genuine concern for what is best for another, not this phoney, empty enabling love we think of today. What is in that person’s best interests and not ours. Believe me that is hard to do but that is the goal we need to strive for. Heck, in today’s world, anyone who even approaches that is doing more than anyone expects.
The Blackabys spell this out: “We are to love our spouses, not as they deserve, but as God commands (Eph 5: 22-33). We are to treat our friends, not as they treat us, but as Christ loves us (John 13:14). We are to labor at our jobs, not in proportion to the way our employer treats us, but according to the way God treats us. God is the One we serve (Eph 6:5).”
“Mediocrity and laziness have no place in the Christian’s life. Christians must maintain integrity at home and in the workplace… Our toil then becomes an offering to God. We not only worship God at church on Sunday, but our labor throughout the week is an offering of worship and thanksgiving to the One who has given us everything we have.”
How many times have you seen someone decide that they’re just not treated fairly and they do what amounts to be stupid things to strike back? And we all know how that works out. It bites them, it brings them a bad reputation and if people know they are a Christian, it always puts Christians in a bad light. “Our” work is “our” work. We may be getting what we think is a bad deal, but doing work that doesn’t serve our neighbor and reflects poorly on Christ and Christian brothers and sisters really ends up only hurting the people who you’ve professed to be in fellowship with and the Father. Do we really want people to think we are all about shoddy, half baked service? Sure we aren’t always going to be great, but we should make our best effort to be as good as possible and never be perceived as “tanking the ball”. Someone will call us on it and we’re the one who looks bad in the end. That certainly should be our perspective in our work and no less in our family and our church.
Our efforts should even be thought of as an offering to God, not in the sense of earning anything or buying anything, but certainly in the sense of Thanksgiving.
Even when others fail us, refuse us, treat us poorly, we continue to serve because our service is always given in thanks to God. Take a break during the week, Wednesday mornings, the coffee shop at the corner of W King and Beaver Sts in downtown York, Pa. 10am, park behind the church. I will even buy you your first cup of coffee. No charge, no obligation.
Thank you to Dr Meyer for this, I had not heard about Dennis Kozlowski recently. I think Dr Meyer is being kind, I had a very tiny bit to do with Tyco at the time, they were a customer, so a very little interaction and at a low level, but it made me aware of what Tyco was and who Kozlowski was. Let’s just say I never heard anyone speak highly. This quote from the Boston Globe: “Kozlowski was among the most caricatured of imperial chief executives in an epoch of white-collar crime that included Bernard J. Ebbers of WorldCom and Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling of Enron. But unlike businesses plundered by other felons, Kozlowski’s Tyco has thrived, employing 57,000. Enron and WorldCom became corporate corpses. Yea, you really have to work at it to stick out in that crowd.” He was a “ruthless cost-cutter”, (Boston Globe https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/03/02/dennis-kozlowski-from-infamy-obscurity/fdemfnhgN7eaN2Q88liLmO/story.html ) in this day and age of bureaucratic entitlements, corporate living is, quite often, living day to day with little if any frills. And believe me I’m not the least bit naive about those who are corporate fat-cats, but they are very few and far between.
There’s no indication of whether Mr Kozlowski has been led to Christ, but this is an interesting perspective in how things to catch up with you when you are living for self.
I hadn’t thought about him at all, but why should I? He was all over the news years ago, but news is usually a spectator sport that we watch only to move on to our daily duties. So when Dennis Kozlowski was all over the news because of his crimes, held up for the scorn of us common people, I paid attention, smiled when he was sent off to prison, and then forgot him. Assuming you also forgot, Mr. Kozlowski was the prodigal head of Tyco who, for just one example, spent $2 million on a birthday extravaganza for his second wife. He was convicted for taking $100 million of company money. Now he’s out of jail, totally free, and says he’s changed. “I’m not that person anymore.”
Getting to the moral of today’s Minute: “Mr. Kozlowski tells the story of a man who recently stopped him in Grand Central Terminal. ‘Hey,’ the man asked, ‘Aren’t you Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft guy who just bought the Los Angeles Clippers?” Dennis Kozlowski smiled, turned, and continued on his way.” (David A. Kaplan, New York Times, March 2; A1, B4)
Sooner or later we get it, that the world doesn’t revolve around us. “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). “The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).
Thank You, Lord, for whatever teaches me, a creature of a day, to be humble and thankful for Your mercies. Amen.
Dr Meyer, gracious as ever. I sincerely pray that Mr Kozlowski comes to know Christ as his Savior. But his life is also a lesson in how the things of the world can draw us away from what/Who is really important and then leaves us dumped in a heap. If we continue to trust the world it only leads to destruction. If we come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior then we will know true life and eternal life in Him. The world can only destroy us and it will.
I worked in corporate finance for 20 years, mostly for very large corporations and organizations. I spent 29 years in the Coast Guard always in an operational capacity and I worked in other capacities in other sectors. The common denominator with these is that the status quo is just not acceptable. Standing still, same ole/same ole, “we never did it that way before”, however, is the MO with most churches. I’m not talking creative worship or “user friendly”, any of the quasi Christian attempts to entertain or be “relevant”. (I just read recently about a woman serving on the “worship team”, who wasn’t sure she was ready to go on stage.)
When did worship become entertainment?
In terms of risk in the church, it’s not about monkeying around with age-old worship in favor of “entertaining”, people-pleasing. Worship is worship. Frankly if we got serious about it, we would begin to realize the benefits of genuine worship, plus genuinely lifting up our Creator/Sustainer/Savior up to praise, glorify and give thanksgiving to.
But yes, in other ways we need to take “risks”. Way too many churches discourage anyone they somehow consider “different”. Far too many people have a very general definition of “different”.
“Success” as a Christian, in the church, is always about Jesus and those who are truly disciples of Jesus, those who are saved. Period. Yes, numbers, money, activities are great. But that is not success. It is in the world and that’s the way it will be, but the church is about becoming and living as the Body of Christ. But does that mean just passivity or are we expected to risk, to step out and be bold for Jesus? The answer, obviously, is to be bold for Jesus.
This is probably self-evident, but Inc Magazine writes: “The INC 500 ENTREPRENEURS excel in every area identified by Gallup. But they absolutely dominate in three strengths: risk-taking, business focus and determination -compared with the national sample. Those strengths are, not coincidentally, the ones most universally associated with business starts, survival and scaling.”
These are not areas that Christians excel in. There is no risk taking, there is an excessive focus on being conservative. Nice, non-commital worship, restrictive use of the facility, nice-pleasant studies- don’t want to get into the controversial. One area that’s especially showing up in the church is; that Jesus isn’t the only way. Too much accommodating the individual and less and less faithfulness to true worship and what we do to serve the Lord. It is risky to tell someone that they have to be a member of the church in order to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. Too many encourage you to follow the easy path and worry more about the person than the Lord.
It’s easy to turn people away from using the church facility. One thing that bugs me is that with few exceptions, the church sanctuary is used once a week. There should be more worship during the week, not to use the sanctuary for other things, but to increase worship opportunities, making worship more accessible and meaningful. The rest of the facility should be in regular use for small groups, groups that serve the community. Too often it’s easier to just say no, or only accept the “safest” groups or situations.
I’m not saying that churches, for the most part, do this with mean-spirited. I’m sure most people feel a genuine duty to protect what is there, especially when there’s been a long familial relationship with a particular church. You certainly don’t want to tear up Great-Great-Aunt Tilly’s whatever. It may have nothing to do with church or worship or be obsolete or beyond repair, but who wants to be the one to do the deed? Having said that, tough decisions do need to be made. Not arbitrarily, not because “well that’s so old”, but with the intent of what is going to serve best, what glorifies God and helps people in their Christian-disciple lives. To do that means stepping out in risk. The group that would like to use the facility may not be the “right” kind of people, but you need to welcome them, integrate them into the life of the congregation and help them to grow in Jesus. You disciple them, you take the risk. God put them there for a reason, for you to take the opportunity to be a good disciple of Jesus.
This can be fun, it can be exciting, it can be a rush like you’ve never known. The exhilaration of being used by the Holy Spirit to bring someone to salvation in Jesus is unforgettable and frankly even addicting. When you really do step out and take that risk, you are going to want to keep going.
“Gallup says those with a talent for risk-taking possess a highly optimistic perception of risk but are also rational decision makers who have an extraordinary ability to mitigate that risk. The assessment shows that Inc 500 founders are more likely than other entrepreneurs to take more and bigger risks. But they are also more likely to optimize their chances for good outcomes and, consequently, rapid growth.” (Leigh Buchanan Inc Magazine September 2014 p 30).
We are children of God, the Creator of all, the great sustainer. How can we not be optimistic, how can we take such a negative view when the Holy Spirit is really pressing on us to do something? How can you not be excited about the opportunity? Yea, I guess the vast majority of people in the world see risk as scary and unproductive (why try? It’s not going to work). OK. So? If we are His, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will always “succeed”, but really is their any doubt that it’s not going to be an experience that is rewarding, in terms of growth, in terms of strengthening, in terms of building relationships, on and on? We are the children of God He who will do miracles, they will usually be subtle, but when you think back, you will see the miracle. We need to start taking the risks that the world does. Our risk-taking results in eternal reward, where people in the world are so less reluctant to take risks for material gain that will just end up destroyed. Yea, I don’t want to knock down, Great-Grandfather Elwood’s desk, not lack of respect, but what is truly helping people to come to Christ and what is truly glorifying God. Within those parameters we need to take risks, everything else are lesser considerations and should never keep us from our greater calls.
And I am not saying “name it and claim it”, but it has been my experience that when you do take a risk, we Christians call it faith, that people see that and respond. Often you will get the support you need for a particular “risk” and sometimes you even get more from people who want to encourage the church to continue to step out in faith.
How do we as risk takers in the world, readily understand how that looks as a Christian and how to we live that as disciples of Jesus and part of a church? Join us on our Wednesday morning Coffee Breaks, shop at the corner of Beaver and W King Sts, 10am, park behind the church and walk about 20 yards. First timers? I will buy you a cup of coffee. God bless.
We know that there are times when we are just on our game, at our creative height and we can associate that with our physical condition. How can we recreate those conditions to be at our best more often?
Prof Baba Shiv of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business offers some really great direction.
In an article in Inc Magazine (Feb 2014 pp 86-87) Ryan Underwood writes: “According to Shiv, creativity resides at the intersection of two primary pathways in the brain. along one pathway, the neurotransmitter serotonin governs whether you are operating from a sense of calm and contentment or from a position of anxiety and fear. On the other pathway, dopamine moves you from boredom or apathy to excitement and engagement.” You want a high combination of serotonin and dopamine to be calm and energized at the same time.
Serotonin is the key and the article discusses a way to maximize the effect of this neurotransmitter which is a sense of well-being, satisfaction, seems to be in terms of initiating, creating. Shiv/Underwood points out that a calm, probably aesthetically pleasing environment, work space finding ways to reduce stress enhance the effects of serotonin. Other studies I’ve seen have discussed a pleasant ambient noise, like a coffee shop environment, pleasant music. They point out that “…two hours of deep, non-REM sleep at night enables the body to restore the proper levels of serotonin.”
“Serotonin levels tend to be highest in the morning, making it an optimal time to schedule brainstorming sessions.” I know I always seem to be at my best in the morning, if I really need to do my best I try to get on the task immediately and get as much as possible done in the morning. Shiv points out that a good breakfast helps to enhance the effect of the serotonin. That means put the donuts and the puffy carbs away and eat a breakfast higher in good proteins and carbs. My breakfast is boring as heck, but it’s two par-boiled eggs (and get over the cholesterol thing. The effect is no where as bad as has been suggested and eggs have elements that are necessary and not available in other foods. Boiling retains the health benefits and minimizes the effects of frying and cholesterol.) Also oatmeal with strawberries. All good energy food and Shiv adds: ‘”That’s the best brain food,” he says. “The proteins produced from it in the body are converted to the much-coveted serotonin and dopamine.”‘ And they both add, throw in the caffeine for extra effect.
“Cardiovascular exercise also enhances the neurological conditions for creative thinking by releasing a peptide that helps produce serotonin.” it helps to get up and get a little exercise before any effort. Forty minutes of vigorous exercise at least five days a week are recommended. I have been doing a vigorous workout every morning since my twenties (over thirty years). I have found on days when I didn’t do a workout, that I was very sluggish, everything seemed to be challenging and I was not very productive. You may think that tough physical activity might somehow wear you out, make you too tired to be productive, but it’s been my experience it enhances my entire physical well-being.
“Maintaining a variety of intellectual interests also keeps the creative juices flowing. Shiv says it’s important to talk to people in other disciplines and read widely outside your field to develop ‘knowledge nodes’ – bits of unrelated information that can come together to produce an unexpected solution.” I maintain a wide variety of interests, having had a professional career in corporate finance, in the Coast Guard, in Christian ministry. Add to these interests in physical fitness, science, travel, language, writing, I like to read extensively, talk with different people. As a Police Chaplain I get to interact extensively with various levels of police officers and people undergoing trauma, stress. In ministry I get to share with people over some of the biggest life events, marriage, birth, death. injury, loss etc. Some may seem more pleasant than others, but all of them present their own stressful challenges.
Ok, so a little digression, but the take away from all this is as follows: Good diet, eat right. Cut the nonsense with the big donuts, muffins etc. They don’t do you any good. Find some way to make a calming environment, not to put you to sleep, but to help build the up lifting effects of serotonin and the calming effects of dopamine. Dopamine is important because it keeps you in control, you can have a high level of energy and creativity, and you focus with a good dose of dopamine. Vigorous exercise also produces dopamine necessary to help you maintain your composure. Get your sleep and maintain a lot of interests. Yes, be expert at what you do, but maintain a broad perspective.
A good way to maintain that perspective, on top of everything else, is to maintain your life in Christ. Yea I know, “something else?”. I manage to fit it all in, get into the office and pretty much always put in a 50 plus hour work week and I will match a lot of the stress I deal with, have dealt with, with anyone out there. Remember what it is all ultimately about. What we do today is important, but in Jesus we have an eternal perspective, and we also have a here and now perspective. I’m sure Prof Shiv could have taken it a little further and added that when we have positive relationships with those around us, stay in prayer and connected to God the Father, that we are energized and guided by the Holy Spirit. Get up a little earlier, quit the stupid things that waste time, focus on the things that make you better. Put the lameo games away, the phone, the silly stuff; Take time in prayer, get some real exercise, get good nutrition, get good sleep, interact with people who will help you grow, broaden out your interests to help you grow and then watch the good things happen.
A side bar to the Inc article talks about how “Method” which makes cleaning products offers employees training in improv acting … “all in an effort to keep people weird, creative and humble.”‘ Hmmm, I’m thinking there’s a lot out there and we’re spending way too much time on silly stuff that not only doesn’t do anything for us, but actually can harm us. Start it all up with prayer and look for God’s guidance in all you do.
We meet Wednesday mornings 10 am, First St Johns, 140 W King St, York, Pa, take some time in the middle of the week to discuss your life in the workplace as a Christian. No charge, I even buy your first cup of coffee, no obligation.
The following article is from the NY Times, Nov 16, 2014. The subject has been a regular one of mine, in that I’m continually taken by the fear people have of failure. As a Christian pastor seems I deal with failure, at least in a secular sense on a regular basis, a lot more than I did in the corporate world or the military. Failure seems to be kind of built in, and if you read the Bible, you will see much failure, at least in the secular sense. While we see failure as “bad”, I really think that God kind of sees it more in terms of our faith. We see this daunting challenge that God has set in front of us, and our instinct is to just turn around and go the other way. But we can feel the Holy Spirit pressing on us to keep going. Say I’m witnessing to someone about Jesus. The Holy Spirit is pushing me to witness and the other person to hear what I’m saying and be led to Christ by the Holy Spirit. That person can refuse. Did I fail? No. I was faithful, I did what I was led to do, hopefully not only to the best of my ability but also with the Holy Spirit using me to act and speak through. All good things, I didn’t fail, I was faithful, and the take away should always be, that as much as I want someone to be saved in Christ, you can’t dray someone into the kingdom either.
The take away as a Christian is this God isn’t going to see failure the way we do. He’s led me through a lot in the world, business, military, civic, education, family, when I look back on it as a pastor, I really don’t see failure as much as I see God preparing me. Instead of getting too caught up in the world’s ideas, let’s faithfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, trust what He is doing and leave the results up to Him and take away the lessons and experience for ourselves. I’ve taken the discussion a little different route then what the author, Adam Davidson, probably intended, but the world knows that failure is often the route to success, we as Christians should know that we aren’t necessarily called to be successful, but we are called to be faithful. I’ve reblogged the article in total because it is a good discussion on how we should see the world:
“When you pull off Highway 101 and head into Sunnyvale, Calif., the first thing you notice is how boring innovation looks up close. This small Silicon Valley city, which abuts both Cupertino, the home of Apple, and Mountain View, the site of the Googleplex, is where Lockheed built the Poseidon nuclear missile. It’s where the forebear of NASA did some of its most important research and where a prototype for Pong debuted at a neighborhood bar. Countless ambitious start-ups — with names like Qvivr, Schoolfy, eCloset.me and PeerPal — appear in Sunnyvale every year. Aesthetically, though, the city is one enormous glass-and-stucco office park after another. Its dominant architectural feature, the five-story headquarters of Yahoo, a few minutes from Innovation Way, looks about as futuristic as a suburban hospital.
As an industry becomes more dynamic, its architecture, by necessity, often becomes less inspiring. These squat buildings have thick outer walls that allow for a minimal number of internal support beams, creating versatile open-floor plans for any kind of company — one processing silicon into solar-power arrays, say, or a start-up monitoring weed elimination in industrial agriculture. In Sunnyvale, companies generally don’t stay the same size. They expand quickly or go out of business, and then the office has to be ready for the next tenant. These buildings need to be the business equivalent of dorms: spaces designed to house important and tumultuous periods of people’s lives before being cleaned out and prepped for the next occupant.
Perhaps the best place to behold the Valley’s success as a platform for innovation is a 27,000-square-foot facility just down the block from Yahoo. This is the warehouse of Weird Stuff, a 21-person company that buys the office detritus that start-ups no longer want. One section of the space teems with hundreds of laptops and desktops; another is overloaded with C.P.U.s and orphaned cubicle partitions. “If founders are in a building that’s costing $50,000 a month, and they’ve lost their funding and have to be out by next Friday, we respond very quickly,” said Chuck Schuetz, the founder of Weird Stuff.
Weird Stuff also acquires goods from the start-ups that succeed, when they are ready to upgrade offices and need to offload their old equipment. “We get truckloads every day,” Schuetz told me. He said that he receives a lot of calls from government offices and large corporate-network operators who desperately need, for example, a 1981 Seagate ST506 hard drive in order to keep a crucial piece of equipment running. But much of his stuff is bought by new waves of start-ups in search of inexpensive keyboards or cubicle partitions. What doesn’t move is sold to scrap dealers. “This,” he said, gesturing to the giant scrap bin out back, “is where everything ends up.”
For decades, entrepreneurs and digital gurus of various repute have referred to this era, in a breathlessness bordering on proselytizing, as the age of innovation. But Weird Stuff is a reminder of another, unexpected truth about innovation: It is, by necessity, inextricably linked with failure. The path to any success is lined with disasters. Most of the products that do make it out of the lab fail spectacularly once they hit the market. Even successful products will ultimately fail when a better idea comes along. (One of Schuetz’s most remarkable finds is a portable eight-track player.) And those lucky innovations that are truly triumphant, the ones that transform markets and industries, create widespread failure among their competition.
An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure. The life span of an innovation, in fact, has never been shorter. An African hand ax from 285,000 years ago, for instance, was essentially identical to those made some 250,000 years later. The Sumerians believed that the hoe was invented by a godlike figure named Enlil a few thousand years before Jesus, but a similar tool was being used a thousand years after his death. During the Middle Ages, amid major advances in agriculture, warfare and building technology, the failure loop closed to less than a century. During the Enlightenment and early Industrial Revolution, it was reduced to about a lifetime. By the 20th century, it could be measured in decades. Today, it is best measured in years and, for some products, even less. (Schuetz receives tons of smartphones that are only a season or two old.)
The closure of the failure loop has sent uncomfortable ripples through the economy. When a product or company is no longer valued in the marketplace, there are typically thousands of workers whose own market value diminishes, too. Our breakneck pace of innovation can be seen in stock-market volatility and other boardroom metrics, but it can also be measured in unemployment checks, in divorces and involuntary moves and in promising careers turned stagnant. Every derelict product that makes its way into Weird Stuff exists as part of a massive ecosystem of human lives — of engineers and manufacturers; sales people and marketing departments; logistics planners and truck drivers — that has shared in this process of failure.
Innovation is, after all, terrifying. Right now we’re going through changes that rip away the core logic of our economy. Will there be enough jobs to go around? Will they pay a living wage? Terror, however, can also be helpful. The only way to harness this new age of failure is to learn how to bounce back from disaster and create the societal institutions that help us do so. The real question is whether we’re up for the challenge.
After a tour of Weird Stuff, Schuetz mentioned a purple chair that he kept among the office furniture piled haphazardly in the back of his facility. Unbeknown to him, that chair actually provides a great way to understand the acceleration of innovation and failure that began 150 years ago. In ancient times, purple chairs were virtually priceless. Back then, all cloth dyes were made from natural products, like flower petals or crushed rocks; they either bled or faded and needed constant repair. One particular purple dye, which was culled from the glandular mucus of shellfish, was among the rarest and most prized colors. It was generally reserved for royalty. Nobody had surplus purple chairs piled up for $20 a pop.
But that all changed in 1856, with a discovery by an 18-year-old English chemist named William Henry Perkin. Tinkering in his home laboratory, Perkin was trying to synthesize an artificial form of quinine, an antimalarial agent. Although he botched his experiments, he happened to notice that one substance maintained a bright and unexpected purple color that didn’t run or fade. Perkin, it turned out, had discovered a way of making arguably the world’s most coveted color from incredibly cheap coal tar. He patented his invention — the first synthetic dye — created a company and sold shares to raise capital for a factory. Eventually his dye, and generations of dye that followed, so thoroughly democratized the color purple that it became the emblematic color of cheesy English rock bands, Prince albums and office chairs for those willing to dare a hue slightly more bold than black.
Perkin’s fortuitous failure, it’s safe to say, would have never occurred even a hundred years earlier. In pre-modern times, when starvation was common and there was little social insurance outside your clan, every individual bore the risk of any new idea. As a result, risks simply weren’t worth taking. If a clever idea for a crop rotation failed or an enhanced plow was ineffective, a farmer’s family might not get enough to eat. Children might die. Even if the innovation worked, any peasant who found himself with an abundance of crops would most likely soon find a representative of the local lord coming along to claim it. A similar process, one in which success was stolen and failure could be lethal, also ensured that carpenters, cobblers, bakers and the other skilled artisans would only innovate slowly, if at all. So most people adjusted accordingly by living near arable land, having as many children as possible (a good insurance policy) and playing it safe.
Our relationship with innovation finally began to change, however, during the Industrial Revolution. While individual inventors like James Watt and Eli Whitney tend to receive most of the credit, perhaps the most significant changes were not technological but rather legal and financial. The rise of stocks and bonds, patents and agricultural futures allowed a large number of people to broadly share the risks of possible failure and the rewards of potential success. If it weren’t for these tools, a tinkerer like Perkin would never have been messing around with an attempt at artificial quinine in the first place. And he wouldn’t have had any way to capitalize on his idea. Anyway, he probably would have been too consumed by tilling land and raising children.
Perkin’s invention may have brought cheap purple (and, later, green and red) dyes to the masses, but it helped upend whatever was left of the existing global supply chain, with its small cottage-size dye houses and its artisanal crafts people who were working with lichen and bugs. For millenniums, the economy had been built around subsistence farming, small-batch artisanal work and highly localized markets. Inventions like Perkin’s — and the steam engine, the spinning jenny, the telegraph, the Bessemer steel-production process — destroyed the last vestiges of this way of life.
The original age of innovation may have ushered in an era of unforeseen productivity, but it was, for millions of people, absolutely terrifying. Over a generation or two, however, our society responded by developing a new set of institutions to lessen the pain of this new volatility, including unions, Social Security and the single greatest risk-mitigating institution ever: the corporation. During the late 19th century, a series of experiments in organizational structure culminated, in the 1920s, with the birth of General Motors, the first modern corporation. Its basic characteristics soon became ubiquitous. Ownership, which was once a job passed from father to son, was now divided among countless shareholders. Management, too, was divided, among a large group of professionals who directed units, or “subdivisions,” within it. The corporation, in essence, acted as a giant risk-sharing machine, amassing millions of investors’ capital and spreading it among a large number of projects, then sharing the returns broadly too. The corporation managed the risk so well, in fact, that it created an innovation known as the steady job. For the first time in history, the risks of innovation were not borne by the poorest. This resulted in what economists call the Great Compression, when the gap between the income of the rich and poor rapidly fell to its lowest margin.
The secret of the corporation’s success, however, was that it generally did not focus on truly transformative innovations. Most firms found that the surest way to grow was to perfect the manufacturing of the same products, year after year. G.M., U.S. Steel, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and other iconic companies achieved their breakthrough insights in the pre-corporate era and spent the next several decades refining them, perhaps introducing a new product every decade or so. During the period between 1870 and 1920, cars, planes, electricity, telephones and radios were introduced. But over the next 50 years, as cars and planes got bigger and electricity and phones became more ubiquitous, the core technologies stayed fundamentally the same. (Though some notable exceptions include the television, nuclear power and disposable diapers.)
Celebrated corporate-research departments at Bell Labs, DuPont and Xerox may have employed scores of white-coated scientists, but their impact was blunted by the thick shell of bureaucracy around them. Bell Labs conceived some radical inventions, like the transistor, the laser and many of the programming languages in use today, but its parent company, AT&T, ignored many of them to focus on its basic telephone monopoly. Xerox scientists came up with the mouse, the visual operating system, laser printers and Ethernet, but they couldn’t interest their bosses back East, who were focused on protecting the copier business.
Corporate leaders weren’t stupid. They were simply making so much money that they didn’t see any reason to risk it all on lots of new ideas. This conservatism extended through the ranks. Economic stability allowed millions more people to forgo many of the risk-mitigation strategies that had been in place for millenniums. Family size plummeted. Many people moved away from arable land (Arizona!). Many young people, most notably young women, saw new forms of economic freedom when they were no longer tied to the routine of frequent childbirth. Failure was no longer the expectation; most people could predict, with reasonable assurance, what their lives and careers would look like decades into the future. Our institutions — unions, schools, corporate career tracks, pensions and retirement accounts — were all predicated on a stable and rosy future.
We now know, of course, that this golden moment was really a benevolent blip. In reality, the failure loop was closing far faster than we ever could have realized. The American corporate era quietly began to unravel in the 1960s. David Hounshell, a scholar of the history of American innovation, told me about a key moment in 1968, when DuPont introduced Qiana, a kind of nylon with a silklike feel, whose name was selected through a computer-generated list of meaningless five-letter words. DuPont had helped to create the modern method of product development, in which managers would identify a market need and simply inform the research department that it had to produce a solution by a specific date. Over the course of decades, this process was responsible for successful materials like Freon, Lucite, Orlon, Dacron and Mylar. In Qiana, DuPont hoped that it had the next Lycra.
But not long after the company introduced Qiana to the market, it was met by a flood of cheap Japanese products made from polyester. Qiana, which only came close to breaking even during one year of sales, eventually sustained operating losses of more than $200 million. Similar shudders were felt in corporate suites across America, as new global competitors — first from Europe, then from Asia — shook up the stable order of the automotive and steel industries. Global trade narrowed the failure loop from generations to a decade or less, far shorter than most people’s careers.
For American workers, the greatest challenge would come from computers. By the 1970s, the impact of computers was greatest in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. Factory workers competed with computer-run machines; secretaries and bookkeepers saw their jobs eliminated by desktop software. Over the last two decades, the destabilizing forces of computers and the Internet has spread to even the highest-paid professions. Corporations “were created to coordinate and organize communication among lots of different people,” says Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “A lot of those organizations are being replaced by computer networks.” Dixon says that start-ups like Uber and Kickstarter are harbingers of a much larger shift, in which loose groupings of individuals will perform functions that were once the domain of larger corporations. “If you had to know one thing that will explain the next 20 years, that’s the key idea: We are moving toward a period of decentralization,” Dixon says.
Were we simply enduring a one-time shift into an age of computers, the adjustment might just require us to retrain and move onward. Instead, in a time of constant change, it’s hard for us to predict the skills that we will need in the future. Whereas the corporate era created a virtuous cycle of growing companies, better-paid workers and richer consumers, we’re now suffering through a cycle of destabilization, whereby each new technology makes it ever easier and faster to create the next one, which, of course, leads to more and more failure. It’s enough to make us feel like mollusk-gland hunters.
Much as William Henry Perkin’s generation ripped apart an old way of life, the innovation era is sundering the stability of the corporate age. Industries that once seemed resistant to change are only now entering the early stages of major disruption. A large percentage of the health-care industry, for example, includes the rote work of recording, storing and accessing medical records. But many companies are currently devising ways to digitize our medical documents more efficiently. Many economists believe that peer-to-peer lending, Bitcoin and other financial innovations will soon strike at the core of banking by making it easier to receive loans or seed money outside a traditional institution. Education is facing the threat of computer-based learning posed by Khan Academy, Coursera and other upstart companies. Government is changing, too. India recently introduced a site that allows anybody to see which government workers are showing up for their jobs on time (or at all) and which are shirking. Similarly, Houston recently developed a complex database that helps managers put an end to runaway overtime costs. These changes are still new, in part because so many large businesses benefit from the old system and use their capital to impede innovation. But the changes will inevitably become greater, and the results will be drastic. Those four industries — health care, finance, education and government — represent well more than half of the U.S. economy. The lives of tens of millions of people will change.
Some professions, however, are already demonstrating ways to embrace failure. For example, there’s an uncharacteristic explosion of creativity among accountants. Yes, accountants: Groups like the Thriveal C.P.A. Network and the VeraSage Institute are leading that profession from its roots in near-total risk aversion to something approaching the opposite. Computing may have commoditized much of the industry’s everyday work, but some enterprising accountants are learning how to use some of their biggest assets — the trust of their clients and access to financial data — to provide deep insights into a company’s business. They’re identifying which activities are most profitable, which ones are wasteful and when the former become the latter. Accounting once was entirely backward-looking and, because no one would pay for an audit for fun, dependent on government regulation. It was a cost. Now real-time networked software can make it forward-looking and a source of profit. It’s worth remembering, though, that this process never ends: As soon as accountants discover a new sort of service to provide their customers, some software innovator will be seeking ways to automate it, which means those accountants will work to constantly come up with even newer ideas. The failure loop will continue to close.
Lawyers, too, are trying to transform computers from a threat into a value-adding tool. For centuries the legal profession has made a great deal of money from drawing up contracts or patent applications that inevitably sit in drawers, unexamined. Software can insert boilerplate language more cheaply now. But some computer-minded lawyers have found real value in those cabinets filled with old contracts and patent filings. They use data-sniffing programs and their own legal expertise to cull through millions of patent applications or contracts to build never-before-seen complex models of the business landscape and sell it to their clients.
The manufacturing industry is going through the early stages of its own change. Until quite recently, it cost tens of millions of dollars to build a manufacturing plant. Today, 3-D printing and cloud manufacturing, a process in which entrepreneurs pay relatively little to access other companies’ machines during downtime, have drastically lowered the barrier to entry for new companies. Many imagine this will revitalize the business of making things in America. Successful factories, like accounting firms, need to focus on special new products that no one in Asia has yet figured out how to mass produce. Something similar is happening in agriculture, where commodity grains are tended by computer-run tractors as farming entrepreneurs seek more value in heritage, organic, local and other specialty crops. This has been manifested in the stunning proliferation of apple varieties in our stores over the past couple of years.
Every other major shift in economic order has made an enormous impact on the nature of personal and family life, and this one probably will, too. Rather than undertake one career for our entire working lives, with minimal failure allowed, many of us will be forced to experiment with several careers, frequently changing course as the market demands — and not always succeeding in our new efforts. In the corporate era, most people borrowed their reputations from the large institutions they affiliated themselves with: their employers, perhaps, or their universities. Our own personal reputations will now matter more, and they will be far more self-made. As career trajectories and earnings become increasingly volatile, gender roles will fragment further, and many families will spend some time in which the mother is a primary breadwinner and the father is underemployed and at home with the children. It will be harder to explain what you do for a living to acquaintances. The advice of mentors, whose wisdom is ascribed to a passing age, will mean less and less.
To succeed in the innovation era, says Daron Acemoglu, a prominent M.I.T. economist, we will need, above all, to build a new set of institutions, something like the societal equivalent of those office parks in Sunnyvale, that help us stay flexible in the midst of turbulent lives. We’ll need modern insurance and financial products that encourage us to pursue entrepreneurial ideas or the education needed for a career change. And we’ll need incentives that encourage us to take these risks; we won’t take them if we fear paying the full cost of failure. Acemoglu says we will need a far stronger safety net, because a society that encourages risk will intrinsically be wealthier over all.
History is filled with examples of societal innovation, like the United States Constitution and the eight-hour workday, that have made many people better off. These beneficial changes tend to come, Acemoglu told me, when large swaths of the population rally together to demand them. He says it’s too early to fully understand exactly what sorts of governing innovations we need today, because the new economic system is still emerging and questions about it remain: How many people will be displaced by robots and mobile apps? How many new jobs will be created? We can’t build the right social institutions until we know the precise problem we’re solving. “I don’t think we are quite there yet,” he told me.
Generally, those with power and wealth resist any significant shift in the existing institutions. Robber barons fought many of the changes of the Progressive Era, and Wall Street fought the reforms of the 1930s. Today, the political system seems incapable of wholesale reinvention. But Acemoglu said that could change in an instant if enough people demand it. In 1900, after all, it was impossible to predict the rise of the modern corporation, labor unions, Social Security and other transformative institutions that shifted gains from the wealthy to workers.
We are a strange species, at once risk-averse and thrill-seeking, terrified of failure but eager for new adventure. If we discover ways to share those risks and those rewards, then we could conceivably arrive somewhere better. The pre-modern era was all risk and no reward. The corporate era had modest rewards and minimal risks. If we conquer our fear of failure, we can, just maybe, have both.