Monday, December 15, 2014

A Great Idea is a Spreadsheet With Skin On

That statement comes from Ben Arment and I am a firm believer. Every year, around this time, our spreadsheet for summertime gets created. Here are some quick ideas on how we do it:

+ One big workbook - nowadays, it's a google drive spreadsheet. Available anywhere all the time. Tracks revisions. Does almost everything Excel does except for subtotals.
+ A sheet for each major initiative.
+ Track who goes where, when they go and how they get there and back.
+ Estimated expenses and categories.
+ Estimated incomes including sometimes outlining different creative revenue plans.
+ It won't be completely straightforward if you have distributed teams where people work on multiple projects and where incomes, expenses and time served are shared. But that's part of the fun.

And I'm thrilled to tell you that we've at least started one for 2015.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Burn

::: The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill
Great read about the implosion of one of the most impactful churches in the US.
"...every young pastor needs to have a mentor relationship with a pastor who has been pastoring for at least 25 years in a church that is not a megachurch. They will learn what true pastoring is really like, not celebrity pastoring."
Link via Mitchel Lee

::: 20 Politically Incorrect Thoughts About Church in America
#5 Worship music is too slow and too repetitive. Worship music is too slow and too repetitive. Worship music is too slow and too repetitive.
#8 Churches don’t effectively engage women in senior leadership roles.
#12 Shared leadership doesn’t work. When all the leaders are equal, no one is leading.

::: Facebook's Data Science for Social Good
Data science has been fruitfully applied in many circumstances: from creating product enhancements and decisions, to writing insightful or entertaining blog posts. In this post, we'd like to highlight some recent initiatives which, combined with increases in availability of data, are making data science a powerful force for social good. We're going to take a brief tour of the non-profit data science organizations that we're familiar with and the work they're doing.

::: The Pilots of Instagram

Photo: Ember spawn, ProtoGuides and Jon Tyson. DC, Nov 2014.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Notes - The Power of Habit

My wife and older daughter picked this up for me for my birthday last September and I only got to reading it last month. It's a phenomenal read for anyone involved in leadership or influence. Later on, I realized that two of my favorite leaders also learned a ton from this book. [1, 2]. Go get it please.

Cue -> Routine -> Reward

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit - unless you find new routines - the pattern will unfold automatically.

… it is possible to learn and make unconscious choices without remembering anything about the lesson or decision making.

Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.

Tony Dungy's coaching philosophy: He wanted to get players to stop making so many decisions during a game. He wanted them to react automatically, habitually. If he could instill the right habits, his team would win. Period.

Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.

For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Paul O'Neill and Alcoa: O'Neill focused on worker safety, which would signify excellence.
Michael Phelps - his coach focused on his habits.

This is the final way that keystone habits encourage widespread change: by creating cultures where new values become ingrained. Keystone habits make tough choices - such as firing a top executive - easier, because when that person violates the culture, it's clear they have to go.

Starbucks training - 137K current employees - 1M alumni. Starbucks is one of the nation's largest educators.

At the core of that education is an intense focus on an all-important habit: willpower. Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.

Willpower isn't just a skill. It's a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there's less power left over for other things.

This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.

There are no organizations without institutional habits. There are only places where they are deliberately designed, and places where they are created without forethought, so they often grow from rivalries or fear.
But sometimes, even destructive habits can be transformed by leaders who know how to seize the right opportunities. Sometimes, in the heat of a crisis, the right habits emerge.

Creating successful organizations isn't just a matter of balancing authority. For an organization to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who's in charge.

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between social acquaintances.
It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together.
And it endures because a movement's leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership.

[Rosa] Park's friends, in contrast, spanned Montgomery's social and economic hierarchies. She had what sociologists call 'strong ties' - first hand relationships - with dozens of groups throughout Montgomery that didn't usually come into contact with one another.

Every Saddleback member is asked to sign a maturity covenant card promising to adhere to three habits: daily quiet time for reflection and prayer, tithing 10 percent of their income and membership in a small group. Giving everyone new habits has become a focus of the church.

For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling. And the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help them figure out where to go on their own.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Pressure of Next Year

It is December and you might be getting questions already about what is happening next summer. Parents like to plan, summer camps already have their agendas and the pressure is on. Don't worry if you don't have any firm plans yet, Ember is in the same boat [although we have a few ideas...]

The most mature short term missions efforts solidify their plans around this time every year. The maturity in their systems allows them to do that - their existing deep relationships, the clarity of their vision and values, and their proven systems to identify and recruit team leaders. Sometimes, you don't need all three of those but most of the time you do. Here are two great examples to dig around when it comes to seeing how someone else has done it - Northpoint and NCC.

For The Ember Cast, this time every year is when we ask God to direct and start dreaming and praying. After that, we'll start throwing things up and seeing what gets some momentum.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Friday Burn

::: The Global Geography of Internet Addiction

::: Can You Name These Countries Using Only Satellite Photos?

::: Plumblines for Local Outreach - The Summit Church
Love when they talk about their plumblines. Rich stuff in this 4 part series.

::: "When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection." ― A.W. Tozer via @dansadlier

Photo: KatieS Ember Spawn, KatieV Ember ProtoGuide, Mark Batterson. DC, Nov 2014.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ember Mantra - 5

The Gospel comes to you on its way to someone else. - Alex McManus

PS - Alex has been a mentor to me and I can't recommend his new book, Makers of Fire, enough. Go get this.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Real Track Record

In the fall of 2010, two high school seniors that we had made commitments for interning with Ember both backed out. School was a lot of work and college applications had to be completed. In the fall of 2011, we had planned a great face to face learning experience from one of my mentors and one of our interns couldn't commit. Her parents didn't want her to miss one of her classes. In April of 2012, we had to cancel plans for an Ember experience in South Africa. The desire was there, just not the people committing. Through the first 3 months of 2012, I had fifteen people tell me no for various projects and ideas I had. There was even a student that made a commitment to us in May of this year and then come September, decided to bail. They in fact lined up another internship before letting me know that they were not doing ours.

But lord I love the stuff that has not failed. It has been worth it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Burn

::: The Worst Day to Fly in the US
Hint - it's not what day you think it is.

::: 23 Maps and Charts on Language

::: What I Learned from Building an App for Low Income Americans
Many of the housecleaners I met were already entrepreneurs. Our office cleaner at Significance Labs, Jason, employed five or six people in his cleaning business while also holding down another full-time job. The best thing about my time at Significance Labs was meeting incredible people like Jason and Angel. The most fun I had last summer was sitting in a room chatting to housecleaners.

::: "A good traveler is not intent on arriving." -Lao Tzu via @DavidLivermore

Photo: Lunch, Teds Bulletin, Washington DC. Ember guides, spawn, ProtoGuides and guests.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tricia and Global Impact 2014

On the left is Tricia who was an intern of mine in 2007-2008. She sent me a text last weekend telling me that she was helping out on a student retreat called Global Impact. It was an event that her church put on for high school and middle school kids, focused on helping kids learn to live 'on mission' both locally and globally. Sounded like my kind of thing.

Tricia was a fantastic intern but has since gone on to do some amazing things for the Kingdom - we are proud of her and her weekend serving students dressed up like a Nepalese bank teller. And of course, thrilled to hear about student ministries putting on weekends like this.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Notes - #CatalystNext

We took a team of people to learn at the Catalyst Next conference last week at the Lincoln Theater in DC and it was a great time. I love the Catalyst organization and they always put on fantastic events. The audience was probably mostly people in full time vocational ministry and there were maybe about 1000 people there.

Our team was made up of adults involved in ministry bi-vocationally [board of director Matt, guide Carver and myself] and high school students - 3 seniors and one junior, two of those being current ProtoGuides and the junior being my older daughter. I'm pretty sure Ember had the only high school kids there. We also met up with some old and new friends - a leader of the young adult ministry at LifePoint Church in Reisterstown, and Ember guide Trevin and his co-workers from Bay Area Community Church. We all had lunch together which was a great time of connecting. Two of the seniors have some serious plans to join a church plant next year when they enter college as freshmen so the church planting roundtable was especially relevant to them.

The event wasn't quite as futuristic as I personally would have liked, but I realize that is sometimes too far out there. One solid principle about the future is that you imagine the future by seeing the present clearly and I think Catalyst Next did that extremely well. There was a little undercurrent of 'we have to explain what our current culture looks like to the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.' Certainly understandable.

Every one of the talks was excellent, exactly what you would come to expect from a Catalyst event. They were all geared towards what is next and I loved that. The day was organized into segments and then after each segment, Jon Tyson would come back with Mark Batterson, Jo Saxton and Gabe Lyons to do a little discussion on the talks.

Here is the rough outline of the day:
Mark Batterson - leadership [see below]
Jo Saxton - leadership [character, community, commission]
Gabe Lyons - culture [see below]
Trip Lee - culture [to give up hope on a specific culture/peoplegroup/subculture is to discount the power of the Gospel]
Jenna Lee Nardella - justice [the long arc of justice and sometimes you cannot make it rain]
Raj Shah - justice [lots of great content on global poverty]
Missional church planting roundtable - Jarrett and Jeanne Stevens, Gideon Tsan, DA Horton - what is your context, something you have learned from, what is next
Jon Tyson - closing [see below]

Here are notes from the 3 talks that resonated most with me:
+ What is Next in church leadership
Mark Batterson
“The greatest opposition to what God is doing today comes from those who were on the cutting edge of what God was doing yesterday.” - RT Kendall The Anointing
Heb 11:7 - Noah, the ark and building something that was never built before
II Cor 10:5 - Take every thought captive and obedient to Christ
Noah - inventor, maker. Made the rake, hoe, oh and the ark.
1.5 football fields long
a ship that big would not be built again in human history until the late 19th century
35:3 design ratio is still the standard
569 box cars
125,000 animals - 60 National Zoos
120 years to build - long obedience
1st thing Noah did was to plant trees
It all came from an idea in his mind
Everything starts as an idea - so often II Cor 10:5 is used to instruct us to take bad thoughts captive, but it's also a command about good ideas.

Church is a 2 way street - dreams and passions go both ways
We have a dream for our church that people help us fulfil and we hopefully help them fulfill their dreams.

*TTS - Like always, Batterson gives a phenomenal talk about the future, leadership and the most audacious dreams and ideas. And every time I've seen Mark Batterson not speaking, he is taking notes. Including today, while on the panel. The best leaders I know do this.

Be a first class noticier
Scripture is meant to be meditated on - for it to quicken you, you must let it burn in you
Every piece of Scripture has 70 faces and 600,000 meanings - rabbinical saying

+ What is Next in engaging culture
Gabe Lyons
Context - always start with this
*TTS - ^^^ yes. Ember mantra - "Context and culture matter."

Today - the combination of postmodern, pluralism and postChristian
the nones

New Attitudes
No authority
Happiness is the ultimate goal
Good of the individual trumps good of community
God exists for the benefit of all, if He even exists
Meaning can only be found in this world

New Rules of Social Engagement - "Sex and the I World"
One may not criticize someone's life choices or behaviors
One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others
One may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without consent - as long as it is consensual, it is okay.

Countercultural - the church is called to swim upstream in this

*TTS - The intro to this talk was such a great description of the context that we find ourselves in right now.

4 questions - filter for culture
What is Wrong - stop and confront
who am I, what is my identity

What is Confused - clarify and compel
identity is found in Jesus, not by looking inside
is life about pleasure or purpose
love - affirmation of anything anyone wants to do or do we want the best for them?

What is Good - celebrate and cultivate
God's design for humanity is to flourish

What is Missing - create and catalyze
we have made an idol of marraige
first family - church family - extended family - oikos
clear and confident in theology
loving to friends and neighbors
you can be both but this requires lots of courage

The slavery and women in ministry issues both get more expansive from the OT to the NT
sexuality gets less expansive

*TTS - This was a fantastic talk and really engaged the issue of homosexuality and the evangelical Church. The 4 questions were great perspectives. Extremely well done.

Batterson - some topics are good for teaching about from up front - one way dialogue. Others need a two way conversation. This is one of those. NCC hosted a small group on this topic called Grace+Truth because we need both when it comes to this issue. Over 200 people showed up to it.

+ Jon Tysons closing talk
The need of the hour is to make disciples. If we get discipleship wrong, everything else goes awry.
Willard - what is your plan for making disciples and is it working?

We did a good job of forming people into Trinity Grace culture but not Jesus.
Our culture is incredibly effective at making disciples into its image.

"Ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing - its disciples. Your church is only as good as her disciples. It does not matter how good your praise, preaching, programs, or property are; if your disciples are passive, needy, consumeristic, and not radically obedient, your church is not good." (Neil Cole) [*TTS - So good, I think I've posted this before somewhere here]

Faith to Doubt
Love to Insecurity
Community to Individualism
Contributing to Consuming
Rest to Exhaustion

5 Shifts - The From > To Imperative
*TTS - there was a ton of info in here - no way to get it all down.
Death -> Life
Eph 2
- gospel, story, walk

Shame -> Acceptance
Rom 8
difference between shame [who I am] and guilt [what I've done]
image management
Brene Brown
disciple people into their identity
- community, freedom, authority

Self -> Others
Phil 2
the small self - Rohr
- gifts, reconciliation, presence

Consumer -> Mission
I Cor 5
- sharing, vocation, stewardship

Performing -> Abiding
John 15
- source, power, fruit

In all of this, Jesus says, I will be with you always.
Gal 4:19 - My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...
an urgent heartbreaking pastoral concern - spiritual fathers.

*TTS Right before Jon started, I whispered to our team that this was the money talk. I was right. Jon's talk was a powerful exhortation to leaders to take the issue of discipleship seriously and to evaluate how we are growing people and whether it is working or not. He has obviously done some deep thinking about our culture and what it means to grow people in the image of Jesus and his talk was a gift. I knew it was going to be good because I've learned a lot from him from a distance. [See : City Collective, the city parish model and Sacred Roots.]

+ My Reflections
- I'm pretty sure Ember had the only high school kids there. If you are a student pastor in the DMV and knew about this event, you should have brought some kids you were personally investing in. And if you aren't personally investing in any students, well, you should find a new line of work. This was a great learning experience that was easy to execute.
- Jon Tyson's closing talk. Ember needs to evaluate all of our experiences and reflect on whether we are creating disciples of Jesus or just creating kids that know a lot about global missions. Some of this is also a reflection on my leadership and whether I have the capacity to even think deeply on this subject and how it relates to the students we are entrusted with, in a similar manner to the deep thinking that Jon Tyson has done about discipleship in New York City.
- Batterson: "Church is a 2 way street - dreams and passions go both ways." I love this and Ember is really trying to engage our students with where we are headed as an organization as well as catalyze the passions, talents and dreams of them. We aren't doing the latter a ton but there were definitely a few students this past summer that fit this description. That's why we almost always visit the topic of missional imagination when we decompress an event or experience. I'm a bit sensitized to this too from some recent ministry experience as well so there's probably more in this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Burn

::: The Problem With International Development
Must read.
And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

::: Whole Foods is Moving into One of the Poorest Neighborhoods in Chicago
Fascinating article about business versus philanthropy, gentrification, and food deserts. I heard Bob Lupton tell a story about a grocery store executive that told him that his company wouldn't put a store in a neighborhood because they wouldn't make any money - the demographics didn't show enough disposable income.

::: 1 in 30 kids in the US is homeless.

::: The pastor's question: "How's my church doing?" The missionaries' question: "How's my city doing?" @bobrobertsjr

Photo: Ember spawn and friends. Baltimore, October 2014.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Notes - Creativity Inc.

Unhindered communication was key, no matter what your position.

The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being.

By ignoring my fear, I learned that the fear was groundless… Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.

For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn't matter if you are getting the story right.

Sending out a sharp impulse - like a dolphin uses echolocation to determine the location of a school of fish - can teach you crucial things about your environment. Steve [Jobs] used aggressive interplay as a kind of biological sonar. It was how he sized up the world.

While Toyota was a hierarchical organization, to be sure, it was guided by a democratic central tenet: You don't have to ask permission to take responsibility.

Whatever these forces are that make people do dumb things, they are powerful, they are often invisible, and they lurk even in the best of environments.

Because making a movie involves hundreds of people, a chain of command is essential. But in this case, we had made the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure.

The first principle was "Story is King," by which we meant that we would let nothing - not the technology, not the merchandising possibilities - get in the way of our story… The other principle we depended on was "Trust the Process."

Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right…. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it…. Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.

Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas.

But always, its most essential element is candor. This isn't just some pie-in-the-sky idea - without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.

This principle eludes most people, but it is critical: You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation - you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.

It is natural for people to fear that such an inherently critical environments will feel threatening and unpleasant, like a trip to the dentist. The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive.

Believe me, you don't want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas of policy are being hashed out. The best inoculation against this fate? Seek out people who are willing to level wit you, and when you find them, hold them close.

By insisting on the importance of getting our ducks in a row early, we had come perilously close to embracing a fallacy. Making the process better, easier and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on - but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.

In an unhealthy culture, each group believes that if their objective trump the goals of the other groups, the company will be better off. In a healthy culture, all constituencies recognize the importance of balancing competing desires - they want to be heard but they don't have to win.

It is management's job to figure out how to help others see conflict as healthy - as a route to balance, which benefits us all in the long run. I'm here to say that it can be done - but it is an unending job.

Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see if for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.

...One of my core management beliefs: If you don't try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

At Pixar, we joke that only one mention of Star Wars is allowed per meeting.

There is a fantastic chapter in the book about Steve Jobs since he was a huge piece of the company. It is very much worth the read. I've never personally been a huge fan of Jobs - for all the innovation that Apple is, he seemed to me to be a massive jerk. But after reading that narrative about him from someone that knew him well, I've kind of changed my mind.

Highly recommended - the book is a great read.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ember at #CatalystNext in DC this Thursday

I will be with a team at the Catalyst Next one day conference this coming Thursday at the Lincoln Theater - would love to meet you if you are there. Long time readers know that I'm a fan of Catalyst, especially when they push the edges and concentrate on the future. In 2009, I attended their first Catalyst West conference and the absolute best part of that was the lab day called Origins that was put together with MosaicLA. That day was very much about looking at today and envisioning the future. I'm hoping Catalyst Next is so futuristic that most of us get inspired about the present. And in classic Ember form, I'm sure that we will be just about the only ones with high school kids in attendance. This is a conference about the future.... right?
It's often said that the future is now but is the church listening?

Our culture is constantly advancing, constantly shifting, constantly adapting, and if you want to stay ahead you have to know what’s coming before it gets here. Catalyst Next is a gathering created just for you. We know you’re a change maker. A forward thinking, innovative leader who wants to be ahead of the curve in addressing the issues and questions our culture is grappling with. This gathering will help us answer those very questions. Whether you are leading a church, non-profit, or business, we invite you to join us live in D.C. or by stream, for a day of intentional conversations around what’s next for the Church as we embrace progress and spearhead change for the sake of advancing Kingdom initiatives.

Catalyst Next is a gather geared towards young innovative leaders who want to be ahead of the curve in addressing the issues and questions our culture is asking. If you’re a change maker who is serious about bringing Kingdom change to your world than this event is for you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Bilinguals Have Stronger and Faster Brains Than the Rest of Us

::: 12 Maps that Sum Up London
Data for the people - so good.

::: Why Cliques Form at Some High Schools and Not Others

::: Professional Women's Basketball in Sopron Hungary
I was there in 2007 and 2008.

::: The church's responsibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. - Bonhoeffer via @AshleyPDickens

Photo: city center, Sopron Hungary. Summer 2008.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#qznextbillion - A Dream Forum for the Futuristic

Quartz was kind enough to give me a discount ticket to their Next Billion forum last week. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend but tracked the talks via twitter as best I could. It seemed to be a fabulous event - here is the summary and here are all the talks.

I'm hoping to catch up on some of the talks soon - this one on Housing the Last Billion looked fantastic. And this one from dana boyd, who has done a ton of research on technology and youth culture, also looks great.

You might think some of this sounds far fetched and too futuristic. I would argue that most of it is incredibly relevant to emerging global student leaders. Issues like the global poor, sustainable design, the role of technology including how fast it gets adopted, and innovation and creativity are central to how the next generation of Kingdom centered leaders lead. And I'm grateful to be able to learn from some of the experts in this kind of stuff. Ah the Internet.

The Next Billion is in London next year....hint hint. Some of my favorite tweets from this year.