Monday, March 31, 2014

Ember Mantras - 2

"Catalyst is the primary paradigm."

A catalyst is something that comes into a situation that sparks a reaction and the reaction continues after the catalyst has left. We use this paradigm for almost everything that we do - service projects, facilitating and hosting teams, missional experiences, leadership coaching and more. If you can't do it yourself after we have left, we have failed. This paradigm requires us to think critically about dependency, ensures we view a long term perspective and keeps us future and action oriented.

You will never have enough leaders. Borrowing or stealing them is not the solution. Instead, view yourself as a catalyst and perhaps leaders will erupt from those you are already working with.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Burn

::: This Flashlight is Powered by the Touch of Your Hand
Here's a little known fact: The human body, at any given moment, produces energy equivalent to a 100 watt light bulb. In that sense, we're always wasting our energy—energy that can be used to, well, power a light bulb. It's this line of thinking that led a 16 year old to invent the first flashlight powered entirely by body heat.

::: Why Snapchat is Valuable
Believe me, I've read all the stuff about how Snapchat is only around to make money off those kinds of pictures. But this is a great read in terms of helping to articulate why it's popular for other reasons.
In a digital world where everyone's flicking through headshots, images, and text without processing any of it, Snapchat asks you to stand still and pay attention to the gift that someone in your network just gave you. As a result, I watch teens choose not to open a Snap the moment they get it because they want to wait for the moment when they can appreciate whatever is behind that closed door. And when they do, I watch them tune out everything else and just concentrate on what's in front of them. Rather than serving as yet-another distraction, Snapchat invites focus.

::: Are the Suburbs Making People Live Paycheck to Paycheck?

::: The organizations that best adapt to a changing world first & foremost know what should NOT change - Jim Collins via @ToddAdkins

And today.... I celebrate following Jesus for 30 years.

Photo: dugout canoe, lifeguard shirt, not such a great swimmer... outside of Kribi, Cameroon, July 2006.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Raising Missions Finances as a Leading Indicator

The first amount of support that comes in is always exciting. It's a good milestone to have.

What's even more important - who is the first one to get support in and how fast did it come in? That's what tells you who is all in, who is a sponge that is soaking up everything you can give this team, who is driven and called to see it succeed. Raising support is not the easiest thing to do and if they can do it, and do it fast, that is a significant accomplishment. This tells you who, in the words of one of my mentors, is a person that must.

In this case, it was Tess and it took 10 days for it to start coming in. Yes, that is fast. Our experiment with Tess didn't work out, but she's on Ember 14X now and as you can see, this is the right place for her and the rest of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

14-15 ProtoGuides

Last weekend, I had lunch with the upcoming Ember ProtoGuides. This is the next iteration of ProtoGuides that start officially this coming September. It's an amazing group of ladies [all girls, the boys will come around eventually...] - one is traveling to Kenya this summer, another one started a Christian club at her high school, and the third is on my France team as well as working on a project with Appalachia Service Club this summer. I think there is at least one cross cultural missionary and/or church planter in the mix, but more on them later. For lunch, my purpose was just to listen to them - to hear what they were interested in learning, how Ember could launch them and what kinds of projects they wanted to be involved in. It was a fascinating conversation and touched on ideas such as:

+ Global Women's Rights.
+ The growth of churches or spiritual communities.
+ Experiencing and learning from different expressions of Church.
+ Connecting and building relationships with different missions-type people around the world.
+ How to plan missional experiences.
+ Sustainable community development and dependency issues like what is covered in Toxic Charity.
+ Social movements, demographics and context like what is covered in Church in the Making.

The ProtoGuide experience is at the core of what Ember does and what makes us unique. And of course, working with students like these is a huge privilege for us.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Burn

::: In the Future Your Church Won't Need Volunteers
Yet churches that increase in favour and change the future of the city are thinking differently about volunteers. The Church of the future will move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers. Volunteers meet the needs of the church. Trusted rulers serve/fuel the dreams of the city. Trusted rulers know their identity, understand their spiritual authority and introduce life to the city. According to scripture every believer is a trusted ruler, called by God to lead the earth into life. This is the original mandate that has never been rescinded (Genesis 2). Volunteers work for the church. Trusted rulers work for the city.

::: Student Run Business Provides Low Cost Prom Dresses

::: The Biggest Nonprofit Mistake of All Time
Adam Braun, incidentally, is the brother of Scooter Braun, American talent manager.
But for years I've been troubled by something that I consider the biggest mistake in the non-profit space: that 501(c)3 companies have allowed themselves to called "non-profit."

::: We finally have a secret weapon to cut teen birth rates. It's the MTV show "16 and Pregnant"

::: What separates young leaders is less about how, more about when (ie, when to step forward, and when to be the team player) - @richlyons via ‏@JoshuaSymonette

Photo: God is calling you but not on your cell phone.... Sopron, Hungary. July 2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ember Spawn Proposal

Last fall, my older daughter expressed a desire to do something a little different this summer. She wasn't sure about an Ember experience and wanted something that was a little longer in duration, some deeper learning in a specific culture and perhaps more cultural distance.

If you know Katie, you know that she is a strong P, which is pretty much at odds with both her parents who are strong Js, and with that in mind, our answer was, "Give us a proposal. On paper." And she did. And it's good. Really good. So this is a little something that she is working on with a friend and one of those 'throw it and see if it sticks.' We all would be thrilled if it worked out the right way.

But don't miss reading between the lines either - this is a good representation of the emerging generation. They want something deeper. They are willing to sacrifice to get the experience. And they want someone to invest in them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Notes - The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This will be the best book I will have read in 2014. In 1994, after finishing a masters degree in computer science, I went to work for a small technology consulting firm here in Merryland. It was during that time that the Internet became consumer worthy [I know to some of you, that seems ridiculous.] I remember the afternoon that some of us nerds got the corporate network connected to the Internet and fired up the NCSA Mosaic browser, the very first web browser, ever.

Since then, I've been following Marc Anderseen, the inventor of that paradigm shifting tool. And then I started reading the blog of his business partner, Ben Horowitz. Horowitz writes a blog about being a CEO, entrepreneurship, leadership and creating culture. It is fantastic and highly relevant for someone starting something from nothing. Highly recommended for people in my circles who do these same kinds of thing in various different domains - you know who you are. Lots of what I read in here applied to Ember too - although on a smaller or different kind of scale.

When I heard about Horowitz's book, I instantly pre ordered it. Herein are notes from it.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out curiosity.

The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that's needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.

In my weekly staff meeting, I inserted an agenda item titled "What Are We Not Doing?" Ordinarily in a staff meeting, you spend lots of time reviewing, evaluating, and improving all of the things that you do…. Sometimes however, the things you're not doing are the things you should actually be focused on.

Early in my career as an engineer, I'd learned that all decisions were objective until the first line of code was written. After that, all decisions were emotional.

Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.

In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust...As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, the communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don't. Telling things as they are is a critical part of building this trust. A CEO's ability to build this trust over time is often the difference between companies that execute well and companies that are chaotic. [Love this concept. My system is my weekly staff email.]

Being a good company doesn't matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.
Things always go wrong.
Being a good company is an end in itself.

From Andy Grove
Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let's count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time - twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class.
Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in your subordinate's performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.

Running a large org versus creating and building an org:
When you are building an organization, there is no organization to design, there are no processes to improve, and communicating with the organization is simple. On the other hand, you have to be very adept at running a high-quality hiring process, have terrific domain expertise (you are personally responsible for quality control), know how to create process from scratch and be extremely creative about initiating new directions and tasks.

The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating.

Screening for the right kind of ambition - a me or team prism.

Perhaps the CEO's most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company. The architecture might include the organizational design, meetings, processes, email, yammer, and even one-on-one meetings with managers and employees. Absent a well-designed communication architecture, information and ideas will stagnate, and your company will degenerate into a bad place to work.

The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that's at least ten times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing. Two or three times will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter. The second thing that any technology startup must do is to take the market.

The first rule of organizational design is that all organization designs are bad. With any design, you will optimize communication among some parts of the organization at the expense of other parts.

Choices like these cause migraine headaches. Tip to aspiring entrepreneurs: If you don't like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don't become CEO.

In all the difficult decisions that I made through the course of running Loudcloud and Opsware, I never once felt brave. In fact, I often felt scared to death. I never lost those feelings, but after much practice I learned to ignore them. That learning process might also be called the courage development process.

Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.

Over the past ten years, technological advance have dramatically lowered the financial bar for starting a new company, but the courage bar for building a great company remains as high as it has ever been. [Amen.]

High quality company cultures get their cue from data networking routing protocols: Bad news travels fast and good news travels slowly. Low-quality company cultures take on the personality of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wiz: "Don't nobody bring me no bad news."

The first thing to understand is that just because somebody interviewed well and reference-checked great, that does not mean she will perform superbly in your company. There are two kinds of cultures in this world: cultures where what you do matters and cultures where all that matters is who you are. You can be the former or you can suck.

But what about being loyal to the team that got you here? If your current executive team helped you grow your company tenfold, how can you dismiss them when they fall behind in running the behemoth they created? The answer is that your loyalty must go to your employees - the people who report to your executives. Your engineers, marketing people, salespeople, and finance and HR people who are doing the work. You owe them a world-class management team. That's the priority.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Farewell Franchise Ministry
The multi-site model is basically ministry franchising. It's the Starbucks model of "local" church. Now the good thing about Starbucks is you get the exact same cup of coffee everywhere in the world. I was in England recently (not known for good coffee), and seeing the green Starbucks sign was like finding an oasis in the desert.
But the bad thing about Starbucks is that their conformity flattens the creativity of individual baristas or shop owners. It's an a-cultural expression. It all tastes the same. So whether you're in downtown Portland or in Mumbai, India, you get the exact same cup of burnt-tasting coffee.

And related ...
::: But in multi-site, I don't know the pastor
Here is the heart of my response: Why is the Senior Pastor the one expected to administer all the pastoral care? Doesn’t that presuppose the very “cult of personality” for which multi-site churches are often criticized? “I need to be known by my pastors” is a legitimate request. “I need to be known by that pastor because he is special” is not.

::: How to Identify An Apostolic Leader
These 5 are great. Yes on #1 and #3.

::: Inside the Pixar Braintrust
Fantastic read about candor - or we call it unfiltered debate.
Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so--to go, as I say, "from suck to not-suck."

Photo: CDG, July 2006.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ember 14X Mtg 1

I love the process of assembling teams - the personalities, the talents and interests and gifts and watching them all come together to form one cohesive team. Ember 14X is no different and in this case, we are dealing with kids that have lots of cross cultural experience and have lots of experience in this missions trip kind of thing.

Our first meeting was going over some basic logistics about our distributed team, the idea of Aix and their kids outreach and getting started with support letters/creative revenue.

My challenge to them - make someone say wow when they see your support letter. As you know, the support letter paradigm is broken and could use some disruption. At a minimum, it should begin with some kind of design in mind.

[Related: 2013X team mtg #1, 2012AZ team mtg #1, 2010AZ mtg #3, 2008Hungary mtg #3, 2007Hungary mtg #3, 2006Cameroon mtg #3, 2005Brasil mtg #1]

Monday, March 10, 2014

Highly Distributed Teams in 2014

Some of the students on Ember 13X still maintain regular contact with people that they met last year in Aix - the physical distance being over 4000 miles. Not to mention that SAnderson is here in DC and has had to fly back to France to take care of some paperwork twice already in her 6 months of being here. This is our global hyper connected world today, thanks to the Internet and the ease of world wide travel and the emerging generation has not known anything else.

In January of 2008, I met Rachel J, she was hanging in Maryland with her good friend Emilie, who was one of our core leaders. After a weekend traveling to NYC with a student team, I invited Rachel to join us on the leadership team of a summer experience based in Hungary. One slight caveat - she went to school and lived outside of Seattle. The other caveat, her friend Emilie, who had already signed on as one of our leaders, would eventually meet us in Vienna, Austria, flying in with her brother Sven, coming in from Norway. Despite not having both of these leaders present during all the pre-field team training and some very challenging logistics for who would arrive when and where, Rachel was a fantastic leader and we made the right decision bringing her on board to help with the large task of leading a 26 person team.

In the summer of 2012, Olivia joined our AZ2012 team. We had befriended her family in 2007 - their two daughters were the exact same age as our girls. In 2007 and 2008, at the same staff missions conference, our two sets of girls had hung together during the conference, doing all the kids conferencey things together. Having Olivia join the AZ team was great - a missionary kid going on a missions trip. One slight caveat - she lived in Austin. Olivia was a great addition to our team, eventually helping lead kids in the outdoor water games as well as helping lead worship. I loved being able to make it work and that summer continued to lay the groundwork for what Ember did last summer and is doing this summer.

This summer MK is coming from California. She was on our team last summer and returns and we are thrilled that she is a part of it again. John comes from Virginia where he is finishing up his senior year of college. And of course, we are going to France, in another part of the world.

If we are going to embrace these ideas of virtual connections, friendship via technology and today's ease of travel, what you do with student missions might need to reflect this as well. You might have passionate, qualified, fantastic team members that need to be engaged over some physical distance. The extra trouble in logistics and connecting and timezones might be well worth it to get the right person on your team.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Atlanta Bench Works
Run by my friend Jesse Phillips, they build outdoor furniture using scrap materials while helping employ some of the neighborhood's homeless.

::: They keystone of Apple's design process - the ANPP
Every business is different, but ... selectively imposing seemingly rigid structures on even the most creative enterprise frees employees from having to worry about whether they're getting all those little steps right, so they can concentrate on being creative with the parts of their work that are different from all the other times they've done it before.

::: How Can We Plant 1000 Churches by 2050?
Some of the math behind church reproduction from the Summit Church.
We knew from the beginning that to reach 1,000 churches in one generation would require more than just planting churches from the Summit, but planting churches that, in turn, would plant churches. So we asked a few of our staff to chart what it might look like, assuming that we continued to plant at our current rate (3 churches per year), and that our daughter churches would plant a church every 5 years.

::: Why Blogs Still Matter for Social Entrepreneurs

::: If you cannot be accused of exclusivity, you are not discipling. #HowardHendricks - @bradbridges

Photo: Pavillion Vendome. I got lost 50 feet outside of the gates to this place. Aix-en-Provence, July 2013.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ember Board of Director Notes - February 2014

Some rough notes from the last board of directors meeting for The Ember Cast. Maybe this helps some of you that are in leadership in the small-fledgling-bi-vocational-nonprofit space.

+ Review of Summer and Fall 2013.
+ Anticipating Spring and Summer 2014.
+ Connection Economy
+ Financial Big Picture - although there should have been more metrics about Creative Revenue Plans.

I've got some specific actions from the meeting as well, which include:
+ Building a dashboard and outlining what metrics do we measure that tell us how successful we are. And I loved how one of our board members prayed about this, that it would be 'measured like how God measures it.'
+ A better financial summary - Excel graphs, big picture, high level one page.
+ Mark Batterson tweeted a few weeks ago, "If you are planting a church in dc, ncc wants to be a shareholder." In the same vein, we want Ember to be a part of launching lots of students.
+ Over the past few months, I re-listened to Seth Godin's Startup School as well as watched his New Business Toolkit class and these questions came out of thinking about that stuff. Some of this is also related to the dashboard item at the top.
How do we define entrepreneur versus freelancer and is my role mutually exclusive to each?
How does what we do redefine the idea of scale?
How is the Ember CEO successful?
+ I outlined a very rough financial model based on income versus expense. I have one item of research to do regarding whether we can charge for one of our specific offerings based on some of it's context.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Toxic Charity Seminar Notes

In late 2011, a college student we had been working with told me that I should read the book Toxic Charity. Her recommendation was right on and the book has been a vital part of Ember's ethos.

I was thrilled when I heard the author was coming to our town to do a little afternoon seminar. Dr. Lupton was fantastic, sharing insights from the book with stories, principles and reflections from decades of urban community development experience. His time was such a gift to us, access to this kind of content is not normal and I'm thankful that some of our Ember people could attend as well.

We were also able to host a smaller group for some debriefing over dinner. This crowd included Ember guides and ProtoGuides, some college kids highly invested in various community projects around their city via Wendy, and the IllumNation folks. Great crowd.

In short, if you are any kind of nonprofit/missional/charity leader, having any influence in that sphere at all, this should be required reading for you.

A subset of my notes are below with some various edits.
Change our outlook on our neighbors. See them as people with resources, image of God, having talents, everyone has something to contribute.
Homebound seniors = crime watch.
They are always looking out the window and on the phone with their friends.

Never do for others what they could do for themselves.
'proof of poverty'
Universal truth - everyone loves to find a bargain. Even poor people.
Fair rate on a desired commodity - the market. God's fabulous gift to us.

Food pantry -> food coop
someone wanted specific kind of food - she became the buyer
someone had to deal with accounting - who pays what, what about if they need credit/borrow
decisions as an org - what are the rules
peoples talents and giftings start to emerge
community cooking and sharing
someone wanted to start a restaurant -
church staffer connected them to a restauranteur and a grant writer
Tummy and Soul - an outgrowth of the Georgia Street Food Coop
** I absolutely loved this whole story. Beautiful.

Service Projects
people in community initiate
doing planning - community led
people in the community share about what is happening - evangelism both directions

We are in a key moment in history - time honored practices of charity are now being questioned
When Helping Hurts
Toxic Charity
Dead Aid
now talking about outcomes in ways we have never felt comfortable about before
downturn in charity as we shift

It's bad when you get kicked out of a poor country.
The community must be the first investor.
What the poor need is a connected, compassionate neighbor.
You can't do community development well unless you know people connected to city systems.
The poor are isolated and this perpetuates poverty.

Pastors/church leaders - get out of the one way giving business - church benevolence funds, etc. If you have extra money, start an employment training center.
Church subsidy systems are far less effective than government subsidies.

A rising economic tide raises all the boats.
All social issues can be addressed by connected neighbors.
Nothing more demoralizing for police when they arrest someone and the accused walks because they could not get any witnesses to come to court.
Healthy bodies/communities can isolate disease. Save or expel it.

The most strategic thing churches can do today - develop/preach a theology of the redeployment of the saints.
Does God have an opinion of where you live?
We have to become neighbors.
'Where we buy a house' is a sacred cow.
Spiritual gifts discernment.
Talents abilities calling strategic deployment
** spot on. talents, abilities, calling, vocation.

You cannot serve a community out of poverty.
The one thing that moves a community out of poverty is a job.
People that go on mission trips are people that serve. What we need are people that can create jobs to go on these trips.
The spiritual gift of wealth creation. Never heard a sermon on that.
Business people feel unspiritual because they can only create wealth. They haven't heard the affirmation that God has entrusted them with this.
America is full of entrepreneurs - it is in our DNA.
** He is so right. And the recent stat I read somewhere that 59% of Mils believe they are entrepreneurs.