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Charles Dickens began writing his "Little Carol" in October, 1843, finishing it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas. Dickens (1812-1870), already the successful author of such titles as Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby, was one of the most loved novelists of his day when he wrote this short novel. Originally published on December 17th, 1843, A Christmas Carol became an instant success, with the first 6,000 copies of its initial print-run being sold out by Christmas. An additional 2,000 copies from the second printing were snapped up by the 6th of January. Tremendously popular from its publication, A Christmas Carol has remained Dickens' most widely enjoyed work.
Yet, the book's publication had not been filled with Christmas cheer. Feuding with his publishers, Dickens had financed the entire production of the book, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations commissioned by John Leech to illustrate the volume (Leech had become an artist to support himself after the bankruptcy of his family forced him to abandon the medical studies he was pursuing in anatomical drawing). As in his previous novels, the plight of the poor was a primary motivation for Dickens to write A Christmas Carol (there was a severe economic depression in England during the 1840's). Yet he was also challenged to write a new work because his current serial work was selling badly. Threatened with a reduction in salary, in debt, and with his wife expecting their fifth child, Dickens urgently needed royalties. And while the sales were outstanding, the sale price of five shillings (to make it affordable to all) resulted in embarrassingly low profits.
Despite his personal disappointment with the book (he would break off relations with his publishers, Chapman and Hall, and publish elsewhere the following fifteen years), Dickens had nevertheless created a new literary genre in the Christmas story. There is little doubt that his character, Ebenezer Scrooge, the penny-pinching miser, is one of the most memorable personalities in all of literature. Scrooge particulary hates Christmas, which he views as "a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer." Early on in the book, Scrooge is described as: "A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice."
You are probably familiar with the story, how Scrooge, a most wretched human being, is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley, who died seven Christmas Eves ago. Marley, a miser of the same ilk as Scrooge, suffering the consequences of a poorly lived life in the afterworld, hopes to help Scrooge avoid a similar fate. He tells Scrooge that he will be haunted by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, who as the story unfolds, will show Scrooge the error of his ways. By the book's end, Scrooge has a new-found benevolence, as he raises Bob Cratchit's salary, and vows to assist his family, including Bob's crippled son, Tiny Tim. In the end, Dickens reports that Scrooge became "as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew."
Scrooge, through the visitation of the spirits, comes to realize that a full life is so much more than simply making money and acquiring stuff. It also involves our concern and charity beginning with our own families, and among friends, and our benevolence extended toward those less fortunate than ourselves. Though Dickens penned this work over one hundred and fifty years ago, his message still has a power and relevance to our own day. How will we be remembered? What kind of legacy are we building among our families, friends, and colleagues? What are we trying to do with our lives? Penetrating, sobering, thoughtful questions, for each one of us...
Perhaps the heart of Dickens' message to us is captured early on in the book, through the words of Scrooge's nephew:
Ambrose Bierce once observed, "Success is the one unpardonable sin against one's fellows." And Gore Vidal offered a similar observation when he remarked, "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail." Both of these statements make essentially the same point, that the measure of our success often involves our "winning" over others, having the "edge" over the competition. And while we may hear from some religious quarters the suggestion that success is bad (do I dare use the word, sin?), most would agree that success, whether it be measured by net worth, titles, or influence, while not sinful, should be tempered by healthy introspection.
A few years ago, Harvard Business Review, in an article, "Is Success Sin?", wrote: "During the run-up of the stock market in the 1990's, many Americans developed an almost religious belief in the power of business to deliver then to the promised land. Everywhere one looked...the gospel of success brought reports of fresh miracles wrought by technology, global trade, and the triumph of capitalist ideas. Some thought the manna would last forever...as the economy has cooled and companies have demonstrated their mortality, questions about meaning and value appear more relevant, even urgent." So how are we to properly manage success? Can business success truly deliver on the more fundamental questions of meaning, purpose, and significance?
To explore the complex territory of business success and some of the deeper, fundamental questions, Harvard Business Review's associate editor David Light interviewed Peter Gomes, professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University and the minister at Harvard's Memorial Church. Gomes is a nationally recognized preacher, and the author of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. Gomes offers some significant insights to help us get a perspective on how to live out our lives spiritually, while at the same time pursuing success in business. According to Gomes, we must "get used to it," "get over it," and "get on with it." The following are some of his more significant observations from the Q & A session:
Q - "The tension between striving for worldly success and putting one's hope in things that are unseen is a perennial one, isn't it?"
A - "Yes, that's true, which is why I advise people to get used to it. That tension is not going to disappear, and there are no simple ways of resolving it. In this country in particular, we've always had a love-hate relationship with business and the success that can be derived from it. The relationship has grown increasingly from hate to love largely because business has been seen as democratic - it spreads its benefits broadly, and success in it is often viewed as a matter of merit, not just luck. And business has become the tie that not only binds the culture but defines it to a large degree...So business, and the great striving that accompanies it, will continue to be one of the most significant forces in American culture, but it will always struggle against people's need for a perspective that is beyond this world's. We all have to get used to that tension."
Q - "Then you might say that wealth is not a sin, but it is a problem."
A -"Exactly. And the next thing to do, once you've gotten used to this idea, is to get over it . Figure out what your wealth enables you to do other than provide you with a summer home and a sports car. And then do it. A good beginning step is to get over your fears about money, as well as your false expectations. One of the first things the wealthy discover is that there's never enough, and they develop a profound fear of losing what they've got. Worse yet, wealth can seduce people and persuade them to be satisfied with less than the ultimate, which is beyond this world. Wealth is only a manifestation of the penultimate: When you're gone, you don't take it with you."
"One might think that we would understand that basic fact after all the millennia and the moral fables and cautionary tales that appear in so many traditions. But on some level, we don't believe that we are going to die, and we don't believe that anything will ever separate us from our wealth. The profound denial of our mortality and the myth of wealth is a very dangerous combination. It creates the foolishness of this world, of which Saint Paul speaks so often."
"I don't exempt the middle class or the poor from these warnings about money. In a democratic world, where many people consider poverty a sign of failure and not just 'the way things are,' the poor are tempted to the sin of envy while the rich are tempted to the sin of greed. These are not burdens you want to carry on your back. That's why wealth is a problem for everyone, not just for those who have money: It's an obstacle that blocks the way to God, who does not always correspond to what we want and who is much harder to deal with than the god of wealth."
So how do we look at success? Could we be looking for success and achievement in business to fulfill some of the deeper desires and aspirations that we have? Can it possibly be true that the ultimate lies beyond this world?
Alice Kahn once remarked, "For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three." Such is the case in the highfalutin world of technology in which we live. Yet, recent developments in the legal battle involving BlackBerry handhelds is forcing millions of people to deal with a rather unsettling question: What would life be like without a BlackBerry? BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd., based in Waterloo, Ontario, will appear in U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Virginia on February 24th for the court to consider a shutdown of U.S. sales and service of the popular wireless email device, often dubbed "crackberries" because of the legion of devoted users. While the likelihood of a disruption in Blackberry service is remote, the Supreme Court's earlier decision last week not to hear an appeal triggered concerns that BlackBerrys could go dark.
Roughly four million Americans have a BlackBerry device, and RIM controls about 50% of the market for wireless email devices. "A stoppage of BlackBerry would cause major havoc," says Bob Egan, director of emerging technology at the research firm Tower Group. "CEO's use them, doctors use them, Wall Street guys use them." Yet for many BlackBerry users, the prospect of a blackout is liberating. Patrick Blanchfield, who works for a New York-based organization, says it would prevent his boss from sending him emails "at all hours of the night!"
The BlackBerry started out seven years ago as a device for high-ranking corporate types, but, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, " it has quickly become a verb, a source of marital discord, a safety hazard for those who cross busy streets while responding to email, a status symbol ('will your company give you one?'), and even a pick-up tool." Michael Romero, a 27-year old systems administrator in Phoenix, says his friends email him on his BlackBerry to point out "cute girls" at nightclubs. The BlackBerry has also been the culprit for many an interrupted vacation, as well as interruptions at the dinner hour. Debra Lucas, an office manager in Ashburn, Virginia, says her husband is constantly checking the device, and she has banned it from the bedroom and restaurants. Still, she says she sometimes finds him hiding in the foyer, huddled up with the device. "It's like there's another woman - but really just the BlackBerry," she says. Larry Engel, a partner at White & Case in San Francisco, says his BlackBerry actually alleviates marital tension by allowing him to secretly check his email and get work done during vacations with his wife. "BlackBerrys are very easy to conceal in your palm," he says.
Some individual users are trying to wean themselves off the devices in preparation for a possible shutdown. Elana Centor, a free-lance writer, rarely lets her BlackBerry 7250 out of her sight, that is, until recently, when she decided to try to kick the habit in light of the lawsuit. "I'm preparing myself," Ms. Centor laments, describing how she suspended her routine of checking her email every 15 minutes and even went to the gym without the BlackBerry.
I, too, use a "smartphone" (not a BlackBerry), and it is without doubt a tremendous tool for brief communications (Could we live without them? How did people get work done before BlackBerrys?) And yet, this beneficial "time-saving" device may be robbing us of something. It serves to "blur" the distinction between work & home, labor and leisure. What if there was a service shutdown with BlackBerrys and other email devices? How would it change the way we communicate? Would it make our communication more civil? It also makes me wonder what we used to do when we didn't have such great little technological devices to fill up our "think time," our time of leisure, when we could occasionally daydream, or even think great thoughts.
Kierkegaard wrote, "If I could prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore create silence."
Just thinking, before I check my email...
As you are reading this, if you had the opportunity, you might opt to snooze or slumber. Why, you ask? Because our nation is a nation in dire need of a nap. Between a fast paced, global economy that demands increased productivity, and the technologically-driven entertainment that provides a multitude of diversions, is it any wonder that people get so little rest?
An NBC Today Show/Zogby International poll indicates that nearly half of all Americans say they don't get enough sleep, and roughly twenty-five percent get fewer than six hours of shut-eye a night. Further data from the National Center of Health Statistics show a twenty-year trend of less sleep reported by Americans. Whatever the basis for this sleep deprivation, whether it be a harried lifestyle or medical problems, people are desperately seeking ways to get quality rest. Many have turned to prescriptions for sleeping pills, 42 million of which were filled last year, up 60 percent since 2000, according to the research company IMS Health. Others are following rather bizarre approaches to get rest - from bleary-eyed New Yorkers who catch a brief nap in "pods," - to an Internet blogger in Las Vegas who has adopted a "polyphasic" sleep routine - sleeping for twenty-minute stretches every four to six hours, around the clock. Go figure...
According to David White, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard University and editor of the journal Sleep, having a strategy to get the sleep we need is crucial in a culture that increasingly makes demands on our time: "This is an interesting juncture. Stress and anxiety levels are at a fever pitch, which limits the ability to sleep well. And there's also more science than ever showing what a detriment that the (unrested) state is to performance and health." While White does not make any value judgment about taking sleeping pills, he does admit to having a concern that "we might evolve into a society that takes a pill to wake up and a pill to go to bed."
As the debate over what constitutes a sleeping problem continues, harried Americans struggle to keep pace with daily life, especially when computers, cell phones, and surfing the Web have virtually made obsolete the very idea of "downtime." And a number of companies, like Starbucks, are cashing in. Truly, while there is no rest for the weary, Starbucks is ready to lend the groggy a hot cup of coffee. With 10,000 coffee shops worldwide (7,699 in the USA), they plan to have 10,000 more by 2010.
Some three thousand years ago, Solomon, king of Israel, offered words of wisdom about work, ambition, and the need for rest. The advice of this ancient sage could not be more apropos for such a frenetic, restless culture as ours:
"The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much. But the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep." (Ecclesiastes 5:12)
"It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors. For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep." (Psalm 127:2)
The late journalist Joseph Bayly was once flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, and found himself seated beside an attractive, middle-aged woman, and struck up a conversation with her: "Where are you from?" he asked. "Palm Springs," she replied. Knowing Palm Springs to be a city of the rich and famous, he asked, "What's Palm Springs like?" "Palm Springs is a beautiful place filled with unhappy people." Stunned and somewhat curious as to her response, he posed the question, "Are you unhappy?" "Yes, I certainly am." "Why?" "I can answer it in one word: mortality. Until I was forty, I had perfect eyesight. Shortly after, I went to the doctor because I couldn't see as well as I could before. Ever since that time, that experience has been a sign to me that not only are my eyes wearing out, but I'm wearing out. Some day I'm going to die. I really haven't been happy since."
This woman's words capture the prevalent sentiment of many of us as we reflect on our own mortality. We don't like to be reminded of our mortality, and often find ourselves laughing and joking when the issue of death surfaces in conversation. I'm reminded of an interview conducted some years ago with Woody Allen dealing with how he wanted to be remembered: "Someone once asked me if my dream was to live on in the hearts of my friends, and I said I would like to live on in my apartment. And that's really what I would prefer...You drop dead one day, and it means less than nothing if billions of people are singing your praises every day, all day long...I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." Perhaps Allen's most memorable quip about death is when he said, "I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens!"
Eugene O'Kelly, author of Chasing Daylight, took a radically different, and instructive approach, when he realized his days were numbered. O'Kelly, 53, chairman and CEO from 2002 to 2005 of KPMG, had been informed by his doctor that he had an inoperable brain tumor, and barely 100 days to live. Once the news sank in, he recalled, "I was motivated to 'succeed' at death - that is, to try to be constructive about it, to embrace it." A 30-year-veteran of the firm, O'Kelly had stepped down from his leadership role at KPMG in June, 2005, after disclosing his diagnosis of the advanced-stage cancer (he would die September 10th at his home in New York City). His memoir, Chasing Daylight, was written in the little more than three months between his diagnosis and his death, which one reviewer described as "conversational and cut-to-the-chase in tone."
O'Kelly reveals how he was driven to make his final days his best, focusing on what matters - family, friends, and saying goodbye. One of his tasks dealt with the closure of many personal relationships with colleagues, family members, and lifetime friends. The book records how he made out a list of people to contact and meet with for a final encounter (there were nearly 1000 people on the list). He stops at each name to recall memorable moments they had enjoyed together. How they met. Lessons he had learned from them. Ways his knowing that person had made him a better person. Some people tried to prolong the final encounter and schedule a follow-up meeting, but he would decline. "I'd like this to be it, I would say," he writes. "Not a popular answer. Too final. Kind of cold, actually. The other person would often get emotional." But he notes: "I got to make the rules."
As he had learned at KPMG, O'Kelly knew that "accounting is about predictability, about avoiding surprises," he writes. Unexpectedly, he began to appreciate unplanned time with his wife and young daughter. He struggled with acceptance. One of the first lessons came in the radiation clinic when things didn't go according to plan. At KPMG O'Kelly was accustomed to people operating at a very high competency level. When they didn't, he was quick to let them hear about it. But his daily experience at the radiation clinic made him realize that people, and machines, often mess up. A 20-minute procedure often took twice the time, but he had no choice. He had to let go, "I could not control time."
Are you wondering where the title of the book came from? O'Kelly and his wife, Corrine, loved to play golf together late in the day. It allowed them time together as the course emptied and the shadows of the trees grew longer. "It was as if we weren't just playing golf, but chasing daylight, grabbing as much time as we could," he writes. The closing pages of this short memoir, narrated by his wife, are touching: "By late summer, the unwindings were taking their toll on Gene," she writes. And as August draws to a close, he tells her, "You're going to have to take over now. I've done all I can do." "It took my breath away," she writes.
"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." - William Wallace, from the film Braveheart.
"Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom." - Moses' prayer, Psalm 90:12
"Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things...as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value." -Teilhard de Chardin
While most would agree that it is difficult at best to get a dozen business executives to agree about anything, many concur that the "Waiter Rule" is one of those intuitive laws that has been proven true through many years of experience. And while it is true that executives, and CEO's in particular, live in a "Lake Wobegon" world, where every dinner or lunch partner is about average in their deference, it is not how others treat the CEO that communicates anything. Rather, it is how others treat the waiter that is like a magical window into the soul. It goes without saying that those executives who play the power card, saying something like, "I could buy this place and fire you," or "I know the owner and I could have you fired!" have already revealed more about their character than their wealth and power.
BMW North America President Tom Purves, a native of Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, who lives in New York with his Norwegian wife, Hilde, and works for a German company, has observed that whoever came up with the "Waiter Rule" is "bang spot on." The fact that Purves has experienced so many different cultures makes him qualified to weigh in on this subject, and he believes the waiter theory is true virtually everywhere.
As reported in a recent USA Today article, the CEO who came up with the "Waiter Rule," or at least one of the first to write about it, was Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson. Swanson first noticed this principle at work in the 1970's when he was eating with a man who became "absolutely obnoxious" to a waiter because the restaurant did not stock a particular wine. "Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with," Swanson writes. "Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles."
Over the many years of observing these relational dynamics at work, Swanson wrote a little booklet of thirty-three short leadership observations, called Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management. Raytheon has given away over a quarter of a million of these little books! Among those thirty-three rules is one in particular that Swanson says never fails: "A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person."
"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell," mused George Bernard Shaw. We might beg to differ with his sentiment, but many of us have a "dis-ease" with vacations, time away from what is "important" in life, i.e., the world of business. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, after twenty-seven years at Wal-Mart, CEO Lee Scott recently announced that he is taking off the entire month of May. Yes, I said month! It is the first long vacation he has ever had, since up until now he has always taken off a week here and there, or a few days at a time. While some might think Scott would be getting a congratulatory send-off, when Wal-Mart recently confirmed Mr Scott's four-week getaway, you guessed it, there was widespread speculation on Wall Street that he might be resigning or being replaced.
Amidst such speculation, Wal-Mart quickly quashed the rumor. A spokesman offered: "He planned this months in advance when he saw time in his calendar where there was some flexibility." During the month of May, Mr. Scott plans a long driving trip with his wife and some deep-sea fishing with her and some friends. The spokesman added, "And he'll be back refreshed and ready" for the shareholders' meeting on June 2.
If CEO's took lengthier breaks from work, Mr. Scott's vacation probably wouldn't be stirring so much buzz, but studies show that executives in the U.S. rarely even use up the vacation time that is allotted them each year. Most usually just take several short vacations annually - a few days at Christmas and around other holidays, and maybe a week in the summer months. Some fear that an extended time away from work will allow their competitors to move in on their turf, or they may be simply addicted to their work.
Yet this mindset may in the long run be detrimental for business. Roger Brunswick, a partner at management consultant Hayes Brunswick in New York, suggests that "it takes time and space for ideas to bubble up in new ways." Consequently, executives who don't take significant time away from the day-to-day tedium of deadlines and routines do not create the mental space needed to get fresh perspectives on problem-solving, as well as being able to bring vision and creative ideas to their companies.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini is one exception, who offers employees paid, eight-week sabbaticals every seven years. And even Mr Otellini has taken several sabbaticals during his 32-year career with Intel, though not since taking the helm last May.
But despite the overture of paid sabbaticals for tenured employees, an even bigger challenge than just getting away is "disconnecting," that is, from cellphones and smartphones like BlackBerrys (they aren't called "CrackBerrys" for nothing!). Although Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson spent 10 days camping and hiking in Chile with his family last Christmas, he was never far away from his clients and employees, since he had his trusted satellite phone by his side at all times.
As for Wal-Mart's Mr. Scott, he is relying on his two Vice Chairmen to man the ship for two weeks each while he is away. Yet he will not be un-tethered from the goings-on of the company. He will be taking his Palm Treo with him. "He's going to check in periodically, and we know where to reach him in an emergency, but we understand he's on vacation," says a spokesman.
What makes it so difficult for us to "get away" from our work? Why is it that Americans work more hours than inhabitants of any other country in the advanced industrial world, passing even the fabled Japan? Why do we work the equivalent of an amazing eight weeks a year longer than the average Western European? Could it be that we have a dependency, an addiction to our work?
"Most Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot." -Gordon Dahl
Robert Frost observed, "By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day." The truth of the matter is that I have rarely met a "successful" man in business who did not take his work very seriously. After all, work is the primary way we men measure ourselves, and " keep score." Most of us have had our noses to the grindstone for years, keeping a frenetic pace to stay on top of our work, yet trying to find balance in our lives between work and leisure. And the trouble with many of us is that although we have good intentions, we often respond to the "tyranny of the urgent," and let our work trump our relationships, and our own downtime to think and reflect on life.
Most of us would do well to read the following letter by an anonymous friar in Nebraska, written from a monastery late in his life. His words are particularly relevant for the A-Type personalities of the world who disdain the notion of leisure and recreation. Maybe we would do well not only to read it, but to reflect deeply on his words, letting his wisdom seep down deep into our tired and weary souls.
"If I had my life to live over again, I'd try to make more mistakes next time.
I would have more actual troubles, and fewer imaginary ones.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else, just moments, one after another,
If I had it to do over again I would go places, do things, and travel lighter than I have.
"Men lust, but they know not what for;
"I do not find that pictures of physical catastrophe - that sign in the clouds, those heavens rolled up like a scroll - help one so much as the naked idea of Judgment. We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistable light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world - and yet, even now, we know just enough to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer." -C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night
Perhaps no dialogue in film better describes our quest for happiness, and the questioning of work, than the conversation between Cary Grant as Johnny, and Katherine Hepburn as Linda in the film, Holiday: Linda: "How does your garden grow, Case? Is life wonderful where you are?" Johnny: "It can be." Linda: "But it hasn't been?" Johnny: "Well, I don't call what I've been doing living." Linda: "And what do you recommend for yourself, Doctor?" Johnny: "A holiday." Linda: "For how long?" Johnny: "As long as I need." Linda: "Just to play?" Johnny: "No, no. I've been working since I was ten. I want to find out why I'm working. The answer can't be just to pay bills and to pile up more money. Even if you do, the government's going to take most of it." Linda: "Yes, but what is the answer?" Johnny: "Well, I don't know. That's what I intend to find out."
While many men rarely pursue the question that Johnny asked, his response does provide for an interesting discussion point as it relates to the very core of why we work. Yes, men do work to pay the bills, provide for their families, contribute to the good of society, etc. and yet, their is probably a deeper fundamental reason we work, even if the above reasons are satisfied. And what is that reason? It is that we seek fulfillment, significance, and happiness through our work.
Tom Morris, a former professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, and the author of "If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business," suggests that just as the classic virtues of Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity, lead to true excellence and quality in life, so also, at the heart of our universal quest is the desire for happiness. Morris suggests (and I would tend to agree with him) that if we consider the great thinkers reflecting on the topic of happiness throughout the centuries, we have probably inherited only three basic views of happiness. The following observations about our pursuit of happiness, and it's relation to work, are taken from his insightful book.
The first idea of happiness, and it's relation to our work, comes to us from the distant past, but it is the view that dominated the twentieth century. To give it expression, let us quote the deep thinker, comedian George Burns, who once mirrored the French philosopher Rousseau, but with his own distinctive twist: "Happiness is a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman. Or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand" (Rousseau actually said that happiness is "a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion"). Burns was of course espousing the view that happiness is achieved through pleasure. In our heart of hearts, we know that happiness is not identical to pleasure, and that is definitely a good thing if we seek happiness through our work, because the workday is rarely one long wave of pleasure. While there should be pleasures associated with our work (people do their best when they enjoy what they are doing!) - good pay for work well done, recognition, promotion for deserving people - most of us realize that while extrinsic rewards provide for a happy workplace experience, what matters most is the overall process in which these enjoyments take place.
While some seek happiness through pleasure, a second view says that happiness is achieved through personal peace. Granted, we could all use a little more tranquility in our lives, as anxiety and stress have reached heightened proportions in America. People are worried about their jobs, their marriages, their futures, and their kids. Even elementary school children talk regularly of being "stressed out ," and teachers are quick to offer suggestions of how to cope with modern life. Yet the pace of modern life militates against calmness, especially when life has kicked into overdrive with cellphones, technological advances, and the ever-present media. And while the Stoic philosophers were right to see the importance of personal peace, such a peace is not the same as happiness. George Eliot once observed, "It is vain to say that human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it." The truth of the matter is that we humans don't grow amid absolute tranquility. We need action, and a healthy amount of tension in our lives is good for our souls. While people in business sometimes resent the challenges coming their way, true human happiness is not to be thought of as the emotional equivalent or one long nap. Business is the activity of the living.
The third basic view of happiness is that it derives from our participation in something fulfulling. The bottom line is that we are at our best, and feel our best, when we are engaged in a worthy task. As it has already been suggested, happiness is not the same as pleasure, and it's not the same as personal peace. While both of these are relatively passive states, happiness is in fact a dynamic phenomenon of participation in something that brings fulfillment. In this sense, at its best, it is accompanied by pleasure and a good measure of personal peace. It could be argued that one of the highest forms of peace is that which accompanies a satisfying engagement in a job worth doing. Likewise, one of the greatest pleasures in life is active fulfillment from a job well done. Writer E. B. White once observed: "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world, and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
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Few people can fathom how technology consultant Dale Johnson chooses to unwind from work. While his family went camping recently, Johnson conducted his quarterly foray into being a couch-potato, including an abundance of delivery foods, video games, and watching an auto racing event, with cars "going round and round and round all day." In Johnson's opinion, "it's the only way to live," he says. "You've got to turn off. I'd be dead by now if I didn't." Johnson's story was recently recounted in The Wall Street Journal by CareerJournal writer Jared Sandberg.
So what do you look for in your leisure time? Doing nothing? Reading? Wall-to-wall activities? As the demands on our time continue to increase, the question isn't just about whether we can put work behind us, but as Sandberg suggests, "whether one has succeeded in finding work's 'anti-venom.'" A good many of us may return from time away at this time of the year, thoroughly frazzled. What we thought we needed as a break from the tedium didn't really deliver as expected. Geoff Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Penn State University, observes that "Lying around a pool is death for most people with half a brain."
Godbey explains that for our leisure time to be satisfying, it needs to resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills, and important relationships. And leisure has a hierarchy. At the lowest level, it's a search for diversion, higher up it's a search for pleasure and, at the top, it's a search for meaning. Godbey observes that "It's not that diversion is bad, but in terms of human growth, it's inferior to activities that are more pleasurable - and they're inferior to activities that are more meaningful."
Studies suggest that those people who engage in skill-oriented leisure, such as crossword puzzles, chess, bridge, etc., score higher on practical intelligence tests. "Leisure is a very important medium for making us more stupid or more intelligent," Godbey says. "At the end of your life what you've done with your leisure may be more important than what you've done at work."
Arlie Hochschild, author of The Time Bind, suggests that in recent years, play has become increasingly more like work. While in the19th century, leisure involved more "loafing and unexpected events," she says, these days, "it's more project - oriented," she adds. "You kind of work at play."
I'm reminded that while our modern understanding tends to define leisure as "free time," the older, classical understanding conceived of leisure as the cultivation of the self, and a concern for the higher virtues of life. Even our English word, "leisure," comes from the Latin licere, meaning, "to be permitted," while the Latin word for work was negotium, meaning "non-leisure." Work was thus perceived to be secondary to leisure.
Could it really be true that work is not the summum bonum, the "primary purpose" of my existence? How would my life look different if I really valued the importance of leisure? Is it actually possible to value leisure and worship in out utilitarian, work-oriented culture?
I recall reading a few years ago an article by Philip Yancey in which he dealt with the poet W. H. Auden, who observed that the human species is distinctive in at least three ways. "Humans," Auden suggested, "are the only creatures that work, laugh, and pray." While we might disagree with Auden - don't honeybees work? mantises pray? and dolphins grin? - his words still provide a valuable perspective for self-reflection. How do you and I measure up?
In our work, few would disagree that here, Americans excel. While many nations around the globe have a place for leisure (Europeans are known for their extended "holiday" weeks over the summer months), Americans often take gleeful pride in how many hours a week they put in at work. But really, what can we expect from a nation whose forefathers invented the Protestant work ethic? As a matter of fact, few would dispute that we value the work ethic so highly that it gobbles up everything in sight. Even our churches have come to resemble high-powered corporations (I recently heard of one pastor in a fast-growing megachurch who declared that if the church didn't double in membership in a few years, they would shut the doors...).
In our prayer, one would think that with all the books, entreaties, and teachings on prayer, we Americans would have it mastered by now, but it is doubtful. In many ways, we are constantly tempted to turn prayer into another form of work. Yancey comments: "This may explain why prayers in evangelical churches major on intercession. We bring God our wish lists and rarely get around to listening...I have noticed lately that biblical prayers (as in the Psalms) seem closer in form to the conversation you might hear in a barber shop than to a shopping list. Oddly, to those who saturate their lives with prayer, it seems less like a chore and more like a never-ending conversation, like ordinary life with the simple addition of an Audience."
In our laughter, the third leg of Auden's triad, Christians probably trail behind the rest of the world. How else are we to explain the disdain of humor and laughter among so many religious people? Why the low circulation of a satirical magazine like The Door? Why do so many Christians take themselves sooooooooooo seriously?
To correct this imbalance among work, prayer, and laughter, Auden proposed resurrecting the medieval practice of Carnival, the raucous holiday preceding Lent. Auden observes, "Carnival celebrates the unity of our human race as mortal creatures, who come into this world and depart from it without our consent, who must eat, drink, defecate, belch, and break wind in order to live, and procreate, if our species is to survive. Our feelings about this are ambiguous...we oscillate between wishing we were unreflective animals and wishing we were disembodied spirits...the Carnival solution of this ambiguity is to laugh, for laughter is simultaneously a protest and an acceptance."
As Yancey reminds us in his article, the only good reason to find humor in such phenomena as sex, death, and the belching reflex, is that we still retain a faint glimmer of Eden. Deep down, it seems odd to us that we upright vertebrates, tipped with a divine flame, still act so much like other vertebrates. But as C. S. Lewis observed, "The Christian has a great advantage over other people, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing that he or she is a fallen person in a fallen world."
For this reason, we dare not forget how to laugh at ourselves. Auden ends his reflection with this warning: "A satisfactory human life is possible only if proper respect is paid to all three worlds. Without Prayer and Work, the Carnival Laughter turns ugly...Without Laughter and Work, Prayer turns Gnostic, cranky, Pharisaic, while those who try to live by Work alone, without Laughter or Prayer, turn into insane lovers of power, tyrants who would enslave Nature to their immediate desire - an attempt which can only end in utter catastrophe, shipwreck on the Isle of Sirens."
So let me ask, when was the last time we were able to laugh at ourselves? It may be more telling of who we are than we might imagine.
A good friend of mine, Rick DeSoto, recently shared a small book with me (112 pages) that offers some excellent leadership principles, not only for work, but for life in general. The book, The Fred Factor: How passion in your work and life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, is authored by Mark Sanborn, a well-known author and speaker who heads Sanborn & Associates, an idea studio for leadership development. The book has been a national bestseller on both The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. The idea behind The Fred Factor stemmed from the exceptional service Sanborn received from Fred Shea, who delivered Sanborn's mail to his residence in Highlands Ranch, a suburb of Denver. Sanborn has essentially taken Fred's excellent principles of service and written a book about them.
We learn of Sanborn's first encounter with "Fred" in Chapter One: "I first met a 'Fred' just after purchasing what I called a 'new' old house. Built in 1928, the house was the first I'd owned and was located in a beautiful tree-lined area of Denver called Washington Park. Just days after I moved in, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it I saw a mailman standing on my porch. 'Good morning, Mr. Sanborn!' he said cheerfully. 'My name is Fred, and I'm your postal carrier. I just stopped by to introduce myself - to welcome you to the neighborhood and find out a little bit about you and what you do for a living.' Fred was an ordinary-looking fellow of average height and build with a small mustache. While his physical appearance didn't convey anything out of the ordinary, his sincerity and warmth were noticeable immediately. I was a little bit startled. Like most of us, I had been receiving mail for years, but I had never had this kind of personal encounter with my postal carrier. I was impressed - nice touch. 'I'm a professional speaker. I don't have a real job,' I replied jokingly. 'If you're a professional speaker, you must travel a lot,' said Fred. 'Yes, I do. I travel anywhere from 160 to 200 days a year.' Nodding, Fred went on. 'Well, if you'll just give me a copy of your schedule, I'll hold your mail and bundle it. I'll only deliver it on the days that you are at home to receive it.' I was amazed by Fred's conscientious offer, but I told him that such extra effort probably wasn't necessary. 'Why don't you just leave the mail in the box on the side of the house?' I suggested. 'I'll pick it up when I come back into town.' Fred frowned and shook his head. 'Mr. Sanborn, burglars often watch for mail building up in a box. That tells them you're out of town. You might become the victim of a break-in.' Fred was more worried about my mail than I was! But it made sense; he was the professional. 'Here's what I suggest, Mr. Sanborn,' Fred continued. 'I'll put mail in your box as long as I can get it to close. That way nobody will know you're gone. Whatever doesn't fit in the box, I'll put between the screen door and the front door. Nobody will see it there. And if that area becomes too full of mail, I'll just hold the rest of it for you until you come back into town.' At this point I started to wonder: Does this guy really work for the U.S. Postal Service?"
Sanborn relates how for the next ten years, he continued to receive consistently remarkable service from Fred, and could even recognize the days he wasn't working as well! As a professional speaker who was particularly adept at finding and pointing out what's "wrong" with customer service and business, Sanborn began using his exceptional experiences with Fred in his speeches and seminars. Everyone wanted to hear about "Fred," and were excited to hear stories about him, whether they were in the service industry, worked at a manufacturing company, in high-tech, or health care. After observing his exemplary attitude and actions, Sanborn realized that Fred - and the way he did his job - provided a perfect metaphor for high individual achievement and excellence in the twenty-first century. These experiences inspired Sanborn to write The Fred Factor.
In this blog, we'll consider two of the four fundamental, guiding principles that comprise The Fred Factor. First and foremost, "Everyone Makes a Difference." Sanborn suggests that it doesn't matter how large or even how ineffective an organization is - an individual can still make a tremendous difference. Nobody can prevent someone from choosing to be exceptional in their work, and at the end of the day, the question that really matters is, "What kind of difference did I make?" As Fred Smith, the distinguished business leader notes, "most people have a passion for significance." There are no unimportant jobs, only people who, in the organization, may feel unimportant in their jobs. And when people don't see much meaning in what they do, they don't bring much value to what they do. Everyone wants to count, and to know that what he or she does in the organization truly adds value to the client and the organization. Passionate people in an organization do ordinary things extraordinarily well! G. K. Chesterton once observed, "All men matter. You matter. I matter. It's the hardest thing in theology to believe!"
The second fundamental principle is this: "Success is Built on Relationships." In Sanborn's case, Fred took the time to get to know him personally, his needs and preferences, and so his service became personalized because of their relationship. He then used that information to provide better service than Sanborn had ever experienced before. Because people are not a "means to an end," we build a strong foundation for success when we invest time with the client, getting to know their needs and preferences. Indifferent people can only deliver impersonal service. Amidst our technologically-driven society, leaders would do well to remember that employees are human, and that technology succeeds when it recognizes that its users are human.
Last week we considered the book by Mark Sanborn, The Fred Factor: How passion in your work and life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, which has been a national bestseller on both The Wall Street Journal and Business Week lists. Sanborn, who heads Sanborn & Associates, an idea studio for leadership development, came up with the idea for this book through the exceptional service he received from his postal carrier Fred Shea, who delivered Sanborn's mail to his residence in a Denver suburb for over ten years.
In this inspiring little book, Sanborn identified four guiding principles that form the core of the book. Last week we looked at the first two of these principles. First, "Everyone Makes a Difference," in which Sanborn suggests that even despite being in an ineffective organization, an individual can still make a tremendous difference by choosing to do exceptional work - there are no unimportant jobs. As Fred Smith suggests, "most people have a passion for significance." And inspired people often do inspiring work, and people with passion often do ordinary things extraordinarily well. The second principle is this, "Success is Built on Relationships." Again, the thought is that we should take time to know our colleagues and customers, and how to truly serve them. Because people should not be treated as a means to an end, significant relationships form the core of true partnerships and success.
The third guiding principle of Sanborn's book is, "You Must Continually Create Value for Others." He suggests that the most important job skill of the twenty-first century is the ability to create value for customers without spending a lot of money to do it. Sanborn comments, "The faster you try to solve a problem with money, the less likely it will be the best solution. With enough money anyone can buy his or her way out of a problem. The challenge is to outthink rather than outspend the competition." Here are a few of his suggestions about adding value for others: 1) Tell the truth: while this should be a basic rather than value-added opportunity, sadly enough, it is increasingly in short supply. A philosopher once commented that if honesty did not exist, someone would invent it as the best way of getting rich!; 2) attract through artistry: what are you doing to add an artistic value to your products and services? "Freds" pay attention to appearances, not because appearances are more important than substance, but because they count. We are drawn to attractiveness, not only in people, but in goods, services, architecture - all avenues of life; 3) Meet needs in advance: this is the power of anticipation, knowing before the need becomes apparent what will be needed in a situation; 4) Add "Good Stuff" and Subtract "Bad Stuff": What things could be added to your customers' or colleagues' experience that would make their lives more enjoyable? What annoys or irritates them?
The fourth principle is that we are to "Reinvent Ourselves Regularly." I'm not sure I would express this concept exactly the way Sanborn does, but the essence of what he is saying is that we need to continue to grow personally, and not just live life on "autopilot." Rather than comparing ourselves against others (which is always self-defeating, as it leads to either pride or self-abasement), compare yourself against your own potential. Benchmark where you are at the present, and where you want to go. Again, the goal is ongoing personal growth and improvement. Am I continuing to grow intellectually, spiritually, and physically? What are the most important life lessons I have learned? Whom do I admire the most? Which of their skills and qualities would I like to develop in my own life? What are the best people doing? How can I learn from them, and adapt and apply what they are doing personally?
In conclusion, the takeaway of Sanborn's book is that the "Freds" of this world find tremendous satisfaction in their passion for significance, not just by the results they have achieved, but by how they have afftected and touched others. Sanborn relates the story of how Bob Briner, the former president of ProServe Television, distinguished himself by living a life of service. His trademark was to ask clients, friends, and colleagues how he could serve them, and it was not a hollow question. Only days before succumbing to cancer, when musician Michael W.Smith went to see him, Briner's one last question was, "How can I serve you?"
Jeffrey Skilling, who was sentenced this past Monday to 25 years in prison for orchestrating the massive accounting fraud at Enron, is not your average white-collar criminal. While most white-collar felons are motivated by greed, as in the cases of billion-dollar companies such as Adelphia and WorldCom, Skilling was a bit different.
Surely enough, Skilling had begun well. As one who graduated near the top of his class at Harvard Business School, his leadership in the early 1990's led to Enron's success due to his visionary idea that transformed the natural gas industry. Until he came along, Enron's primary business was buying, selling, and then transporting natural gas through its pipelines. But Skilling proposed the creation of a "gas bank," where Enron would serve as the market maker of futures contracts. The plan matched buyers of natural gas , who wanted to lock in current prices for future deliveries, with producers, who wanted a guarantee for customers down the road.
The gas bank would later become Enron Capital & Trade, which Skilling headed. And when he became president of Enron years later, he tried to reproduce the same success in other areas. While Skilling insisted that these Enron units be portrayed as vibrant businesses, the executives who ran those units knew otherwise.
Without question, Skilling earned tens of millions of dollars in salary and stock options between the time he joined Enron in 1990 and his sudden retirement in August, 2001. And at his sentencing, the U.S. District judge approved a settlement calling for Skilling to surrender $43 million in cash and assets to restitution funds representing former employees. But if Skilling seemed diffident about money, he did crave respect and the acknowledgment of his achievements. When defense attorney Dan Petrocelli showed the jury an energy magazine that listed Skilling among the most important figures of the energy business in the 20th century (alongside the listing for legendary oil titan John Rockefeller), as Petrocelli waved the magazine overhead, Skilling is reported to have blushed. According to evidence that emerged during his four-month trial in federal court earlier this year, Skilling's primary motivation in the fraud was not money, but that he was too proud to admit that some of his business initiatives at Enron were failures.
Pride blinds us from seeing things as they truly are. How does pride manifest itself in our lives? How does it cloud our perspective? Are we willing to admit our mistakes, professional and personal? Might we be on a similar path?
"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves...There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility."
-C.S. Lewis, "The Great Sin," in Mere Christianity
"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views...This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." -Blaise Pascal
The accountant, the shipping clerk, the school teacher, the student-athlete, the office manager, the CEO, and every person we encounter through the day is seeking, in all they do, to be happy. We might use different words to convey this idea, a life of purpose, significance, etc., but our quest for happiness is a universal quest, underlying all other activities. Interestingly, from all the great thinkers reflecting on the topic of happiness throughout the centuries, we have probably inherited only three basic views of how to be happy. The first comes to us from the distant past, but it is also the view that dominates our contemporary landscape. It is the view that happiness comes through pleasure, so eloquently expressed through the late comedian George Burns (with apologies to the French philosopher Rousseau), "Happiness is a good mean, a good cigar and a good woman. Or a bad woman, depending on my much happiness you can stand." We may chuckle at Burn's observation, but it is this view of happiness that lies behind the modern quest for money, things, and insatiable pleasures in life. Yet, we know that money alone cannot buy happiness.
"Many who seem to be struggling with adversity are happy; many, amid great affluence, are utterly miserable." -Publius Cornelius Tacitus
Another view of what makes us happy lies not in pleasure, but peace. Many Americans speak of needing calm in their lives, and anxiety seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Even young children often complain of being "stressed out." Charlie Brown in a cartoon a few years ago expressed it well when he declared, "Even my anxieties have anxieties!!".Yet, we all know that the pace of modern life militates against calmness, as we find ourselves in an "instantaneous" culture of cell phones and "push" email! And while the Stoics were right in believing that peacefulness in our lives was invaluable, we humans don't grow amidst utter tranquility. We need action and problems and challenges to solve. Human happiness is not synonymous with one long nap, or neverending leisure and vacations!
"It is vain to say that human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it." -George Eliot
A third view of happiness suggests that we are at our best, feel our best, and do our best, when we are engaged in a worthy task. Interestingly, happiness never exists in passivity because it is, in reality, a dynamic phenomenon of participation in something that brings fulfillment. And when we are engaged in this sort of task, it is generally accompanied by peace and pleasure, both for a job well done.
"It is only well with me when I have a chisel in my hand." -Michelangelo
So how are we doing? Do our lives exhibit a balanced approach to happiness that involves pleasure, peace, and a passion for doing something worthwhile?
"If it's not in your front room, then make it someone else's front room.”
Peter Drucker, widely regarded as the father of modern management, did something unusual some sixteen months before his death in November, 2005. He provided Elizabeth Haas Edersheim with unprecedented access to his thoughts on the world of business. Ms. Edersheim, a well respected management thinker in her own right, conducted numerous interviews with Drucker in those months before his death. "I had hoped for one hour of his time," she writes of their first meeting. "We talked for two." Thereafter, they spent countless hours talking in Drucker's modest ranch house in Claremont, California. Many of their discussions focused on the development of modern business throughout his life, which spanned nearly 75 years of his career as writer, consultant, and teacher, and how it continued to grow and change at an ever-increasing rate. Ms. Edershiem's, The Definitive Drucker, represents the distillation of Drucker's ruminations on business management.
Drucker believed that the challenges facing companies in the present world were more dramatic than anything he had seen in his own long lifetime. Consumers were gaining unprecedented power, and bright new companies were inventing not just new products, but new human needs! (Who could imagine that it would seem impossible to live without carrying thousands of songs around in your pocket?). Who would believe that seven of the top ten companies which had realized the greatest growth in share value over the past five years had not even existed a few decades ago?
To thrive in such a competitive environment, Drucker believed that companies would have to rethink everything, like partnering with "rivals" and listening to customers so that they could truly view themselves from "outside in." They would need to tap new sources of talent, and focus fiercely on their "core" competencies.
As for individuals, Drucker observed that they are now in charge of their own progress: "Knowledge workers are neither bosses nor workers," he said, "but rather something in between - resources who have responsibility for developing their most important resource, brainpower, and who also need to take more control of their own careers." In the new economy of the 21st century, every man is no longer a king who rules (think Jack Nicholson in the film, About Schmidt), but the CEO of his own career.
Arguably Drucker's most profound (and disturbing) commentary about the challenges we face in our contemporary world reads:
"In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, I think that it is very probable that the most important event these historians will see is not technology, it is not the Internet, it is not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time - and I mean that literally - substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves."
What did Drucker mean? Was he right? If so, what are the implications of his thinking? Are not freedom and a multitude of choices considered the epitome of the American Dream?
The American journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce, best known for his Devil's Dictionary, once defined an inventor as: "A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers, and springs, and believes it civilization." Most of us would beg to differ with his jaded view of modern-day inventions, and yet oftentimes we are not so sure of the proper place of technology in the world of business.
I recently came across an interview with John Chambers, CEO of tech giant Cisco Systems, in USA Today's Executive Suite, where Chambers talked about the important role of technology in the business world. Here are some of his more important observations when interviewed by USA Today's corporate management reporter, Del Jones.
Q: Retired Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill says he didn't use a computer, not even for e-mail. Yet he was successful. Maybe an understanding of technology isn't important at the CEO level.
Q: What opportunities are lost when a CEO is technologically ignorant?
Q: Do you find it harder to learn new technology the older you get?
According to a recent article in The New York Times, "BMW's Shrine to Horsepower," beginning this October, about 170 customers a day will be able to buy their cars through a dealer and, for a fee, pick them up at the cathedral-like showroom at BMW Welt (that's BMW World, for those of us who don't speak German), an ultramodern showroom in Munich. Rather than picking up their car at a local dealership, drivers who pay a little extra will find their car bathed in a spotlight and rotating on a turntable.
As Mark Landler writes in The Times, "Even in a country famous for its worship of the automobile, rarely has so elegant a form been harnessed to so mundane a function. 'Our dealers are like local churches, while BMW Welt is St Peter's Cathedral,' said Michael Ganal, BMW's director of marketing." BMW Welt is only the latest in a string of lavish, architecturally distinct "temples" erected by German carmakers to showcase their wares and bring visibility to their brands. Other German carmakers feel the same pressure, as last year Mercedes opened a sparkling new, futuristic Mercedes-Benz museum in its home city, Stuttgart, while across town Porsche is constructing its own ultramodern museum, which appears to hover above the ground. To some extent, BMW is playing catch-up, as Mercedes pioneered the delivery of cars at its factory in Sindelfingen, southwest of Stuttgart, in the 1950's.
The archtect of BMW Welt, Wolf D. Prix, of the Vienna firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, referred to Welt as "the Acropolis of Athens...It's a kind of covered plaza, where things can happen which are not necessarily connected with buying a car." Wolf continued, "Carmakers are taking over the role once played by the church or local princes: constructing landmark buildings." BMW recently hired Zaha Hadid, the British-based, Iraqi-born architect, to design the administration building for its assembly plant in Leipzig.
I couldn't help but think of the American-born poet and critic T. S. Eliot, who moved to the United Kingdom in his mid-twenties where he became a British citizen, and penned these prophetic words in his Choruses from 'The Rock':
"I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses. There I was told:
Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church
In the place where they work, but where they spend their Sundays.
In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor to Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not need to be wanted
In country or in suburb; and in the town
Only for important weddings."
In his own inimitable way, H. L. Mencken once observed that "friendship is a common belief in the same fallacies, mountebanks, and hobgoblins." It reminded me of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal addressing the issue of friendship among executive men in the corporate world. The article, "Entrepreneurial 'Therapy': Deals, Divorce, Downsizing," told of a once-a-month meeting where eight New York area entrepreneurs cancel all appointments, power down their BlackBerrys and cellphones, and gather for three hours. In their meetings, they unload not only their successes, but even more often, their stresses that cannot even be shared with spouses, friends, or boards: things like a marriage on the rocks, a teenager in trouble with drugs or sex, or their own depression that saps their passion for work.
The protocol for such groups meetings are often strict. Latecomers who are 10 minutes late stuck in traffic costs $100 toward the group's dinner, and regular absenteeism costs one their membership. Only similar experiences can be shared and in return, you have a handful of people you can trust with your deepest thoughts and challenges.
Reading about such "therapeutic" sessions among business entrepreneurs, and my own work with men in the corporate world, reminded me of the tremendous need for genuine friendship among peers in the business sector. A few things also came to light. First, many of the institutions that were for many years the central part of the fabric of American society (churches and civic societies, to name a few) no longer are being utilized by most men in the corporate world. Second, the fast-paced society in which we live mitigates against the very notion of long-lasting and enduring friendships where we can know, and be known. Third, men (and not just women and children) were not made to live life as an "island," but were made for community, to share with others from their own life's experiences and wisdom.
A number of years ago I recall seeing a marvelous sight in Brussels, Belgium. The scene was the Grand Place, built in the 13th century as a merchants market, with its ornate Baroque and Gothic guild houses, clearly one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. And at the end of the day's work, hundreds, maybe thousands of men were gathered together in that magical place along the many terrace cafes, sharing life together before heading home.
The same thing may be happening in our own culture among men, sans the architectural feat of the Grand Place in Brussels, but I wonder: can the American male, with his fierce sense of autonomy and independence, as easily share in life and conversation as his European counterparts? Those of you familiar with golf's Ryder Cup will readily know what I'm referring to.
What I know for sure is that as we make our way through life's journey, and face the difficulties of life, we all want friends who will come to our aid or defense in our time of need. And we know, also, that we tend to reveal our true colors during times of great stress and hardships. This truth was brilliantly portrayed in one of Aesop's Fables, "Two Travelers and a Bear."
"Two Men were traveling in company through a forest, when, all at once, a huge Bear crashed out of the brush near them. One of the Men, thinking of his own safety, climbed a tree. The other, unable to fight the savage beast alone, threw himself on the ground and lay still, as if he were dead. He had heard that a Bear will not touch a dead body."
"It must have been true for the Bear sniffed at the Man's head awhile, and then, seeming to be satisfied that he was dead, walked away. The Man in the tree climbed down."
" 'It looked as if that Bear whispered something in your ear,' he said. 'What did he tell you?' "
" 'He said,' answered the other, 'that it was not at all wise to keep company with a fellow who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.' "
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While for years many evangelical Christians have lamented their lack of influence in the world of politics, business, and media, in recent years this seems no longer to be the case. Michael Lindsay, a professor at Rice University has recently published his research findings of evangeiicals in high-profile leadership positions in his book, Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.
In an interview with Christianity Today last November, Lindsay, a former consultant on religion and culture with the Gallup Institute, made some interesting observations about the role of faith among some of America's executives. Here are a few of the notable points from the interview, somewhat lengthy but worth reflecting on:
Question: The media's portrait of evangelicals has focused on the obvious-popular evangelicalism. Yet you found something distinct, a hidden evangelicalism...
Lindsay: I wouldn't say hidden, so much as one that's less understood, more behind the scenes...what one person I interviewed called "move-the-dial" Christianity --folks who have their hands on commanding positions of American society...I found a cohort of folks who identify with American evangelicalism, but who are not quite the bombast or the placard-bearing Christianity that is sometimes associated with evangelicalism. They were subtler and quieter, but frankly higher-ranking and more powerful...The big story line is that evangelical influence in America is a lot more than people think, and yet a lot less than people think. It's more than people think, because evangelicalism is a faith that penetrates to the core of the believer's identity in such a way that if one wants to be faithful and be an artist or a producer in Hollywood, then invariably, his or her faith has to come to bear on those kinds of things. It's something you can't check at the door. So evangelical influence is not just pervasive in Washington, but at Harvard, in Hollywood, and in Silicon Valley.
Question: How are these evangelicals different from more "populist" evangelicals?
Lindsay: The cosmopolitan evangelicals I write about are people who are just as committed to their faith...By and large, they are very orthodox in their beliefs. Yet they rub shoulders with a much more diverse population. They're far from insular or inward-focused. The majority of their working day is spent with people of different faiths or of no faith...I was really struck by how these cosmopolitan evangelicals in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago look more like each other that they do the folks who go to church with them. They might go to a regular congregation, but their faith is broader, or at least espouses a greater appreciation for pluralism and diversity. I would say one of the key differences is that populist evangelicals are very interested in converting the other. That's a real driving mechanism-trying to persuade others that Christianity is right. I didn't find that quite as prominent among cosmopolitan evangelicals. they were more interested in legitimacy. They wanted their faith to be seen as valid, something that smart, intelligent people could embrace, that you didn't have to check your brain at the door to accept. You've got this more intelligent, savvy, well-traveled experience that naturally shapes the cosmopolitan faith.
Question: How do these leaders connect with each other:
Lindsay: For many of these leaders, local church involvement is not the principal source of spiritual solidarity. Rather, it comes from being involved in small groups, often among peers...There are two major constellations of networks. One of those is constituted by board membership on parachurch evangelical organizations.
Question: That entrepreneurial spirit (of these cosmopolitan evangelicals) matches well with parachurch organizations, which are constantly innovating, but it may not fit so well with the ethos of a local church.
Lindsay: Parachurch board members told me, "I relate more deeply to the people on this board than I do to anyone at my church. We live in the same world and we face the same kinds of problems. That's usually not true of the members of my church." Most evangelical elites continue to attend a local congregation, but they're often not involved or engaged in the way they are with parachurch ministries. They get impatient with what they consider incompetence. They go to a committee meeting that may be poorly run, and they can't stand to waste so much time getting so little accomplished...So they engage elsewhere, where things are run with a higher degree of professionalism.
Question: You write that evangelicals practice "elastic orthodoxy." Can you explain what you mean by that?
Lindsay: It's what separates evangelicals from fundamentalists. The two groups share their beliefs about the Bible, about Jesus, about God and the church. But they differ in how they respond to those shared convictions. Fundamentalists tend to separate from pluralistic society, while evangelicals actually engage it. Both share a core set of beliefs, this notion of orthodoxy. But evangelicals, and particularly those of the most recent generation, have an elasticity to their faith that compels them to build bridges and alliances with many groups.
Question: You infer a palpable distaste among the elite for evangelical culture--for its music, for its Thomas Kinkade artwork, for its suspicion of intellectualism and science.
Lindsay: That's right. I would say two things go hand in hand that have the potential to cause deep divisions. One is the divide between mainstream cultural consumption and subcultural consumption--only listening to Christian radio, only buying your books from Christian bookstores. And the other track is church versus non-church spiritual nourishment...I think it's too early to decipher what is going to happen. I don't notice, for example, that this distaste for evangelical kitsch goes to a deeper level where there is a distaste for fellow Christians. Many of the evangelical leaders would couch their comments in saying, "You know, these folks are so sincere about their faith." They talk about going to Christian conferences where there are the Peter and Paul salt and pepper shakers, and they are dismissive about it. Later on they'll come back to that as though their conscience is working on them. They'll say, "You know, I went to one of those conferences and the couple told me about how those salt and pepper shakers meant something very important to them."
Doug Holladay, with Park Avenue Equity Partners, first began thinking about the relationship between faith and work while working with a Washington-based ministry geared for business and political leaders. "I really wanted to make a difference, and it seemed at the time that the people I regarded as the most alive to God and making an impact were people in the full-time ministry. I had never met a lawyer or a doctor or an investment banker that said, 'I love what I'm doing, and this is where God's placed me.' "
Holladay gradually became convinced, however, that though his passion was to integrate faith and business, his impact was limited. "Ministry" would be the last place the integration of faith and work would happen, as it was the "secular" business professionals who were having the greatest influence. Yet surprisingly, these business professionals whose lives had a significant faith component rarely recognized the obvious, that it was they, not the ministers, who were impacting others the most.
This fact was made abundantly clear to him on one occasion, when he was having dinner with a business executive. In an interview with Holladay conducted by Michael Lindsay for his book, "Faith in the Halls of Power," Holladay recounted this story: "I was having dinner with the head of a large oil company...at the Key Bridge Marriott. We were up top in the dining room, looking down the Potomac. It was a lovely, inspiring sight...This guy was telling me how great I was, affirming the fact that God is really using me (in ministry)...Finally, I decided maybe I should ask him about what he does, and I said, 'Well, how's it going with you? Why are you in D.C.?' He said he had dinner with Henry Kissinger last night (and later) met with the President, but he kept changing the subject. Then he looked at me in the eye and said, 'Doug, someday I want to really make a difference and do what you're doing.'
The executive's words stunned Holladay: "It was jarring to me because I realized that I was part of the problem. There's a religious caste system, and if somebody will...fund people in the full-time realm, then they get a pass in their own life. They don't have to really wrestle with questions (of vocation. Christian ministers say to business leaders,) 'If you will fund our ministry, we'll never ask you any questions again about what you're doing'...Basically we don't want business people to be engaged in ministry."
Subsequently, Holladay decided to switch to what he calls the "other side of the table." And as Lindsay reports, he has since held senior positions in the White House, the State Department, and Goldman Sachs, and today runs Park Avenue Equity Partners. Holladay also served as one of the executive producers of the PBS video series, "The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis," based on the critically-acclaimed book by the Harvard doctor, Dr. Armand Nicholi.
So how did we get to this present state of affairs between faith and work? And where did this false dichotomy between the so called "sacred" and "secular" calling come from? Do we really believe it is true that clergy are "paid for being good," while the laity are "good for nothing"?
In his excellent book, The Call, Os Guinness rightly calls such muddled thinking a "Catholic distortion." He writes: "Calling is the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to His summons and service...yet this holistic character of calling has often been distorted to become a form of dualism that elevates the spiritual at the expense of the secular. This distortion may be called the 'Catholic distortion' because it rose in the Catholic era...Protestants, however, cannot afford to be smug. For one thing, countless Protestants have succumbed to the Catholic distortion...the fallacy of the contemporary Protestant term full-time Christian service--as if those not working for churches or Christian organizations are only part-time in the service of Christ."
Into a rigidly hierarchical and spiritually aristocratic world that Martin Luther encountered as an Augustinian monk in early 16th century Germany, Luther recommended the abolition of all orders and the abstention of all vows. Why? Because there was no warrant from the Scriptures for such a clerical contemplative life. But even more telling were these words of Luther:
"The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone...Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith." Writing about the "Estate of Marriage" in 1522, Luther, who did much for our recovery of a Biblical sense of calling, observed that "God and the angels smile when a man changes a diaper!"
So what is the role or purpose of faith in the workplace? Or rather, the role of work in the faithplace? In reality, life was never meant to be lived as either secular and sacred, but rather to be lived as an integrated whole. Malcolm Muggeridge was right, "Either all of life is sacred, or none of it is sacred."
Do you want to accept the challenge that will be the integrating dynamic of your entire life? One that will engage your loftiest dreams and aspirations, your most dedicated exertions, your deepest emotions, all your abilities and resources, to the last step you take and the last breath you breathe? Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer His call...
Don Williams, the former chief executive officer and chairman of Trammell Crow Company (now merged with CB Richard Ellis), once had an "epiphany" years ago as he was traveling around the world brokering deals. One Friday night, as he was changing planes in New York after a whirlwind trip that took him from Dallas to Brazil to Paris to Cairo to Tehran in a matter of a few days, he describes what happened to him:
"I flew into New York's JFK Airport in the midst of a major snowstorm and found that I had only a few minutes to catch the last flight to Dallas...I took off on foot toward the Braniff terminal. Running with a suitcase in one hand and a loaded briefcase in the other, I slipped and fell, then slid along my belly and landed spread-eagle and face-down in the snow. At that moment, I asked myself, 'What am I doing with my life?' Lying there in the snow, I came to realize that I was a workaholic, comsumed and driven primarily by work and ambition...I was neglecting not only my wife and five children, but also my spiritual life...I believe I was called to work, ... (but) what I learned is that if you put work in perspective, there's a...peace...that comes to you and actually allows you to make better business decisions and better use of your time...I didn't think about it at the time as an epiphany, but looking back on it, I think it was. In the end this is only business; this isn't your life. This isn't your ultimate destiny, and...that was a bit of an insight to me."
"How did it happen that now for the first time in his life he could see everything so clearly? Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream. Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?"
-Walker Percy, The Second Coming
C. S. Lewis once observed that "the tongue is the most unruly organ of the body, save one." Never has this truth become more apparent than in the news over the past few days of New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who yesterday resigned after the scandal broke of his involvement with a prostitution ring. Both the ascent and descent of Spitzer's career have been dizzying. He was the brilliant kid who graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, who then became the avenging state attorney general, tracking down Wall Street malefactors with a moralistic fervor. Everywhere he went, he found "betrayals of the public trust" that were "shocking" and "criminal." He then ran for governor in 2006 and seized the electoral mandate.
As the demise of Spitzer continues to unfold, a few lessons are worth considering. First, while some psychiatrists and so-called behavior "experts" suggest that Spitzer was "acting out" so as to get caught (due to issues of self-hatred, etc., and there may be an element of truth here), the more glaring story is the hubris, his pride and arrogance, that led him to believe he was not subject to the moral constraints of mere mortals. Deep down it is doubtful that Spitzer believed he would ever get caught. Does this attitude not remind you of other recent political and sports celebrities, who believe they are above the law? C.S. Lewis called pride "The Great Sin" in Mere Christianity, for "it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
Listen to how Michael Powell, writing in The New York Times, described Eliot Spitzer: "Mr. Spitzer cast himself, self-consciously, as the alpha male, with a belief in the clarifying power of confrontation. Long predawn runs, fierce basketball games: He did nothing at half-speed. 'Listen, I'm a steamroller,' he told a State Assembly leader in his first days as governor, adding an unprintable adjective into the mix for emphasis. Soon enough, his enemies and even admirers and friends came to affix another adjective to his name: reckless. So often the new governor seemed to accumulate enemies for sport, to threaten rivals with destruction when an artful compromise and a disingenuous slap on the back might do just as well. 'I am not naturally suited to this job,' he told a reporter recently, and perhaps he knew more than he was letting on."
A second lesson, or more an observation, is that we must beware moral crusaders. (Note to self: beware moral crusaders). There appears to be an interesting psychology at work in those who most vociferously denounce the moral shortcomings of others (to wit, Spitzer's strong legislation against prostitution). It is almost as though they are attempting to exorcise their own demons through attacking others. Think Ted Haggard or Jimmy Swaggart. Were not all these guys preaching/legislating out of their own weakness? Did Jesus not have this in mind when He told the hypocrite: "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7: 3, 5)?
A third observation is offered as a counterweight to what has been said, a warning against self-righteousness. Our tendency is to be the moralist, and to some extent this is rightly understood, to judge this man for his hypocrisy, for "playing a part," feigning moral purity when it was in fact lacking. Yet we have our marching orders in the New Testament, that "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12); and are reminded that when a person is caught in any trespass, "look to yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Which is all to say that none of us is above reproach, none of us have "arrived," or are ourselves beyond committing heinous sins, given the right circumstances. Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed in The Gulag Archipelago that "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human heart--and through all human hearts." He certainly was not excluding the saint.
Blaise Pascal knew the human condition well, both saint and sinner, and a few of his meditations from the Pensees are worth considering:
"Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast." (678) "Christianity is strange; it bids man to recognize that he is vile, and even abominable, and bids him want to be like God. Without such a counterweight, his exaltation would make him horribly vain, or his abasement horribly abject." (351)"To make a man a saint, grace is certainly needed, and anyone who doubts this does not know what a saint, or a man, really is." (869) "What a long way it is between knowing God and loving Him!" (377)
An interview with Ken Costa conducted by Michael Skapinker of the Financial Times, as part of their ongoing series of interviews, "Lunch With the FT," caught my eye recently. The interview is thought-provoking, as it portrays an executive who has achieved much success in the world of business, but also shows a side of Costa that might surprise some - he is a highly committed Christian. Costa serves as an exemplary model at the intersection of both the world of business and the world of faith, a rather rare commodity in our world. Costa recently left UBS, and SG Warburg, its predecessor, where he was employed for more than 30 years, to become chairman of Lazard International, co-running its UK investment banking business.
The interview was conducted at The Ritz Restaurant in London, and Skapinker asked Costa, "So you bought this place?" Costa replied, "My very good friends and clients did," referring to his good friends and investment banking clients, the Barclay twins, Sir David and Sir Frederick, who bought The Ritz in 1995. "I rather like supporting clients. I think it's always useful, you know." It was the great City of London figure, Sir Siegmund Warburg, who taught Costa the secret of investment banking: "He always used to say, 'First make a person your friend and then become his banker.' In many ways, that's the right way round, and not often practised in this demanding world," Costa remarks. He has become banker to many other friends since, including Sweden's Wallenberg family and South Africa's Oppenheimers.
Although he was a Marxist at university, the fashionable stance of university students, he soon came to see the hollowness of Marxist ideology: "The Marxist concept of man was the prevailing thought. We thought that the way in which society would right itself would be by forced redistribution of its resources and by the greater concentration on the humanity of individuals. What I didn't realize then is that in its essence Marxism is the denial of that humanity and that the compulsory redistribution of resources would deeply offend the individual's freedom." When he arrived at Cambridge University in 1973 as a post-graduate student, he realized that Marxism "suffered major flaws."
JOURNEY OF FAITH
While the interviewer sees a great reluctance in Britain for people to speak openly about religion (Tony Blair, who recently became a Catholic, said he never discussed his faith while in office because people would have considered him a "nutter"), Costa counters, "There is a greater openness than ever before for people to discuss the issues of religion. We talk about it...I"m absolutely convinced that the 21st century will show a heightened interest in spirituality...The global world will encounter spirituality that it has never had to deal with before because major corporations will be employing people of different faiths. It's going to become an issue for every boardroom..."
GOD AT WORK
Skapinker questions him, "is there not a contradiction between Christianity and the great wealth investment bankers enjoy? Isn't Jesus' preference for austerity?" Costa counters: "There is a stereotyped view of Christianity as being reductionist, narrow, bigoted, frugal, ascetic - choose whichever word you want - but that is not the way of the New Testament. The New Testament's way is the responsible enjoyment of all the good things that we're given. And by responsible I mean the recognition of where the goodness comes from, the enjoyment of the wonderful meal that we're having, beautifully prepared" (he gestures towards their fillets of brill, garnished with squid ravioli and swimming in curry veloute') - "or the wonders of art, of a mountain, something that you enjoy by reading, studying, and reflecting."
One last question in the interview: Is it true that he has read the Financial Times and the Bible every morning for over 30 years? "It is true," he says, adding: "The only question is: which comes first?" And which does come first? The FT? "I know," as he gives a naughty giggle. "Awful."
On a mild Thursday morning in late September, Kirk Stephenson, a London investment-fund executive, ate breakfast with his wife and eight-year-old son, then drove to a train station about 30 miles from his Chelsea home. As an express train approached, Mr. Stephenson stepped onto the tracks, according to British Transport Police. The driver applied emergency brakes but couldn't stop in time. Mr. Stephenson, 47 years old, died at the scene. What was ailing this man who seemed to have it all?
So begins The Wall Street Journal article from the middle of November about Kirk Stephenson's suicide. He left no suicide note, but many friends and associates in London, the U.S., and his native New Zealand suggest that he was a casualty of the global financial crisis, as pressures mounted from the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc.
Mr. Stephenson was the chief operating officer of Olivant Ltd., an investment firm he co-founded with Luqman Arnold, a former UBS AG President, in 2006 (They had named the firm after an ivory battle horn that in medieval legend kills birds by the shrill sound of its blast). When UBS posted significant losses in mortgage securities earlier this year, Olivant was accumulating a 2:8% stake and attempting to help turn around the Swiss banking giant. Those UBS shares, valued at around $1 billion, were put into a Lehman account with a proviso that allowed Lehman to use the assets as collateral to borrow money. And because of this so-called "rehypothecation agreement," Olivant was unable to locate the UBS stock when Lehman filed for bankruptcy. Olivant may never recover those assets. And when Lehman plunged into bankruptcy, its main European unit in essence froze the assets of thousands of clients, and $65 billion of cash and securities remain entangled in the unit's prime-brokerage arm.
As Olivant's chief operating officer, Stephenson had approved the Lehman contract, and had left the firm and was negotiating a separation agreement. Several friends offered that Stephenson had recently told them that he was under enormous pressure at work. Still, his death was a tremendous shock to a wide circle of friends, not only in business, but also art and politics. Only a few weeks before Lehman's bankruptcy, Stephenson and his wife had gone to Verona, Italy, to see the opera with a friend who heads a London hedge fund. On Sunday, September 21st, Stephenson had attended his regular weekly tennis game. His playing partner said he didn't talk about specific problems, but made it clear that "things weren't easy" at work. His game was off and his spirits subdued. "He seemed down, pale, and had other things on his mind," Mr. Maher said.
Clearly, the pressure had become too great. Stephenson was known to be fastidious about everything, from his neat handwriting to his ironed handkerchiefs. Mr. Maher, his tennis partner recalled him organizing the bills in his wallet so they faced the same way and were ordered in size. "Control was a very important feature for him," Mr. Maher offered. And clearly, the economic meltdown, and his financial demise, were too much for him to handle.
Four days later, Mr. Stephenson had taken his own life. His wife, financial journalist Karina Robinson, called her husband a "life enhancer" who liked opera and shared a passion for board games and tennis with his son. "He will be sorely missed," she wrote. In a tribute on the online memorial, his son Lucas wrote: "Dada, I miss you..."
What is it that could drive a man to leave behind so much? Just wondering...
In the business culture of our day, we most often hear of the success stories, and rarely hear about the "virtue" of failure. A recent interview with Donald Keough, the former president of Coca-Cola, and who now sits on Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway board, is often invited to speak about business success. Nevertheless, he decided to call his book The Ten Commandments for Business Failure. The following comments are excerpts from a recent interview conducted by USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones about his "backdoor" approach to accomplishment. I believe you will find his comments remarkably fresh, especially amidst the challenges we face in our current financial malaise.
Q: Why did you write about how to fail?
Q: Another cause of failure is inflexibility. But the opposite of inflexibility is wishy-washy, right? Mustn't leaders make hard decisions?
ABOUT DONALD KEOUGH
So are super-high achievers naturally endowed, or is there something else that places them at the pinnacle of their particular world? A recent article by John Paul Newport, who regularly writes a golf column for The Wall Street Journal, provided some interesting insight into this age-old question. He begins his article, "Mastery, Just 10,000 Hours Away," by observing that most golfers believe (though they may not admit it to anyone else) that they are better than their scores indicate, and that all we need to do is devote a little more time to practice, and a few more rounds of play, and we would reach our intended goal. Newport calls this "Golf's Grand Illusion," in that if we only practiced a little more, draining those long putts and chipping shots for tap-ins would become a normative part of our game.
Newport suggests that we should think again about what it takes to reach success, citing two recent business books, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, and Talent Is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. The premise of both books is that super-high achievers are not so fundamentally different from you and me, they just work harder and smarter.
Concerning the child-prodigy Mozart, Newport writes: "Both books, for instance, debunk the myth that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a born supernatural. The musical works he composed as a child were not particularly good (and were suspiciously written in the hand of his father, Leopold, a well-known composer). Most of them, even into his late teens, were rearrangements of other composers' pieces. As for his precocious skills on stage, modern musicologists estimate that his abilities were actually only about half as advanced as those of a run-of-the-mill prodigy today...So why the reputation as a boy genius? Because he did start early, at 3, under the expert tutelage of a father who was not only a gifted musician but also a specialist in the education of young talent. Leopold Mozart pushed his son to practice and perform nonstop, even though it was mostly drudgery, and gave him constant reliable feedback, as did audiences. By 21 Wolfgang was composing works that will live forever, but by that age he had been working diligently at the task for 18 years."
He makes the same observation concerning Tiger Woods (as both authors do), substituting Earl Woods for Leopold Mozart, and voila! Almost identical results. Sure, Tiger was a golf marvel at age 5, appearing on The Mike Douglas Show, but he was still only beating other kids.
Newport mentions that both Gladwell and Colvin utilize the formative research work of Florida State University Professor Anders Ericsson and colleagues to account for the development of extraordinary talent. Their work suggests that the threshold for worldclass expertise in any discipline, whether it be sports, music, science, business management, etc., is about 10 years, or 10,000 hours, or persistent, focused training and experience.
While Gladwell's book goes on to examine other factors (such as obscure circumstances from a high-achiever's early life) to account for their tremendous success, Colvin's work, Newport suggests, drills down into the minutia of the data to uncover the most productive components that lead to high achievement. And the most successful performers in any area, Colvin suggests, engage in what he calls "deliberate practice." This is an activity that is specifically designed by an expert teacher to improve the performance of a person's current comfort and ability level, and are repeatable, provide clear feedback, and are highly demanding mentally. In an interview on the difficulty and unpleasantness of "deliberate practice," Mr. Newport reported that Colvin, a Fortune Magazine columnist observed: "It has to be. Otherwise everyone would be an expert."
Let's not kid ourselves. While natural and God-given abilities (is there really any difference? See Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 4: 7-8) play a significant part in the success of any man's achievements, there is no substitute for hard work.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910
George Bernard Shaw once observed that "Every professional is a conspiracy against the laity." It seems that in any professional discipline, those on the inside perceive those on the outside somewhat differently. Never is this any greater than in the Christian life, where oftentimes ministers and teachers are given a superior status. I am reminded of the minister who once said to his congregation, "I am paid for being good, and you are good for nothing!"
We may laugh at such a remark, but the reality of the situation is that the New Testament informs us that we are all in fact "serving God," irrespective of the seemingly mundane, "unspiritual" post one may think we hold in this transitory age. Paul tells us that we are to do our work "with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (or corporations, or private enterprises, I might add), since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. it is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3: 23-24) That's an amazing statement, radically revolutionary when you think about it, of being rewarded for seemingly "secular" work, not just the work we may be involved with in churches and ministry contexts.
I recently came across this May 30 entry that addresses this point in a book that compiles some of the best quotes of C. S. Lewis, A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. He writes:
"I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious - as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti-Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds. The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly 'as to the Lord.' This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation."
-From "Learning in War-Time," in the book, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays.
An article in this Monday's USA Today opinion column,"God Goes to the Office," written by Lake Lambert, a Board of Regents Professor in Ethics Wartburg College, raised a number of interesting points about the new "workplace spirituality movement." Lambert observes that:
"According to the workplace spirituality movement, creativity at work is a spiritual process that involves the whole person and not just the intellect or manual skill, and the new class of knowledge workers is devoting more of their time to work because they find deep meaning and a sense of purpose on the job. Today, clergy from various traditions serve as corporate chaplains, and the new faces of spiritual leadership are organizational development consultants who lead employees through creativity-enhancing spiritual practices. Overall, the contemporary workplace is regarded as a community, open to spirituality in the same way that it is hospitable to friendship and love."
Lambert goes on to survey the religious landscape in corporate America, noting how in recent years evangelical Christianity has taken a prominent place in the office boardroom. He mentions founder Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, a growing fast-food enterprise, who has made "glorifying God" one of the corporation's goals. At the local Wal-Mart, Lambert observes, one can pick up books like "Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership," or "What Would Buddha Do at Work?"
And as workplace spirituality has gained prominence in corporate offices, spirituality has become a staple of the business curricula at a number of colleges and universities. And courses that span the spectrum, such as "Spirituality at Work," and "The Business World: Moral and Spiritual Inquiry through Literature," are observed as part of even a new niche within the Academy of Management.
While the majority of the current interest in business spirituality is not connected to specific religious traditions, such as evangelical Christianity, the role of religion and God in the workplace may present a number of challenging issues, both for the CEO and other executives. While a careful distinction should be made, as Lambert argues, between spiritual practices encouraged by the corporation itself versus the spiritual practices initiated by workers and allowed by employees, religious pluralism presents additional issues. Lambert observes:
"Employees may feel awkward or coerced by forms of corporate spirituality that challenge or undermine their own belief system. A Jew will obviously feel uncomfortable if not offended in a business meeting at Chick-fil-A that is opened in prayer to Jesus Christ, and many Christians would feel equally awkward in a business meeting that invoked a spirit that was not named as the God of the Apostles Creed. Authentic practitioners of Native American or Eastern religious tradition may object to the commercialization of their deeply held convictions. Charges of religious discrimination in the workplace have exploded in the past decade, rising faster than any other form of discrimination complaint. More litigation could be in store as additional companies seek to motivate and surround employees with an eclectic collection of spiritual resources even as they struggle to be hospitable to the increasingly diverse religious practices of new immigrants."
Despite the various experiences and opinions we may have about the role of God and religion in the workplace, it is fair to say that on the whole, the role of God, faith, and religion has been virtually absent from the marketplace. Dorothy Sayers, the gifted British mystery writer and playwright, observed that there is a need for a recovery of a Biblical sense of work, and it's sacramental nature. She wrote in her essay, "Why Work?" :
"In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world's intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?"
No, Malcolm Muggeridge, who came to faith in Christianity late in life had it right, as he observed, "Either all of life is sacred, or none of it is." The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians that in our work, the Christian is serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24). It is in fact an offering to God. Sayers was right. We have lost in our modern culture the inherent dignity and worth of our work. Listen to Martin Luther, the great Reformer, to his words penned in 1520 on the dignity and worth of all work:
"The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone...Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith."
Do you understand the sacred calling of your work? Do you see your work as as "offering" before God? What should be the role of God and faith in the workplace? Should the role of my faith be only individual, a platform for talking to others about my faith? Or do you believe faith in the workplace should find a corporate expression?
I would enjoy getting your thoughts and experiences posted below on this important subject...
Following the global economic tsunami that began in mid-2008, there followed a succession of suicides of formerly wealthy and powerfully connected men throughout the world. The CEO of Sheldon Good, a leading U. S. real estate auction firm, shot himself in the head behind the wheel of his Jaguar. The acting CFO of Freddie Mac hung himself in his basement. And a French money manager who had invested the wealth of some of Europe's most elite and wealthy families slit his wrists and died in his Madison Avenue office after he had lost $1.4 billion of his client's money in Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. And when a Bear Stearns senior executive learned that he would not be hired by JPMorgan Chase, which had bought his collapsed firm, he took a drug overdose and jumped out the 29th floor of his office building. A friend of his observed, "This Bear Stearns thing...broke his spirit."
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830's, he recorded his now famous observations in his book, "Democracy in America." One of his most poignant observations was that, "there is a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants...in the midst of abundance." And even in the mid-nineteenth century, Americans believed that riches and prosperity could make us happy, quench our thirst and yearnings for joy and happiness. And yet, as de Tocqueville added, the "incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart."
These observations from the recent economic crisis, and de Tocqueville's observations, are recounted in Tim Keller's book, "Counterfeit Gods." In this fascinating little read, Keller explores what he calls "the empty promises of money, sex, and power," and believes that within every human heart there resides what he calls an "idol factory."
And while many of us may have the notion that "idols" have to be some kind of literal statue, Keller rightly suggests that when the Bible speaks against idolatry, it is suggesting that God was saying that when we take any good thing in life; a great career, material possessions, or even our families, and turn them into ultimate things, we are in deep trouble. We have become idolaters. We place these "good" things at the very center of our lives, because (conventional wisdom suggests) we think that they will provide us with security, significance, and fulfillment, if we only attain them.
And while we may experience sorrow as a pain when we lose one good thing among others, we are despairing, which is ultimately inconsolable, when we have lost what we perceive to be an ultimate thing. When we as human beings lose the ultimate source of the meaning and significance of our lives (whatever we have placed there), there is no alternative source to turn to. Like the Bear Stearns executive, it breaks our spirit.
How do we account for this "strange melancholy" that permeates our culture and society? Not just the melancholy in downturns of our economy, but also during times of great prosperity and success? And when we experience genuine despair amidst economic downturns, what does this say about us as people?
Those of you who know me pretty well know that I am an unapologetic Apple enthusiast. I confess to being an "early adapter" with Apple, embracing the seamless technology of the iPhone, Apple laptop, and iPad. Some of my friends have over the years sought my input on what kind of Apple computer to buy, and to even accompany them to the exhilarating Apple Store at Lenox Mall in Atlanta. Apples "evangelist," they say.
The story of Apple is intertwined with the unrivaled leadership of Steve Jobs, especially over the last decade. Having once been fired by John Sculley from the very company he helped start years before (whom Jobs had hired away from PepsiCo), Jobs has battled much in life to put Apple at the very head of the world as a technology company. Earlier this year, a broad rally pushed Apple's market capitalization to more than $300 billion. As I look down today at my iPad App called QFolio HD, Apple is trading at $345 a share, giving it a market capitalization of approximately $317 billion, second only to ExxonMobil, as the world's second most valuable publicly traded company.
As Jobs recently announced another leave of absence following his liver transplant due to pancreatic cancer, journalists and financial pundits have frantically asked questions about the health of Jobs and the future of his company. Whatever the future may hold for Jobs and Apple, no one can deny that Jobs epitomizes the secular hope of the modern man, that of progress, achievement, and self-actualization. This was perhaps best seen by an excerpt from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new.... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
While I am a big Steve Jobs enthusiast for all his brilliance in melding business and technology, he still is a rather lousy philosopher. Jobs gave the most candid possible answer at Stanford. He's essentially saying, "Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away." In the face of death, the best Steve Jobs could tell graduates was that they should live each day as if it were their last. Sadly, that's not hope to me, that's despair and futility, sounding a lot like the Preacher's words in the book of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all of life is vanity!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Malcolm Muggeridge, in his book, The Third Testament, describes Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa, who was fifty-six years old and in Carthage when, in the year 410, someone came and told him that Rome had been sacked. It must have been a dramatic moment in his life. After this he would turn to the deeper question of the relations between earthly cities, like Rome, which have their day, rising and falling like everything in time, and the Heavenly City or City of God, which is everlasting. This question occupied him for the next seventeen years, almost to the end of his life, and resulted in his great work of genius, The City of God.
I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is which Kingdom are we involved in, the kingdom of Man, so eloquently articulated by Steve Jobs, or Another Kingdom, that will outlast this present one? What does that lasting Kingdom look like in our lives?
Recently I was listening with a group of men to Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio as he interviewed Os Guinness, a prolific author, on his book entitled, "The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life." He makes the assertion that for the Christian, calling "is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service." Essentially then, our primary calling is to God, while our secondary calling is to our "vocation" or job.
That's certainly a lot to unpack, but perhaps most importantly, he describes two grand distortions that have crippled this truth: the "Catholic" distortion and the "Protestant" distortion. The "Catholic" distortion rose in the Catholic era and tradition, where it elevated the spiritual over the mundane, the sacred over the secular. Even Protestants have succumbed to this dualism when they speak of "full time Christian" service, as if those not working for churches or Christian organizations are only part-time in their service for Christ. It's kind of like the pastor saying to his congregation, "I'm paid for being good, and you're good for nothing!"
In contrast, the "Protestant" distortion can be traced back to the Puritans, who over time came close to equating calling exclusively with "work." It meant the triumph of the secondary callings over the primary calling, as work was made sacred. And while the Bible is realistic about work, seeing it after the fall as both creative and yet cursed (mankind was created in the image of God before the fall to be a worker, as God Himself is a worker), work came to be seen as virtually holy. The "Protestant work ethic" in the early 20th century would manifest this worldview well, as exemplified by Henry Ford, who declared that "work is the salvation of the human race, morally, physically, and socially."
What do you think of these two distortions that Guinness describes? What would the Christian faith look like if there was no clergy-laity separation? What would the marketplace look like if men and women looked at their faith as something that was inseparable from their vocation in the world? Would it really make any difference?
We'd love to hear your thoughts...
Today Greg Smith is resigning today as a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm's United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
While I'm confident his experience at Goldman Sachs is not across the board in America's financial firms, he does address the firm's drive for mammon at the expense of the client's needs. I wonder what you think of his remarks in this resignation Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times. How does today's business executive balance the tremendous drive for success and money with client's needs, and "doing the right thing"? Your thoughts are welcome...