[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximizing Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation (book review)

I love the content. But I give four stars (not five) because it's overly technical/academic in it's language. I'm all about rigorous research. But the author is at Harvard and wrote this like a long academic journal article. If you can get pat the dry, over complicated language, it's a good read. Example: she calls these thinking modes "cognitive brain sets" or "brain activation patterns".

Creativity, the author argues, is not a single mental process, not a magical gift some have and others don't. Rather, it is the ability to engage in and transition between several ways of thinking. 

The first thinking pattern she discusses is the "absorb" mode, where you are open, curious, and nonjudgmental about what's happening around you. The key here is to see with fresh eyes rather than filter the world though your assumptions. 

The "reason" mode is a deliberate problem solving mode. You systematically analyze the gaps, look for patterns, test ideas, etc. 

The "connect" mode is where you reach for associations, finding similar themes but in non-obvious ways. This is where you see how building team cohesion is like baking a cake, or how thinking of paintbrush bristles like a pump for paint opens new manufacturing options. 

The "envision" brain mode is using your imagination, vividly seeing what could be. You pose a possibility and then envision all the ways it would play out. 

The "evaluate" mode uses an explicitly judgmental process. All creative professionals know that many more ideas are generated than can be used. In fact, many of them are really bad ideas. Doing the hard work of sorting and rejecting some ideas so you can focus on good ones is at the heart of good creative work. 

The "transform" mode, she says, happens when the negative feelings about yourself and life fuel creative work. I actually totally disagree with this mode being on her list. There are a lot of creative professionals who struggle with negative feelings. But I think feeling blue doesn't in and of itself contribute to creativity. I think creativity can help alleviate or channel those feelings. But it's a separate thing. Correlation does not equal causation. 

The last mode is the "stream" mode. This is when you get so caught up in what you're doing that time fades away and you zone out. It's when the challenge matches your skill level and there is real time feedback (even if just your own feelings on how you're doing). This mental process often generates ideas and work that feels effortless and even from beyond ourselves. 

But, again, creativity requires all these modes. It's not staying in your favorite mode. It's being proficient in each. And it's being able to slide back and forth without a major loss of energy or time. When you can do this, you can be creative in any field. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Funeral of S. Truett Cathy

Today, I attended the funeral of S. Truett Cathy.  I was inspired, humbled, encouraged, and I teared up more than once. And there was either a massive dust epidemic in that beautiful sanctuary or the thousands of others with me got pretty emotional as well.

And it’s no surprise. There are very few people I know—or even have heard of—who have lived their lives so well. He wasn’t perfect. But he was faithful. Day after day, year after year, he gave his very best to glorify God and bless his fellow man.

Those who didn’t know him might be impressed by his wealth as the owner of a $5 billion company (Chick-fil-A) plus many other ventures, including a theme park, hawaiian restaurant, and beach resorts. But those of us who had the chance to get to know him are far more impressed at his heart than his money.

In fact, it’s pretty ironic that he even ended up rich. He certainly didn’t start rich. Rather, he grew up in a family that was hit hard by the Great Depression. He used to joke, “I was so poor, all I had to play with was a loose tooth. And it was my brother’s tooth.” And he didn’t aim to be rich. When he was in elementary school, Truett’s teacher asked all the students to bring in their favorite bible verse. One day, she chose his verse to be the verse of the week. He was so proud of that moment that he decided to make it his life verse. The verse he chose:

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Proverbs 22.1a

Truett lived that value for the rest of his life. Time and time again, I saw him sacrifice profits to do the right thing. What is so sweet and surprising is that in the long run his good name generated great riches. But don’t be fooled because you learned about his riches before you learned about his heart. The riches were merely a byproduct of decades of faithful living—and not even the best byproduct his life generated.

About 9-10 months ago, shortly after he retired, one of his friends came to his house to talk with him about life and business and family. During that conversation, he told Truett about the recently released Forbes 400 list. Truett reached an all time high, being named the 46th wealthiest American. He just stared back, in a way that is well known at Chick-fil-A, as if to say, “Seriously? You think that’s important?" The moment stretched long enough that the man felt kind of embarrassed. 

Truett could care less about how wealthy he was. What he wanted to talk about was the health of Chick-fil-A, the impact of his philanthropic work, and most of all, the personal life of his friend—his kids, grandkids, and even how his garden was doing.

Hearing that story, I was again reminded how easy it is for me to get off track, to confuse what’s important. The first few sentences, I was pretty excited for him, pretty impressed with his wealth. But when I heard his response, it hit home yet again: It’s not about how wealthy you do or don’t get. It’s about how well you loved.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Truett said he’d like to be remembered for keeping his priorities straight. And he then said these were his top four priorities:
First, God. Second, his family. Third, his business. Fourth, his church.

He started with nothing, no money and even a speech impediment. But day after day he got up and gave it all he had. In his fifties, he was an unknown businessman in the Atlanta area. He wasn’t after getting quick rich. But his faithfulness paid dividends, in lives changed, friends formed, laughter and love, and gradually, money as well.

He chose to pursue a great name. And he succeeded.

I’d like to leave you with the way he challenged us at Chick-fil-A so many, many times. He would often end his speeches by saying, "Why not your best? Why not your best? Why not? Why not?”


For those who don’t know some of the details, I’ve included the official obituary below.

Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A Founder and Chairman Emeritus,  Dies at Age 93
S. Truett Cathy, our beloved founder and chairman emeritus, died at 1:35 a.m. today at the age of 93. He died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones.
Born March 14, 1921, in Eatonton, Georgia, Truett was four years old when his family moved to Atlanta, where he attended Boys High, now known as Grady High School. In 1946, he relied on a keen business sense, a strong work ethic and a deep Christian faith to build a tiny diner, the Dwarf Grill, in Hapeville, Georgia. He developed it into Chick-fil-A®, which today has the highest same-store sales and is the nation’s largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain based on annual system-wide sales. It was at the original restaurant that Truett created the sandwich that became the company’s signature item.  
Credited with creating the original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich and pioneering in-mall fast food, Truett built one of the nation’s largest family-owned companies as Chick-fil-A exceeded $5 billion in annual sales in 2013. Currently, there are more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A restaurants operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Remarkably, Truett led our company on an unparalleled record of 47 consecutive years of annual sales increases.
“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order,” Truett was often quoted as saying. “We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed. I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken, we should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.
A devout Southern Baptist, Truett taught Sunday school to 13-year-old boys for more than 50 years. As an extension of his faith and the clearest example of incorporating biblical principles into the workplace, all Chick-fil-A restaurants—without exception—operate with a “Closed-on-Sunday” policy. Rare within the food service industry, this policy allows employees a day for family, worship, fellowship or rest, and also underscores Truett’s desire to put principles and people ahead of profits. Chick-fil-A will remain privately held and closed on Sundays.
Truett’s legacy, of course, is much more than his remarkable business success. His business approach was also driven by personal satisfaction, generosity, and a sense of obligation to the community and its young people. His WinShape Foundation, founded in 1984, grew from his desire to "shape winners" by helping young people succeed in life through scholarships and other youth-support programs. In addition, through itsLeadership Scholarship Program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $32 million in financial assistance to Chick-fil-A restaurant employees since 1973.
As part of Truett’s WinShape Homes® program, 13 foster care homes were launched and operated by Truett and the WinShape Foundation to provide long-term care for foster children within a positive family environment. WinShape Homes has provided a safe and secure home to more than 450 children in which they could grow physically, spiritually and emotionally. WinShape Camps® was founded in 1985 as a residential, two-week summer camp to impact young people through experiences that enhance their character and relationships. More than 18,000 campers from throughout the country and abroad attend WinShape Camps each summer.
In 2003, Truett helped Bubba and Cindy celebrate the opening of WinShape RetreatSM, a high-end retreat and conference facility located on the campus of Berry College in Rome, Ga. The multi-use facility hosts marriage-enrichment retreats along with business and church-related conferences, and in summer months houses WinShape Camp for girls, directed by Truett’s daughter, Trudy.
Truett said in his book, Eat Mor Chikin; Inspire More People, “Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else—our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Truett received countless awards over the years, including most recently becoming a Georgia Trustees Inductee (2013); Fayette County (Georgia) Chamber of Commerce Dreambuilder Award (2012); Children's Champion Hunger Award (2011); World Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award (2010); Salute to Greatness Martin Luther King Jr. Award (2009); William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership (2008); Paul M. Kuck Legacy Award (2008); President’s Call to Service Award (2008); the Cecil B. Day Ethics Award (2008); The Tom Landry Excellence of Character Award (2007); Greater Dallas FCA Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Poultry & Food Distributors Association (2005); Norman Vincent & Ruth Stafford Peale Humanitarian Award (2003); Catalyst Lifetime Achievement Award from Injoy/John Maxwell (2003); Georgia Sports Hall of Fame – Chairman’s Award (2003); Ernst & Young – Entrepreneur of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award (2000); and Horatio Alger Award – Horatio Alger Association, Washington, D.C. (1989). Truett was the author ofIt’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1989); Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People(Looking Glass Books, 2002); It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men (Looking Glass Books, 2004); How Did You Do It, Truett? (Looking Glass Books, 2007); and Wealth, Is It Worth It? (Looking Glass Books, 2011). He also was co-author of The Generosity Factor with Ken Blanchard (Zondervan Publishing, 2002). 
In addition to presiding over one of the most successful restaurant chains in America, Truett was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jeannette; sons Dan T. and Bubba; daughter Trudy; 12 grandchildren; 7 grandchildren in-law and 18 great-grandchildren.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Greatest Historical Figure I Never Knew About - William Wilberforce Biography (book review)

On a one to five scale I would give this book six stars. William Wilberforce was probably the most effective world changer in a time of famous world changers (his contemporaries include Napoleon and John Wesley). But somehow we've lost sight of his impact. He was so effective in changing how the western world thinks that it feels non-radical to mention what he did. Or as the author puts it, he led our culture so far around the corner we can’t see back to where we used to be.

I certainly had no idea how different the world was before him or how much he did to change the world.

Before his time, there was no common understanding that those with power and wealth should help those who had neither. Today, we argue about how best to do that, but it is assumed as the proper goal. It was literally directly due to his influence the England (the largest world empire in history) and then the rest of the world changed. As a young man, he formally declared reforming culture to be his lifelong purpose, a “great object, set before him by God”. He then set about to use his considerable wealth, position in Parliament, communication abilities, and passion to change the world.

He connected with likeminded men and women, forming a community, literally living next door to each other for many years. Over the following decades, they launched hundreds of “societies” (their version of non-profit organizations) to promote many, many causes. They wrote letters, started the first successful national petition movement in England, presented bills in Parliament, and worked and worked and worked.

Their single greatest project in this large portfolio of change was the abolition of slavery. Slavery has been a tragic fact of human history as far back as we have historical information. From Asia to Eastern Europe to South America, every time an empire rose to power they enslaved the neighboring people. (The word “slave” comes from the word “Slav”—literally a slavic person from Eastern Europe—from when Europeans enslaved each other. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese empires all enslaved each other. Incans and Aztecs…the list covers all of human history.) While the European enslavement of Africans was horrific and evil, what we have a hard time realizing is that it was considered normal by the entire world. It was even praised and encouraged by the Church of England.

William Wilberforce directly (and in his time, famously) led his nation to abolish slavery—while they were still in power and profiting from it. This is the first time in human history that a nation in power did so. And then he convinced the remaining world leaders, from Russia to France to Spain, to end their slave trades.

The journey he went on, with victories and vicious attacks on him (some even physically), is fascinating to read. But for those who want to change the world (like me) the methods he and his friends used are thought provoking. 

And this book offered more than solid facts. It was written so well that I was pulled into his world and his life. I laughed out and even teared up a few times (I was in the airport, waiting for my flight one of those times—totally awkward.)

The life of William Wilberforce inspired me, instructed me, and impacted me deeply. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why I Will Dig For Buried Treasure In My Backyard. Literally. Yes, with a shovel.

A little while back, a business owner I know shared how he rates his employees. It took only a few sentences to explain and we moved on to other topics. But it kept coming back to me. The more I thought about it, the more it challenged me as a leader and as a man.

First, he names the expectation they're being evaluated on. He does a good job communicating his expectations before this conversation. It is unjust to hold someone accountable for an expectation you have not clearly explained in advance. After making sure the other person knows which expectation is being evaluated, he then assigns one of three ratings:
  • Remarkable
  • Compliant
  • Resistant
I’ve been a part of many evaluation conversations. I’ve even designed them. But he captured something I’ve never seen before. The middle rating I’m used to is “acceptable” or “meets expectations”. But “compliant"…well, being there means I’m not doing anything wrong. But it’s not acceptable either.

This rating system is great for anyone leading other people. I recommend using it. But that’s not what I couldn’t stop thinking about. I couldn’t stop asking myself, after my friend shared his approach with me, how I would rate myself? Imagining others saying ”He was compliant” at my funeral makes me feel a little sick to the stomach.

Which areas of my life have I settled for compliance? And what's keeping me from being remarkable?

Maybe the reason I’m not being remarkable in an area is that I have too many balls in the air. No one has the time and energy to be remarkable in many, many areas all at the same time. Then maybe I need to reduce the number of balls I'm trying to juggle. Three “remarkable” areas in my life would be more satisfying and meaningful than nine “compliant” areas.

Maybe, if I’m honest, the reason I’m not remarkable in a few areas is that I don’t care about being remarkable. Then why am I wasting time and energy on that area? Can I replace it with something I care about enough that I'd want to be remarkable? Or maybe I need to remind myself of why I ever starting doing it in the first place.

Action Idea: List out the different areas of your life, then rate yourself remarkable, compliant, or resistant. And, if applicable, see if you can shift one area from compliant to remarkable. Maybe you can come up with two ideas on how to be remarkable.

After thinking about it for a while, I finally did this. And there are some areas that I had to say aren’t remarkable, and I really care about them. I have decided to reduce some of my commitments. And I’m making some changes to how I approach some areas in my life.

My first change area will be weekends with my kids. In the past few years, I’ve slid into getting through the weekends with the minimum amount of fuss. I just wanted to make them as easy as possible so I could rest after a long week. I love my family--being with my wife and kids is truly refreshing for me. And I don't have any problem with rest as an important element to a remarkable weekend with my family. Taking a day a week to rest is so very wise. But I wouldn't say that "restful" is by itself enough to make the weekends remarkable. 

One idea I've think will get me closer to remarkable: At least twice in the next couple of months, take my kids on a pretend adventure. For example, I plan to bury a "treasure" in the woods behind our house and we all go find it using a map I've drawn. Don’t tell my kids, it’s going to be a surprise. I need to decide what to put in there. Ice cream—my first idea—won’t work if they take too long to find it. Selecting the right pirate costumes are next. (Yes, of course I’ll be dressing as a pirate. The only question is whether I try to hike with a peg leg or not.)

Some of our weekend time will continue to include rest. It wouldn’t be remarkable if we were over-busy every weekend. But I'm no longer settling for getting through the weekends. I want a remarkable time with my family, every weekend. I may not accomplish that every time. But I’m going to at least try for remarkable.

What do you want to make more remarkable?