Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Mind and Spirit”–> Where Should I Give?

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Luke 16:11:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

The bible speaks so much about money.  It is mind blowing.  Yet somehow in our Christian church, we seem to be self satisfied and completely lacking discipline to address this.  I have used the scripture above to speak to this before in this blog, but this is such a powerful concept that we cannot pass it by.  Recently in this life, I got to see two individuals that felt that they were doing God’s calling.  I want to use a real life example to call out how I see the difference and why I would support one and not the other.

Now we are going to go down a rabbit hole, and if we are not careful, we can break our neck.  The funny thing about the Bible and the Gospel that we live:  we do not have certainty.  As a matter of fact, all that you can be certain of is that you might be wrong.  It is because of the uncertainty that you seek the Lord’s guidance every day.  He is the quiet voice turning uncertainty into you steps.  So, I am going to state that my examples might not be perfect, and may even be wrong.  However, I fundamentally believe the principles that I will talk about are right.

The first persons that I would like to call out is my brother and sister Terry and Melissa McGill.  They founded an organization called Sister Schools based in Seattle, Washington.  I will not call out all of the nature of Sister Schools, but if you spend any time on their website, you’ll find out that they basically are working to make sure that kids in Uganda have more opportunities in life.  In a charming picture above, which is taken from a video, you’ll see Terry trying to get the kids to get brighter face for a video they are doing.  If you know Terry, which we have for over 30 years, it wouldn’t matter if he was talking to kids in Seattle or Uganda.  He really loves kids.

The other person, which I will not mention here, is a teacher of sorts.  I know him well, and he is a deeply spiritual man that loves the Lord.  As a matter of fact, he has made some tremendous sacrifices in his life so that he can teach young men in his chosen field at minimum wage.  He has  Ph.D. and is tremendously smart.  He believes that he is able to teach certain knowledge so that Pastors can lead their flocks better.  He recently told me that “this is all that I want to do.”

So faced with both of these people, which one would I choose to support with the giving that I feel the Lord would have me do?

I am not a sacrificial giver.  I give what the scriptures has told me to give, which I believe is roughly 10% of your increase.  What does this mean?  To me tithing is taking 10% of whatever you get in your pocket, and you give 1/10th of it to the Lord. 

In other words, if you make $100 dollars, the government takes $30s, and you are left with $70, you give $7 to the Lord.  In recent years, because the Lord simply blessed us more than what I could conceive, I have given a little more than this.  However, I have simply given a little more because I feel that the Lord gave me a little extra, and he called me to give more.  It is a gift of joy and abundance, but really it still isn’t anything sacrificial.  Nor is it something that I believe the scriptures would compel me to do, other than allow me the opportunity to say thanks.   Also, on top of this, we do support our local church more with our core giving driven by my salary.

So again, of the two different people above, who should I support for my giving beyond my core church giving?

I look for a couple of signs that I think are clear.  The first off, I don’t believe that the Lord is calling many, and maybe not any, to be poor.  He calls out that the poor will always be with us, but in Old Testament, he says that if we live our life correctly, there will be not be poor in the land.

Deut:  15:4  However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,

I believe that the Lord would like us live lives of ordinary means, and be able to be self sufficient, and if tragedy does strike, family or insurance is there to help catch you.  While we are called to give alms to the poor, we are not asked to become poor. 

What is poor is a difficult thing to say.  The poor in America may look like a wealthy person in Uganda.  However, I think of being poor as not being able to take care of your family and kids.  Not giving them the opportunity to support their family by having them learn a trade or get an paying education.  I believe that the Lord calls us to have a home that we go to.  He calls us to live in a land, and grow and prosper.

I believe that every Christian in America should have enough salary to pay for medical insurance and save for retirement.  I don’t believe that the Lord wants us to be vassals to the the state.  If you need to depend on medicaid and welfare, other than for a family tragedy or because you were tested by having children with special needs, you are not living the life that God would have you lead. 

Mind you, I am not saying that being poor is a sin.  I am also saying that the Lord may test you and simply have you experience an unfortunate series of events.  There is a genuine core of people that simply poor because life gave them bad breaks, and we are not there to judge them.  On the other hand, personally know people who are more than capable of making a very good salary, but simply reject the idea that they need to use their talents for making money.  They would rather live off of their in-laws or take hand-outs or not be responsible for their future.

One of the key pivot points in my life was a dinner I had with my Dad.  I wish that I had always been as I am now, but when I was in my late teens, I was not hyper responsible.  I wanted to be an actor, and do plays for a living.  Through conflict with my Dad, he would not allow me to do this.  He felt this was irresponsible.  I was not overjoyed at his input.

So, I did a career that he wanted me to do.  I graduated with a degree in finance and accounting, and while I studied, I will not say that I was serious in all that I did.  After graduating, I did not want anything to do with this degree.  So, after losing my way for a couple of years, I went back to school to get my electrical engineering degree.  My Mom and Dad ended up helping me go to school for 9 years.  However, on my second degree, I was serious and I worked hard.

After finishing my EE degree, I really only had one good offer from IBM.  However, I remember going out to Zoopa (soup and salad) with my Mom and Dad, and I was going to explain to them that I really wanted to be closer to home, and the IBM job was going to make me move to Rochester, MN, which wouldn’t allow us to be close to my parents.  I was going to turn the job down.

My Dad said that this wasn’t a good idea.  The Lord had opened up a door for a very good paying job, and if that meant that we needed to move away, having the financial security of this job was critical for me.  He explained that the Lord doesn’t always open the door that we want to go through.  The Lord opens his door.  This was the job that I was offered, and it was a very good job.  He said that I should take it.

I am a big believer that the Lord’s word goes through our parents, so I followed my Dad’s advice, and my life took a dramatic change.  If you look at my job history, I have never run a company, and I only made it to a Vice President level for a short while, before I was humbled and settled at a lower level.  But my salary has been good.  Well beyond what I could ever expect if I had been in Seattle.  So, although I did not want to do it, my success has contributed to myself and to others.

This is true for those in that are serving the Lord.  Now there are two ways not to be poor.  Paul calls this out both in words and in action.  The first way is if you are serving the Lord, it is very fitting for you to pull a salary.  Paul calls this out in his writing, but also the Old Testament sets up a system so that the priest get paid.  The average senior Pastor in the USA is around $60K per year.  I am not saying that this is not hard work, and they could get paid more in a non-pastor role.  I am saying that it would be possible to live on $60K per year, and support a family. 

The second thing that you can do is what Terry and Melissa did for many years.  They made tents.  Now they really didn’t make tents, but Melissa worked hard at her business because it allow Terry to serve the Lord.  The idea of making tents goes back to when Paul made tents in Antioch so that he could live.  Paul understood that it took money to live.  He could have begged, but he said that he would work.  Out of that work, he paid for his pastoring.  For many years, Terry was able to serve by virtue of his wife’s work.  As time has gone on, he has been able to pull a salary from his work.  This, to me, smacks of something that is very, very correct in the lives of Terry and Melissa.  They understand how money works, and they use it as a tool.

Finally, and this is where we become very dangerous, we have to ask ourselves of the value of the work that these people are doing.  In my example above, you basically have a somebody that is trying to help Pastor’s do their work better.  I am not saying that this is bad, but I am saying that when I look over this work, I see this as a nice to have and not a core item.  However, I feel that Terry and Melissa have hit a home run in the Kingdom of God.  In their work, they are fundamentally changing the lives of young men and woman that grow up in areas with no resources at all.  If these young people can get a bit of education, they can move out of incredible poverty. 

What most people don’t understand is that helping people in poverty will be the thing that separates us from the rest of those that don’t make it into Heaven.  This is called out in the scriptures in Matt 25:34ff.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Let me make this exceptionally clear.  The Lord calls out five key activities that all those were saved acted on:

1. Feed and give drink to those that are hungry and thirsty

2.  Provide clothes for the poor

3. Take care of the stranger

4. Take care of the sick

5. Visit the prisoner

It is easy to get confused when you read the gospels because sometimes Jesus exaggerates and sometimes he does not.  For example, I know he is exaggerating when he says, “Pluck out your eye.” However, I don’t believe in this case that he is exaggerating at all.  He says that those that make it into heaven are going to show these five signs in their lives. 

When I look at this list of activities, I can say that Terry and Melissa are clear addressing 1-4 in their work in a a very direct fashion.  They are helping the poorest of the poor.  People that are my brothers and sisters.  Although I have never been to Uganda, I know that if I support Terry and Melissa, I am helping them help others.

So now that we have established this with such certainty, I am now going to take a half of step back from the ledge.  While we are called to the social gospel of feeding physical needs, we also need to realize that tithing can be a simple act of adoration.  There was a time in the gospels when somebody broke a very expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’s feet, and the Holy men said, “What a waste.  Why not give this to the poor.”

It was at this very time, when a piece of giving was looking like a big waste that Jesus calls out, “the poor you will always have with you.”  The point of this is to understand that we come first to the altar with a sense of overwhelming gratitude.  God looks first at the heart, then he looks at the actions.  A sacrifice given in the right way but with a wrong heart means nothing.  However, an offering given with a contrite heart, even if the sacrifice looks like a suboptimal use of the offering, is one that pleases the Lord. 

What the Church lacks is a conviction that working hard and paying our tithes is a high calling.  Our giving and making sure we give correctly is a very high calling.

Monday, February 20, 2017

“Mind”–> The Insanity Of Elon Musk

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I have a co-worker, and really, he is more senior in the company that I work in, but we see things in a very similar fashion, that came into a meeting the other day talking about Elon Musk, the force behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX.  Now, this co-worker is an extraordinary individual that has the unique background of having worked for Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, and Scott McNealy.  I am a fan boy of the Silicon Valley, and this guy has been around.

So we chat for a while, and he tells me that Musk is one of the more dynamic leaders that he knows of.  When you have somebody that has worked for visionaries like my co-worker has, this grabbed me.  So, we go back and forth about this for a while, and finally he says, “Look Elon is going to change the world.  I mean really change it.  What he is doing is amazing.”

He then shoves the Ashlee Vance biography of Musk into my hands, and he tells me (and a few other in the meeting) to read the book.  Normally, I devour books and other material, so I turn to him that say, “Well, I’m probably the only person here that will actually read this.”

Needless to say I spent the next 10 days getting through the book, and I understand what my co-worker was talking about.  Musk is truly a visionary that has substantially changed the world, and we will all be better for the work he has done.

Musk by all accounts is a genius.  As a young child, he simply started to read the encyclopedia, and once he had read it, he remembered it.  He has a sticky mind, and his ability to simply recall information instantly or even years in the past is an incredible feat that most people are boggled at.  However, he couples that innate ability with six other core skills:

a. Fearless:  He is fearless about risk.  He almost personally lost it all multiple times during the crash of 2009.  However, his willingness to put it all on the line allowed him to create both these great companies.

b. Talent scout: He is a great recruiter.  He fundamentally understands that the right person can make or break a company, therefore, he finds the right people.

c. Drive:  He is wired with drive so high that he never needs any down time.  His ability to constantly work and live and breath his business blows away both his fans and his distractors.

d. Empathy: He has a slightly malformed empathy center.  By all accounts, he loves his family, but what he requests from his employees is basically how he drives himself.  I don’t believe that most people are wired like Musk.  They cannot drive themselves all the time.  However, he demands this from his people.  On one occasion, a PR person had an issue because his child was being born.  Musk took him to task for neglecting his job. He is known for killing himself to get talent, but after he gets this talent, if they don’t measure up, he quickly gets rid of them even a month or a few quarters later.  He demands a level of output so high that people burnout.  The same can be said of his marriages.  In many ways, his drive for his companies displaces his ability to deliver what his companions needed. 

e. Focus: And unwillingness to allow anybody or anything to get in the way of his vision.  Since much of his vision is based around doing things cheaper, faster or better, he is brutal on anybody that doesn’t drive lower costs, tighter schedules or the best quality.

f. Vision:  He wants to leave fossil fuel behind, and make a colony on Mars.

These areas are the amazing dichotomies of Musk.  On one level, he only cares about humanity.  It is very apparent that the wealth that he has means little to nothing to him.  His wealth is a simple tool for him to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.  And much of what he wants to accomplish is taking mankind to the next overall level.  Here is a man who has indicated that we may need to provide basic income (that is a government handout) to everybody in the US.  On the other hand, he is unwilling to figure out a decent system in his companies to allow his employees to have a life outside of his all consuming passions. 

“Do you think I’m insane?” is the first line of biography of Musk by Ashlee Vance.

In a dinner with Musk, where the author was trying to get permission to work with Musk on his biography, and this question came out.  It is clear that this is the central question of the book.  Vance invites us into Elon’s life to make a judgment on this.  Vance is, in balance, is very kind to Musk.  He could have focused on his divorces or the worse parts of his personality and drive that some might say are cruel.  However, Vance never stays long on these subjects.  While he talks about the divorces, he does not stay on them long, and he presents both sides.

When we take a look at a biography, we are tempted to spend as much time on the person as we are the man that makes something.  Humans love to gossip, and being divorced three times (counting a twice divorce to the same woman), makes him a tempting target.  What is clear to me, however, is that Musk is Musk.  While his wives may of wanted him to change, and many men would be willing to change, Musk cannot change what is core to his nature.  His wives should have seen what they were getting into.

While I may not want to incorporate all of the Musk ideas into my own life, what I can tell you is that reading biographies like this does heavily influence my thinking.  What is critical in my thinking is that the bulk of Musk can be distilled into six major points as listed above.  Why we may not want to live the same life as Musk, I think that the book allows us to understand why Musk will be measured amongst the greatest Americans to have lived.

While those that are closest to him may suffer burnout, it is clear that the companies Musk has built will return a massive amount of value to the USA, and his companies could well be an important ingredient our ability to compete on a world stage.

I strongly recommend this book.  It not only gives insight into Musk, but it challenges us all to think beyond our own horizons, and inspires us to think about what we can achieve.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

“Mind”–> Stay Away From The Sponges

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I remember being in college and there was a really nice guy on the floor of the dorm that I lived in.  He would drop by and chat, and we would talk about stuff.  Somehow, he would inevitability get around to seeing something that I had that was nice, a camera, some school supplies, or a bike.  Then somehow, he would always get around to borrowing it or using whatever was of interest to him.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I remember being a little irritated by the constant borrowing or using.  I mentioned it to my Dad one time, and he said, “Son, let me tell you something, that guy is a sponge and you need to stay away from him.”

I remember at the time thinking about how my Dad was simply harsh.  I mean he didn’t even know the guy, yet here Dad was declaring the moral nature of the guy.  I was the one that was living with the guy on the same floor, and I certainly knew more than my Dad.  Although he borrowed a bit more, he certainly wasn’t this person that my Dad talked about.  My Dad was a hard man, and I simply thought that this was part of his hardness.

Interestingly enough, I found out over time, that I was completely wrong and my Dad was completely right.  In many ways, the fellow was exactly what my Dad said.  My Dad had seen this so many times over his life, he had an understanding that some people are users of other people.  Their sense of reciprocation is broken, and they will attempt to remove as much from you as they can.

In many ways this is subtle.  They are not psychopaths.  They are not bad people.  They are simply sponges.  It is the perfect name for them.

Sponges come in all shapes and sizes.  They have two payoffs that the sponges are looking for:

a. One is monetary.  They are trying to figure out how to get some money out of your pocket.  Now it may be borrowing something, or using something that isn’t their stuff for too long.  But it means that they deprive you of something.

b. The other one is emotional.  They are looking to suck you into their emotional soap opera.

The goal of a sponge is to see how much they can suck in, with the minor amount that they can push out.  Now mind you, you may squeeze a sponge and get either emotional support or money, but the point is that you need to squeeze.  If you are a nice person, you might end up squeezing, but then you feel guilty about it.

This becomes most difficult inside of a family because our life starts off as being sponges.  You come out of the womb, and you are incapable of reciprocation.  A matter of the fact, if you are hungry, you scream, and you are comforted or fed (as long as you have good parents).  This is the epitome of our spongeful lives.

The act of growing up is the act of learning that we should not be sponges.  We learn that we may ask from others, but we should also look at returning in kind.  As we grow, we understand that we are not measured by our ability to take, but by our ability to return and provide.  The act of being a parent is one where we try and train our kids in many abilities, and not being a sponge is top on the list.

This drives a clear turning point at one time in our lives.  As parents, we need to mentally break the cord.  At some time in life, as a parent, you need to say, “This is their life.  They can ask me for advice, but I cannot force them to live their lives as I see it.”  Mind you, you may have issues where you feel that you have to speak up, but you have to keep it far and few between.  As a parent, you can’t do this all at once, but it is a gradual letting go as the child moves from junior high to high school or college.

You can actually let go and still have the child live with you even after college.  The key is understanding why the child is at home.  If it is to save, I find this as a very good reason.  After all, I am not attaching my stuff to hearse and dragging it into heaven.  All my earthly goods will be gone, and I will leave it to my children.  So, I have no issue in helping my kids now rather than after I am gone.  However, as I give, one needs to recognize that giving should be letting go.  I may give my child a down payment on the house, but if they sell the house and use this money for vacation, they are telling me that I shouldn’t give any more.  It might seem like a waste, but some times the only way to see what happens is to give your child live ammo.  I would suggest that you are slow in how you test the waters here.

To explore further, in many families, as the parents get older, there are two things that can happen:

1. The child can see the parent has accumulated some wealth and may want that wealth for themselves.  Even the best of children may want the security that comes with that wealth.  The main thing to remember here is that if the child has accumulated security themselves, it takes the pressure off.  So, teaching money habits is key.  The thing which I’ll interfere the most in my child’s life is pressuring them to have the ability to make a decent wage, and pushing them to save.  To me, this is as critical as pressuring them not to smoke.  Good money habits and a savings plan makes life much less stressful.

2.  The second thing is that the parent can become the role of the child in the relationship.  In the life of the parent, the child starts off as the sponge, but toward later in life the parent ends up as the sponge.

The parent may turn into a money sponge.  The parent may want you to sign on their mortgage and co-sign a note. Secondly, they may turn into an emotional sponge.  They may have an anger problem, or a bitterness problem.  They want to pull you into their soap opera.  In this second situation, I have a very strong word of advice.  Don’t get sucked in. 

I’ve heard some say, “but my parents helped me so much.  I owe them.” 

Really?  I’m going to suggest you have it screwed up.  If our families work well, your parents were help by their parents.  In the right way of life, if your parent helped you, you must help your children.  You don’t pay your debts backward.  You pay them forward.  This is the lesson that you should have been taught, and the lesson that you need to teach your children.  I am helping you.  Now you go help your children. 

But some parents don’t play this game.  They are playing the sponge game.  You need to be careful if you parent turns into a sponge, either monetary or emotional.

Now, I am not saying to be cold hearted, and allow your parents to starve.

If they are having a bad day or if they lost their spouse, don’t say “hey get over it.”

What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be sucked into their situation.

If your parents are to the stage of life that they need help, but they never knew how to budget, you are not going to fix that problem.  If they can’t keep the house, they can’t keep the house.  If they can’t afford a new car, don’t help them buy it.  If they need to be in an assisted care facility, but they won’t move, you can’t force them to move until they recognize it themselves.  Don’t get into an argument with your parents.  Let them know how you feel and move on.

Now, some will have parents (or other relatives) that simply never could figure out how to manage money.  They never saved a dime, but they were good people.  In this case you need to ask yourself “are they an emotional sponge?”

a. If the answer is no, I hope that you have enough room or enough money to invite them to live in your house or apartment.  Good parents or grandparents have lived with their children as long as their has been history.  If they are decent people, bring them in.  The Lord will honor and bless you for it.

b. If they are an emotional sponge, you need to cut them outside of your life.  I am not saying to not talk to them.  I’m not saying that you can fiscally cut them off.  (Although you are not obligated to support their lifestyle that they want.)  You are obligated to figure if you can help them out.  It may mean that you send them some money to help with their needs for the rest of their life.  But the money needs to be budgeted, and what the Lord directs you to.  And don’t steal from your kids to pay your parents.  Your kids don’t need a Porsche, but they do need an education. 

I recently had a situation where somebody that I was close to was allowing one of their parents to suck them into their soap opera.  The parent had always had mood swings, and as they got older, this continued or even got  worse.  However,  this person was not insane, nor mentally ill. 

In this case, they were simply a grumpy old person that was going to be bitter because somebody had ripped them off.  Now the parent could have lived without the money.  So while it was a lot of money, it was not a life changing event.  However, the person that I was close to was spending a massive amount of time arguing, talking and emotionally getting wound up around the situation with their parent.  After they had done this a month, they told me about it, and asked me for what to do.

Now this person had allow the situation to get so bad that it was impacting their relationship with their spouse and their children.  On the surface, it looked okay, but the family knew there was something wrong.  This person really wanted to understand what to do, so I came down hard so they would never forget the lesson.

I said the following:

a. This is not your problem.  You are trying to tell your parent how to live their life.  This is just a crazy thought.  You’ve allow this to impact your whole family, and in reality, this person is so set in their ways, you are never going to change them. 

b. When you are dealing with a parent, they will always see you as the child.  The more you try and play the parent, the more that you will drive a wedge into your relationship.  You need to be kind and listening, but if the person tries to suck you into their soap opera and sponge you out, you need to simply say, “I’m sorry I’m not talking about this, and I’m not getting involved.  You know my opinion, and I am not going to allow you to vent to me and ruin my day.  This is your problem, so call me when you want to be civilized.  As for your problem, if is yours to solve.  You already have my opinion.”

By doing this, you save the relationship.  What really makes a parent mad is when the child tries to teach the parent.  They resent it, and it drives the relationship apart.  The key is stating your opinion, then refusing to be sucked into an emotional soap opera. 

imageWhat most people don’t realize is that this is scriptural.  In Luke 15, we have the story of the Father who son left him. Most people know this story as “The Prodigal Son.” 

The issue is that the son had a completely different viewpoint on life and could not see the value of hard work and saving for the future. 

If you think about it, the son is a perfect example of somebody that was completely wrong on their outlook of life.  The son had a really bad worldview, and was just about to do something completely stupid. 

So into this situation we have the role of the Father.  The most pressing and clear aspect of this whole story is that the father never tried to argue or nag their son.  I’ve heard the sermon of the prodigal son so many times that I’ve lost count.  In all the sermons, they use the story to illustrate God’s love and forgiveness.  They know the father in the story has the character and nature of God.  What they don’t point out is that the father is more than willing to know that he cannot force the son to do the right thing.  He has to wait until circumstances drive clarity into his son’s understanding. 

If God doesn’t force his children to do something, why do we think we are more capable of God?

This story is a blueprint for how we are to treat those that are closest to us.  In this case, the father had raised the son to the age of accountability.  Once there, the father understood that he could not force his son to do anything.

The father simply gave his son over to God, and had hope that his son would find his way home.

As children, we need to realize that we may have prodigal parents.  We need to let them go, and our job is to pray that  they return to us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mind & Spirit–> “Where Do I Live?”

If you have watched my personal blog at all, you might notice that we have moved back to the Silicon Valley.  Now in many, many ways, this has been a spiritual trip.  I really felt that this is where the Lord wanted to place us.  However, at the same time, you do not disengage your Spirit, and the following shows some of the thinking that can point to this being the right move. 

I would like to say that I thought of this before hand, but it is only looking back over time that you can see where the Lord directed you.  I would suggest that there are 3 areas that you should look for, considering that you feel the Lord is open to having you buy a house:

1. How reasonable is the mortgage interest rates?

2. Is you local area going up or going down?

3. What do you have in terms of options for money?

Cheap money is one of the biggest reason to buy a house.  The thought process is that if somebody will lend money to you very cheaply, you can take this money and buy something worth money that might appreciate in value. 

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If you can see the chart above, we locked in our mortgage at basically what was the lowest rate seen in American for decades.  Now, I’m 54 years old, and I have a 30 year mortgage.  This means that I’ll be paying until the wife and I are 84, but if we see any inflation at all, this means that this should become less and less painful.

We bought the house for quite a bit of money, and in some sense, I expect that value of the house to go down.  If you take a look at the Case-Shiller index housing is almost at an all time high.

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If we check Trulia, we can pull up what has happened in Los Gatos for the last 16 years for 4 bedroom housing.  You can see the same peak in Los Gatos as what was seen in the top 10 composite.  The difference is that the same percentage for crashing never happened in the local area.  For most of the US, the peak came in 2007 or so.  Doesn’t matter where you are.  However, starting in 2013, the Los Gatos, and the rest of the Bay Area, started a climb not seen in the rest of the country.

los gatos long_thumb[1]

So back in 2012, when Case-Shiller was around an index of 150 for composite 10, pricing in Los Gatos on 4 bedroom houses was $1.25M or so.  Now that the composite 10 is at 200, Los Gatos looks to be around $2M or so.  This means that our area has gone up around 66% versus the national average of 33%.  Not surprising considering that this is the Silicon Valley.  With the amount of wealth in the area, it simply means that people have plenty of money to pay for stuff.  For instance, within 10 minutes of our house is the corporate headquarter for Netflix.  This place has been doing nothing but growing.  This means that they pull in people, and these people buy houses with their growing stock price (which has 10x from 2013).

With interest rates going up, it means that people will be less able to buy a house, and thus the market pricing for housing will most likely come down.  This means that we bought a house, and we are almost guaranteed that we will “lose money” on it.

Although I really did not want to do it, when I bought, the Lord prompted me to buy something that I could rent out.  In a future blog, I need to cover the idea of “rent seeking,” which is all about the idea that you can force illegal rents, but the idea of a rent is a very important idea in terms of wealth.

Adam Smith had the idea that wealth come from three areas:

1. Wages, which money somebody gives you because they need something that you do

2. Profit, which is money that  you got because you sold something for a higher price than what you bought it for, and you might had to put effort into it

3. Economic Rent, which is money that is created when you get paid for something that you are not producing.  When you buy software, you are giving somebody profit.  When you are renting software, you are giving somebody rent.

Once you understand the idea of rent, it is a very powerful idea.  You buy something once, then you can basically just have somebody pay you money for it.  So when we decided to move to the Silicon Valley, I decided that I would look at something that I could rent out.

My Grandfather had apartments.  My father had apartments.  Now, I guess it was my time to have something that I could rent also. Now, you can have all types of different rentals at all times of your life.  When you buy that first house, you can delay gratification and buy a duplex.  Rent out one side of the duplex, and live in the other.  It is not as nice as owning your own place, but it is very fiscally wise if you buy the right place.

In our case, we had the opportunity to buy something with rentals on it.  Two rentals to be exact.  Now the person that owned the property before us had a very, very property bill because they had owned the property forever, and California has Prop 13, which limits property tax.  So, she had both places rented out for a very low price versus the current market. 

I believe as a Christian, we are to be a kind and generous person, so I did not push super hard on these renters, and I allowed them to continue to rent at their current rent.   Their coverage of all of my month mortgage, property tax, and insurance is approximately 17%.  This is a great way to start off the month.  You have basically somebody that pays 17 cents of every dollar that you have to pay out.

With one, I am simply allowing her to rent 30% under the market rate.  She is a very good renter and person, and somebody that I trust.  She is also renting the smaller unit, where even at 30% off, it is a burden that I can live with.  I asked her to pay a nominal increase on January 1st.  With the other renter, they are only 20-25% of market rent.  They really cannot afford a lot more, so we know that eventually know that they will need to move.  However, they are fantastic people, and I am willing to wait until a better moment for them and us.  So, while they will pay a bit more in January, the increase in rent will come up to around 25% of the the monthly expenses.  Again, this really is not bad, however.  For now the property has enough money so that our monthly bill will be lowered by 25%.

However, by June, we’ll rent out the bigger of the two places.  If everything goes correctly, we’ll be pulling in around 45% of our month rent.  If our other legacy renter pulls out for any reason, we’d raise that rent, and we’d have 50% of our mortgage paid for by the renters.

What is really mind blowing: if I lost my job, I probably could figure out how to have and AirBNB our of two rooms in my house, which have external doors, and this would take us to having rentals that cover 75% of my total monthly payments. If I then placed my kids into public schools, I probably could simply retire and live off of my stock market investments, not that I want to do this.  The point is that the current arrangement has some pathways to allow us to make sure that I have the freedom to not be ruled by somebody else, which should allow me to keep an open heart toward God to follow his leading.

I believe that the Bible strongly teaches us that we are not to be slaves of other men.  Therefore, having and pursuing the ability to figure out someway to be able to leave your job behind is very powerful.  It is also remarkably destressing. 

And while I think the Lord places trials and tribulations in our life to bring us closer to him, I also think that many things we do are often brought on ourselves because we simply don’t listen to him.  And picking your manner and place of living is one area where you can do a favor for yourself.

Friday, April 22, 2016

“Mind and Spirit”–> Who Was David

imageIn the Bible, David was a man of war.  He was also an artist, a song writer of the highest caliber, who was celebrated for this grasp of music and mood.  He ruminated and got depressed and he celebrated and danced, but he was such a warrior that God wouldn’t even allow him to build the temple because he had too much blood on his hands.  David was born to this life, having been a young hellion of a boy that took joy in his weapon of choice. 

I think we think poorly about how the ancient times looked at those with a sling. 

Malcom Gladwell is not always accurate, but he does have a good bit of truth in his writings, and he speaks of how the ancients did not under estimate a good sling thrower.  Many a man was cut down by a stone thrown out of a sling, as it was the equivalent to the arrow man of medieval Europe or a rifleman of today.

So David was a crack shot, a poet, a good musician, and was born to be King. 

Too bad that his family didn’t like him.

As we know, when the prophet Samuel came to the house of Jesse, because God told Samuel that a King was going to be in Jesse’s house, his Father basically kept David hidden away.   I think the Bible lays out the David story pretty well, and I have heard it preached on maybe 20 or 30 times.  But I just don’t think the sermons that I’ve heard really get to the heart of who David was or how he interacted with his family.

imageWe really need to look between the lines to figure out David’s characteristics. However, I think that if we spend a little time digging, we get a very full picture.

I believe that the Bible gives us a lot of hints that David did not necessarily really get along with his family.  Why do I say this?  Because we either find that David is being hid by his father, and the one time we see him interacting with his brother, we see a brother that basically flies off the handle and immediately starts to trash talk David.  Also, his Dad had a big family with a lot of brothers.  We never see them after his youngest years.  If David and the rest of his family was close, one of David’s brothers would have shown up somewhere in history when David takes over the Kingdom. 

Jesse’s family is a bit like Jacob’s family.  In the same way that Joseph was not liked by his brothers, I believe the Bible hint that David was not liked by his brothers.  The difference is that Jacob loved Joseph.  In contrast, in Jesse’s household, it was everybody against David.

So, Samuel shows up at Jesse’s homestead one day, and he announces “Hey, Jesse, one of your sons is going to be the future King.”  After going through all the brothers, Jesse basically hides the fact that David is even there.  Do you really think that Jesse didn’t have any conception that David could be the one?  Do you really think that Jesse just “forgot” about David because he was small?

No, when David comes in from the field, we find a good looking kid.  There are no words about David being small or not looking like a King.  Instead, the Bible says he was a handsome young guy.

What Jesse says has to be the lamest excuse in the world.  When none of his other sons are called out by Samuel as the King, he says, “Oh, I forgot one, he not here, he’s looking after the sheep.”

This is obviously just an excuse.  When Samuel shows up, Jesse basically starts thinking to himself, “I have never liked David, and I really don’t think that he is ever going to amount to anything.”  Jesse likes the rest of his boys.  He has them hanging around the tents, shooting the breeze, and making jokes.  The rest of the brothers really don’t like David, and they give him the title of errand boy.

“David, go tend the sheep,” they say.

“David, go bring us some water,” they say.

“David, go deliver some food to your brothers,” they say.

So Samuel shows up, and is going down the list and he is coming up empty.  Do really think that Jesse is not aware that he have one more son?  I bet that Jesse was pretty sure that one of his more favored sons was going to show up as the King.  They probably came up in front of Samuel, and Jesse would brag a bit on his boys.

“This one is very smart,” he would say.  “He got the local merchant to lower his price to us.”

“This one is very handsome,” he would say.  “He already has all the women swooning over him.”

So these boys keep showing up, and Samuel kept saying “next!”

Somewhere, and I don’t know if it was at the beginning or as they started to get toward the end, Jesse would have started to suspect that David could be the one.  If Jesse had any warm feeling toward David, he would have at least invited him to the tent when Samuel showed up.  Imagine if Billy Graham or Rick Warren was coming over to you house.   Wouldn’t you want all of your kids to meet him? If you loved your kids you would.

Instead, Jesse knows that David is out in the fields, and he doesn’t even tell somebody to go get him.  I suspect that this is well known by Jesse, and as he gets to the end of the line, he starts to realize that David could be the one.  Oh, he must have been crushed.  Here’s the odd boy.  The one that everybody picks on, and something could be going the wrong way.  The one that he dismissed is actually the one that God is choosing.

Jesse wants this to not be the case so much that when Samuel runs out of boys, he has to probe and asked Jesse point blank, “Wait, you showed me everybody?”  Jesse is probably tempted to lie.  Instead, he comes up with the worst excuse ever. 

“Uh, we got somebody tending sheep,”  he says.  I am sure he is broadcasting that this means that this son is far away, and its going to take time to find him.  He is trying to do anything in his power to keep David out of the picture.

Now, if we can trust the majority text, Samuel now pops out a surprisingly strong statement. 

“Listen guys, nobody sits down until he arrives,” he states.

This is where we read between the lines.  Jesse was hiding something, and he gave this weak excuse that it was too inconvenient for them to wait for David because, “He’s off in the field somewhere.”

I think Samuel was actually a little pissed by this time.  He had to dig around with Jesse to find out why he didn’t have the last son.  When Jesse confesses he has been holding out on Samuel, Samuel gets pissy back and he says, “Okay, you twit, tell you what.  We are just going to stand here until your last boy comes in.  You don’t get to sit.  You don’t get to relax.  We are standing because you held out on me.”

So, what was David like? I think we know that people don’t change a lot in life.  We know a lot about David because of the way that he acted, and things that he did.

*He was a crack shot with his sling.  He probably was constantly flinging stuff to get better. 

*He certainly wasn’t stupid.  We find out that David was so good with his sling that he felt confident enough to go after a bear and a lion.  He felt confident enough that he felt he could take down Goliath. 

*I’ll bet that he pissed off his brothers because he was religious.  “Mr. Sing A Song to God,” they would say.  He was good at music, so much that everybody that heard him knew he was really good.  If Jesse wanted to impress Samuel or offer entertainment, he would have sent for David to sing a song.  However, we find out that all of his songs were centered around God.  I don’t think he started the Psalm when he was twenty.  I think he started composing at a young age.  However, the subject was always God.  Probably drove his Dad and brothers nuts. 

The point about this blog post is don’t over romanticize the characters in the Bible.  Even the best of the best, like David, had a dysfunctional family where the Dad really didn’t love the youngest son.  Now, I am not saying that we should have dysfunctional families where the Dad doesn’t love all the kids equally, and my wife and I have said that we do love out kids equally and separately because we feel we can’t lose one of them.  And I believe this is how God wants our families to be.

However, I am just saying that life is simply not fair.  Somewhere along the line, you’ll find somebody or something that is wrong that you can’t fix.

But God can.

imageSo, be your own person.  Polish your slingshot skills, for whatever your slingshot might be.  And don’t be afraid of showing a little Love about God, even if your family or friends don’t understand you.

God will seek you out, and bless you, in this life or the next, by being true to what God has called you to do.

You will be called in from the fields.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

“Mind and Spirit”–> “The Superforecaster”

phil

Our friend that we will be discussing today is Philip E Tetlock.  He sets up home at both Annenberg School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  Annenberg is their Communications school and Wharton is their business school.  So, this perfect for what he does.  He intersects the line between how we communicate and how we do business.  When I look at Tetlock, I see him as yet another voice in the wide world of how we make decisions.

I have taken and extraordinary interest in Behavioral Economics of late.  I am convinced that most and many of life’s most difficult decisions can be solved if we would truly understand the concept of behavior economics and apply them to our lives.

Although, I have covered this subject before, the simple summary of the Behavioral Economics subject is that it discusses why we make illogical choices. Often times this is applied against buying behavior, only in our case, we are going to follow Tetlock looking at forecasting behavior.  He is trying to figure out what makes a good forecaster.  And why do we care? 

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made.

In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.

~Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, Princeton University, 2010

I strongly believe that Mr. Bezos is brilliant and correct.  We are all about our choices, but then we must ask ourselves.  Many of our choices are built on the perception of what is going to happen in the future. The Bible touches on this subject also.  Our Lord and Master defined two distinct pillars that we must pass through.

On the left, we pass through the pillar of “don’t worry.”

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

Matt 6:34

On the right we pass through the pillar of “look at the circumstance and predict.”

But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? 

Matt 6:2-3

So in in this light, our forecasts should not be something that drives us to lack of faith in God, but they should be something that allows us to see the path that is in front of us.

imgresTetlock is known for kicking off the “Good Judgement Project” that helps us understand that often times those that look like they really understand the future really don’t understand the future.  He has taken this work, and created a book with Dan Gardner, a reporter called Superforecasting, where he lays out his findings. 

In his research, he was able to find people that could predict the future, which he calls his “superforecasters.”  These are people that look simply on the outside for facts, but they have behaviors and habits that causes them to be much better than the average person in determining what the future holds.  And what they do is truly amazing.

The common way of describing somebody’s ability to predict the future is call their Brier score.  Similar to a golf handicap, you want to have a low Brier score.  If you call everything correct, you are going to have a Brier score of 0.  If you call out that something is going to happen, and if always does the opposite, then you are going to have a Brier score of 1. 

The first thing to think through is the difficultly of the environment.  If you live in Southern California, as I do, you may be asked to forecast if the weather is going to be good.  You can generally predict that the weather is going to be good because it is always good.  Thus being a good weather forecaster in Southern California is going to be easy.  However, if you are in a geography that has unstable weather pattern, you are going to have a tough time making the call.  So, your Brier score is going to be lower in easy to predict environments.

The problem is that most people don’t consider the environment in which they forecast.  They assume that if they were successful it is because they had the right thinking.  However, choice, by its very nature, deals with uncertainty.  An individual may make a bunch of choices, and just simply be lucky.  It is only by time and history do we see if the individual was lucky or had a way of thinking that really helped them make the right choice.

imgresAfter years of research, Tutlock’s superforecaster are much more accurate.  A large part of this is due to something that is referred to as the Hedgehogs and the Foxes.  This idea was called out by Isaiah Berlin, and is pretty simple.  When you think about things, does it all come down to “one big thing” or is it really “a bunch of smaller things that don’t necessarily have a clear winner.  

Now the idea that “life is really not all that hard” is a great thought.  It also turns out that it is very wrong.  When we look at the future, those that are thinking about it through many different lenses do much better than try and make it simple.  But here is the rub, those that seem to be able to declare at the top of their voice, “I can simplify it down to one thing” make everybody happy, and the research shows that they are promoted.  Those that are much more fox like in their decision making simply have a tendency to be perceived as not decisive, therefore not as bright. 

[By the way, to go off the track for a while, let us decide that we are going to do the right thing to become more thoughtful, more analytical, and therefore more accurate in our thinking.  While this is the right thing to do, it doesn’t allow people to follow us.  They are going to be worried that we don’t know what is happening.  So you have three options:

1. Educate your audience about the Foxes and the Hedgehogs, so they become enlightened

2. Don’t educate them, and simply realize that they won’t follow you.

3. Portray yourself as a hedgehog, but silently be a fox.

I’ll give you a guess on which path you should take, and remind you that your choice must be relevant to the culture you are in.]

Timgreshese foxes tend to work in “Active open-mindedness (AOM).”  What is this?  An idea created by Jonathan Baron.  To be AOM, you need to be willing to look at other peoples ideas, and willing to challenge your own ideas. 

And Baron would ask you the following questions to to see if you qualify as a AOM:

a. People should take into consideration evidence that goes against their beliefs.

b. It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree.

c. Changing your mind is a sign of weakness.

d. Intuition is the best guide in making decisions.

e. It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them.

The book is an exceptional read, and while I do not have the blog space to summarize all of his key insights, he does leave us with the top 10 take aways from superforecasters:

Here they are in my own words:

1. Don’t try and answer unknowable questions.  Answer what you can.

2. Break big problems into smaller problems.  Do the Fermi.

3. Get a base rate.  See if it has happened before and use that pattern.

4. Don’t immediately react to new evidence, but don’t ignore it.

5. Argue both side of a forecast.

6. Make sure that you get all the areas of doubt defined, but don’t stop because you find them all.

7. Know that you can be overconfidence and underconfident.  Take a position, but not too fast.

8. Keep a scorecard, and stop saying ‘yup, I saw it.”  You are probably deluding yourself unless you wrote it down with a percentage. Once you do this, people get much better at the future forecast.

9. Find a group that fights with you, but yet gets along with you.  Spirited team debate is good, as long as it is done with good intentions and nobody gets hurt.

10.  Do.  You can’t get better if you don’t start the above.

As a final note:

"Psychologists find that many atheists also see meaning in the significant events in their lives, and a majority of atheists said they believe in fate, defined as the view that “events happen for a reason and that there is an underlying order to life that determines how events turn out.” (Meaning is a basic human need)

By the way, this basically blew me away as a factoid, and yet was buried in this book.  This came out of research and was written up in the New York Times. If you plumb the depths here, you’ll find out that about 50 percent of British Atheist gave “fate” as a reason for things, and another 25%, for a total of 75%, said that they battled this idea of fate being real.

I would suggest that this feeling of fate is a piece of wiring that God gave us. Or as Pascal pointed out:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

[Pascal, Pensees #425]

And this is the one forecast we must get right.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Mind & Spirit–> The Mind Of Marshall Goldsmith

image

The subject of my previous blog post was Napoleon Hill.  Knowing how Napoleon Hill got to his outlook on life is a remarkable study of how religion can impact business.  The thread of Napoleon Hill comes from the New Thought Movement in America.  New Thought suggested that there was a high power than humans, but this higher power was more universal than the God of the Christian Bible.

While at first blush this sounds a bit like transcendentalism, it was influenced but did not stop here.  Instead it pulled in thoughts that all animals had a magnetism or common spiritual pull, called mesmerism after Franz Mesmer. One thought was that you could use this power for healing.  This thought influenced many a person, although we don’t talk about it today.  There is a straight line from mesmerism to Phineas Quimby, and then to New Thought.

Most people know this philosophy best today through the shrinking Christian Science sect.  Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, was extremely influenced by Quimby and New Thought.  The power of thought is celebrated as being able to change what is our reality.  This thought of “mind over matter” is more than a nice saying.  To those that were in this movement, they truly believed that thought would cause reality to change.  To the Christian Scientist, they dispense with reality all together thinking that we live in an illusion.

However, there is a flip side to this way of thinking of simply saying that our thoughts do have an incredible impact on our life.  Maybe there is no telepathy or mesmerism.  However, thinking in a right fashion has a large impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.  Out of this line of thought, we have Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be very helpful in people recovering from psychological disorders.

Depicting basic tenets of CBT.jpg

I do believe that an understanding of CBT is the the most critical thing for us to grow as adults.  Your core beliefs about yourself, others and the future are driven by you behavior, thoughts and feelings.  However, there is no end of this circle.

What do I mean?

Most people assume that we have bad behaviors because we don’t get what we want.  In reality, CBT shows us that we can change our behaviors by thinking differently about the circumstances around these behaviors. 

The steps of CBT is recognizing when you are doing bad stuff, then examining what thought process brought you to that bad stuff, and then seeing how you can eliminate or lower these bad thought processes.  If you can grasp the shell of this idea, you should be able to see why this belief is very similar to the New Thought movement, only with no spiritualism behind it.  If you want to change something, you need to start thinking differently.

Now this is a very long preamble to introduce Marshall Goldsmith.

I have read a couple of Goldsmith’s books:  “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” and “Mojo:  How To Keep It,” and I can strongly recommend both of them.  Basically, Marshall is a business coach with a very particular promise.  He’ll work with you, and if you don’t think he is worth it, you’ll get your money back.  “Satisfaction or you service is free,” is what he chants.

And he gets paid all the time, so it isn’t an empty promise.

Goldsmith sets up conversations with his clients.  In reality, he calls out that he is not psychologist, but in reality, he is a practical psychologist without the training.  He strives to bring insight into his client life.  The overall name for this is called metacognition.  I have read a bunch of business books, and all of the truly great leaders have some type of metacognition or “self awareness.”

There are a variety of traps that we can all fall into in our business lives.  One major flaw that Goldsmith points out is not really understanding why we succeed.  I know this in my own life.  I don’t want to say that I don’t have talent, as this would be dishonest.  I have been fortunately enough to be blessed here.  The issue is that many people have talent, but don’t have the chance to succeed.  I was fortunate in my life that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. 

However, last night in his sermon to us, our Pastor Rick Warren said this little bit of wisdom:

“Being humble is not denying your strengths.  Being humble is recognizing your weaknesses.”

Quite frankly, this statement is one that we could mull for weeks and think about.  However, I think most people will recognize the strength of this statement.  When we start experiencing success, we often have a difficult time distinguishing our success from our behaviors.  For instance, I have had, and still have a problem with being arrogant.  As you might be able to tell from this blog, I read and think more than many of my peers.  However, whenever I become arrogant and let people know that I know more than them, it destroys my ability to have them change.  However, I might not recognize this, and I may actually associate my arrogance with success.  I have made false linkage between success and a behavior.

I had a supervisor once that had an anger problem.  I remember talking to them, and it turned out that they thought that this anger was actually a benefit and not a problem to be fixed. They thought that by turning on this anger, it kept other people sharp, focused and going.  However, I was not in his head, and I could clearly see that the anger did nothing but destroy people’'

In the book “What Got You Here,” Goldsmith calls out 20 bad he sees all the time.

Winning too much
Adding too much value
Passing judgement
Making destructive comments
Starting with “no”, “but” or “however”
Telling the world how smart we are
Speaking when angry
Negativity or “let me explain why that won’t work”
Withholding information
Failing to give proper recognition
Claiming credit we don’t deserve
Making excuses
Clinging to the past
Playing favourites
Refusing to express regret
Not listening
Failing to express gratitude
Punishing the messenger
Passing the buck
An excessive need to be me

Goldsmith goes through each of these and calls out how to deal with these issues.

The key behind all of Goldsmith ideas is we need to find somebody outside of yourself to get feedback.  If somebody is ready to listen to others, then you will find out that this person will make a massive change in the ability to solve these 20 bad habits.

Goldsmith has a variety of ideas of how we get this feedback.  But this blog post is not a book.  It is to lead you to good books.

And if you’ll listen to the feedback, I think this is book you should get.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Mind–> “The 16 Laws Of Success”

220px-Napoleon_Hill_headshot

Most men that have been married three times, had numerous fall outs with their business partners, told wild stories about their background and upbringing would hardly be known for being a role model and person to follow.  Yet, Napoleon Hill, the author of such classics as “Think and Grow Rich” and “The 16 Laws Of Success” is one such man.

His first two wives couldn’t stand him.  His children abandoned him.  And yet, he is held up by many as the inspiration for their lives.  The famous John Maxwell holds him up as one of the must read authors to inspire your life.  Hill gave such insight as insisting that you could clean up headaches with a good enema, and his book uses autobiographical examples that are obviously exaggerated to a massive degree to make himself look good.  Finally, his announcement that science was ready to prove telepathy is laughable at best.  I enjoyed his contention that men went bald because, “Heads become bald because of the protection of hats with tight fitting bands which cut off the circulation at the roots of the hair.”

Ignoring some of the crazy thoughts, Hill’s life only goes to show that those that often have the most insight are the last to apply it fully to their own lives.  So with such a spotted pedigree you might think that I would steer you away from his writings.  However, a good read of his “Laws of Success in 16 Lessons” is worth the read. Hill, in an almost unstoppable flow of words and examples, calls to principles that are clear inside of each of us.  He truly is an amazing example of “do what I say, don’t do how I act.”

A man with a slightly less spotted background is Ben Franklin, and in many ways, you can see Hill as a follower of Franklin.  The thought of his philosophy is to turn the telescope inward and start to ask yourself what you need in your own life to be successful.  While Hill may have externally lied to other people about his own success, he has a amazing amount of insight into what a person should do to be successful.

Hill wrote two main books that he is known for:

1. The Laws Of Success in 16 lessons

2. Think and Grow Rich

One of the more positive people I know had been spouting off about Hill.  I knew a little of his background so I had never placed him high on my reading list.  Yet to make myself more able to relate to my friend, I decided to read his writings.  I had a choice to make, and knowing that “Think and Grow Rich” had more of a spiritual overtone, I decided to focus on the Laws of Success.  As I read more about Hill, I would suggest the same.  Most of his followers like Think and Grow Rich more because of the spiritual overtones. However, as a Christian, I didn’t need more “word of faith” writings. 

The Laws of Success may have some spiritual overtones but they are pretty straightforward.  In a list of things that Hill looks at, the subjects are listed below

1) The Law of the Mastermind
2) A Definite Chief Aim
3) Self-Confidence
4) Habit of Saving
5) Initiative and Leadership
6) Imagination
7) Enthusiasm
8) Self-Control
9) Doing More than Paid For
10) A Pleasing Personality
11) Accurate Thinking
12) Concentration
13) Cooperation
14) Profiting by Failure
15) Tolerance
16) The Golden Rule

As I read through his work, I found that he had stumbled across a practical application of learned optimism and idea such as flow, while giving them different names and root causes.  From a practical standpoint, other than being a little  eccentric and wild, I could hardly think of a better source of practical thought that would find support in practical psychology.

He also has a variety of practical advise for how to navigate business relationships  such as the well standing principle of trying to find win/win situations, although he doesn’t call it as such.  He simply writes, “I said that my plan was founded upon equity; that it contemplated a benefit to all parties concerned."

So, while this blog post is not an exhaustive dissection of Hill’s writings, it might be worth it to discuss a few of his key principles, ones to apply to our own lives

Probably one of my favorite ideas of his is “Accurate Thinking” and “Profiting by Failure.”  Both of these together can be combined to the modern thought of learned optimism and flow. 

Hill writes the following:

"Ask the next ten people whom you meet why they have not accomplished more in their respective lines of endeavor, and at least nine of them will tell you that opportunity does not seem to come around their way. Go a step further and analyze each of these nine accurately by observing their actions for one single day, and the chances are that you will find that every one of them is turning away the finest sort of opportunities every hour of the day"

I have written on Learned Optimism before, and this is the core of the thought.  In other words, you find what you look for.  If you are looking for opportunity, you have a much better chance of success.  You could have this modern concept that is critical for you life captured in his writing for almost 100 years

In addition, Hill even captures much of the modern thought on behavior economics with such words of advise such as

No one has any right to form an opinion that is not based either upon that which he believes to be facts, or upon a reasonable hypothesis; yet, if you will observe yourself carefully, you will catch yourself forming opinions on nothing more substantial than your desire for a thing to be or not to be"

Again, this is well known as confirmation bias.  Now literature and philosophy has always captured these types of thinking, but most of the time these observations are scattered. Hill, in the roaring 20s, was sticking these types of thoughts together to help his readers in a very few pages.  Once written and thought about, these principles are very obvious, and helps the individual live a better life.

So before we leave this thread for today, lets talk about a couple more of his thoughts that I find worthwhile. He points out that having multiple people working together on finding an answer is powerful. He calls this his Mastermind.  It is when multiple people work together for a common cause, which causes everybody to do better.  We might simply call this teamwork.  While you might not want to go out and run by yourself, you’ll find yourself running harder with a dedicated group of runners.  Hill claims that this is because of telepathy, which does not exist.  However, there may well be some mirror neurons involved.   This made me think about how important it is to have a team that you can hang out with and push yourself to be better.  But more than this, Hill delusion of “we have telepathy” might actually make the team better.  If you could talk yourself into the idea that the team has real magic in the individuals, I believe that we would find that we have better team performance.  Often if you think you are magical, you might be more magical.

The other principle he speaks about is having a chief aim.  You need to find something in this life that you really care about.  If you can truly find this, then you will work hard to get it.  As we know from our looks as deliberate practice, one of the critical aspects is having the willingness to work hard at a skill to get better.  Hill points out the simply idea that until you figure out what is you real desire, you’ll never work hard enough to try and get it.

Finally, he has some great words about tolerance and forgiveness.  While this is spoken in the Bible, Hill does bring his own slant to things.  He certainly was not doing all that he preached, but listening to him preach still will influence you.

The book is free for download and a tremendous example of practical ideas of how to make your life and the lives around you much better.

If this isn’t success, then what is?

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Mind and Spirit" -> The Servant by James Hunter

Business books by Christians are far and few between.  James Hunter has given us his views on the impact of the Christian life and business in the book "The Servant."   I enjoyed several thoughts in the book, and if you are interested in Christian business literature I would suggest this as a quick read. 

However, I would not call this out as one of the best books that I've read, yet it was still worth reading, but maybe it wouldn't be the go to book for me to teach a class on managing or leadership. 

This is interesting because you should never judge a book by how it impacts you. The person that recommended this book to me said that it was one of the most impactful things he had read, and he would give away copies to those that worked for him. It is an object lesson to me to see the differences in impacts to different people for the same thing. 

The most interesting thing about the person that recommended the book is that they really don't go to church or call themselves religious. The way that the conversation came up with this person is they had asked me if I was familiar with the idea of the leader as a servant. 

Now I went to Seattle Pacific University, and their moto was learning to be a Christian Scholar Servant.  I assumed it was going to be this therefore I asked him if it was religious.  

"Oh, I don't think so," he answered. 

He was very wrong, and I find it interesting that a non-Christian can find such comfort in a book written around the Bible. After all, this is a very Christian book.   For those of you that are familiar with the Gospels, the core of the book is the central point of the Gospel.  It is united around the idea that comes in Christ's incarnation.

The central tenets are are follows.

1. Although being equal with God, Jesus took on the nature of man so that he could be a servant to man.  This means that all of us are also servants.

2. What we are called to do is Love others with an agape Love.  The word agape is Greek and is a choice to take an attitude of Love by actions.

Agape love is not something that you feel.  It is something that you do.

I have written in my blog that I love the work of Lencioni.  Most of Lencioni's writing is also based around Biblical principles, but Lencioni goes deep to get there.  The way that Lencioni teachs these principles is by telling a story or what he calls lengthy parables.  Other good writers have done the same, with Eli Goldratt, in his book, "The Goal" being one of the best known authors to start this habit.

Hunter does the same thing, but I felt that he did it with little sensitivity and subtly.  Maybe most need this "obvious" writing style, but I did not feel that I needed it.  The stereotypes or tropes are so obvious that it hurts.  The cast of characters include:

  • 1. The protagonist, who is living a successful life, but really does not understand how to find true success.
  • 2. His wife, who is dutiful in her support, but the marriage is wearing thin.
  • 3. The Monk, who just happens to be a successful business person that went into the monastery.
  • 4.  The other participants that allow some other voices in the conversation.
  • 5. The diehard Army Sargent that is skeptical, but finds truth in the end.

With my complaints about the book done, I don't want to say that their isn't good in the book.  And the print is big.  However, let me grab some of the principles that I thought were worthwhile, and talk about them here.

The book calls out power and authority as two different things.  The idea is fantastic, but I don't like his definitions.  If you have studied these ideas at all, his definitions don't seem to be either Biblical or mainstream.

So, with a new take, here is his idea in my words. 

Power: when you have leverage over somebody thus they do what you say. 

Leader: When people come to you and seek you out because they believe you know the way.  They follow you. 

The tragic nature is when somebody had power but thinks they have leadership. Thus we need to put people in areas to see if they can lead before we give them power.   I have been in business for over 30 years.  This is a fundamental understanding that most people miss completely.  In the best of all words, we groom leaders, then eventually give them line authority.  We cement their leadership with management.  Often times, for some reason, somebody will be promoted and they lose track that people are doing what they say because they are "the Boss."

You can be given the title or Boss.  You have to earn the title of Leader.

imageTony Campolo many years ago, at a service that I was at, called out that as they studied sociological settings, they found out that generally the more power somebody displayed, the less love that they received.  In the best of all words, people follow you because they love you.  

To completely go off the rails, Campolo made the point that this was the nature of Paul's commandment that husbands should love their wives, and wives should obey their husband.  If a husband truly loves his wife, he does not command her to do thing.  The act of Loving drives out the misuse of power.

The problem with power is that it erodes relationships. People hate being forced to do something just because they are threatened. 

I also found attractive some of the behaviors that Hunter calls out as important to a good leader.  The idea is one of praxis.  Praxis is the concept that if we start acting in a particular way, some times even before our brain understands why we are acting in a particular way.  Then through contemplation, our brain forces us to start thinking as we are acting.  Our natural way is to think, "If I could only feel a particular way, then I would do what I want to do."  This turns this though completely on its head.  Instead, we "act in a particular way to drive our feelings to a particular level."  This idea is very counter intuitive, but if I do it, I find that it is true.  Act and then the feelings follow.

In other words, we should not ask somebody about their motivation.  In reality, the heart is very deceptive, and we can't always figure out what is even in our own heart.  So I cannot judge my heart or other hearts.  This again is very counter intuitive.  We want to judge others and put our worst behavior onto them.  What makes life much, much worse is that we have a tendency to always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.  When we look at others, we have a tendency to say, "they acted with bad motives."  This misreading of others is so well known that behavioral psychologists have given it a name, "Fundamental Attribution Error."

So, we cannot focus on their motivation.  What we can focus on is people's behaviors.  We can choose to behave in a certain way.

So, he gives a list of behaviors of a good leader.

  1. Integrity (You have wholeness, transparency, and follow through)

  2. Good role model (Cardinal Virtue:  Temperance)

  3. Caring (Christian Virtue:  Charity)

  4. Committed (Christian Virtue:  Faith)

  5. Good listener (Christian Virtue: Love)

  6. Hold people accountable (Cardinal virtues:  Justice)

  7. Respectful (Christian Virtue: Love)

  8. Encouragement (Christian Virtue: Hope)

  9. Positive (Christian virtue:  Hope)

  10. Gratitude and Appreciative (Christian virtue: Love)

The list above is what he had in the book.  Behind this list, I put either the Christian virtue or the Cardinal Virtues.  I'm disappointed that there does not seem to be at least a mapping to all of the Christian and Cardinal Virtues.  Some of them get close, but not as clear as what I would like.  For instance, I would like to call out temperance as a clear roll for the leader.  Prudence certainly is something that a Leader should display.   A leader without Fortitude is no leader at all.  

However, I can be nit picky.  In reality, the most important thing to do is understand what you think a leader is, and what we should do to try and do these behaviors.  For no other reason than this, I thought this conversation was good in the book.

Probably one of the more interesting things to think about is his idea of what a Leader is suppose to do in his role.  He calls this out as the following definition for Leadership:

Leadership is getting the task at hand done while building relationships. He makes sure to distinguish between wants and needs:

He also called out how to be a servant but not be trampled on.  The challenge is that we are to be a servant and not a slave.  A servant should look to fill others needs, but be careful of fulfilling other people's wants.  Somebody's want will lead them down a bad path.  I may want to get nothing but junk food, but I have a need to eat vegetables. 

  1. Do not give people what they want.  They will be spoiled.
  2. Do give people what they need.  They will not be spoiled.

The most Christian thing about the book is that there is an extended conversation on the idea that you need to Love your employees.  He actually goes as far as calling out what Agape Love is, and calls out II Corinthians 13 as the model of what a leader should do.

In summary, this is what he see in the passage.

Leadership Attributes from II Cor 13

Patience -> Showing Self-Control
Kindness -> Giving Attention, Appreciation, and Encouragement
Humility -> Being authentic without pretense or arrogance
Respectfulness -> Treating others as important people
Selflessness -> Meeting the needs of others
Forgiveness -> Giving up resentment when wronged
Honesty -> Being free from deception
Commitment -> Sticking to your choices
Results:  Service and Sacrifice -> Setting aside you own wants and needs; Seeking the greatest good for others

So, overall, the book had some good thoughts, and is worth it if you are a Christian to see some of the attributes applied from the Bible to business.  While I felt the book had good points, I was not overly blown away by the book.  However, a non-Christian co-worker did see this as revolutionary.  

Therefore, we should never under estimate the ability of God's Word to influence people.  Maybe this could be a book that could be given to one of your friends or co-workers to sneak a little gospel into their business.

And this is Good News.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mind & Spirit–> “Nudge”

a7cf3bcc-7c97-473e-b5d7-34d8337c56a3The field of behavioral economics is of strong interest to me because it speaks to blind spots.  The blind spot is the most interesting of all things because we have no ability to fix a blind spot, because we are blind.

We all have blind spots, and they come in many different fashions.  The first one to discover is your optic nerve blind spot because it is so obvious, and shows what our brain does.

What is the optic nerve blind spot?

Our eye is constructed in a marvelous fashion.  If you just simply meditate on the mystery of the eye, it is almost overwhelming.  Many ontological arguments about the existence of God has been made about the eye.  After all, how could evolution (or the blind watchmaker) ever create an eye?  It seems to complicated to arise through a roll of the dice.  Yet some atheists declare that the eye is a good example of how God could not have made the eye.  The problem is that the human eye is great in almost all aspects except for one big problem:  the optic nerve punches a hole out the backside of your eyeball so it can route information into the brain.  The evolutionist declare, "A good an perfect God has what looks like hillbilly engineering on the eye.  If he went through all the problems of getting himself a fantastic eye, why couldn't he come up with the ability to do a little routing correctly."

You can say that, or you could say, "I wonder what object lesson God planned when he allowed the eye to evolve?"

Full disclosure here.  I am a theistic evolutionist.  That is I believe in both evolution and God's creation.  I believe that God does place dice with the universe, and in some of my other blog postings, I think that I intuitively believe in the many world hypothesis.  I believe that for humans to have choice, there must be some randomness in everything that God made.  If not, then God simply controls everything.  If God controls everything, then we have no free will.  And I do believe in Freewill.

The way that the eye works is that your vision should have a black hole in it.  The black holes is from where the nerve passes through the back of your eye.  However, all of us know that w don't have a black hole in our vision so what is happening?  Our brains are wonderful things.  The hole in our eye is covered over by our vision center.  Yes, there is a black hole.  Your brain simply refuses to show it to you.  So you see an illusion.  The illusion is of a great background, and no blackness.  

Here is a write up on this from IO9.

Cover your left eye and look at the dot on the left in this image. Be aware of the cross on the right, but don't look at it - just keep your eye on the dot. Move your face closer to the monitor, and farther away. At some point, you should see the cross disappear. Stay at that point and close your right eye. Stare at the cross, and you should see that the dot has disappeared. It doesn't just happen with a white background. Try the same with colored paper, and your mind will fill in the background color of the paper when the mark gets in your blind spot.

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Our Lord and Master spoke to this:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Luke 6:41

Now some would say that this could not be the issue at all.  Jesus could have not known about the optic blind spot.  However, the same principle applies when he says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear."  (Matt 11:16.)  Jesus knew that they all had ears.  What he was saying was “you have ears, but you refuse to hear.  Stop being hard of hearing, and listen.”  This is a call to all of us.

Our brains have blindspots. 

It turns out that the optic nerve is the least of our blind spots.  The great secret is that this does not matter in the physical realm because you have two eyes and the blind spot does not overlap with your other eye blind spot.  So even though you cannot see the information in the blind spot with the on eye, the other eye can pick it up.  In reality, we have a ton of other blind spots, where we do not have coverage.  I have written about this before, but this is the basis of behavior economics.  It is trying to understand the blind spots that we all have in our brain. 

Richard Thaler, and his co-authoer Cass Sunstein, points out a bunch of these blindspots.  He also points out that we can actually use these blindspots to make ourselves and our society better.  He advocates a couple of ideas that are controversial, which they call "libertarian paternalism."  The idea is that our society should allow people to make bad choices if they really want to, but we shouldn't encourage bad choices.  It is a little like allowing your kids to operate a chain saw, but make sure that it is locked up, has all the safety guards on it, and takes a little bit of work to get it out.  Most of the time, by doing a little bit of this protection work, which they call choice architecture, you can prevent 99% of bad results for both chainsaws and ordinary decisions.

There are two particular areas of interest where they believe that a little nudge would fundamentally change the nature of our society.  These areas are the intractable areas of retirement savings and health care.  They argue, with good data, that minor changes in how people are presented data will make society many fold better.

Now, I am not going to repeat the nature of the blindspots that he looks at in the book.  I am only going to encourage you to read the book.  While I would not rank it above Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow," it does have a very strong applications of behavior economics and choice architecture to make our society better.

Now the fundamental problem is where does the overlap between nudging and manipulation come about?  I had a rather heated discussion with one of my family members on this recently. At the time I over reacted to the circumstance, but it ended up being a good conversation.  In my case, there was a situatino where somebody was embarassing somebody else.  Somebody in my family was cooking up a good story to divert somebody from having the situation come up.  The problem is that the story was in essence a lie.  It was complete misdirection rather than the person facing a truth that might cause a bit of controversy. 

However, the person once confronted by me felt very poor about what they were doing, and they were ready to go to the opposite extreme and be overly blunt.  This is the trick of the whole thing, and one of the most enlightening things about the book.  The whole point of the is to nudge a little bit.  You don’t force, and you don’t lie.  You nudge.

In reality, we need to do a lot of nudging, but nudging is hard and takes a lot of thought.  You can’t just slam somebody hard and manipulate.  You can’t just nag them until they relent. On the other hand, you can’t just turn your brain off, and be “totally honest.”  Total honesty is just a scam for people to be lazy.  Total honesty means that you just don’t want to spend enough time thinking through how to break news to somebody in the best way.  I believe that story of Jesus in the New Testament shows that God on earth was a person who life was constantly nudging other to do the right thing.

As an alternative example of trying to nudge correctly, I submit the following story.  My youngest son did not want to go golfing this weekend.  Yet both my wife and I knew that he really does want to go golfing.  He is on the high school golf team, and he really enjoys doing well.  It is also the best time of the week for father and son bonding.  We have had multiple times were he was in a bad mood before going out and 19 out of 20 times, he is in a good mood by the end of the round and thanks me for taking him out.

My wife’s approach to this situation was to lay down the law on Friday.  “You need to go golfing with Dad she declared.”  He fired back, “Stop bugging me, I’ve been going hard.  I want to relax.”  So we are ready for the fight.  Instead, I decided to nudge him.  Because we had a three day weekend this weekend, I texted him “Hey, do you want to go golfing Sunday or Monday?”  Because he was making the choice about something, and yet it was a simple choice (not exhaustive choice, which is subject to decision fatigue), he quickly texted back, “Sunday sounds good.”

This nudging effect is very well known in sales.  What I did is called the “Two Option Close” or “The Wheeler Which Close” named after its founder Elmer Wheeler, who was a salesman and had the greatest name ever for a sales person.  Long before we had anything called “Behavior Economics,” good sales people knew how to get a positive response from somebody without doing anything fundamentally dishonest.  The Wheeler Which was used by Walgreens in it’s heyday in 1930s to dramatically increase store sales.  However, this has been used and rediscovered for many centuries before this.  It simply relies on our blindspot.

As I age, I believe one of the biggest pieces of insights that you can get that will positively influence your life is to understand the blindspots in yourself and in others. Once you are armed with this knowledge, you can fundamentally change many things because you have a very long lever.  You understand why our brains make decisions in particular ways.  I believe the most successful people intrinsically use these tools.  For those that don’t do it naturally, readying Nudge is a good place to start.