My Next Book…Year 10, Chapter 8…The Shelf Life of Your Work
August 8, 2014
“People need to be reminded more
than they need to be instructed.”
“Therefore, I will always remind you of these things-even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught.” 2 Peter 1:12
A good metaphor is a short cut to a strong idea, and the strongest and most touching metaphor in my office is a tail hook from Admiral Ed Allen, a former U.S. Navy pilot who has made 1,200 carrier landings, 300 of them at night.
Ed said to me, “You’re not the aircraft carrier, you’re not the aircraft, and you’re not the pilot. All you do is the most important function in naval aviation. You’re the catapult.” He’d just completed a Halftime Institute and was reaching into his own work to define ours. He said, “Your mission is nothing but to catapult the people you serve onto their mission.”
Because I understand so deeply that the fruit of my work is on other people’s trees (mixing in Peter Drucker’s metaphor), few movie scenes make my heart race like the first three or four minutes of “Top Gun.” Not a word of dialogue, just a crack team of Navy men at work, and then several tons of what only minutes before was dead weight now is in flight, moving at 150 knots in 2.3 seconds.
My prized tail hook from Admiral Allen, bronzed and landlocked on a coffee table for more than a year now, sits across my office from another treasure, this one a plain sheet of paper with a message scribbled to me on a Boulder, Colorado summer day. Jim Collins had just spoken to some 50 Halftimers, and after he wrapped up, I joined the line to have him sign a book-except I had no book. The queue snaked forward and, glancing over, I grabbed the first blank sign-able thing I saw. I reached the head of the line and slipped one of the day’s handouts to the 21st century’s Drucker-esque authority on management, and he handed back to me just this: “You have helped build the most sophisticated human enterprises in the world. Jim Collins.”
Trophies? I hope not. I hope I’m as slow to swagger as I am quick to hand along life-worn lessons-in this case, to keep close to me the symbols of my work . . . tangible reminders that what I do is part of a chain of good effect.
Whiteboard to Rwanda
Case in point: a certain oversized bound book, a photographic essay of one of the many trips to Rwanda of Dale Dawson, a Halftimer, and a Halftime board member of several years. Dale’s an investor in Little Rock who got tired of just making money and came to a Halftime Institute where his whiteboard graphic would join Halftime legend.
At an Institute, attendees move through a chain of ideas and questions, and eventually they’re asked to sketch out their mission. No words, pictures only, to deliberately tap the right side of the brain, which exceeds mere logic. As Dale stepped back from his whiteboard, the rest of us saw first an outline of the US and nearby an outline of Africa. Between the two continents stretched a bridge, and on the bridge stick figures traveled both ways-Americans to Rwanda and Rwandans to the US. (Dale will tell you the drawing surprised him, too.)
Just 10 years ago Rwanda was a slaughterhouse of Hutus on a mindless rampage murdering Tutsi’s (and moderate Hutus); as many as a million men, women and children died primitively, brutally. Rwanda’s no longer that place, though, and this oversized book has hope written all over it-and here’s where Dale’s metaphor spills over, too. His bridge also leads young Rwandans to other countries, helping the nation’s best and brightest students matriculate at international universities. Another American on the bridge is Dale’s neighbor, a banker who relocated to Rwanda long enough to establish a bank entirely in the spirit of a rising country-not Wall Street but micro lending.
Dale uncovered his second half and found his metaphor through Halftime, and every reminder of it continues to charge my batteries.
Another battery charger: an 8″x10″ photograph of what amounts to the Evangelical standouts of 1994, an era hard to put into context because Evangelical life then was dominated by parachurch organizations. Here’s a young Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. Here are heads of Fuller Seminary and Christianity Today and Prison Fellowship and Oklahoma University-all in a time when Campus Crusade, Young Life, World Vision and others seemed to say that a person had to go outside the church for fellowship and mission and service. And that was about to change.
If it sounds subversive, maybe it was. The men in this once-unlikely class photo helped start something that has hugely outgrown everyone in the picture. The Evangelical movement would break out as the dominant growth machine in the US church, and here was its nucleus, leaders comparing notes and listening to Peter Drucker. And the thing I had tears about, to the point I just left the room, was when I thought, “These people get what Drucker is saying. I mean, they understand, and they’ll put it to use, and it’ll have massive effect.” And it happened. Here’s where churches began to learn to scale to the needs of the people they served. And in the center of the picture, front row, is Peter Drucker.
The Things You Do Every Day
Certain of my reminders fill pages of spiral-bound books that I call my Book of Days and make time to read about once a year. Why keep them close?
From a pastor in Ontario: “Through the kind offer of your organization, I have acquired a supply of your books at minimal cost and for the past five years a copy is given to everyone at our church (and beyond) who celebrates their 50th birthday. The feedback has been encouraging. To mention a few-a nuclear power engineer taking early retirement to lead construction teams with Greater Europe Mission; a nuclear power plant executive leads at least four short-term construction mission trips each year to children’s camps in Central and South America. . . . Personally the highlight is a paramedic-in mid-50s-who read the book three times. He was convicted to work with people in recovery from alcohol abuse (as he is a recovering alcoholic). He now leads a Celebrate Recovery ministry with street youth in our community and loves it!”
Another: “You’ve invested in me for six years without knowing it, and I’m deeply grateful. I couldn’t have walked away from a big, secure corporate job with the peace I have if it weren’t for the influence of your writings and Halftime.”
From a Halftimer: As I end my first month here at Prison Entrepreneurship Program, I am struck by how the men in our program are at their own version of “Halftime” . . . not from success to significance, per se, but from a deep sense of despair/worthlessness to a state of hope, forgiveness and love . . . The time you invested in me continues to deliver returns in my life and the lives of others.
Over the years I’ve learned, as someone has said, that true change is a pathway and not a door. It’s that step, step, step . . . the dailiness of how we use our time that eventually lifts us to better things. These physical reminders on my coffee table, my credenza and walls, and in these spiral-bund books operate along those lines. They are daily, essential. They shape, teach, remind, recharge, and warm me . . .
And they build a real case for having extra shelves.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? What’s around you in your office? What represents your work and reminds you that even your smallest acts can have eternal value? When you need to recharge, how far do you have to look?