TALENT – THE HAMMER AND THE HANDSAW

Once upon a time… there lived a Hammer named Hero.  Hero lived in the land of Toolville and was a spectacular hammer.  All the townspeople in Toolville marveled at Hero’s abilities.  Hero would hammer away at everyone’s problems.  He could hammer nails of any size, handle any repair, and build enormous structures with ease.  He was the strongest, fastest, and most efficient hammer anyone had ever seen and was the most famous hammer in all of Toolville.  Hero the Hammer could do anything.

Everyone wanted to be like Hero, including a Handsaw named Hopeful.  Hopeful wanted to hammer nails just like Hero and worked long hours and stayed up late at night practicing.  He studied videos of Hero, read books about all that Hero had accomplished, and studied magazine articles on how to be just like Hero.

Hopeful was baffled by how effortlessly Hero performed his work.  Hopeful chopped at the nails with his blade, which really hurt, and no matter how hard he worked, he could never hammer nails with the same ease or efficiency as Hero.  The day finally came when Hopeful realized that he could never be as good of a hammer as Hero.  After all, he was just a handsaw.

In the moment of giving up, something very unusual happened.  Hopeful chopped at the nail in the board one final time when his blade slipped and his teeth sank deep into the piece of wood.  Cutting into the wood suddenly felt more natural to him.  As he began to sink his teeth deeper into the wood he felt more alive, as if he was meant to do it all along.  Faster and faster, he effortlessly cut through one board and then another and another.  Hopeful stopped and looked at his work… astonished.  At that moment he realized he could become the greatest wood cutter in all of Toolville…

I cannot afford to waste time trying to be someone I’m not.  I can only be best at being one person: me.  As Hopeful the handsaw discovered, we must free ourselves from who we are not, often before we can discover who we truly are.  Contrary to the slogan, we were not all created to “be like Mike” (Jordan), nor were we created to fit the mold of our favorite business expert, role model, or superstar; we were created to play the unique role that only each of us can play.

May we discover our true identity.  May we allow ourselves to be used in the manner in which we were intended, and may we place ourselves in the hands of the One who can use us to the fullest measure.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians 2:10)

ENRON – HUMAN NATURE

In 2006, a federal jury convicted Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling of lying to investors five years before about the financial health of Enron, the company they led as Chairman and CEO. It took Enron 16 years to grow to $65 billion in assets; it took only 24 days to go bankrupt in 2001.  America discovered that the nation’s 7th largest corporation, charting futures of energy and power, was nothing more than a ‘house of cards’ as it became the largest corporate bankruptcy case in U.S. history.  20,000 employees lost their jobs.  $2 billion of pension and retirement funds disappeared.

Investigators discovered that Lay and Skilling were booking current profits based on what they called the “hypothetical future value” of an idea, while hiding liabilities in off balance sheet accounts.  In the several months prior to bankruptcy, while the retirement accounts of the rank and file employees were frozen, Lay and Skilling were cashing in $100’s of millions of Enron stock.  Most agree these criminals deserve the fullest wrath our judicial system affords. But I wonder how far the rest of us are from the same fate.  How easy is it to rationalize our actions bit by bit?

The Milgram Experiment: In the early 1960’s psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a famous scientific experiment to test whether evil people possessed common characteristics making them do evil things or if normal people were capable of doing evil.  Participants were told it was an experiment to test whether electric shocks would help people memorize lists.

In the experiment, Milgram persuades the participant to give what the participant believes are painful electric shocks to another subject, who is actually an actor, every time the actor gives a wrong response.  The actor in the other room would scream and beat on the walls in pain; however, most participants continued to give shocks despite pleas for mercy from the actor.  If the participant wanted to halt the experiment, Milgram told them he would take full responsibility and that the experiment must continue.  Shockingly, 50% of Milgram’s participants were willing to “shock to the death” so long as the command came from a seemingly legitimate source.

We must admit that human nature has the potential to rationalize anything. It is God’s general grace that directs our steps and keeps us from our own self-destruction.  Very little separates us from Lay and Skilling.  Without God’s direction, we are capable of the same fate.  God be with us!

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” – King Solomon (Proverbs 16:9)

MOMENTUM

Momentum is hard to generate.

Back when I was playing golf I couldn’t understand why my game wasn’t improving playing once a month.  The more times I play, the better I get, right?  No.  I was probably just repeating the same mistakes over and over.  There wasn’t enough consistency in my golf game to build any momentum toward improvement.

How do you create momentum?  Occasionally at work I can feel a positive momentum, like I’m riding a wave.  I can see actual progress.  Most days, though, it’s a struggle just to tread water.  Progress seems to die.  It feels like the ‘forces of nature’ are working against me.  Actually, that may not be entirely wrong.  Several laws come to mind that seem to be always working against us.

The Anti-Momentum Laws:

Law #1: (Science) Second Law of Thermodynamics (Law of Entropy)

  • The universe is winding down; the earth and everything in it is moving toward chaos.

Law #2: (Theology) Law of Human Nature

  • We live in a ‘fallen’, imperfect world.  People make mistakes; things happen outside of our control.

Law #3: (Social) Murphy’s Law

  • Anything that can go wrong, usually will.

Along with this is the 50/50/90 Rule: If there is a 50/50 chance to get it right, there is a 90% chance that you will get it wrong.

These laws seem to be constantly working against progress.  Everything takes longer than you think, twice as long as it should, and 3 times as long if the thing seems really easy.  The other line will always move faster.  The printer will always break when you’re rushing to meet a deadline.  And round and round in this broken world we go.

Life often feels like trying to run up an escalator the wrong way.  You must be running fast to make any progress.  To beat these laws of nature, there must be urgent steps taken over a compact period of time.  There must be consistent activity.

“Activity Breeds Activity” – Cole Forsyth

And more activity builds momentum.  This seems to be the thinking of every successful businessman I know.  It can be called the “Rule of Numbers”

Rule of Numbers: With enough of the right activity, the numbers will eventually work in your favor.  One of the keys is a dedication to urgency.  “If it can be done today, let’s do it.”  These businessmen say there is a huge difference between making 10 prospect calls and making 12 prospect calls in a day’s time, between finalizing 5 reports and 6 reports in a week’s time.  That marginal difference is what usually leads to a tipping point, a breakthrough point where momentum begins to build.

“Working with all my heart” (Colossians 3:23) means taking a specific number of steps over a specific period of time.   And as activity breeds more activity, eventually momentum moves in our favor.  We begin to feel we’re running with the escalator, we’re riding the wave.

“All hard work brings profit.” – King Solomon

(Proverbs 14:23)

FAILURE – THE KEY TO MAKING SUFFICIENT PROGRESS

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt

33-year-old Sara Blakely is founder of a multi-million dollar women’s clothing company called Spanx.  At age 25, with $5,000 of personal savings, she patented and started her clothing line.  Four years later she was named Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast region”.  She was also runner-up in Richard Branson’s Fox reality show, “The Rebel Billionaire”.

Sara was highlighted recently in a business magazine showcasing America’s most successful new companies.   In the article she shared an unusual factor to all of her success.  She said: “Growing up, my father would routinely ask me at the end of the day, “Sara, what have you failed at today?”  He told me that if I wasn’t failing regularly, I was not breaking out of my comfort zone, trying enough new things.”

If you’re not failing, you are not making sufficient progress.” – Anonymous

Failure is one of my deepest fears.  Perfectionism is its cover.  “If I can’t be great, I don’t want to try.”  I can feel it in my stomach at work- that pressure to continually hit home runs.  I can feel it in a precisely worded email, in the intense preparation before a cold call, the feeling that I cannot afford to make a mistake.  Yet I know my perfectionism and its fear of failing can cage me from experiencing real progress.

3,000 years ago King Solomon talked about this truth: “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.”

So I can live inside my comfort zone, doing what I know I do well, creating a perfectly ‘clean manger’, a near flawless 9 to 5 lifestyle.  But if I want real progress, I must live with the manure that comes with the ox.  I must be willing to embrace risk as the theme of my life, to continually break away from what is safe and easy, and be willing to fail.

It is a reminder to constantly release control, to let go of attempts to create a perfect existence.  And even though I can strive for greatness, I must live in the reality of an imperfect world.  I must laugh off mistakes and be willing to fail again and again and still pick up the phone and dial another number.  And at the very least I will know that my place will not be with those who know neither victory nor defeat.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT – MESSAGE TO DELIVER

The year was 1912 and Theodore Roosevelt was campaigning for re-election.  By the evening of October 14 his campaign had carried him to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was to deliver a speech in the city’s public auditorium.  As he was leaving his hotel to be driven to the auditorium, a saloonkeeper named John Shrank, approached Roosevelt with his pistol and fired a bullet into Roosevelt’s chest, knocking him down.  As bystanders subdued the gunman, Roosevelt stood up, surveyed his blood-spattered shirt and bullet wound, and forced himself to cough, as he had learned from his army days, to see if he was coughing blood due to significant internal bleeding.  Finding no blood in his saliva, he demanded that he be driven to the auditorium to deliver his speech.

The bullet had penetrated a copy of the speech notes he was carrying in his jacket, which had slowed the bullet down enough to save his life.   His doctors later found the bullet lodged between two ribs, a half-inch from his lung, and decided it too dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet, so Roosevelt carried the bullet in his chest until his death in 1919.

That night of October 14, 1912, Roosevelt convinced his entourage that his message and the ‘matters at hand’ far exceeded the significance of his own life. He was driven to the auditorium and made his way to the podium to the crowd’s utter shock and disbelief.  Still wearing his torn and red-stained shirt, he pulled out his blood-spattered notes and gave his speech:

“I have a message to deliver, and I will deliver it as long as there is life in my body.”

Roosevelt’s speech lasted 90 minutes before being helped to the hospital for treatment.

How can a man believe in something so strongly, that in the moment, the message outweighs the importance of his own life?  I believe each of us has been given a distinct message that is uniquely ours – that if that message is not shared, something would be missed.

To truly become who we were born to be, this message must be delivered.  Roosevelt’s story is a challenge and a call to discover that unique message, to live a life engaged in a vision bigger than ourselves, where the message becomes more important than the man, and to deliver that message “as long as there is life in our bodies.”

“For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Peter and John to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:20)