Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mission And Provision

I met my friend John Baker at his office this week. It was a special treat since we had lunch at a favorite restaurant in his building in Bellevue (and he bought).

I always enjoy talking with John. He’s been a friend for a long time, being among those who were with us when we launched the congregation that is now Pleasant Bay Church over ten years ago. He’s always been willing to help, serving in leadership and singing in the choir. He has a background in ministry, serving on a church staff and leading in para-church organizations.

These days John serves as Senior Vice President, running the Greater Seattle office for an international consulting firm that specializes in talent and career management for Fortune 500 companies. For example, John’s firm might work with a company to help align their workforce with their changing goals. If the new strategy results in needing to move some employees around, or even out, John's firm provides services to help transition people into new opportunities, and they work with the reorganized groups to help them navigate successfully through change and on to success toward the new goals. In addition to leading the office, John ‘s hands-on work includes strategizing with corporate leaders, leading workshops, and one-on-one counseling with people in transition.

During our conversation, John talked about work and calling, and the way experience and training and passion and interests coalesce into meaningful work. He said, “I’ve always believed that this work is right on the same trajectory that began with my volunteer work in campus ministry, that led to youth ministry in a local church, that led to work in Christian higher education, and on into my current responsibilities.” He identified the common thread in these expressions of his calling and vocation as “helping people make decisions at critical times in their lives that impact their entire lives and futures.” When John is working with people, it is often at a critical (and often times stressful) point of transition. He brings his education and experience to the table, helping folks make decisions and take steps that will set them up for a successful future.

In light of what I’ve been working on these days, it is hard to deny that John’s work is directly connected to God’s work.  Keller is right when he says things like “work – and lots of it – is an indispensable component in a meaningful human life. It is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose.” So it is no stretch at all to determine that John’s work is at the center of God’s design for us humans.

Given John’s expertise in the topic, I was interested to hear what he is currently reading; these days it is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. The subtitle helps us capture what is inside: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. The publisher’s description says, “In this eye-opening account, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that follow your passion is good advice.”

I like the way John put it when he said, “It is not just about pursuing mission; it is also about provision.” Provision… it is both a matter of providing for yourself and your family, and a matter of assessing the gifts and talents provided by God.  More than merely chasing after one’s dreams and desires, it is about determining how to be most productive with what one can do.

I really appreciate John’s practical approach. And I’m glad I have a friend like John with whom to continue this conversation.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Keller's Every Good Endeavor - Chapter One

I’ll be facilitating a discussion on chapter one (pages 33-43) of Keller’s work this evening. Here are some questions I’ve pulled together for discussion.

1.       Keller opens chapter one with Genesis2:1-3;15 and then says “ this  view of work – connected with divine, orderly creation and human purpose – is distinct among the great faiths and belief systems of the world" [33].

Have you encountered or considered how other faith and belief systems are different? How so?
2.       Keller writes “The fact that God put work in paradise is startling to us because we so often think of work as necessary evil or even punishment” [36]. He goes on to say “work is as much a basic human need as food” [37].

How have you observed this to be true?  
3.       Have you ever thought of work as one of the Ten Commandments? (Exodus 20:9)
4.       Keller writes, “In short, work – and lots of it – is an indispensable component in a meaningful human life. It is a supreme gift from God and one of the main things that gives our lives purpose. But it must play its proper role, subservient to God. It must regularly give way not just to work stoppage for bodily repair but also to joyful reception of the world and of ordinary life” [42].  

How do you define, experience, and enjoy the limits of work?

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Full Toolbox

Today I met my friend Glenn Campbell at his office at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, located on the Federal facility once occupied by the Sand Point Naval Air Station. Once through a few checkpoints, I met Glenn and got a quick tour of the building, including a stop in a pretty smelly lab where I learned a bit about how they identified the species of fish and how the age of fish is determined by counting the rings in their ear bones. I was fascinated that there are fish (species that I’ve eaten like rock fish) that have lifespans that are beyond the human life span (who knew?).

Glenn started working for NOAA while he was finishing his bachelor’s degree in fisheries at the UW (he had already earned an associate’s degree in fisheries); he’s now served NOAA for over twenty years.
These days he builds and runs data systems that manage fish populations in federally managed waters off the Alaska coasts.

Listening to his story, I was struck by the utility of his broad base of experience and training. He knows fish, fishermen, and the people who run fisheries. He knows computers, databases, and the satellite systems that help them all talk to each other (whether they are systems here in Seattle or a system on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea). Glenn is obviously a motivated life-long learner, which has made him invaluable to NOAA as Glenn is eager to tackle new challenges and learn what he needs to know to solve the problems at hand.
Not all that long ago he earned another degree, this one in business at Northwest University. I asked him why, since it wasn’t the sort of thing required by his work, and wouldn’t necessarily position him for advancement in his position. My summary of his response: he wanted more tools in his toolbox.

His answer made me think of a favorite Bible verse (Ecclesiastes 10:10):
     If the ax is dull
         and its edge unsharpened,
     more strength is needed,
         but skill will bring success.

Glenn determined to sharpen the ol’ ax… and it has paid off. He said he appreciated the Bible and theology classes that were part of the program. The opportunity to study his faith with college-level courses taught by highly qualified Christian professors provided a sharper ax that could be applied to every area of his life.
It was fun to hear him talk about how he is applying the skills developed in his business studies. Even though much of his day is spent dealing with in databases and statistical analysis, it is often the interface with people that brings the most success. With the rapid pace of change he manages, he is continually rolling out new programs that need to be embraced by the people on the field… whether that is NOAA personnel, people in the fisheries, or fisherman at sea. He said that his fisheries background and education is vitally important, but it may be the marketing, project management, presentation, and leadership skills that are the most useful to him these days.
I’m really proud of Glenn and his work. His efforts translate directly to the care of God’s creation as his work supports important decisions about how populations of fish are sustained for the future. He also plays important roles in commerce (creation of wealth) as well as feeding people in the US and around the world as he partners with fisherman and fisheries.
Pretty impressive stuff Glenn… thanks for taking time with me today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doing Good is Good Business

I stopped by my friend Cindy’s office today. I enjoy talking to Cindy about her work because she always has a few interesting stories to tell. She knows good stories because she knows her people.
Cindy manages a 118-unit apartment complex in Everett.
I visited to congratulate her on winning the Emerald Award last week (the highest honor given by the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association). At a banquet of 800 people, Cindy was singled out for the Social Awareness Award.
Cindy has distinguished herself as being among the top managers in the industry, with high occupancy rates, profitable operations, and very high results on customer satisfaction surveys. She has done all this while making herself and the property she manages available to people with real disadvantages.
There are properties that get certain subsidies and tax breaks that are mandated to help the helpless… but there are no such mandates for Cindy since her property doesn’t fit such categories (most of her residents are of the run-of-the-mill variety, while around a third are receiving aid due to disabilities). While other landlords might tolerate hurdles that keep folks out, Cindy has been in the business of knocking down hurdles. Sure… it takes a little more time, and paperwork, and patience. It often requires that she builds alliances with various agencies and caregivers, but it has resulted in a healthy community for her residents, as well as a healthy bottom line for her company.
In making the award, her industry took notice of her special efforts last year. Cindy saw that proposed changes in state law could hurt her most disadvantaged residents. So she made her way to Olympia to make her voice heard, and to give a voice to those who otherwise would not have been heard. She did it for the welfare of her residents, but also for the good of the community. The proposed changes would have put many out on the streets, clogging shelters, hospitals, and even jails. With her voice in the mix, legislators opened their eyes and ears, and reconsidered their proposals; the programs that would have jeopardized so many remained intact.
Cindy will tell you that she views her work as a significant part of her calling. She is a capable steward for her company, and also cares for the needs of her residents, including one of the most primal needs: shelter.
If you walk the complex with Cindy, you’ll soon realize that she is providing more than mere shelter; she is providing community. Her people look to her for advice, encouragement, direction, and friendship. She is not just manager; she’s also neighbor, sister, counselor, pastor, teacher, and sometimes even cop.  In all of these roles, she considers it worship… she is caring for God’s creation and creatures with excellence. Cindy embodies what the Apostle encourages in Colossians 3:17, “…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”
I’m really proud of Cindy and glad to call her my friend!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Inspired by Whiteboards

I met my friend Peter at the coffee shop nearest his office. I wanted to reacquaint myself with his story. I heard about how he came to the US as a student from the Middle East with the intention of earning his education and then returning home, but the revolution that erupted during his studies changed everything. We talked about life and school and family… and then we got to the subject of work.

Peter is an author, teacher, and consultant, but his main focus is on his work as Director for Informatics at UW Medicine. He applies his leadership to IT solutions (applications) that help treat patients. I began to get it when he told me about an electronic whiteboard application he developed and implemented with his team. Seeing my interest (and at least some ability to keep up with what he was talking about) we were quickly in hospital units that were using the systems and I could see how revolutionary Peter’s invention was.

There wasn’t all that much in common with the old whiteboards; these giant monitors that hang throughout the hospital are a big data solution that is now a vital tool for everyone who serves patients… from surgeons, to nurses, to housekeepers. There is even a customer-facing version that helps the families of patients have instant access to information, making the waiting room experience far easier (pictured in the background above).
Basically, what Peter and his team invented is a user-focused and user-customizable system of dashboards (think heads-up displays in fighter jets) that are at all the right places in the hospital, and can even be accessed remotely on a variety of devices. Rather than whiteboards filled with outdated and illegible code words, these displays gather up-to-the-moment information that is sorted, processed, and delivered to the users who need it. The system isn’t just a high-tech gimmick; it translates directly into better service, immediate efficiencies, patient and practitioner safety... and, of course, saved lives.
I was blown away by how Peter has connected God’s work with his work. Here are just a few ways that come to mind:
·         Healing: God is using Peter to heal people. His skills are in systems, strategies, and leadership (not scalpels and bandages like his colleagues). He is Dr. Ghavami because of his PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering, not medicine. But he is healing through his invention. People are getting the care they need, efficiently and effectively, in part because of Peter’s work.

·         Creativity: We may be most like our Creator when we are creating. When Peter and his team pulled together resources and data from all sorts of sources, the end result was a tool that was so much more than merely the sum of the parts. Peter created something vitally important that didn’t exist before, solving a long list of nagging problems and adding value that wasn’t even conceived of until after the tool went online. 

·         Efficiency: The system saves money and time, and helps deploy scarce resources. This is no small thing in a University Hospital and regional medical center. Having the right practitioner in the right place with the right equipment in the right room is vital when lives are at stake.

·         Dignity: This system allows more people to own and find dignity in their roles. Those charged with cleaning and preparing rooms use the system to prioritize their work. People who schedule scarce equipment and other resources use the system, giving them a view of the pipeline of work. Doctors use it constantly (even from devices like an iPad), allowing them to be more engaged with their work of healing, rather than getting bogged down in administrivia. And patient’s families and other caregivers use the system to both ease their anxiety and plan their role in bringing their cherished one back to health.

Thanks, Peter, for letting me burn up your coffee break. You’ve inspired me!