Friday, February 26, 2010

The ‘I’s’ Have It

I’ve been working on two books about fourth-generation companies. One manufactures machinery; the other is in transportation. Although different, they share a rare distinction: The Small Business Administration reports 90 percent of U.S. businesses are family-owned, but only 30 percent reach the second generation. Just 15 percent survive to the third generation, making fourth-generation enterprises virtually unknown.

What’s their multi-generational secret? Without trying to oversimplify how these two companies managed to successfully pass the baton, they do share key characteristics that helped to shape the culture of their organizations, each of which conveniently starts with an “I”:

Initiative. The patriarchs understood the importance and value of hard work; in fact, they epitomized the so-called “American work ethic.” They were willing to invest the sweat equity to achieve their goals and dreams, having no sense of entitlement or being “owed” anything.

Ingenuity. In pioneering businesses in the 1920s and ‘30s, there were no manuals to follow, no how-to books to consult and apply. Each new day represented a fresh challenge, filled with new horizons to explore and new problems to solve. They readily took risks, recognizing failure is often the best teacher.

Innovation. For these industrial trailblazers, hearing “it can’t be done” served to provide incentive, not discouragement. They realized the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” was not simple rhetoric but a philosophy to follow in the pursuit of success.

Integrity. Those traits, however, could go for naught without honesty and forthrightness. These early leaders strived for excellence, put customers first, and were known as men of their word. Their skills attracted business, but their integrity retained it.

They typified the biblical admonition, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is It Love – or Is It Lust, American Style?

Yesterday, America observed its annual tribute to love and romance: Valentine’s Day. As someone has said, it’s not an actual holiday because, “It’s not like we get the day off or anything!” But we either go out and enjoy nice dinners with our loved ones, or cook nice dinners and stay in, along with buying tokens of love like flowers, candy and jewelry.

Ah, love. Ain’t it grand?

On TV, however, we can experience what I have come to consider the anti-Valentine’s Day: ABC’s “The Bachelor.” This is the “reality show” where one guy gets to be fawned over by a couple of dozen attractive, shapely young ladies, each of whom is certain he is “the one” and, before the first show ends, Mr. Bachelor has surmised he’s “really falling” for at least half of them. Is it their minds – or ample cleavage – that convinced him?

There’s also “The Bachelorette” in which one gal gets fawned over by a couple of dozen attractive, shapely (er, muscular) young men. (Basically the same show, with less estrogen.) Either way, they sort of remind me of my first years in college, when I “fell in love” with a different coed every other week.

Warning: Don’t watch either show on a full stomach. If they were broadcast on Animal Planet, they’d be called “Dogs in Heat.”

What bothers me most about “The Bachelor” and its feminine counterpart – besides their being contrived and deftly edited to appear “real” – is they make a travesty of love, nothing but hormones gone wild, rather than the beautiful product of two people devoting themselves to one another “for better or for worse.”

1 Corinthians 13 equates love with patience, kindness, unselfishness, truthfulness, trust, hope and perseverance. It’s not the self-centered, lustful pursuit that “The Bachelor” would have us believe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why Me? ... or, Why Not Me?

Years ago, a prominent rabbi wrote the bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, attempting to answer the riddle of why seemingly good people, minding their own business, suddenly face misfortune and tragedy. When such things occur, the almost universal question is, “Why me?”

Perhaps a better question should be, “Why not me?” Because if we’re honest, we’ll admit we’re no more or less worthy or deserving than other people of having good or bad happen to us.

I was reminded of this by a friend who has been struggling with cancer for several years. In an update to people praying for her, she wrote, “I have had people say to me, ‘Why you?’ And my response is, ‘Why not me?’ People all over the globe have cancer. I don’t expect God to spare me from having cancer.”

A courageous attitude? No doubt, but one all genuine followers of Christ should embrace. Being members of God’s family does not exempt us from hardships and adversity. After all, Jesus declared, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The apostle Paul, commenting on his own struggles, said God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Looking back over the course of my spiritual journey, I find many of my greatest lessons have come during times when “bad stuff” was happening. In the midst of the pain, God was teaching. Most of all, He was showing me that I can trust Him no matter what.

That’s what my friend Karen meant when she wrote, “The vital truth – the sustaining truth – is I can count on Him to love, strengthen and care for me this day and every day that follows.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Building with Boards . . . or Words

When we moved to Chattanooga in 1981, one of my career goals was to write a book. Over the years since, that dream has been realized and surpassed. It’s been my privilege to engage in writing and co-authoring about a dozen books.

Nearing completion of one book for a local company, I’m about to begin another about a family-owned company in the Midwest. I’ve learned much as a book author these three decades, but perhaps most striking is that book writing is a lot like building a house.

When people sometimes tell me they admire people who can write, I respond that I admire people with mechanical gifts. My father and grandfather were handymen; somehow the mechanic gene skipped right over me. Whenever something in our home needs to be fixed, fear fills my heart. Yet I see a correlation between working on a dwelling and dwelling on words.

Imagine all of the components of a house piled on the tract where it’s to be built. Boards and bricks, cement and steel, pipes and wires, nails, screws and plastic – all in a heap. “What a mess!” That’s until the craftsmen – the carpenters, masons, electricians, painters and plumbers – start making sense of the tangle.

Slowly, their skilled hands start forming the house: Foundation first, then frame, flooring, walls, ceilings, roof, fixtures and paint. Order built out of confusion.

Writing a book, the experience is similar. Interviews and research, “blueprints” of outlines and notes. From these emerge words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. All accumulated raw material eventually morphing into a book. It’s a daunting, sometimes intimidating process – but so fulfilling when it’s done.

So I embrace Psalm 45:1: “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Political Correctness and Climate Change

While shoveling about three inches of “global warming” off my driveway on Saturday, I was thinking again about this matter of climate change. I’m a strong believer in climate change – in a couple of months, winter will change to spring, followed three months later by summer, then by autumn (or fall), and then, lo and behold, winter again.

In Sunday’s newspaper, a petroleum geologist wrote a thoughtful, factually supported column challenging the whole global warming consensus, noting that if anything, his research indicates a mini-ice age might be more likely. Wow! Of course, such reasoning isn’t politically correct for the group-think scientific community, or the political sphere for that matter. He’ll probably be defrocked, or whatever they do to dissident scientists. Maybe they’ll take away his Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, affirmed his belief in climate change, but not by my definition. This winter notwithstanding, he’s loudly pounding the global warming drum. If the President says so, it must be so, right?

Not to keep beating a dying global warming horse, but I remember a couple of years in the ‘70s when the severe winter – sub-zero temperatures and blizzards – had almost everybody worried an ice age might be in the offing. In fact, I’m convinced that’s one reason “Roots” became the highest-watched TV miniseries of all time. Its story line was compelling, and it was well-acted and produced, but besides that, it was too cold that year to do anything else.

So in the midst of the hysteria, my trust in a Creator God comforts me. Seems to me that if He was wise enough to create the vast universe, He certainly must have anticipated the combustion engine, population growth and other factors supposedly linked to “global warming."