Monthly Archives: January 2009

Kids these days.

While driving home from a wedding a few years ago, our son Andrew and I were talking about a song on the radio. He started describing the video for the song, talking about why it worked well. He was pretty insightful.

I asked Andrew what he wanted to do.

Be in music somehow.

Like a producer? Like for records? Or for concerts?


He had no connections to any bands. He hadn’t been to many concerts. He didn’t hang out backstage anywhere. He doesn’t play anything. He doesn’t sing. He played the trumpet for four years, but quit in high school when he got braces. He’s not a big public guy. He’s pretty shy, pretty laid back. He’s the nice kid, the guy that is nice to have around. He’s the designated driver. He’s the “clean the bathroom at work after no one else would do it” guy.

That night in the car, he–and I–had no reason to believe that he would actually end up in the music business.

He has, however, learned how to make statements and ask questions.

“Can I interview you for an article?”- That got him a conversation with Jordan, a guy who is a band. And an article in the university paper. And an invitation to take pictures.

“This would make a great place for a concert!” – That was looking at a small gym by the concession stand he ran for the summer. That comment led to a concert for some indy local bands, with someone else acting as the show promoter.

“He didn’t get paid. It wasn’t fair.” – That was looking at how the money got distributed following the concert. His now friend Jordan didn’t get his share of the gate. The promoter took his money off the top.

So last Saturday night, Andrew bought a concert.

He made a list. He stuffed money into envelopes and took off for the venue. The money was from his own bank account. The posters and the photos and the distribution of the posters were from his camera and mac and car. The venue arrangements and sound and lights and food for the bands were from his phone and debit card. The bands were from Fort Wayne and LA.

And last Saturday night 180 kids showed up  and heard great music in a safe place.  Last Saturday night, the bands got what was promised and some extra. Last Saturday night, the venue got their full amount and got to sell some concessions. Last Saturday night, some people who helped got paid. Last Saturday night, Andrew put his money back into his account with a little extra.

And last Saturday night, a month before his 22nd birthday, Andrew did what he said he wanted to do when he grows up.

Kids these days. I just don’t know.They are so irresponsible sometimes.

(Did I mention I’m proud of my son?)


which weaknesses

We’re great at pointing out what we do poorly. We spend much energy trying to fix what is wrong with us.

And we often are glad that we are good enough to get by with our strengths so we have more time to spend on the weak areas.

What if, rather than looking at our weaknesses, we looked at the weakest part of our strengths?

Here’s what I mean. What are you best at? What is the weakest part of what you are best at? You may still be better than 90% of the population at that thing, but you aren’t happy with it.

Now, rather than pouring the next week into fixing the thing you don’t know how to do at all, pour it into fixing the weakest part of what you are best at.

Have a great phone style but can’t remember to smile? Fix that part. Know how to do every part of a sales call well but somehow always spill your coffee? Fix that thing. Write incredible posts but can’t quite figure out how to end them? Fix that thing.

I don’t know what you do worst about what you do best. But you do. Fix that, and your best will be even better than now.

Make sense?

Have a seat. Just for a minute or two.

January is almost over. It’s been a strange month of weather delays, traveling, inaugural activities, sickness, bills, economic uncertainties, and everything else that disrupts our schedules.

Many of us are trying to remember the commitments we made at the beginning of the month (year). Some of us had three words. Some had a goal. Some had a strong commitment to not set goals or pick words.

I understand.

I had three words – focus, singing, deliberate practice – and I’m wondering what it was I was going to focus on, and what, exactly, I was going to practice. And yet, I still remember the words. I have made incremental progress. I’m guessing that you have, too.

But there is still a bunch more to do.

So take a couple minutes. Take a deep breath. Take another drink of coffee. I’ll have a couple questions for you in a minute.


What one thing are you going to make sure you get done today?

How are you going to do it?

What’s the first step?

How do you want me to ask God to help you?


Okay. Take off. Go do it. Let me know how I can help.

reverberant silence

St John the Evangelist is an old church. It’s the oldest church in Indianapolis. It feels like “church”. High ceiling, stained glass, candles, long and narrow.

“Ubi Caritas” is an old hymn. Fifth century old. Though the setting is newer, when sung by a children’s choir, it feels like “church music”.

When you put the two together, the music and the building, some of us end up in tears. The music is full of spaces, silences. The room is full of spaces, resonance. Each silence in the music draws music from the building.

The two are perfectly built for each other.

Other pieces don’t work in this room. Pieces that pour piano notes into the space cause them to pile up, colliding with each other. Pieces with long smooth melodies seem to weave together and trip and get muddled.

When we create content, whether in writing or in speaking or in conversation or in powerpoint decks, we are wise to think of the space which will receive what we make. The physical space, yes, but the space in hearts and ears and thoughts and noise.

If there will be much mental noise, then short, loud, striking, simple.

If there will be interaction, then winding, provacative, reflective.

If there will be hurting hearts, then soothing, healing.

If there will be newly aware or thoughtfully seeking, then clear unassuming explanation.

Composers, at times, write for kinds of space.

Shouldn’t, couldn’t we?

8 ways voice recitals teach writing.

I spent an hour at a voice recital. Ten high school students gathered in the large living room of their teacher and performed pieces for an audience of family members.

Recitals can be nerve-wracking. But they are (or can be) great teaching experiences as well.

1. Performance isn’t always competition, but it often leads to it. Most of the people in this recital are competing with these same pieces next week. This was a friendly, non-judging audience. It allowed the students to actually perform, to get feedback from their teacher, to have parents make comments on the ride home.

Sometimes try out the high-stakes writing on a friendly audience first. Have people who will read drafts.

2. To be a singer, you need an audience. More accurately, sometimes you need an audience, particularly if the kind of singer you are is a singer for. There are many people who sing that are not singers for, just like there are many writers who are not writers for. But if you are for, then you need the audience, you need to find out where the nerves are, where the projection is, what it feels like to have eyes looking at you.

The power of blogging for some of us is that it gives us an audience on the way to other audiences.

3.  A complicated accompaniment can make the singer sound better. One of the pieces was a vocally challenging piece, but it was even more challenging for the pianist. And she handled it with passion. As a result, there was tremendous applause. The singer was great, but the helper fed the audience.

Inviting great responses…and great responders…can make your writing sound even better.

4. Singing out of your area of comfort can stretch you well. One of the singers is not competing in the high school state competition. She knew that she had too many other things happening to add that stress. However, she also knew she could benefit from the lessons…and the recital that came with them. She sang a piece in Italian, one of the languages that she seldom sings. The teacher is far more classical than this student usually needs. However, as a result of this intentional experience, she is building her skills for what she really does.

Writing for group projects or blogs that are outside your usual field, helps.

5. Deadlines sharpen performance. A recital happens at a specific time and place. Your name is on the program. You have to show up.

6. Experience is cumulative. The more you perform, the more poise you have for performing. Even when you forget a transition, the more you have performed, the less traumatic the lapse. Part of the reason is that each time you perform, individual performances become a smaller percentage of your total experience. (Your first solo is 100% of your solo resume. Your second is 50%. Your third is 33%) By the time you have been in several choirs for several years, the idea of an audience has become familiar, and one slightly off performance can be offset by the 98% that have gone smoothly.

Write. Often.

7. Being a student means you are learning. For a recital like this, the expectation is that you are learning, you are not perfect. There will be mistakes, there will be room for improvement, there will be new understandings of how to approach the music.

Acknowledge that you are both skilled and learning. Overplaying the former looks arrogant, overplaying the latter looks silly, being in the middle (I have  learned, I am learning) is exciting.

8. The cookies help the music. There is always a reception after a recital. Cookies, coffee, conversation. The opportunity for the teacher to compliment the student and the parents, and the other way around. The opportunity for the students to encourage each other, to commiserate. Shared experience. It feels awkward sometimes, but it is part of the community of music.

Write together. Offer coffee to others. It’s part of the community of writing.

Does this make sense? What suggestions can you offer me? (Because writing here is usually a recital.)

everyone has a convention

We’re in Indianapolis for a convention of music teachers. Our daughter is singing with two choirs.

One of the other conventions here is the “Monument Builders of North America.”

Just a question for a Friday morning after a too fast week:

Aren’t you a monument builder, too?

What lasting monument are you working on?

Reflections over coffee.

If you know me, you know I drink coffee. In truth, even if you don’t know me, you know I drink coffee. I offer it on twitter. I have a mug in my hand most of the time. I bought a domain just to have a made up place to go about coffee mug values:

Over at today, there’s a post I wrote about customer service at a coffee place that advertised the world’s best coffee. I still don’t know how good the coffee at Biggby‘s is. I know that their process for helping me have the best possible opportunity to have a good experience is great.

You can read the post over there to find out how they served me. Over here I have just this obervation.

How we treat people matters.

From a business sense, certainly, it is helpful. But there are examples of people who provide lousy customer service and still have a lot of business. (A Seinfield character comes to mind.) And at times, in a business sense, there is a financial benefit from niceness. I mean, Biggby is getting some traffic which may lead to some sales from this (unsponsored) post.

But it’s more than business.

If I say that I am about life-transforming love, if I shout from the (digital) mountaintops that God is great and God is good and we should thank him for our food…and I do not have a life that is shaped and showing, at some level, love, then I might as well be a pair of marching band symbols. Getting attention, yes, but in no way conversational or compassionate or relational.

Not a perfect life, mind you. Our opportunity is to grow, to be shaped. But our lives are shaped by our relationships. Who we hang out with, who we drink coffee with, what we talk about while we are drinking coffee will shape us.

I understand that more people would be interested in church if we spent more time over coffee. It is valuable to sit side by side and sing and listen. (It really is.) But somehow, I think I need to spend more time sitting face to face talking and listening.

Biggby Coffee had two people sending me emails and coupons and asking for clear information about how they can help me have an accurate experience.

Of one short cup of decaf.

What could we do to spend that kind of attention on what is important to us?

slowly, but still, learning

For the past eight years, almost every month I’ve walked into a board meeting carrying a sheet with numbers on it. The numbers reflect the previous month’s income and expense.

Most months the news has been marginal. Non-profits are frequently no profits, and because giving to churches and other non-profits is usually highest in December and spending is highest in other months, I have often had to do some explaining.

I am an explainer. It is what I do. However, I have a confession. It wasn’t until this week that I realized that my explaining would benefit from pictures. I always do pictures to help people understand, whether with photographs or words. Except when it has come to these reports.

I spent yesterday making graphs that would give perspective, that would give context, that would help us understand the numbers.

It sort of worked.

As I talked about it this morning, trying to figure out what to do better, a colleague said, “with all the differences in learning styles, how do you make the information understandable to everyone?”

It was a great question.

But, I said, there are only 10 people. It wouldn’t be that hard to spend the 30 days between meetings thinking about the audience and considering how to express numbers as trends, as relationships, as investments, as changed lives.

That would take all your time, she said.

After the first time, it wouldn’t. I would know what I was doing. And they would help each other understand in their own styles. And they, these other leaders, would feel like they owned the information.

And isn’t understanding some of the key indicators of your organization, whatever they are, pretty important?

On one hand, I feel annoyed with myself. Eight years and I just figured it out. On the other hand, I find myself still learning. And that is a key indicator itself.

accumulate or collect

I drink coffee. A lot. I have a coffee cup in my hand all the time at work.

In the process of drinking coffee, I’ve accumulated a lot of coffee mugs. People walk into my office. They look at the mugs on the shelves, on my desk, on the file cabinet. They say, “do you collect coffee mugs?” I say, “No, I accumulate them.”

Coffee Mug Collectors have grounds for confidence.

If I were a collector, I would keep track of my mugs. If I were a collector, I would know their value. I would pick a particular style. I would make sure I had one of every color, or style, or brand. I would gather all the different kinds of Starbucks mugs, for example. I would track the value on, if such a place existed.  Or, if I really cared, I would start a blog at that I could use to help other people figure out the value of their coffee mugs. And I would turn it into a whole side business.

On the other hand, as an accumulator, I pick them up wherever. I am not discriminating about where they come from. I certainly don’t worry much about how neatly I keep them, whether I wash them. I am very willing to use them even if it means the lettering wears off.

Collectors have purpose

The difference between the two may be a difference in intentionality. For the collector, there is a point to the collection, and there is a pursuit of that point.  For an accumulator, there is no point. A collector has discernment. An accumulator has none. A collector, particularly a serious collector, will ignore many replicas, many impostors, many duplicates, for the sake of the next piece in the collection. An accumulator will take whatever comes, whatever holds coffee. Or an accumulator will not pay attention to the many important coffee mugs going by.

I started thinking about about reading. Or about thinking. Or about writing. Or about wisdom. Or about understanding. Or about quality relationships. Or about anything else that matters.

I realized that I can read as an accumulator, just looking at whatever words come by my face. I can write as an accumulator, scattering words wherever. I can accumulate understanding as I wander along.

Or I could, I suppose, learn with the focus that a collector collects.

  • I could decide that I want to understand how the book of Matthew helps people follow Jesus or how world class performers become world class or how to be a life-long learner or ______________.
  • I could catalog what I know.
  • I could decide what pieces are missing from the collection of understanding in my head (and heart)
  • I could look for the people who know what is missing and ask them for help with knowing how to discern.
  • I could read books that help.
  • I could stop reading them when they don’t have what I thought they had.
  • I could write posts that raise questions that other people could answer.
  • I could ignore magazines that have nothing to do with what I’m trying to understand.
  • I could regularly admit that I don’t understand.
  • I could sell the things that don’t matter, that clutter my attention.
  • I could write summaries of what is known so far to help other people focus their efforts on what is not known.
  • I could step back and think carefully about what really matters. And then take that next step. And then step back again.
  • I could decide.

Or, I could just keep accumulating.

While you thaw out, help me think.

Time to clear some stuff out of my “Did I ever tell you” folder in my brain:

1. I’m doing a daily 300 word post about following Jesus at As of today, it’s also available at  (Just trying to stretch a bit. Let me know  you think about the mobile version).

2. I talked about deliberate practice a couple weeks ago. I’ll keep coming back to it. (In fact, I’m doing a presentation about it to non-profit executive directors next week).

I realized today that one of the key things for creative brains to work on  is actually following particular ideas through to completion. I mean, some of us generate ideas constantly. We let other people do them. But what if we picked one a day and followed up, figuring out how to do that one idea?

3. I had some great comments this week on my first real book review post. Makes me think that in the future, I’ll not worry so much about how I got the book and worry more about how to let you know what I thought.

4. I wrote over at smallbizsurvival this week about what not to do as a business when there are always problems with your work. (“There is always something”). Probably applies to individuals as well.

5. David Meerman Scott has a link to an incredibly funny and thought-provoking calendar for 2009. It forces us to think about audience.

6. Speaking of audience, I’m thinking very hard about an idea I found in Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR: buyer personas. I know that I’m not about buyers in the sense of products. However, I realized this week that building our church’s website around information that  particular people are looking for might be a good idea. For example, we will have parents of about 200 kids wondering about game schedules for basketball for the next 8 weeks. What if we made it easy to find that information? I mean, really easy?

Have a great weekend. I hope the weather warms where you are, that the power comes back on if it’s off, that you have to to read, write, think, not think, rest, work, and play some time.