Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Celebrating Holy Days

My wife, Linda, and I have returned from visiting my family in the Palm Beach area for the last several days and I am reflecting on how blessed I am to celebrate these holy days with loved ones close by.

Before leaving for the visit, Linda and I enjoyed one of our very favorite holiday rituals: the annual candlelight service at a quaint church with an old-fashioned steeple that is straight out of a Hallmark movie.

On the way to and from the service, we waved at and chatted with friends and neighbors who live in our Mayberry-esque village of Mount Dora. And the candlelight service itself moved me with its reminiscences as it always does.

Once in Palm Beach, we took our four- and eight-year-old nieces to a matinee movie and ice cream and had the pleasure of treating my mother and father to a breakfast celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary today.

At the close of a year filled with its share of ups and downs, it is a priceless act to recount the blessings of God, and to paraphrase a long-ago advertisement: it simply doesn’t get much better than this.

Friday, December 26, 2008

High Tech and High Touch

The toys of choice for my wife and I this Christmas were a couple of matching Nokia cell phones. The quad-band GSM world phone includes Bluetooth capability, a music player, a camera, a radio, and email functionality, among other stuff. I spent the better part of the last couple days familiarizing myself with its bells and whistles and am impressed with it. But what I am even more impressed with is the service of the local AT&T store manager.

We actually purchased the phones on sale at the Target store across the street but went to AT&T to get them activated. During the process, a store associate unnecessarily got in a hurry and sliced into my wife’s new phone with a razor blade while trying to retrieve it from the vice-like grip of its plastic packaging.

To his credit, even though we did not purchase the phones at the AT&T store, the manager not only agreed to give us a brand new phone but also allowed us to keep the damaged one for its extra battery and memory card. One does not ordinarily experience such extraordinary service, so I am seizing this opportunity to celebrate high tech stuff and high touch service.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Living From Your Sweet Spot

If you are like me and you long to live from your sweet spot in life, then The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success is a must-read. Among its several thought-provoking statements is this gem: “your strengths aren’t what you’re good at and your weaknesses aren’t what you’re bad at.” In other words, if you are good at something yet you feel drained while doing it, then it is a weakness rather than a strength, suggests the author.

From its sleek metallic-colored cover to its inclusion of an enhanced DVD, this latest title from bestselling business author Marcus Buckingham is designed to be an interactive learning experience, complete with a memo pad for jotting insights while reading.

At slightly more than 100 pages, the text part of the package makes for a quick read. However, the author suggests watching the DVD before reading to fully absorb the content in context. The 22-minute film features the story of a boy named Ewan who identifies his strengths by replacing three common myths with revolutionary truths.

The enclosed memo pad includes pages for writing down “I loved it” moments during the day to help identify strengths and “I loathed it” moments to help identify areas of weakness. The book naturally appeals to the college- and career-aged, but people of all ages can glean from the wisdom of its words and the meaning of its message.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Living Counterclockwise Too

Part of living counterclockwise is realizing what an artificial reality time actually is. It is ironic that the clock was created by medieval monks to regulate the routine of daily devotions at the monasteries. And the unintended consequence of the innovation was that the very contraption designed to draw people toward the divine instead became the means used to manipulate life as we know it. In other words, it could be said that religion helped create the concept of time as measured by a clock.

What is interesting is that there are actually two types of time. One type is described by the Greek word chronos (human time) and it refers to time as measured in minutes by a clock. The other is described by the Greek word kairos (divine time) and it refers to the type of moments that are infused with meaning and cannot be conveniently measured.

Clocks may be valuable tools for chronicling the passage of time, but they are meant to be our servants not our masters. To quote the songwriter James Taylor, “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Life is not about trying to cram even more activity into an already busy lifestyle. It is designed to be a stroll with Jesus along the sands of time until time is no more.

It is helpful to meditate on Acts 17:26, a powerful scripture from The Message about our relationship to time: “God made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God.” All too often, the human race tries desperately to live up to its name. Do yourself a favor: start to think about time from an eternal perspective and enjoy the journey from here to eternity!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Living Counterclockwise

One of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is the passage of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

While we don’t often think of it this way, I am convinced that one of the reasons that Jesus Christ came to earth was to introduce us to a radical way of relating to time. Notice in the passage above that Jesus said the way to learn the unforced rhythms of grace is “to walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.”

One of the amazing things about the life of Jesus as recorded in Scripture is that you never see Him in a hurry. Even though Jesus is the Son of God and has existed for all of eternity, as a human He never yielded to the tyranny of time. Rather than succumb to peer pressure, even from His parents, He was quick to point out that He was not ruled by time.

The ultimate example of pacing oneself through life was Jesus. He knew He only had a limited time here on earth during which to accomplish His mission, yet He daily resisted the temptation to sacrifice the important for the urgent. If He could lay aside peripheral activities for the sake of a prioritized agenda, surely we can do so ourselves.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Design Isn't Decoration

I recently read an intriguing book titled Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney. It is a peek inside the mind of Steve Jobs, the innovative co-founder and leader of Apple, the revolutionary maker of such state-of-the-art products as the iMac, iPod and iPhone.

Part of what stood out to me about Jobs’ thinking is how intentional he is about design. Not design for design’s sake, but the overall process of designing a satisfying customer experience out of the box, which Jobs is personally involved with from start to finish.

I can still remember the sensory pleasure I experienced while opening my first purchase of an Apple product, a G4 PowerBook laptop. The box itself was so cool that I hesitated to cut the proof-of-purchase from it to send for the rebate I had coming to me.

As Kahney states in his book, “Jobs’ pursuit of excellence is the secret of Apple’s great design. For Jobs, design isn’t decoration. It’s not the surface appearance of a product. It’s not about the color or the stylistic details. For Jobs, design is the way the product works. Design is function, not form.”

It is no surprise to me why Apple is making such a comeback in the marketplace. Its breakthrough products represent much more than a pretty interface. Stuff from Apple not only looks better, but much more importantly, it also works better.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Secrets for Success

I am a frequent flyer with Southwest Airlines and am continually amazed at how they succeed by flying in the face of conventional wisdom. As an example, on my last trip with them I was delighted by the availability of comfy leather chairs in the waiting area as well as marble-topped side tables featuring charging docks for laptops and iPods. Wow, now that is superior customer service!

I also read an insightful article titled “Southwest’s Seven Secrets for Success” in the latest issue of Portfolio magazine. The article articulates the success secrets as: 1) One plane fits all, 2) Point-to-point flying, 3) Simple in-flight service, 4) No frills, no fees, 5) Strong management, 6) A relatively happy workforce and 7) Aggressive fuel hedging. It proves why Southwest is popular and profitable.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Island Time

My wife and I just returned from celebrating our twentieth anniversary in Key West at a bed and breakfast that had no televisions, alarm clocks or telephones in the guest quarters. Fortunately, we did have air conditioning to help us survive the sweltering heat and humidity. Yet not only did we not miss the other accoutrements, but doing without them actually enhanced our overall enjoyment of the island visit.

At such times I am reminded of the pleasure of living by what I call “island time.” While we all may not live on a tropical island year round, simply living in rhythm with the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, we can carry the concept of island time into the stream of our daily lives. Life can even be fun.

We should rule time, not the other way around. And technology is meant to serve us, not become our masters. I must confess that we did peek at our cell phones periodically to check the time and we even indulged ourselves by toting along our iPod portable speaker system to enjoy tunes on the trip. But we left our laptop at home and resisted the fleeting temptation to check email at the local café.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taming Technology Too

Technology yields us many liberties yet we are often quick to forget its limitations. I recently came across a thought-provoking special report in the British publication The Economist titled “Labour Movement: The Joys and Drawbacks of Being Able to Work From Anywhere.” You can read it at

The report identifies several tentacles of technology, including the tyranny of time: “Digital nomadism will liberate ever more knowledge workers from the cubicle prisons of Dilbert cartoons. But the old tyranny of place could become a new tyranny of time, as nomads who are “always on” all too often end up—mentally—anywhere but here (wherever here may be).”

And the report includes an example of time tyranny that we can all identify with: “It is becoming commonplace for a café to be full of people with headphones on, speaking on their mobile phones or…hacking away at their keyboards, more engaged with their e-mail inbox than with the people touching their elbows. These places are ‘physically inhabited but psychologically evacuated.’”

I periodically enjoy heading down to a local café with my favorite high-tech tools, but I also try to remain sensitive to the presence of other people by visiting with fellow patrons and otherwise being personable. Communication is ultimately designed to draw us closer to others, and using tools in a high-touch way helps us tame the tentacles of technology.

Friday, May 30, 2008

More Print is Dead

Due to time and space constraints, I saved some of my thoughts about the book Print is Dead for a second subsequent post here. At the end of the book, author Jeff Gomez outlines “Five reasons publishers will still exist in a digital age” and so I’ll list them:

Find talentWith millions online, finding anything worth consuming is getting more difficult. “With so much content already out there, and more being produced each day, publishers will fill an important need and perform a valuable service by reaching into the digital slush pile and pulling out the pearls.”
Support talent...The Internet is great for making an initial splash, but not for turning that splash into a career. “So while it’s sometimes too easy to get an audience online, that exposure is only really useful if it’s in support of something that users can interact with apart from the vehicle that brought the initial exposure.”
Edit talentEven geniuses need editors. “Without editors, books or electronic texts will simply be blogs in a different package.”
Expose and market talentAs more authors are discovered online, more authors are promoted online. “Using the power of the Internet, publishers will do numerous things to expose and market writers to online communities, including creating banner ads, interactive websites and blogs, as well as performing outreach to bloggers and Internet reading groups.”
Pay talentThe Internet creates communities, but it doesn’t pay them. “What publishers will continue to do is sell the works of artists in the marketplace, and then pay royalties on those sales.”

I highly recommend anyone involved with the publishing industry to read and digest the book Print is Dead. It is one of the top couple of books I have read about publishing and I can unequivocally state that it is an invaluable guide to the uncharted territory that lies ahead for writers, editors and other wordsmiths involved with the creation of content.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Print is Dead

To give credit to whom credit is due, I learned about the book Print is Dead on Thomas Nelson publisher Mike Hyatt’s blog located at I pay attention when someone of his stature describes a book as “must reading,” and it did not disappoint. The premise of the author, Jeff Gomez, himself a publishing executive, is not that books are bound to disappear, but that the delivery of books as we know them will change radically, namely via digital systems. In other words, the news for past, present, and prospective authors is “digitize or die.”

I had read about half of the book on my way to speak at a recent conference for aspiring authors, and without having come to this part of the book, I found myself saying to them that “if you don’t have some sort of online presence, then you may need to rethink your viability as an author,” even going so far as to query, “if someone Googles you and finds nothing about you, do you really exist?”

An excerpt of the book, the chapter titled “Writers in a Digital Future,” is available for free download at and it echoes my thoughts exactly: “Authors who choose not to take part in any sort of online promotion or to curry online exposure, and are unwilling to do things like start a blog, post clips on YouTube, have a page on MySpace or otherwise engage an Internet audience in any meaningful way will find themselves at an increasing disadvantage.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Trying the Flip

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and the enclosed one is of my latest tech toy, the Flip Ultra Camcorder. If the elegant design of the device doesn’t sell it, its utter simplicity of use closes the deal.

I first heard about it last month via the weekly “Circuits” newsletter distributed by New York Times technology columnist David Pogue. You can learn more about the Flip at

As Pogue succinctly stated, “Instead of crippling this ‘camcorder,’ the simplicity elevates it. Comparisons with a real camcorder are nonsensical, because the Flip is something else altogether: it’s the video equivalent of a Kodak point-and-shoot camera. It’s the very definition of ‘less is more.’”

According to Pogue, the Flip has been the top selling camcorder at since its debut about a year ago and it has already garnered about 13% of the camcorder market. I am loving mine and sold my mother on getting her own after she saw how user-friendly and fun it is. Try the Flip, you’ll like it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Plenitude

While on a business trip a couple months ago I picked up an intriguing book in the MIT Press “Simplicity” series called The Plenitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff by Rich Gold. For the uninitiated, “plenitude” means “the abundance or plentiful supply of something.” In terms of the text, it refers to all of the “stuff” we each create and consume on a daily basis.

One particularly golden gem of insight that I gleaned from the book had to do with the concept of creative artistry: “The art flows from personal vision and from a unique sense of self. To many artists, art is more a calling than a profession, though one still needs to be trained in it, and there is certainly a business side.”

That statement liberated my thinking by giving me permission to create as an artist with a uniquely personal perspective and interpretation of life as I see it and not simply as a producer of commodity. As Gold suggests, “Without artistic vision stuff tends to…commodity…and…if you are merely producing commodity, you’re dead.”

Friday, February 29, 2008

Time to Live

With today being Leap Day, I am reflecting on what a gift it is to me. Today is an extra day to do whatever needs to be done, but it also is a gift wrapped as extra time to live. As I am staring down the deadline of a major project, I am very thankful for the added time today affords, but even more than that I am grateful that today gives me that much more time to spend with my wife and enjoy the good life that God has seen fit to bless me with.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Less is More

As I have been planning my year, I’ve reflected about how little I actually need to enjoy life, particularly as it applies to my library. I love books but I estimate that I presently own more than one thousand volumes, half of which I’ve never read and a quarter of which I’ll likely never read. With that said, I have made it my regular practice to clear out books in the latter category to make room for ones in the former and to create space for new acquisitions rather than buy more bookshelves.

Alas, with the big annual used book sale coming to my hometown this weekend, I am challenged to discipline myself anew. But what I’ve actually been considering lately is drastically reducing the number of volumes in my library so that virtually all the books I own are ones that I’ve either read or realistically plan to read in the foreseeable future.

Regarding my philosophy of “less is more,” I recently read a relevant posting by Richard Watson on the Fast Company Blog: “One of the key challenges for the twenty-first century will be how to cope with the almost infinite amount of information that will be produced. According to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, one of the most valuable skills in the future will thus be the ability to select and synthesize information. This in turn means the ability to develop criteria for filtering what’s valuable and what’s not will become highly prized.”