Monday Motivation

Mater artium necessitas

Mater artium necessitas

Necessity is the mother of invention

English Proverb

Made for Invention

When was the last time you hung around children? Little ones remind you of something we, as adults, often forget: We’re made for invention.

My life is made brighter each day by the creativity of our 4-year old, Jackson.

Like every pre-schooler his life is 1/3 reality and 2/3 imagination.

Here’s an example of that from our family vacation in Yosemite:

While I am stuck in reality, staring awestruck at Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the Merced River, my 4 year old son has found a stick to defend his beach from the evil ducks attacking his position.

His adventure of imagination beats my awestruck wonder on a technicality, right?

I have a tendency to snap Jackson back from his pretend world with my mundane reality: “Jackson, why are you shooting ducks?” But when I physically get down on his level to enter his world, playing with Legos or building a sand castle, something truly amazing happens: My creative brain comes alive.

We were made for McLandia [or whatever you call your land of make believe] and, like Peter Banning in Hook adult life sometimes leaves us wrestling, wondering which life is worth living, reality or make believe?

Moira Banning: [after throwing Peter’s cell phone out the window] I’m sorry about your deal.

Peter Banning: You hated the deal.

Moira Banning: I hated the deal, but I’m sorry you feel so badly about it. Your children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? Soon Jack may not even want you to come to his games. We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. After that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. It’s so fast Peter. It’s a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.

Adults make the mistake that to become successful, to be an adult, we need to give up on Neverland. But, in reality, it’s only when we are in touch with Neverland that we find success.

More Than Play

This is about more than child’s play. This is about invention. All of us are capable of invention. But, as the old proverb implies, when we live in a world without necessity, we forget what we’re capable of invention.

One of the reasons companies like Google fail again and again with things like Wave and Plus is that there is zero necessity. Google will be just fine without Plus. And all of those people who worked on it? No biggie… they’ll find other places within the organization or jobs somewhere else. Google only wanted to take on Facebook to try to capture some of their marketshare and maybe see an increase in their stock price. I’m sure people within the organization thought it was necessary. But there’s a big difference between hitting a sales goal and survival.

This is why you so rarely see success come out of a think tank or R&D department within a big company… there’s no necessity for invention. 

This is also why you see existing companies buying inventions… they know they can’t invent a new success… for them it’s better to grow by acquisition than to try (and fail) to grow by invention.

Here’s my formula for creative success: 

Creative success = Hunger + Boredom + Desperation

  • Most teams aren’t hungry. If this fails they might not meet a goal or might not get a bonus, but their family is going to eat next week.
  • Most adults aren’t bored. You can’t schedule a meeting for invention. You need space. You need time. You need to get past the first couple of naps and tired of reading to get to a place where you are in touch with McLandia.
  • Most adults aren’t desperate. Whether the need is great or like in Hook, the stakes are huge as Peter needs to get his children back… if you aren’t desperate you’ll never invent something great. Yes, you can fake desperation a bit, but it’s only when people are truly desperate that you often see the best in them.

Opportunity Abounds

This is what’s beautiful about life. Each of us has an ability for creative success.

The more you are hungry, the more you are bored, and the more you are desperate you are… that’s all an advantage over the established thing out there.

While the playing field is not equal when it comes to resources you actually have an advantage over everyone else if you simply want it bad enough.

Monday Motivation

Be Dangerous

This Twitter exchange with a former church worker turned entrepreneur reveals that there’s a bit of a leadership farce going on in our society right now.

Everyone is getting labeled a leader. I mean, everyone. The ultimate compliment a teacher can tell parents about their child? “Your child is a leader.”

You can buy books, take online courses, get an MBA, and attend conferences that pump people up to embrace their leadership potential.

And yet… most aren’t really leaders at all. They’ve just bought into the lie that they are a leader. They feel good about that title.

But they are tied to a job where they have no real power to lead. Or they are in a role which muzzles their thoughts or somehow tells them that their ideas aren’t worthy.

I ascribe by what I was taught. You know you are a leader by what happens when you are gone. Let’s say you go on vacation. Did things run the same or better? Then you’re doing your job as a leader. Or let’s say you move on to another role at another organization. Was there someone to continue on what you’ve been working on? Or did they just start over as if you’d never been there?

That’s the difference. When a leader has lead, others don’t just follow temporarily, you’ve inspired them to do something they couldn’t do had they not been lead by you.

I define a leader as this: A leader takes you where you would not or could not otherwise go yourself.

Alive Inside

If I’m honest about where I am today I don’t really care if someone looks at me professionally as a leader or not. The only place that really matters to me, leadership wise, in this stage of life, is leading my family with Kristen.

What I do care about professionally is doing stuff that makes me alive inside. Sometimes I post things and get texts in response like, “Man, think the same thing… wish I could post that but I’d get fired.

On the one hand, I get it. When you work for someone you willingly exchange some stuff for the security of a paycheck. I know that’s not ministry-friendly language, but that’s what you’re doing. It’s a willful choice. I remember teaching things that weren’t what I’d prefer to teach, but that was what I was asked to do… it’s part of being a professional.

But on the other hand, if you’re doing that for a long time you start to smell. A tiny part of you dies in your gut when you aren’t free to share who you really are, what you are really passionate about, or even lead the thing you’re paid to lead in a way that reflects your giftedness– a little bit of you dies each time you do that and takes up residence in your gut. You’ve exchanged temporary security for long-term health. This is what Marko likes to call “a values misalignment.” And just like a misalignment on your car, it might not be a big deal for a day or a week, but if you don’t deal with it eventually it’ll wreak havoc on every area of your life. In my language, if you do things long enough that aren’t your true self, you just start to stink.

It’s been 4 years since I left YS, 7 years since I left working for a local church– things I once thought were my dream jobs but came with a need to be something to someone else to fulfill a role they foresaw for me.

But today?

The muzzle is gone.

The filter is off.

And I’m more alive inside today than I’ve been in a long time.

Big Sky Bloomington

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a new blog from a high school acquaintance, Seja. While in the middle of a seemingly good career selling pharmaceuticals she started to realize that she and her husband were misaligned, they were pursuing a dream that wasn’t actually their dream for themselves.

Recently, she quit her job to pursue something she’s always desired for her family, especially her kids– owning a farm.

She writes about how her land found her in the middle of her commute, she found herself unable to avoid it. I liked the imagery. As you read her story you realize that her dream called her more than she pursued it, it’s a beautiful picture:

Again, I don’t even know why I did it. I loved it, of course, but I had passed other properties similar to this one.  I was drawn to this one so much so that just in case I didn’t drive by it again – our work territories changed all the time – I wanted to be able to preserve this sight.

These wants, these desires I experienced, I knew they came from deep inside.  I was drawn to it and it came from an authentic place – not to please anyone else or to ask someone else if they liked it too.  I knew I loved it.  And that was all.

And then we found our land.

Read the rest

As I’ve read her story I connect to the counter-cultural aspects of her journey. She’s given up the American Dream for her Family Dream… how much more powerful is that?

That’s dangerous.

For me…  the most dangerous person I can be is my true self. I’ve been made to say and do things that others can’t or won’t. It’s a blessing and a curse, but that’s who I am.

And I have a feeling that’s you, as well.

You weren’t created for domestication, you’ve got a bit of wild left in you.

You are wild. You are dangerous.

I’m here to tell you to go.

I’m here to testify that when you do that you’ll come alive in ways you never knew possible.

I’m here to tell you it isn’t easy– it’s scary as hell sometimes.

But I’m also here to remind you that you’ll never experience the thrill of free fall until you jump out of the plane.

Safety is a matter of perspective. 

Photo credit: Skydiving by Morgan Sherwood via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Monday Motivation

An Ecosystem for Success

Why are some organizations so successful while others try really hard but never seem to get there?

Or, when something successful does come along, why doesn’t it last?

Why do successful people leave?

These are big, important conversations for every organization. Every organization.

Your local bank, taco shop, church, school, and even– maybe oddly– sole proprietorships. (Yes, you can quit working for yourself!)

Success Versus Long-term Success

Long-term success is rarely an accident. I find it’s more frequently the byproduct of an ecosystem. Happy, highly motivated, and well-rewarded people are just doing what they are doing… working hard and living life… and success just kind of happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a successful organization and asked “Why is this success happening?” and no one can tell me why it’s happening. It just is. That’s because the success they are part of is an entire ecosystem where success on a product/program/people isn’t the aim, it’s the byproduct.

The flip side is that when you see an aberration, success happening in an otherwise not-very-succesful environment, and you ask the same question people often point to something identifiable. (A person, a program, or even an outside force such as a population they are serving.) That’s because this type of success isn’t a byproduct of a healthy ecosystem, it’s the product of the moment.

Control and Power

Last week, I shared a video of a presentation I made at The Summit last Fall. I’ve given versions of that talk over and over again. What’s interesting to me is that when I deliver that talk I’ll hear “Amen” and lots of people will nod their head that what I’m saying is absolutely true.

So why don’t things change? Why is youth ministry nearly wholly focused on reaching 5% of the population of teenagers?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I wish I did.

But I know it has something to do with power— youth workers often don’t feel empowered to do what is necessary to reach and/or exceed the expectations put on them.

And I know it has something to do with control— youth workers often times aren’t equipped to create their own ecosystem, so most of what happens within their area is out of their control.


  • What are examples of healthy ecosystems that you’re aware of where success is the byproduct?
  • What’s the ecosystem like where you work?
Photo credit: Micro Ecosystem by Pierre Pocs Photography via Flickr (Creative Commons) 
management Monday Motivation

3 Keys to a Healthy Ecosystem for Growth

I spent a lot of time in Freshbooks last week. This revealed three important things to me. First, it’s clear that Marko and I have no training in accounting or bookkeeping. We try really hard and we are learning a ton. But it’s way harder than I’d like to admit. Second, while living in the daily grind of our little business makes it hard to see it… there’s no denying the exponential growth of everything we’re doing. Third, there’s a huge need for the position we’re hiring for to help us administratively so that our growth doesn’t stall. I’m actually starting to think of our next couple hires after that.

So what’s the secret to the Cartel’s growth? I think the biggest secret is that we cultivate a healthy ecosystem where growth is a natural byproduct of the health– instead of worrying about creating a home run product. Since it’s opening day in Major League Baseball… I describe what we do at the Cartel as “small ball.



We do a lot of little things right and success is the outcome. And when we do things wrong… we fail fast and small.

3 Keys to a Healthy Ecosystem for Growth

We don’t always get these things right. But when we’re at our best, this is what we’re striving for.


It’s easy to overdo it on consistency. Like, worrying about something being done at a specific time as opposed to being done well. But consistency is a sign that things are going well, that we’re on a good pace, and that things are sustainable. People are naturally drawn to consistency in quality of what you’re doing or consistency about timing on an event or even consistency of how long it takes to follow-up on something.

For instance, we don’t change the size of our books or the paper quality or even the thickness of our covers… ever. It’s not that we can’t do that. It’s that by being consistent people know what to expect from our books. And while we’re still perfecting our editorial process, the process of how a book becomes a book is pretty consistent. Why? Consistency leads to health.


Core to who we are, from the onset, is cultivate playfulness. There’s a fine line between playfulness and corniness… and we make sure we stay firmly on the playful side. This isn’t just something we do on the outside in what we do, it’s kind of who we are as an organization. I won’t extrapolate how that actually plays out on a daily basis, I’ll just leave that to the imagination. 

I find that as we’re playful it spreads to people we work with and into the stuff that we do. Last year, at The Summit I had a joke with the woman at our host hotel about wanting a really, really big gift basket because we completely sold out the hotel. Well, we we checked in to our rather modest little hotel room there it was… a candy gram with a hand written note.

It wasn’t over the top ridiculous but she was being as playful as her very serious job would allow.


Nothing good comes out of a research & development department.

That’s something I’ve learned over the years.

  • IBM had all the money in the world and missed on the home computer.
  • Apple had all the money in the world and missed on Dropbox.
  • Google had all the money in the world and missed on Facebook.

Fat and happy never leads to innovation… only iteration.

Innovation is directly linked to desperation. One of the key things we do at the Cartel is always keep things a little desperate. We make things work because we have to make them work in order to keep going. Take that away and we get really, really safe.

Desperation is to innovation as safety is to iteration. 

Start Composting

DIY Composting Bin -
DIY Composting Bin –

So what do I do with these 3 things? Start composting.

Literally, you cannot buy health. You can’t hire health. You can only cultivate a healthy environment and patiently mix these things in over time. The bad news is that you can’t do this overnight. The good news is that once you’ve got it going it’s relatively easy to keep it going… just like a good compost in your garden.

Monday Motivation

Clothes Don’t Make the Man


The air brakes release on the rental car shuttle at the Phoenix airport last Thursday and a packed bus starts to make its way to the terminal.


I roll my head back and let out a deep, silent sigh. A great day of training youth workers and talking to people about the Student Justice Conference. In just a few hours I’ll be home.

Sandals versus Gators

Business travel is generally a solo activity. People make small talk on shuttles or over a meal at an airport bar. But, largely, I find it’s an insular activity often distracted by keeping up with email, texting, looking at your travel details on Tripit, and stuff like that.

As I tip my head back and let out my end-of-day sigh I noticed something: Everyone in the front of the bus  is in a suit. These are men in business suits, with leather bags, expensive watches, and nice shoes. The guy standing directly across from me is wearing high-end shoes made from alligator hide.

I look at my own feet. I’m wearing TevasMy “business suit” includes casual shorts and an untucked polo. I don’t have a $500 leather briefcase. I have a $50 backpack that a friend gave to me a couple years ago.

Instantly, I feel inferior.

Actually, I feel stupid.

These guys are serious business people. They probably look at me as some schmuck in town to watch Spring Training.

In that moment I felt…. illegitimate.

That Suit Doesn’t Mean Success

This little pity party lasted about a block. That’s when I remembered a couple quick facts.

  • They are dressed appropriately for the work they do, but so am I.
  • Based on national averages they bought those fancy clothes on credit. That watch? Credit card. The Lexus waiting for them at the airport back home? It’s financed. I might not have anything from Brooks Brothers. But everything I have is paid for. And I think credit is for suckers.
  • Based on the same math, many of them are poorer today than yesterday. I made a profit, facts are facts.
  • The men they are repping probably wears a suit, too. The man I’m repping didn’t ever own a suit and  wore sandals to work every day. (Solid Jesus Juke, right there. Adam takes a bow.)

The Scorecard

I don’t have to feel inferior. Despite how I felt in that moment I do, indeed– and to the amazement of my parents– have a “real job.”

In fact, I think I have something a lot better than a “real job.” I have a life’s work that I’m fully invested in, that’s fulfilling and fun and provides a decent living for my family.

And yes, there are moments where I look at big houses on Zillow or look at AutoTrader, and yes… I wish I had more and bigger and fancier and whatever.

I wish I had a boat and a vacation house and… and… and…

But I don’t have anything to complain about. I made my own choices about the kind of life I want to live and the calling I want to pursue. 

If I wanted that life it was there for me 15 years ago. I didn’t get kicked out. I quit.

I was there, in the land of suits and gators and big fancy meetings with big fancy people. And you know what? It wasn’t for me.

And just like I had this moment where I felt inferior to the group of men in their fancy business suits… there’s a high likelihood that one of those dudes was looking at me and thinking, “One day I’d like to live a life where I can wear sandals, shorts, a polo, and carry a backpack to work.” Why? Because we all want what we don’t have.

Satisfaction isn’t found in stuff or position or $700 gators.

Satisfaction comes from something far more simple.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17

Photo credit: Romano Martegani Shoes by Robert Sheie via Flickr (Creative Commons)