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)
Monday Motivation

Bidin’ My Time

Ever had one of those 3 o’clock in the morning moments of illumination? Well, this is one of those. 

I’ve probably heard 20 sermons on John 15 about the vines and the branches. Maybe more. I’ve probably taught on it myself.

There are whole books built on this, I’ve read a bunch of commentaries. It’s one of those core things people refer to.

And, since I don’t know much about grapevines, I tend to get hung up on the idea. Even though we have grapes in our backyard I’ll be the first to admit that the whole illustration Jesus was using is a little lost on me.

A lot in understanding this passage hinges on the word “abide” and that’s not really a word we use in English very often. It’s not even a word I can define off  the top of my head.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

John 15:4

Other translations translate that word differently. The Message uses “Live in me.” The NIV, “Remain in me.” But most translations use this antiquated word, “Abide.

But I woke up with this old Gershwin song on my mind. (Don’t judge me, apparently I dream about show tunes.) If you want to trip out a bit, listen to this Pink Floyd cover of the same song.

The two, the song and the Bible verse, connected for the first time.

Abide… biding my time… Jesus is talking about chilling out on the vine— when the time is right— he’ll pick you. Your job is to chill on the vine until just the right time, when you’re ripe, at just the right time, you’ll get picked.

We live in a RIGHT NOW culture. We want to change the world RIGHT NOW. We want everything to improve RIGHT NOW. We want to see change in ourselves RIGHT NOW. We want to see our enemies cry RIGHT NOW.

Our culture says RIGHT NOW.

Being totally transparent, I’m anxious about sitting on the sidelines at church. It’s totally weird to go to church on a Sunday morning with absolutely nothing to do but sit. And as much as I like my role as a high school small group co-leader… we’re talking about a role pretty tiny in comparison to what I’ve done in the past.

There’s a giant gap between my capabilities in our local ministry and the involvement I can handle with my other roles in life. This is disorienting.

I feel like I’m sitting there, just chilling, because that’s exactly what it happening. It’s weird to know that you could have a different role but your actual role is best compared to darned-near-nothing.

And Jesus says… “Chill. When the time is right I’ll come back and pick you.” (John 15:4, Adam’s 3:00 AM translation)

Until then? Just bide your time on the vine. Get nourished. Push past cultural-induced anxiety. Hang out in the sun with your grape-y friends. And chill.