Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

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“You Can’t Outsmart the Work”

Chris, Jeff and I all went to the same school to work in our respective Master’s programs back in the early 2000’s.  Our studies were challenging and we enjoyed our learning experience.

Jeff went on to earn a Ph.D in Leadership Studies at a fine school on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  Those pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree spend a lot of time in books and writing, like their counterparts in the medical and legal professions, to name just two disciplines.

Some time later, Chris and Jeff got together—reflecting on their educational journeys.  Their conversation went along these lines.

Chris:  “So, how is your Ph.D program going, Jeff.  I bet it’s intense.”

Jeff:  “For sure.  I’ve never read and wrote so much in my life.”

Chris:  “What does it take to get through a Ph.D program?”

Jeff:  “You’d be surprised.”

Chris:  “Oh really?  What do you mean?”

Jeff:  “Well, the ones who make it through a doctoral program like this aren’t the ones you’d expect.”

Chris:  “Really.  Who make it through and who don’t?”

Jeff:  “Not the geniuses.  The ‘Einsteins’ are the ones who wash out.”

Chris:  “Really?! Why?” (This goes against the standard assumptions of genius and success.)

Jeff:  “Because you can’t outsmart the work.

 

Well.

 

There is gold here.  And it is this.  There is no substitute for putting in your time and paces to earn a high degree/platform or income.  10,000 hour rule again.   One could fairly apply the 19th century label of “snake oil” to a lot of get-rich-quick schemes and thinking that so many of us gravitate to to make as much money in as little time with as little effort as possible.

We cheat ourselves when we do this.  Self-deception is delicious but it bites hard in the end.

Here’s a couple of quotes to ponder on the value of hard work:

  • “Wizard?  Pshaw. It’s plain hard work that does it.” (Thomas Edison, on being called a wizard)
  • “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” (Johann Sebastian Bach, author of over 1000 musical works in all sorts of genres)
  • “The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. One is tempted to stop and listen to it. The only thing is to turn away and go on working. Work. There is nothing else.” (Albert Einstein)

Questions:

  • Do you love work or loathe it, seeking to avoid it if at all possible?
  • If you loathe your work, what can you do to change your approach to it? Perhaps cultivate a new field of work, a new discipline?
  • Are you aware of the genius/talent discussion embodied in the “10,000 hour rule” and the Edisonian maxim, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration?” As a counter to the rule read here.

 

Suggested Resources:

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (Geoff Colvin)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

 

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Sharpen Your Tools…and Avoid Injury

Sharpen Your ToolsIn early Autumn, 1994, I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead?  I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)  What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic.  And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it.  Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

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Factors In Success

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

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Ambition, Talent, and Plain Hard Work

talent-is-overratedPeople tend to get quite uneasy at the mention of the word ambition in context of discussions about career, calling, vocation.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping on anybody and everybody who happens to be perched on the rungs below–and in their way.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Last year, some friends and I discussed healthy ambition and its importance.. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in one’s chosen field.  There is cost, effort, and sacrifice expended to make this happen.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, author Geoff Colvin–Senior Editor-At-Large of Fortune magazine shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W. A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

When asked about his remarkable success as an inventor, Thomas Edison–who only had a third-grade education–remarked, “It’s plain hard work that does it.”

Well.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Ambition and Its Corollaries

talent-is-overratedAmbition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Some months back, some friends and I discussed healthy ambition and its importance.. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Ambitious to Produce

Ambition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Some months back, we discussed healthy ambition and its importance in one of our weekly leadership gatherings. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

Image Credit