Friday, August 28, 2015

Podcast of the Week (8/23 - 8/29, 2015) Wayne Grudem and Mike Mobley on Creation, Time from Grudem's lectures on Systematic Theology

Last year, I read several books by cosmologists and physicists on string theory, the Big Bang, and the creation of the universe. Recently, I've been reading books that try to advance how we got from our random planet to ever-evolving biological life (these books yet to be reviewed here). Coincidentally, my Sunday school class is starting new Gospel Project curriculum next week starting with Genesis 1, and I'm facilitating the discussion. As such, I thought it useful to go back and listen to Grudem's lectures from his book, which are available for free on iTunes.
In particular, there is one lecture on "The Doctrine of God", four lectures on "The Doctrine of Creation" and one on "What is Time?"

What is Time is actually a lecture and Q&A with Mike Mobley, from the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State Univ, and a PhD in Chemical Physics (he has a great CV). Mobley chimes in on several Grudem lectures as well.

Unlike Stephen Hawking and other string theorists currently, Mobley holds that the universe isn't infinite and has a beginning, roughly 15 billion years ago. A beginning necessitates a first cause. Time, space, and matter must all be created by an entity that exists outside them; he uses the analogy of someone operating a DVD. God can see all points in time because he exists outside it. (Mobley doesn't say it, but the standard model says that all moments in time already exist.) Unlike some young earth "creation scientists," Mobley holds that the speed of light is constant, and notes that if the speed of light were infinite, our world would have existed only for an instant. God must have had a purpose to make the speed of light what it is, so we exist for as long as we do. There is a lot in the lecture about special relativity, I felt he explained it all well.

"God changes the apparent past." Mobley uses the water-to-wine miracle as an example, tests on this likely would have shown that it had always been wine. God has the power to do that.

Many in the audience are young-earth creationists who are somewhat offended by the idea, while Grudem is more sympathetic to the 14 billion year old earth idea (and argues both are acceptable). Mobley believes that if the world is only 10,000 years old, then God made it look like it was 14 billion years old; if he created Adam as an adult, then he created an adult male of an old age who in reality was a much smaller age.

I recommend listening to all the above, along with the lectures on "The Providence of God" which get more into the idea of time and the problem of evil. Worth noting that William Lane Craig debates Grudem on what he has written and said about God and time which you can read here. There are other books mentioned in these lectures which I would like to read one day. Enjoy.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman (Book Review #67 of 2015)


How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less
Boothman describes best practices for interpersonal communication skills and first impressions. These may seem like common sense but for most people they will require some level of conscious effort and practice. While useful for all, I would recommend this book to someone with Asperger's who struggles with social thinking and reading body language. For a more detailed treatment on various aspects, read Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People (my review). But Boothman delves into aspects of reading others' body language that Carnegie does not.

We are subconsciously attracted to people who we perceive to have similar traits as us, who move like us. "I like him" really means "I AM like him." So, subtle synchronization with the opposite party's movements and habits creates a hook, subconsciously recognizing that you are like them will help them be more endearing. Synchronizing the other's attitude may also help, if they're mad show empathy by being mad, etc.

Attitude matters most and should be your starting point. The author uses the acronym of KFC: Know what you want, Find out what you're getting, Change what you do until you get what you want. Let your attitude be a demonstration of what you want, if you want someone to like you do what it takes to achieve that. If you want to get the job, show you care about it. Most people express what they DON'T want-- they don't want their boss to yell at them, or a co-worker to annoy them, etc. Instead, express what you want-- do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When speaking, keep your body open to the other person, as if you're exposing your heart. Closed body indicates a fight-or-flight posture and is a put-off. Maintain this posture and the right attitude even with people you don't want to deal with, he gives some advice on dealing with people we'd rather not. Engage in active listening and respond to compliments with "thank you" and a smile; do not engage in self deprecating remarks like "it was nothing," or "no problem."

Another key is understanding that people have different sensory preferences-- they are visual, auditory, or feeling learners, that's how they remember things and that's how they communicate. Boothman determine's people's style by observing their eyes when he asks a question. People who look to their left are probably visual thinkings, looking down indicates a feeler, and looking up indicates an auditory thinker. That reaction helps him determine what gestures to use in communication.

Apparently Boothman speaks to audiences with his techniques, including high schoolers eager to fit in and find jobs. He does give a few exercises to help drive home his point about attitude, handshake, etc. Definitely something to be more conscious about. Short, probably could have been shorter. 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Abraham by Bruce Feiler (Book Review #66 of 2015)


Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths

I checked out this book partly because we are currently going through Genesis at my church and partly because I've been reading a lot of books on the history of the Middle East. Most books dealing with the latter don't go back much further than the time of the Greeks, so I found the author's quest to be somewhat noble-- retrace the supposed origin of three major religions. Feiler is on an ecumenical quest that he admits is hard and not very hopeful-- all three religions teach incompatible truths. But that doesn't stop his quixotic quest.

Other reviewers have rightly critiqued his limited number of sources, his cherry-picking of what he believes about each religion, lack of philosophical depth, and neglecting to mention major parts of the Abrahamic story from Genesis (he skips to Abraham's death after the binding of Isaac [the Akedah]).

 But I did find the book interesting, particularly the tracing through history of how Abraham has been reinterpreted, particularly by Jewish Rabbis and Islamic commentators since the Middle Ages. For more on how these traditions have changed in Islam, I recommend Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword. I am not as familiar with works on Jewish tradition. FWIW, I think Feiler understands orthodox Christianity and biblical theology correctly, although he rejects the Gospel as possibly true. He quotes extensively from Paul and understands the Gospel and how Isaac prefigured Jesus and how Jesus supercedes him. He also accepts conservative dates for the authorship of New Testament books. He has some good commentary on Genesis that you might find in any text on historical or biblical theology. But his main source on Christianity appears to be the head of the Eastern Orthodox church in Jerusalem, which is problematic.

Feiler concludes early on that the tale represents mutual dependence "God needs Abraham," and "Abraham needs God." God chose Abraham to make Himself known, and Abraham needed God in order to have offspring. Feiler claims only 1% of known traditions regarding Abraham are found in the Bible. The Quran contained other traditions that circulated orally in the Middle East and since then Islamic and Jewish scholars have added some stories. The Quranic stories tend to show Abraham as having earned merit with God by being smarter than his relatives, knowledgeable about astronomy, and rejecting their idolotry. In the Quran, he smashes his father's idols. Islam sees Abraham's submission to God first, and then God's reward to Abraham. Judaism and Islam both focus on this internal action-- submission-- with Jewish rabbis in the Middle Ages holding Isaac up as a symbol of submission as well, preaching him voluntarily sacrificed and even resurrected, in order to encourage Jews being slaughtered by European Crusaders.

The author rightly notes that in Genesis there is a simple call and an immediate response. Moses' call, in contrast, came in the form of the miraculous, and he even asked for further signs as confirmation. Abraham's departure from his home as a sojourner is fundamental to the Christian identity that we are pilgrims on the earth (1 Peter 2:9-12). It is Hagar, and not Abraham, who is the first in the Bible to receive a messenger angel (Genesis 16:7-11) who calls her by name, and gives name to her child (Ishmael). Like many Christian commentators, Feiler notes God's mercy to Hagar demonstrates God's care for other nations than the heirs of Abraham. The "wild donkey" of Ishmael would be dependent, like Abraham, on God to find water and blessing (Gen. 17:20, 21:17-20). (Feiler ignores or misses that the information given in Genesis would make Ishmael a late teenager in Genesis 21.) Isaac being the second-born heir with an eternally uncomfortable relationship with his brother prefigures the relationship of Isaac's children Jacob and Esau.

Feiler does focus some on the traditions of Hagar, Muslim commentators later claimed Hagar as a princess or some sort of royalty. Feiler interviews a scholar on biblical women who notes that the reader of Gensis is asked to sympathize doubly with both barren Sarah (who is given away by Abraham twice out of fear, which Feiler skips over) and the rejected handmaiden Hagar. God blesses both children into great nations which sets the stage for a later clash. Josephus specifically traces the Arabs to Abraham, as do other Jewish sources, but apparently there is little evidence that Arab scholars claimed the same lineage until Mohammed made the claim. In the Quran and various later traditions, Abraham and Ishamel built the Kaaba in Mecca, and then God ordered Abraham to leave Hagar and Ishmael there before returning to Canaan.

The importance of the "Akedah," the binding of Isaac is given its due by the author and brings him to a specific conclusion. Feiler (who is Jewish) interviews rabbis and gives information on how this story has been reinterpreted through the centuries, I recommend reading up some on it.
The Quran is unclear as to who was to be sacrificed, the story is changed to be a dream had by a son, and the son is not named. Perhaps the earliest Muslims assumed this to be Isaac in keeping with the well-known Jewish tradition, but historical documents suggest Islamic scholars being roughly split on whether it was Isaac or Ishmael until a later period when it became generally accepted.

The importance of Isaac to theology is interesting. Feiler asks if Abraham was "testing God" with Isaac or trusting him, and that this event "brings God down to earth" in a unique way. Feiler writes that the tradition of Abraham and Isaac was essentially lost or did not exist until the period of Babylonian exile when the Talmud--the Mishnah and the Torah-- were written and codified during the Babylonian exile. When the scribe Ezra returned to Jerusalem with the exices in the 5th century B.C., these were read aloud and had to be interpreted (Nehemiah 8:8) which Feiler takes to mean the people were hearing these things for the first time. The sojourning Abraham became a necessary figure to the origins of the sojourning exiles in Babylon. Abraham and Isaac are invoked throughout the Old Testament, but Feiler (citing scholars) can ignore this because he apparently believes these were inserted into stories later. He claims the Isaac sacrifice was not found in known Jewish writing again until the first century BCE, and were written in a persecution context. Every persecution and exile seems to bring a new interpretation of both Abraham and Isaac.

Feiler cites evidence from Quran and the Essenes of the Isaac-as-martyr motif in Jewish thought, and the importance of Abraham. Jewish scholars by this time had improved on Abraham, writing that he had not died, creating the idea of Abraham as the coming Messiah as late as 100 BCE. Isaac became a self-sacrificing role model rather than the object of Abraham's obedience, and this sentiment was rekindled again during the persecution of the Middle Ages. It was into this context that Jesus was born, and why Jesus' claim to be before Abraham was immediately heretical (John 8:58, but note that in 8:53 the Jews state that Abraham "died," which runs contra to Feiler's thesis). He ignores any mention of the resurrection or the change of Jesus' followers from defeat to eager evangelists, adopting the stance that they needed something in Jewish history to link Jesus to, and Paul chose Abraham. The geneology in Matthew's gospel likewise includes Abraham, and the Luke's includes the parable of the righteous poor going to "Abraham's bosom." This section seems to contradict what he wrote above about the relatively newly increased importance of Abraham in BCE Palestine. Feiler also makes the claim that "Jews didn't come" to Christian thinking, ignoring that all of Jesus' disciples were Jews, that Jews were the first converts, and the seemingly most important body of believers for the early church was located in Jerusalem (Acts 11 & 15).

Nonetheless, I think Feiner understands Romans 4 and Paul's explanations of the faith of Abraham and what it means for Christians very well. He interviews Richard J. Wood, former Dean of the Yale Divinity School on this subject and gets some decent explanations. However, later Christian apologists and theologians like Justin Martyr, Eusebius, and Irenaeus made claims that Abraham was not Jewish, and the antisemitism that spread in the first few centuries seemed eager to deny any links to Abraham.

After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and Christianity was becoming widespread, Rabbis began to teach that Isaac had died and been resurrected. This was to counter the Christian's claim that Jesus was superior to Isaac, whose near sacrifice had simply prefigured Christ's as the Lamb of God. Rabbis facing persecution in the Middle Ages also rekindled the self-sacrifice story, claiming persecution showed God's favor.

Feiler reaches hjis own conclusion that Abraham's decision to sacrifice Isaac is a sign of fanatical devotion, each religion's history would suggest they are all willing to sacrifice their own children out of devotion to God. He asks a Rabbi whether he would devote his own son and gets an immediate "yes," a sign of piety and unattachment to this world. In the Hajj to Mecca, the sacrifice ceremony is the climax, and the history of Islam and Sura 15 of the Quran's exhortation to spreading the faith by the sword is further evidence of at-all-costs violence. "All three religions place the father's willingness to sacrifice his son at the center of their identity."

This is problematic in that Feiler does not note that God in the Torah forbids child sacrifice and repeatedly judged nations that engaged in such practices. In contrast with the Code of Hammurabi, for example, under Mosaic law each is accountable for his own sin, not children for their parent's sins. Under Hammurabi, if a man accidentally killed another man's daughter he responded by sacrificing his own daughter-- not so in Mosaic law, the man himself would be held liable. It is contrary to God's nature to sacrifice innocent blood. Thus, Christ had to "become sin" for us, from which God had to look away. The Bible says Jesus became cursed and suffered God's wrath just as we all would without Christ's atoning for our own sins (Galatians 3).

Feiler includes other historical criticism of Islam, writing that the Arabic language itself keeps the Quran from the same textual criticism that the Bible is subjected to. While attending Friday prayers at a mosque in East Jerusalem he has a disturbing conversation with Muslims intent to kill Jews. Undeterred, Feiler writes of ecumenical councils and the attempts to reach a common ground on Abraham. He notes that at Abraham's burial in Genesis 25, Isaac and Ishmael are both present to bury their father, suggesting peace and unity. (He doesn't mention Abraham's other children and how he sent all them away from Isaac, or how he got a wife for Isaac and other aspects of Abraham's life.)

The Tombs of the Patriarchs located in the West Bank used to be a site of ecumenical worship and respect, but it has more recently seen riots and social unrest. This does not bode well for the future of ecumenicism. After 9/11, the author attempts to see Abraham as the way to create tolerance and peace, as representing "all men's desire to be connected to God," but is able to reach no conclusions other than his own undying hope for peace. While not a great book, it did add some to my understanding of the development of religious thought and tradition in the Middle East and made me curious to read his next book, where he attempts to walk the Bible and retrace Abraham's footsteps. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family. Money by Parker, Sperry, & Willis (Book Review #65 of 2015)

Family. Money.
David Willis, Terry Parker, and Greg Sperry of the National Christian Foundation (2008)
https://www.nationalchristian.com/download/458

The best books are free, this one is a free PDF although it is also available as a small hardback.
The authors get five stars for succinctness and theological soundness. They do not get bogged down in details, nor do they preach or inject politics. They get right at the core problem of family financial planning and propose a solution. This is a book I would recommend reading before doing Financial Peace University or other course. Dave Ramsey may give you some steps to follow, but never really addresses the core of the matter and how to make your financial intentions sustainable. The book is really a first step towards estate planning.

"The Great Taboo" - p. 11-12
there is an invisible boundary in our Western culture when talking about money, just like talking about the bedroom. There is a shame attached to what we earn, our purchasing decisions, our lack of knowledge about saving and investment. We don't talk about our views of money with our family because those conversations are uncomfortable. "Some fear talking about inheritance because it will spoil the motivation of the inheritor." But that's silly, one should prepare the inheritor for what he is about to receive. "Failing to discuss your thoughts with loved ones leaves them to assume the worst about the reasons for your choices (when reading your will for the first time after you die)."

The authors note that a parents' attitude about money will be remembered as a defining attribute, and definitely will shape their kids' attributes. Did you have the freedom to ask about finances at home when you were growing up? Wouldn't you like to foster that freedom in your own home now? How can we make money something "safe" to talk about?

"Wealth should be viewed like a family room where everyone gathers to enjoy each other" (p. 17). Families desire harmony, and a goal should be to harmonize views on money (p. 24). What is your family's "Stewardship Philosophy?" All wealth and possessions ultimately belong to God; we are God's agents, stewards who will give an account (p. 19). But the details of our attitude about spending, saving, and estate planning need to be understood as a family in order to reduce conflict and eliminate unpleasant surprises.

The leader of the household should examine how he feels about money, journal it out. Then, look at the checkbook: does the reality match the philosophy? Ask five questions:
- Who really owns the things you own?
- What assets have been entrusted to your care?
- When is it "enough?"
- Where should it go in the end? (family, charity, or taxes)
- Why will your children's children share in your stewardship philosophy?

Include kids in your stewardship discussion. Clarify your own belifs first, and then communicate your knowledge and beliefs about money in an open, friendly, listening session with your family. Once everyone is on the same page, make a written statement about your philosophy. Then, make commitments which demonstrate your decisions and objectives.

I particularly like the authors' attitude that "stewardship is an act of worship" (p. 28). They call the phase of wealth acquisition "wealth reception," (p. 38). God sees our earthly and heavenly wealth, he knows what we've given up in faith and our hearts. The authors give some questions to ask about wealth acquisition, using John Wesley as an example but noting the deficiencies of the example. They include some questions to ask to determine if wealth is an idol (p. 42-44): Do you feel closer to God when financially successful? Are you happier? Are spiritual and financial success linked in your mind? If so, these are signs of idolotry. Do you want more of what you have enough of? How do you "affair-proof" your relationship with God?

It's tricky to draw a line between building wealth without hoarding, the authors write that God can show you through His word (and I would add other believers walking with you in your local church). But a Family Stewardship Philosophy sets guidelines so you know when "enough is enough," for your lifestyle, savings goals, etc.

Moving from "reception" to "preservation." Is your motive in preserving your wealth love? Love to be able to help your parents pay for their retirement home? Love to help your kids pay for college or their first home? Love for your community that you use the funds to assist it? Love helps you determine how much you really need. Five minutes with your checkbook will tell you where your heart is. "Giving determines your lifestyle, not the other way around" (p. 62). 

Don't ask "Who needs my resources?" ask "How can I glorify God?"  We are not expected to meet every need, as this would not be good stewardship. "Give until it hurts" is unbiblical, write the authors. The better advice is "give until it feels good."
The authors wisely quote John Piper's Dangerous Duty of Delight on this. Pursue pleasure in God in giving, otherwise it's idolotry. Not pursuing pleasure in this activity without pursuing pleasure in God is "not optional."

Moving to the "transition" phase of retirement and asset withdrawal. What needs stir your heart? Are the people you're passing assets to prepared to steward them properly?  The authors recount the story of a woman who included stipulations in her will about the inheritance-- the inheritors must first use money to go on a mission trip. Setting up trusts that have such stipulations help the recipient be disciplined to appreciate the inheritance and increase the likelihood of good stewardship going forward.

The authors close with tips on how to converse with your families and introduce the idea of a Stewardship Plan. With a plan in place you don't have to ask "should I buy this?" "Is this too expensive?" etc. It is a very practical book.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sermon of the Week (8/16 - 8/22, 2015) Damian Kyle on Matthew 8:1 - 9:13

Damian Kyle has been going through Matthew for a while, and I have learned a lot from this series. Here he is specifically looking at the calling of Levi/Matthew the tax collector and makes interesting points both about historical Roman tax collection and the text that were new to me. He points out that Matthew uses "hypocrite" more than any other Gospel, and that as a tax collector Matthew would have known more about hypocrisy than most. In this text, Jesus is relentlessly loving and pursuing sinners who have shunned from Jewish society and it's a reminder for us to do the same (particularly for those who have been expelled due to church discipline over sin issues).

There is also discussion of the impossibility of building a Christian subculture that hides from the world. The false separation touted by the Pharisees was really an expression of weakness. Their Gospel-less religion ultimately wasn't strong enough to come into contact with the world.

Enjoy (on iTunes, you can subscribe to the RSS at the link above).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Blades of Blue Grass by Neil Harrod (Book Review #64 of 2015)


On Blades of Blue Grass: Stories of Nicholasville, Kentucky
This is a two-star book partly due to the many grammatical errors and typos. The author is an aspiring writer in need of a proofreader. I noticed it was offered free for Kindle and took the chance to support a local author.

I grew up in Lexington, of which Nicholasville has basically become a suburb. There was greater distance between the two when the author (just a few years older than me) was growing up in the 1980s. This book is the author's recollection of childhood memories, telling mostly unconnected stories. Most of it is mundane, and the early memories are likely embellished. I do not believe someone called him a "snake-handling cracker" when he was five years old. He grew up in a dysfunctional home witnessing domestic violence and always tempted to run away. Much of the book is a tribute to the friends and families who loved him through that time.

The final chapter is actually a good essay, recollecting the author's near-death experience with a train on High Bridge and its consequences for his life. Like me, the author has returned to central Kentucky after a long absence, although he draws a different conclusion from that outcome than I do, personally. This is a beautiful paragraph:

"I never came back– to either High Bridge or my homeland and though I would move somewhere and then come back for a while; I was never really back when I was home. It was like, that night on the bridge, instead of walking to my car after the train passed by; I actually jumped on board and went with it...It was that bitterness that allowed my mind to believe there was some place better than Nicholasville and that there were people better than the ones in Nicholasville, and that if I just kept running away from home, then I would find a home elsewhere...I am who I am today because of the fact that I grew up in Nicholasville, Kentucky. For I was born a simple Kentucky boy who had a heart full of love and mind filled with optimistic invention and by the simple act of forgiveness I became that boy once more.""

If you grew up in Jessamine Co., then you might know the names and places in the book. Otherwise, pass.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Built to Last by Collins and Porras (Book Review #63 of 2015)


Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials)
To differentiate my review from the myriad others, I try to relate it to church and faith-based organizations. Collins has written his own summary on his website, which is handy. Really, this book is a study on management and organizational behavior in competitive by firms who went from a garage idea to income equivalent to the GNP of small countries and kept growing there for decades. I don't find the commonalities in practice between the 18 super companies different than you might find advised in a Blanchard or Maxwell leadership text. Reading this book you often think "Man, I wish my church/school/company/office would do these things." The list:

  1. 3M
  2. American Express
  3. Boeing
  4. Citicorp (now Citigroup)
  5. Disney
  6. Ford
  7. General Electric
  8. Hewlett Packard
  9. IBM
  10. Johnson & Johnson
  11. Marriott
  12. Merck
  13. Motorola
  14. Nordstrom
  15. Philip Morris (now Altria)
  16. Procter & Gamble
  17. Sony
  18. Wal-Mart

I've read both Levitt and Kahneman, I'm very familiar with their critique of Collins' hindsight bias, the halo effect, and the understatement of luck. But these types of studies are common in all fields where you want to compare entities over time. How would you have gone about it? Whether you're reading Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel; Thom Rainer's Autopsy of a Dead Church; or Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order or its sequel-- they're all basically doing the same thing. Americans watch former Governors debating on stage to be President, boasting of their states' economic and employment growth during their terms, as though they had something to do with it. What are some possible hypotheses for why certain institutions thrive and never regress to the mean, and why do some never make it out of incubation? If there was a clear answer, everyone would do it (and then it would't work). The authors do write, however, that following this patterns of the other companies may paradoxically make you more successful or less successful. It makes sense once you read the book.

This was the 2004 version, which was updated from the 1994 version and is now seems written to go logically after Good to Great. I liked this book much better than Good to Great, which I think suffered from the above much more and suffered the reader to remember their made-up jargon. Half companies in Good to Great have either gone bankrupt or fallen much further back to "average." The 18 "visionary" companies in BTL are mostly still household names, and while some have not thrived in the Internet and mobile age, they still thrived through 50+ years of technological change and economic churn, and while their benchmark competitors have also, not to the same extent. These firms were picked by a survey of 165 CEOs, not by cherry picking stock data. However, the firms identified each generated at a return to investors of over 15 times what investing in the entire market would have gotten, while the comparison companies outperformed the market, but at roughly only twice the market average. Over a 50-year time horizon (more since this book was updated in 2004) most are still performing well.

My biggest critique of the book is that they do not look at the rent-seeking behavior of these companies. Boeing, for one, is the multi-billion dollar recipient of tax incentives and subsidies in the states they operate. So, they used their market power to leverage government help. It is similar with the other entities in this book, if we agree with Kahneman that randomness explains the > 2sigmas above the mean returns over time, then perhaps when these companies achieved that return they were able to cash in by lobbying for trade protection, Ex-Im Bank favor, etc. Motorola and Sony had connections with the Japanese government that goes mostly unexplored. Controlling for that, you might have a different picture. But the authors would likely argue that competitor companies received just as much, and probably sometimes more, taxpayer help but without the same results.

Lessons from the book:
The core values of the organization are what matters, nothing else. "Your core values are your non-negotiables," what principles would you not give up even if it meant higher profit? This core is what you build around, regardless of what the profits will be. All 18 visionary companies do this, return to it continually, and success follows later.

The values are something every member should know, something everyone should be able to recite when asked. Just like America has the same Constitution whenever a new Congress or President is elected, visionary companies don't fundamentally change when a new CEO is appointed. Likewise, a church with a plurality of elders should transition fairly seamlessly if the lead pastor leaves, the vision and core values of the church shouldn't change.

Principles and processes more important than leaders and personalities. Most of the visionary companies did not have charismatic, salesman-like CEOs. Nor were their CEOs mostly outsiders-- most came from within the company already steeped in the values and the core business. Healthy organizations have a team of leaders that complement each other's weaknesses, if your organization is depending on one dynamic leader then it will fail when he leaves, retires, or dies.

There is no "tyranny of the 'or,'" if someone else can make your core business offering better than you can, move on to something else. Your core values are "the only sacred cow," you must be willing to change anything and everything else. American Express was once a delivery service like UPS, for example. But you must "preserve the core AND stimulate progress." "To be built to last, you must be built to change." The elephant must dance. Each of the companies had an ability to come back from difficult times better than before by changing what it made, "selling the mills," (story not included in this book), etc. When the PC market seemed to savage IBM, it rebuilt its core around servers and business services, dominating its chosen market. The business changed because the economy changed, but the values didn't.

The authors actually find a negative correlation between early success and later success. Failure comes first. Hewlett-Packard was once a garage workshop for two engineers trying gadgets like auto-sensing urinals. The products they produced did not matter, and profit was not the end-all, they just knew they wanted to work together and what they stood for. Finding the right product came later, the values and "who is on the bus" mattered first.

Policy and values must be put ahead of goals. In other words, "start with 'why?'" Visionary companies must have core values, that is the repeated message and jives with what I read in Toxic Workplace, which I also recommend. Only once values are embraced can you come up with the Big Hairy Audacious Goals that the 18 visionaries tended to have. Don't confuse the two, your core values are not "To sell..." or "To be the market leader..." but things like "Be a model of integrity in the industry," "value the customer," etc. Your BHAGs are essentially your short or mid-term vision, which also should be embraced by members. "200 adult baptisms next year," "Serve meals in every downtown block," or "produce the first water-powered airplane," etc. The goal should be clearly understood, and everyone sees his role as working to support that vision.

Sinek's Start With Why talked about companies allowing employees to experiment, and he was partly drawing from Collins et al. Extreme Toyota is another book I have read recently that looks at audacious successes and failures that come from permission to experiment. 3M is an example of unplanned success, giving its employees a rule of 15% of their time spent experimenting with new ideas. The employee is empowered to be creative and to fail. Allowing people to be persistent with their ideas until it's clear they won't work is also important, one trial run should not determine success or failure. The Wal Mart greeter was originally an experiment by one store to stop shoplifting, it worked and spread. Companies that embrace "evolutionary progress" become the elephants that can dance.

All leaders/CEOs/pastors and even parents are interim, it's just a matter of time. Visionary companies have a succession plan in place, including a culture of promoting from within to preserve the core. Continuity mattered in the 18 visionary companies, with few hiring CEOs from the outside. At Nordstron, everyone starts at the stockroom and works up to the store floor before progressing on to management, if they have met their targets and earned it; it's an expectation. I read at least one Ken Blanchard book where he wrote of his regret at leaving a church without a succession plan in place, he watched from a distance as his former church struggled to find a new pastor and declined abysmally. Not having a succession plan is irresponsibility.

Visionary organizations also create mechanisms of discomfort to combat complacency. This requires setting even more Big Hairy Audacious Goals, experimenting with new ways of doing things, and examining whether or not you've changed with the times. If you have a happy, holy huddle and you're fine with it, then decay is probably setting in. If you're not growing, you're dying.

The authors close with advice for leaders and Boards: Make a list of your top 3 priorities annually. Then, make a list of something you need to start doing, something you should stop doing, and determine how you'll measure these. If you're not self-improving ruthlessly, then you will just end up average, or even slightly above average, and not visionary.

I give it 4 stars out of 5. I enjoyed it, recommend it as a leadership and management book. One book the authors recommend which I have not read is Barbarians at the Gate, which is the R.J. Reynolds story.