Wednesday, January 2, 2013

NewTown's Moment of Silence, an opportunity to speak

Dec 21, 2012....Heart-wrenching.  That's about the only word I have to describe my response to the images of weeping and sorrow I saw on television yesterday and this morning. Parents and classmates, neighbors and friends saying goodbye to children who left too soon.

I've watched the political comments from friends, strangers, politicians and commentators. Like you, I've cheered some and been horrified by others.  I am appalled by those who use the tragic loss of life to push a political agenda, whether gun control or prayer In schools.

The reality is that God cannot be kept from any place. His Spirit moves like the wind. We cannot keep Him out of schools.  I cannot say I've fully agreed with any of the comments I've heard, though I certainly appreciate some. If you haven't heard Huckabee's commentary, it is worth a listen, and the poem "'11 DaysBefore Christmas" by Cameo Smith is moving.

I'm struck by the thought that up against all this talk of evil, calls for new laws, and hurting, broken families, is the celebration of Christmas.  And while the nation participates in a moment of silence for the victims of this tragic shooting today, I believe it is time for Christian believers to be speaking.  Today and over the course of the next few days, many will be hurting, others will be asking questions, and looking for answers.  Breaking through the clutter and noise requires determination and patience, but people are listening. They need to hear of a heavenly Father would understands the lost of a child. They need to be introduced to a Lord who had compassion on those who were seeking physical and emotional healing and answers to life's difficult questions.  They need to know of a Savior who sacrificed his own life for those He loved.

May we speak with confidence of God's love which he so greatly lavished upon us.  May we pray with confidence that the Comforter is here to minister to those in need. And may we comfort the hurting with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Setting Expectations

Greetings.  I am back from vacation - had a really nice time in Florida with my wife and kids.  While we had some interesting weather (tornados and storms), we also had some absolutely beautiful days.  Of course, I learned more from the stormy days than the sunny ones...isn't that how life is?  But that's for another blog day.

Anyway, we had some challenges as a family during the stormy days.  Much of it having to do with life not meeting our expectations.  I was thinking about this over the last few days and was reminded today about something that Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi.  In the first chapter of this letter, Paul says that he can't decide whether it is better that he live or die.  He is focused on doing everything he can to be useful.  To use whatever the day brings.  Seems we could learn something about that.  Paul is able to find joy even while in prison.  Glad that the prison guard knows he's there for his faith.  Glad that it is an encouragement to others to be bold about their faith.  Amazing to me when I think that we allow a bit of bad weather to change our attitude.  Sunny - Happy, Rainy - Bummed.  I'm victim to this as much as anyone, but what I am reminded of is the fact that we shouldn't let our circumstances change our attitude, drive, determination.

In my business I am currently facing some challenges due to the unrest in the middle east.  Frustrating.  Disappointing.  Disheartening.  But should it be?  I think that allowing my circumstances to be disheartening is where I start to miss the mark.

Part of overcoming this is to do a better job of setting and managing expectations.  Now, I am not suggesting that we set the bar so low that anything is better than our expectation.  A defeatist attitude is not what I am advocating.  What I am suggesting is that we set our objectives and build our action plans based on what we can best determine will happen.  Build in some contingencies, and then move forward, confident that if we work our plan, we will have put ourselves in the best possible position for success.  Sure there will be set-backs and unexpected challenges, but with this attitude, we should be able to quickly assess the situation, lean into our pre-determined contingencies, and adjust.

Road blocks, economic conditions, and storms of all kinds, shouldn't affect our attitude or add stress to our lives.  Planning ahead, recognizing those things outside of our control, and setting reasonable expectations, is the key to a enjoyable and joyful life...and vacation too.

Best,

jvt

Monday, March 21, 2011

What are you waiting for?

This past Saturday was just a beautiful, sunny, pre-Spring day here in St. John, IN.  It's as if all of nature was straining to break forth with new life.  I loved it.  With the coming of Spring, I should be excited about the future; about the great possibilities that the new season brings, and yet I can't help thinking about the past a bit.

Have I used the time well?  Have I accomplished anything that will last?  Will my time here on earth amount to anything of value?  Will I even be a footnote in the scheme of things.  I suppose some of you are thinking that I'm having a mid-life crisis.  But I can assure you I am not.  What is happening is that I have been doing a lot of thinking about the future, but in light of the past.  I am in a small group that meets a couple times a month and we have been looking at a fabulous book by Max Lucado called Outlive Your Life.  I have always enjoyed Lucado books, but the studies have not really done it for me.  THIS ONE IS DIFFERENT.  It is about the best video series I have watched with a group.  I would recommend this for anyone who is asking how to best invest themselves in the world around them.

Anyway, enough commercial.  What are you doing to invest yourself in those around you?  Are you building relationships?  Are you mentoring anyone?  Are you lending anyone a helping hand?   If you are waiting for a personal invitation, may I remind you that you already have one?   When Jesus was asked by an expert in the law who his neighbor was, that he might love him, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.  You can find that story beginning in Luke 10:25.  The best part is the end.  After the story, Jesus asks the expert in the law who acted like a neighbor.  The expert says, "The one who had mercy on him."  Jesus says, "Go and do likewise."

So, I'll ask again, what are we waiting for?  Make your life count.  Outlive it!

Best,

John.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shrinking the World

If you are like me, there are times when the world feels large and ominous.  Events like last week's Tsunami and the continuing devastation in Japan can really make us glad we don't live by the coast.  It's easy to feel like those events are very far away.  I have also observed that the impressions and views we have about those who live so very far away from us are often misguided, and sometimes just flat wrong.

I've been thinking about these ideas this week as my daughter is studying the events surrounding World War II.  Frankly, I felt a bit embarrassed to try to explain why the world in general, and the U.S. in particular did nothing to stop Hilter, Mussolini, and Japan as they reached beyond their boarders.  I have no doubt that it is easier looking back at events that happened three quarters of a century ago than it was at the time.  Sadly, I sometimes wonder if we've grow much beyond the viewpoints prevalent in the 1930s and 40s.  When Italy invaded Ethiopian, we yawned.  When Hilter invaded Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, we hardly squeeked.  What's worse, the UK prime minister, Chamberlain's policy of appeasement aside, his comments still resonate today, "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing" (Underline added).  What if those of us in Chicago said that about the people of Norfolk, VA, (home of Norfolk Naval Base and headquarters of NATO, yes, that NATO) which is about the same driving distance (870mi) as London is from Sudeten, Czeck Republic.

Distribution of Supplies in Japan

So, all this to say, that while we might be appalled today at the idea that people less than 900 miles away would be considered too foreign to fight for, I suspect that we sometimes find ourselves feeling the same about the plight of those that are separated by culture even in our own backyard, let alone those in Japan who are now struggling for daily survival in one of the richest countries in the world.  One organization making a difference is Samaritan's Purse.  Samaritan’s Purse is sending more than 90 tons of emergency aid to bring help to disaster victims in Japan.  Supporting them could make the difference in the lives of many, and as you become connected to those in "far away lands", I can guarantee that your world will become smaller, and the needs and concerns of those both far-away and right next store will become important to you. 

Best,

John.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Controlling Costs - in your business - in your home.

Having watched and read with great frustration the arguing about the new budget proposal by the Obama administration, I cannot help but provide some perspective which might be helpful for our government (if they'd only listen to me!), but hopefully very helpful for you in your business or in your household.
There is one rule: Live within your means.  This may seem simple, but over and over I see our government and individuals and business leaders struggling to do this...if they even try.  What do I really mean?  I mean, DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN TO TAKE IN!  Again, common sense, but not so common.  Obama's new budget adds almost $9.4 Trillion to the National debt over the next 10 years, and more than $1.1 Trillion next year alone.  What this means is that next year, the U.S. Federal Government will borrow $1.10 out of $3.74 it spends!
So, I am the first one to recognize and acknowledge that investment spending - Capital spending - is an absolute necessity and an important part of every business and household.  Leveraging your money can be a very important way of building wealth.  For your business, making capital investments is a way of utilizing your borrowing power to invest for the future.  For your household, it has historically made sense to borrow money in order to purchase property that will appreciate and grow in value.  Some might argue this has always been risky, but few times in our brief history has the idea of property appreciation been more risky than today.
So, how can you make this change? I'll give you five quick ways:
1) Review all of your spending - put everything on the table, even those sacred cows like your candy bar runs, or your Sunday dinners out.
2) Prioritize and look for ways to delay spending.  Maybe you can go another month without a pair of new shoes.  Maybe your business just can't afford to hire another engineer, or administrative assistant at this time.
3) Invest in productivity improvements.  For your business, this might mean finding ways to do more with the same.  Automation can be a huge benefit and might be worth an investment.  What is the payback?  Can you reduce your monthly fixed costs by making the investment?   For your home you might want to think about doing your bills on-line.  This has saved us many dollars in stamps.  You might also look at low cost sourcing.  For your home, this might mean going to Aldi or another discount store.  For your business, it might mean consolidating your parts purchases with just a few suppliers to gain volume increases.
4) Conserve cash.  For your business, this means reducing inventory - move to just in time manufacturing.  Delay large investments that show little likelihood of short-term gain.  For your home, this might mean waiting another 6 months before buying a new car, or not taking an Spring vacation, but instead scheduling a summer vacation now when the prices are still low.  If only our government would think about this.  Maybe they could delay cost of living increases.
5) Rethink your entire approach to spending.  Building cash reservces in an absolute necessity.  If you can retire debt and move from a credit basis to a cash basis for your business or your home, you will reap huge benefits.  For your home, this means saving until you have enough to buy with cash.  If you do this, the interest savings alone will be significant.  Dave Ramsey is one of my favorites.  The Total Money Makeover is one good resource.

Yon can improve your business and get your personal/family spending under control.  You will then have the authority and the evidence to speak up to our government officials and hold them to the same sort of fiscally responsible behavior.

Best to you,
jvt.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Setting Goals - Strive to ASPIRE

Hard to believe that we are already into the 2nd month of 2011.  Literally 1/12 of the year is already past.  I don't know about you, but that is a bit frightening to me.  Perhaps the biggest reason is that I've just barely started nailing down my goals for the year.  Like many of you, I am sure that you've worked through your strategic plan and established your Annual Operating Budget.  You've probably already determined what gaps in your business need filled, and maybe even established big picture objectives.  If you are ahead of me, you've already worked with your direct reports on setting goals for the year.  If you are like me, you've barely set your own, let alone insured that your entire team has done this work.

Goal setting takes time and some solid thinking.  There are many methods for setting goals and many frameworks for how to ensure they are "good" goals.  SMART is the acronym used by many.  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  I have always thought that it seems a bit contradictory to set Annual Goals and consider them "timely", but I do know that I've often worked with people who set goals to accomplish things which require far too many events outside of their control to fall into place in order for them to even get started.  Obviously these are not good goals.

While a quick google search will identify a lot of resources about what makes for a good goal, I'd like to share a process which I believe will help to establish clear and effective goals.

The acronym I use is ASPIRE.  1) Assess your circumstances.  Just like Nehemiah did when he first arrived in Jerusalem (see my comments in Don't "Just Do Something."), we need to fully survey the current state of affairs and insure a thorough understanding.  2) Specific the future outcome.  We need to imagine and identify the future state we want.  The clearer we are about how we want things to be, the better.  3) Plan your action steps.  Establishing an action plan is critical to successfully accomplishing our goals.  These plans should clearly define what will be done, who will do it, and by when.  There must be a single person responsible for seeing the tasks completed and each person involved must understand their tasks.  4) Implement your action plan.  It is not enough to plan, we must execute our plan.  sooner than later, we must act.  We cannot plan for every possible situation, and we will never have all the information we need, but we must still proceed.  Moving forward to implement our plans cannot be delayed.  5) Report the status.  It is not what is expected that gets done, but what is inspected.  Regular reporting on the status is imperative to seeing progress.  This should include establishing an accountability plan for each member of your team.  If the goal is personal, then you should tell someone about the goal and arrange for this person to ask you about it regularly.  Reporting the status, good or bad, is a must if you are to reach your goals.  And 6) is Evaluation.  If you have established regular reporting/check-up periods, then you will have time for proper course correction and thorough evaluation of how well you are executing your plans.  In addition, this step provides opportunities for reassessing the current state.  Perhaps before reaching your goal, the external circumstances have changed.  If so, this will require that you revisit your action plans.

Using this method of Assessing the current state, specifying the future outcome, planning your action steps, implementing your plan, reporting your status, and evaluating the results will allow you to get to successfully accomplish your goals.  Once you're there, don't forget to Celebrate.

Best,

jvt

Monday, January 24, 2011

Habits that can change your life

One of the most impactful books that I have read is Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  While I believe that all 7 habits can have a significant and positive influence on your success, there are two which I would like to discuss today.  The first two of Covey's seven habits are so powerful that if you can begin to live by them, I am convinced they can change your entire life.
1. Be Proactive.  You are more than the sum of your experiences.  You are more than the sum of your genetic code.  The argument isn't between Nature and Nurture.  It may be hard to believe, but you have the power to choose how you respond to every situation.  In fact, you are the only one who can decide how much value to place on others' opinions, even those closest to you.  We've all experienced it.  Someone we dislike, or who is unimportant to us has something negative to say about us. Their opinion about us matters little.  However, when someone we respect or someone close to us has the same opinion, we are devastated.  You may not believe it, you may not want to believe it, but you alone place value on the opinions of those around you.  Being proactive means saying, "I can, I choose, I will."  It means saying, "Let's look at our options."
2) The second habit is Begin with the End in Mind.  If you don't shoot at a target, you'll never hit your mark.  It is easy to just let life happen.  We look up and the year is almost over. we blink and our kids are nearly grown.  It is easy to get distracted.  Remember the sirens from Homer's Odyssey (check out O brother, Where Art Thou? for a spin on this classic) - they entice and draw us away from our purpose.  Beginning with the end in mind is a way to stay focused on the future.  Whether you want to set a target for the year, or a mission for your life, it is a huge benefit to start your journey by first thinking about where you want to end up.  Not just material things, but things of lasting value.  What do you want people to say about you?  When your time on earth is over, what will be worth the investment?  Max Lucado's new book, Outlive your life is along a similar line.  Lucado asks us the same question.  What were we made for?  Lucado tells us that our purpose is to make a difference in the lives of those around us. 

Each of us has to determine what target we are aiming for and then pursue it with passion and wholehearted commitment.  Don't let life happen to you, be proactive.  Don't wander aimlessly, chart a course. 

My best to you,

jvt