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When I look back, whether I look at my IT or ministry career, the common factor I see with every area I went into was I simply got started. I took the first step.

I know that this is common sense, but it is not common action. I can look at a lot of things I have considered doing and realized I simply never got started. I never took the first real step. I continued to research and learn but I never took action. As a result, I never got anywhere in those endeavors. Can you relate?

Here’s some advice from a guy who has seen and done a lot:

You can stall yourself by continuing to try and learn more and more and more. Pretty soon, that research becomes an excuse for why you can’t start. And then you never do.

Start.

 

If you’re not military, you’ve likely not heard of the phrase “Commander’s Intent.” Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Commander’s intent is an intent describing military focused operations and it is a publicly stated description of the end-state as it relates to forces (entities, people) and terrain, the purpose of the operation, and key tasks to accomplish. It is developed by a small group, e.g. staff, and a commander.

That’s a long way of saying that commander’s intent basically describes the what, how, and why of success. In other words, what is the team/department/division/organization trying to accomplish? If you’re in management or in a lead capacity, ask yourself if you understand what the level above you considers success. If you don’t, then that level hasn’t communicated commander’s intent. Obviously, if you don’t know, then the folks who look to you for leadership don’t know, either.

If you do know what the organization is trying to do, do your people? Have you communicated that message clearly down to the level below you? If you think you have, test yourself. Ask your folks specifics about what you understand constitutes success. See if they agree. If the majority don’t know or their answers don’t match up with yours, you’ve not communicated commander’s intent well, if at all. Or you don’t understand it and somehow they do. Either way, that’s a problem.

If you’re not a lead or a manager and have no supervisory responsibilities, ask yourself if you know what the organization considers success. Do you know what your direct supervisor considers success? If you don’t, how do you know you’re doing what the company wants?

Why is commander’s intent so important? When everyone understands what you’re trying to do, you’ve got more heads trying to solve problems. You’ve also got more eyes capable of spotting issues that would threaten your efforts. You utilize more of the intellectual capability of your personnel. That typically translates to better productivity and less roadblocks.

Also, you likely will have more buy in throughout the organization, certainly within your team. After all, people will get the sense that their inputs matter. They are considered important enough to know the direction of the organization and they are expected to help out with it. That is, if you let the capable folks solve problems on their own. Micromanaging will destroy any gains of commander’s intent. More about this tomorrow.

I haven’t read any of Neil Gaiman‘s works. I know he’s highly regarded and it’s on my to do list. Others may want to take cruise around the Caribbean. Me? I want to read and learn and grow.

In the Seth Godin interview I blogged about yesterday, Seth and Tim mention Neil Gaiman and a commencement speech he gave. It hit Tim at a time when he needed to hear the words Neil spoke. As a result, I searched on YouTube, found the speech, and listened to it on my way home one night. Inspiring. Simple things, but things often forgotten in our busy and crazy world. If you have twenty minutes, it’s worth a listen.

What can you do to “make good art?”

I subscribe to Tim Ferriss’ podcast and the interviews are usually a great listen. Tim does a good job asking the right questions so that we see a bit about how that person functions and works.

However, his interview with Seth Godin I think goes beyond the quality of his normally great podcast. Seth shares a lot of insight that runs counter-intuitive to how so many people think. Some of these caused Tim to pause and then ask a follow up question which revealed the reasoning behind Seth’s thoughts. I think it’s worth the 2 hours to listen to all the way through. I’ve listened to it twice now.

The Tim Ferriss Show: How Seth Godin Manages His Life – Rules, Principles, and Obsessions

If you do listen to it, come back by and comment on anything that caused you to stop and think from it.

 

One of the lessons I wish I had learned earlier in life was that my thinking often set up my opportunities. At the very least, my thinking sets up how I perceive events. And how I perceive an event will cause me to look at a situation as an opportunity or a setback.

With the new year, try to be more intentional in your thinking. Our thinking drives how we see the world. In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen wrote,

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

Case in point: look how students respond differently to a tough teacher. Some students see the teacher’s difficulty as a challenge and rise to the occasion. Those students push themselves harder and excel. Others lament the unfairness of the world and wish they had gotten an easier teacher. If anything, they are discouraged; they tend to perform worse, partially because the teacher is more difficult and partially because they don’t apply themselves as much as they would with an easier teacher.

Life is full of unexpected events. We can plan every minute of our day and it all be undone in a second. However, if we are intentional in our thinking, we can respond better to those unexpected events. Also, we can set a direction with which we wish to grow and develop. We formulate a purpose and goals. In this new year, seek to be more intentional in your thinking.

Here’s a poorly kept secret: there’s a lot of systems for personal time management and planning out there, systems like Getting Things Done (GTD), Personal Kanban, Covey’s methods, and the list goes on. All of the “successful systems” start by the participant becoming intentional in his or her thinking and planning. You don’t have to spend money buying a book or taking a class to take this first step.

Cover of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningIf you took World History in high school, your experience was probably like mine: the course was miles wide and only about an inch deep. This has everything to do with the amount of material that has to be covered, even over the course of an entire academic year. Therefore, I found Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning an excellent read. As the title indicates, this Timothy Snyder work covers one of the worst times in the history of our world.

This is a hard read because it is information dense. I’ve made a note to myself to go back through this book and take more elaborate notes for review and comparison because there’s just that much. However, it is definitely worth the read because Snyder covers so much that isn’t covered in typical history courses nor in most video programs on the Holocaust. For instance, right from the start Snyder traces the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi party as a whole. Certain key ideas go all the way back to Germany’s former colonization of Africa and some of the actions of Hitler and Germany mirror actions from that previous time. Another example is an exploration of why Poland should have been Germany’s ally and not the Soviet Union. Snyder then covers the events and differences in the beliefs about the state which led to the opposite, with Stalin initially being Hitler’s ally and Germany’s invasion of Poland.
One of the interesting perspectives reinforced in the early part of the book is how much of Germany’s actions (and Hitler’s thinking) was about land. My old American History instructor used to tie most of America’s actions to a pursuit of more land. It was so common a theme (think Manifest Destiny) that she would often exclaim, “Land!” when discussing motivations. For instance, the Louisiana Purchase was about land. Jefferson struggled with it because he couldn’t find anything in the US Constitution which specifically gave the President the authority to make such an acquisition, but the deal was just too good to pass up! And in reality, the colonization of America in general was about land. Hitler saw a need for the expansion of Germany for more farmland and his ideology was completely fine with the idea of seizing that land from the “lesser race” even if that meant their complete extermination. The parallels to America are not accidental because Hitler saw what the USA did to Native American tribes, both through warfare and by forced exile to west of the Mississippi River, as an example of how Germany should act. And in Hitler’s mind, there was Germany (and possibly England and the USA) and there was everyone else. The everyone else had no rights, not even to life, and definitely no ownership over resources if Germans needed/wanted them.
If I have a complaint, it’s found in the Epilogue (titled Conclusion: Our World). There the author tries to link climate change with a recurrence of events leading up to and including the Holocaust because a leader will be able to spin similar ideology as Hitler did. Logically, this doesn’t follow. That a shortage of resources or perceived need might lead to such a dictator is not only plausible but we’ve seen that played out numerous times in history. However, such a leader doesn’t need Global Warming to generate that lack of resources. One only has to look at situations like Burma/Myanmar or North Korea today to see that. Also, if the concern is about food, there’s that general concern as the population of the planet increases. This is a concern regardless if Global Warming forecasts are correct.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. The complaint aside, there’s a wealth of information found in this one source that goes beyond what most folks know about the history of the Holocaust. There’s that old maxim, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and with something as horrid as the Holocaust, we don’t want to repeat those series of events again. Looking at what led up to the Holocaust allows us to build defenses and warnings for events which might cause us to follow a similar road. Therefore, Snyder’s Black Earth is worth the read.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book.

Cover for Breaking the Chains of GravityAre you interested in the history of the US space program? Do you know the history of it prior to NASA? That’s what Amy Shira Teitel covers in Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA. It is a fascinating read with a timeline that will likely surprise you if you’re not already familiar with the roots of the famed space program.

Teitel starts off in Germany. Why Germany? The truth of the matter is that much of the successes in the early space program were due to technology based on the German V-2 rockets. Yes, the very same ones the Germans launched against Great Britain in WWII. Not only did we use captured German technology, but many of the leaders in the US space program were former Nazi scientists like Werner Von Braun.

Teitel covers Von Braun’s motivations well as well as several other key participants in Germany’s rocket program. Military use of rocketry was something they were forced into due to the times. And membership in the Nazi party was a requirement for survival in a fascist regime. Therefore, when the war came to an end, the scientists involved and any information on the technology around the V-2, especially spare parts, were high priority acquisitions. That’s effectively what they became as the USA, the USSR, and Great Britain all vied to get at the men and materiel.

Then Teitel delves into the next plodding steps of the US space program: not knowing what to do with the Germans, the test flights with the X-1 aircraft (which was used to break the sound barrier), the conflicting priorities, the infighting between the military services, and the shock when the USSR launched its first two rockets into space. As is pointed out elsewhere, any of these subjects could and have warranted books of themselves, but Teitel delivers a nice summary in a storytelling style that connects the pieces together. She finally ends the narrative with the formation of NASA from so many disparate parts and its first few steps as the center of US space research.

I enjoyed Breaking the Chains of Gravity greatly and would recommend it to anyone who has a thirst for space, for NASA, and for how science advances in the applied realm. It’s not a quick read. There are a lot of facts, a lot of agencies, and a lot of separate initiatives to keep track of, especially in the last one third of the book. This reflects the historic complexity and, for lack of a better word, mess that represented the US space program prior to NASA. If you happen to be a homeschooling family, this would be an excellent addition to any study of space and the US efforts in that arena.

Note: I received a pre-release copy of the book for review.

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