Faith is Borne of Relationship November 6, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: faith, heaven, relationship with God, The Bible, Trusting God, wisdom
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In the book of Hebrews, the Bible defines “faith” as follows (I’ve done a little reordering of the text, but otherwise this is Heb 11:1-16 ESV)…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
It then goes on to describe a “Faith Hall of Fame” of sorts, commending those who pleased God with their faith…
This is what the ancients were commended for…
- By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. By faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
- By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death… Before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
- By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
- By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- By faith Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
How amazing! The people cited here for their faith are commended by God for knowing that this world is not their home. They did not cling to this world – were not ashamed to be “other-worldly” – and as a result, God was “not ashamed to be called their God” and He “prepared a city for them”. Awesome! I want God to prepare a city for me. I want to cling to Him, not the fleeting things of this world. How hard is that!? But it is possible. The folks listed here who lived in ancient Biblical times weren’t the last ones to honor God this way.
But here’s the key… My observation in studying this text is that the faith described in this chapter of Scripture doesn’t come from rules or religion, formulas or church programs. It comes from relationship with God. Anyone who knows God is awed by Him, and their life is changed. Period. If I’m not amazed by the God of the Universe and I’m not becoming more like Him over time, then the reality is that I don’t know Him. Doesn’t matter what I say or how I spin it or what story I tell about a prayer I prayed. God sees through all that to the reality of the heart, and God cannot be mocked.
But another crazy thing happens when I know God… I should begin to look foreign to the world around me. If my city is the one the Lord is preparing for me, then I will think and act accordingly. I’ll do things that don’t make sense to this world – like value time over money, not cheat to win, not receive my identity from my work, serve others rather than use them, tithe generously, not be afraid of things that scare others, etc. But the line between making rash, foolish decisions and faith-filled, other-worldly decisions rises and falls on relationship.
So let’s look at some of the folks listed in Hebrews 1…
- The difference between Cain’s and Abel’s offerings was that Abel’s heart was like God’s – a condition that comes only from spending time together. In the same way that you and your spouse will not be of one heart and mind without time invested in the relationship, neither can you have with God outside relational intimacy what you can from within it. Cain simply didn’t know God like Abel did.
- Noah wasn’t crazy for building an ark. He was obedient. A man of faith. Other-worldly enough not to care that others thought he was crazy. Or if he did care, he moved forward anyway. Why? Because he knew God, and knew he could be trusted. He had the faith of intimacy, which sustains us long after the faith of religion and regulation utterly fails.
- Abraham and Sarah trusted God (rocky path to get there, but they did) because they knew Him. They relied on that relationship to sustain them over a very long time of waiting for God’s promises to come to fruition. They were barren and old, and yet expected a child. But they weren’t crazy; they had faith.
Acting on my own against the flow of earthly wisdom is crazy and dangerous.
Acting out of my relationship with a God who counsels against the wisdom of this world is a faith that leads to a new home in heaven and the joy of really knowing that your Father’s promises can be trusted in this life and in the life to come – that you can put your full weight on them, and they will hold you up.
Joy cannot be found anywhere but in faith. Faith is knowing God is who He says He is, and letting that change who you are. For my part, I want to be like those listed above – a life of “crazy” that comes from knowing God and taking Him at His word, that this world is not my home.
Understanding the Philosophies at work in American Politics November 5, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in News, Politics and Culture, Philosophy and Religion.
Tags: 2012 election, Barack Obama, conservatism, Democrats, Economics, Foreign Policy, liberalism, Mitt Romney, politics, Republicans, The Bible, The Constitution
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On the eve of the 2012 elections, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve heard recently about election:
“I f—ing hate Mitt Romney. Everything he says is a lie.”
“Barack Obama’s a communist. He’s intentionally trying to destroy America.”
“There’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. They’re all just scumbag politicians.”
Wow. Really? I gotta say I don’t love what politics in America has become: far less about the issues and far more about hating the other guy. I disagree with you, so you must be satan, right? I’ve had a few of those conversations myself – some even immortalized on this blog. So much fun, and the main reason I tabled most of the politics over the last few years, especially in public.
Me and the dog in a locked closet talking fiscal policy: good.
Me and coworkers sitting around talking about anything other than topics we can all get behind together, such as despising the Bubble Guppies: uh … bad.
But as a play for and investment in the belief that there’s still reason out there, and in response to some specific questions I’ve also been asked lately, I thought I’d actually throw out a few ideas about the contrasts between philosophies at work in this and other elections. I’m the first to grant that candidates don’t necessarily line up to these philosophies, but life isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. So, no matter what you believe, I hope you invest in knowing more, exercise your right to vote, and demonstrate civility toward people with whom you disagree.
It should go without saying that every philosophy has pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. Extremes are dangerous wherever you find them, even if (and one might argue especially if) they are rooted in fundamentally good ideas.
So, that said, what’s the difference between conservative and liberal thought? I personally (as with everything in this blog, these are just my opinions) break it down into three basic categories…
1) Economic Principles
Liberals fundamentally believe that there is a finite pot of resources in the world, and everyone is jockeying for position in the distribution of those resources. Therefore, they invest heavily in creating fair and equitable mechanisms, processes and entities to govern the distribution of the resources. The natural result of this thinking is more government and more regulation leading to more fairness. Liberals subscribe to the theory of bottom-up economics, believing that consumers drive the economy. The liberal’s focus is typically on equity of outcome.
Conservatives fundamentally believe that wealth is created by innovation, so by definition, the only limit to how much resource exists is your creativity and ingenuity in coming up with and executing clever ways to make more of it. Therefore, conservatives invest heavily in creating the highest-powered mechanisms, processes and entities possible to create wealth as quickly and efficiently as possible. The natural result of this thinking is less government / less regulation / more freedom for business to maneuver to innovate. Liberals subscribe to the theory of top-down economics, believing that producers drive the economy. The conservative’s focus is typically on equity of opportunity.
2) Foreign Policy
Liberals fundamentally believe that almost all countries and peoples and philosophies are basically the same. They emphasize equality and fairness – a level playing field. A frequent outcome of this thinking is that the United States has played an overblown and overly-dominant role in world affairs and world history. Missteps in doing so have angered other relatively-equal nations, and provoked them to respond very negatively to what is in the liberal’s mind has been an aggressive and arrogance approach to relations with the rest of the world. The typical liberal therefore feels that America’s influence in the world should be reduced and makes decisions accordingly. Their focus is typically on an equal, diverse community of nations.
Conservatives fundamentally believe that America is very different than the rest of the world – standing out both in relationship to other countries today and in history. They welcome America’s role as a super-power, and although they do not agree with every decision we’ve made, believe that our philosophy of government is superior to many others, and that America should embrace and even expand its leadership role in the world. Conservatives typically feel that if other countries such as China or Germany or Russia or India were in the position the US is in (the largest and most powerful economy and military in history), that the world would be a fundamentally different, even worse, place to live. Their focus is typically on leadership among the community of nations.
3) Social Philosophy
Liberals generally believe that morality evolves with and is informed by history. Most liberals believe that truth is fluid. They are motivated primarily by a sense of fairness in the social community, and define justice as “what is fair to my neighbor who is different from me”. Liberals tend to change governing contracts based on trends in social behavior. Key examples would be the Bible or the constitution – both of which the liberal philosophy feels should be periodically updated to reflect the evolution of the culture.
Conservatives generally believe that history evolves with and is informed by morality. Most conservatives believe that truth is absolute. They are motivated primarily by a sense of objective moral authority, and define justice as “what is authoritatively dictated by a higher power”. Liberals tend to change social behavior based on the dictates of governing contracts. In the examples of the Bible or the constitution, conservative philosophy feels these documents should never be changed but rather should be constant and consistent influencers of culture and behavior over time.
Politicians are people, and yes, they’re trying to get your vote. It is very rare to find a politician who, over the long haul, hasn’t compromised away their basic philosophical believes. It’s also very hard to find a politician who is fully conservative or fully liberal – especially at the national level. In almost all cases, you’re choosing the lesser of two evils (so to speak). But it is imperative to understand the differences, and it’s imperative that you do choose. We have the rare opportunity (in all of history) to choose who will govern us. It’s a terrible and amazing opportunity, and I hope everyone reading this takes that very seriously.
I also hope my thoughts on the philosophical differences involved is helpful. Constructive comment or questions is welcome. He’s to another awesome demonstration of freedom in tomorrow’s election. Rock on!
The Technology Economy November 3, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Business Innovation, Economics, Engineering, Technology.
Tags: Economics, engineering, information technology, innovation, nanotechnology
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Economists are now commonly referring to our modern post-industrial economy as the “information economy”. I suppose I understand that. But I’m not sure it’s the best possible label for what is (or should be) going on in the post-industrial modern world. And I don’t mean just America, but Western Europe, much of Asia, and key parts of the rest of the world as well.
I think the reason economists are hung up on information is that, in their estimation, “information” has become and will increasingly continue to be the currency of trade between nations and corporations and people. Thus, they feel it drives the economy. In many ways, they’re probably right. But to me, an economy isn’t named by what it trades or produces, it should be named by what drives the economy forward, causes it to grow, makes it successful, etc.
The agricultural economy of the 19th century was driven by agriculture. Yes, we traded fruits and vegetables, cows and chickens as the currency of the day (even after gold, silver, and paper bills became common), but the economic time was labeled “agricultural” for the powerful influence hunting, gathering, and farming had over the growth of the economy. The key roles were the farmer (production) and the eater (consumption).
The industrial economy of the 20th century was driven by industry. We were builders of things you can see and touch and feel. Once built, we sold them, and that produced money, which we moved around in huge quantities to represent “value”, because it was impractical to trade cows and chickens any longer. Smart people created marketing, which in turn created “consumerism” to tap into the insatiable desire of the human heart to have. So we bought and produced and bought and produced. The key roles here were the manufacturer (or engineer) and the shopper.
The modern economy – which will shape our thinking and our wallets well into the 21st century – is an economy driven by technology. Information technology, computer technology, mobile technology, cloud technology. Medical advances, social networking, and other factors will play huge roles as well, but they will all be driven into existence (or not) by technology.
People seem to be creating a philosophy about this new economy that implies the key role is the CEO. And sometimes it feels like everyone else will either work at Starbucks (so the CEO can get his coffee in the morning) or be on welfare (because the CEO replaced all their jobs with A) robots or B) outsourcing). I understand how people have come to this conclusion, and like you, I feel the Orwellian theme music playing in the background when it’s given voice, but I fundamentally reject this view of the future as a necessary answer to “what’s next?”.
It’s up to us to make the world something totally different. Not with bigger government or more programs that somehow try to even things out, but with innovation. Rather than invest in shuffling around what exists, let’s make more for everyone.
How? Well, I submit that the engineer is still the key role. But it’s a different kind of engineer. The engineer of the 20th century was industrial or mechanical or electrical. They built buildings and roads, plastic moldings and bridges, assembly lines and monuments – ever striving for bigger and more visible. The engineer of the 21st century are the computer scientists and ECE’s (electrical and computer engineers) – the guys making everything smaller and writing invisible software to run on it. These are the artists of the social, cloud, and mobile movements. They’re the guys who figure out how to slam together Google maps, the iPhone, and GPS technology so that my wife knows when I leave work and can get dinner started. These engineers are tackling the challenge of Big Data so that companies can manage reputation on line and governments can add cyber divisions to their anti-terrorism units. It’s these advances that will lead to nanotechnology and cars that drive themselves, augmented reality glasses and evensmarterphones.
But I also submit that it isn’t these science-soon-to-be-non-fiction cases that are the most interesting. Perhaps the most impactful to the modern economy is the potential of information, mobile, cloud and other technologies to move your existing businesses forward. For example, if you’re a $50-100M business in America today and cloud, mobile and social haven’t made what you do cheaper and created opportunity to do things you couldn’t do 5 years ago, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Right now, today, technology holds the power to increase your revenue, reduce your costs, lower your risk, improve your employees, expand your reach, and much more. And at cost models that are shrinking on the same curve as the cost of your favorite TV at your favorite big box store.
How? If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, it’s not “easy”, but it is “straightforward”. It’s a matter of right placement of the investment. It’s a matter of understanding business and the technology, and knowing how to make technology work for you. Like you trust a financial planner to make your money work for you or a tax attorney to make the tax code work for you, so should you invest in the right resources to make technology work for you. That guy isn’t the easiest person to find, but I submit, you’ll know him when you see him.
The Secret Necessary First Ingredient of BI November 2, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Business Intelligence.
Tags: Business Intelligence, discipline, information technology
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Business Intelligence isn’t “reporting” or “technology”.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business and IT leaders alike give those misconceptions voice. I suppose it’s possible to purchase an amazing new reporting tool, but it’s absolutely not possible to purchase a box of business intelligence. More mature companies think that if they get some processes in place, learn some best practices, add some responsibilities to a couple of their staff, and THEN maybe buy a new tool … then they’ll have BI, which translates to wrapping their data in their new beautiful reporting or dashboarding infrastructure. That’s closer.
Still more mature … If we do all these things AND we have a data warehouse in place that implements at least the basics of good dimension modeling, surely then we’ll be golden … right?
Well, I’d still have to say: no. This is all good stuff. Really good. Necessary. But my concern is that all of it focuses on what boils down to effects rather than cause, tools rather than the root driver of value to the business. The bottom line is that BI is not about reporting or technology or data or processes or even people by themselves, it’s about discipline.
The purpose of Business Intelligence is to put in place the discipline (what turns “good intentions” into “intentionality” … and “vision” into “reality” … and “investment” into “return”) to convert an organization’s unique data into vital knowledge assets by which the leaders of that organization can make better decisions. What you build when you build BI is this discipline, not some reporting infrastructure … no matter how advanced. Physically, technology and tools are a set of lenses – reports, dashboards, scorecards, applications, widgets, portals, etc – through which you can make better decisions to advance the mission / goals of your business. But before those lenses can be of value – certainly before their value is maximized – you need people and processes of the right ilk. The people need to have vision, a plan, and the discipline to carry it out. The processes need to empower them not entangle or encumber them. And the technology is their toolkit. But understanding where you’re going (vision), stating goals, staffing appropriately, right-sizing processes, exposing data, and generally thinking through why to do what when with whom … no technology can give you any of it, no matter how expensive or sophisticated or well-marketed.
So, a large, well-placed financial investment may buy you a tool or hire you a smart guy or roll out a new process, but the return on that investment will never be what it could be without investing in the plan and … here’s the key … *committing* to the discipline to carry it out.
Your Very Own iBatUtilityBelt November 1, 2012Posted by Jeff Block in Mobile, News, Politics and Culture, Technology.
Tags: mobile technology, smartphones, Starbucks
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I woke up yesterday morning to an update notification on my iPhone (5 – yes, I love it) for my flashlight application (and a couple others). I clicked “Update All”, and moved on to get ready for the day without thinking much of it. Shower. Ready. In the car. And on my way to the office, it hit me… “Why the heck do I need to update the flashlight application?”
It’s kinda weird to *have* a flashlight application in the first place, but it makes sense if you think about it. So does the “mirror” application, and the “compass” app (don’t actually have one of those, because my flashlight has a compass built into it), and countless other “basic utilities”. Calculator, weather, camera, map, etc.
But my favorite is my Starbucks card. This app and the flashlight deal have something in common… they’re the wave of the future. The goal: to eliminate the need for having much on your person other than your phone … to allow me to collapse my entire bat utility belt into a single device. Well, for men that is. I’m skeptical that the “lipstick” app will ever take off. But I digress.
The credit cards are working on apps like these too. Why have a plastic card (or cash) in your wallet, when you can just scan your phone? And 30 seconds later, you’ll be scanning the phone to buy a soda from a vending machine, or ride in a cab, or buy a TV, and so on. And if you doubt it, then you may remember having said to yourself, “Who would ever write a flashlight application?”
Once the credit cards and cash aren’t in your wallet anymore, what’s left? Photos? Nope, they’re on the phone. Receipts? I hope the go the way of the credit card (how easy would that be!?). And that pretty much leaves the driver’s license. Ok, that one will be “hard”. (Read: will take another couple years). But we’re getting closer to the day when the biggest question left will be, “How do I secure this device that now has every imaginable element of my life on it?” That is the question of the next 5 years.
But for now, I welcome the one-device utility belt. Having upgraded my flashlight, anyone else have tips for great “tool apps” you consider a necessity?
“Open Access” vs “Self-Service” Data October 9, 2010Posted by Jeff Block in Business Intelligence.
Tags: Business Intelligence, information technology, innovation, self-service analytics
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What is “Open Access to Data”?
Open access does NOT mean that everyone has access to everything, or that necessarily any one person has access to everything (from a business user perspective). Here’s a definition that will make some of you squirm.
Open access: All users in an organization are granted access to all data in the organization through a defined, intentional, repeatable process, in accordance to their individual role and prioritized need for that data.
So, it’s not giving everyone access to everything, it’s giving everyone access to the RIGHT things to improve their job over time. And remember that this is more evolutionary than revolutionary in healthy organizations. Those who target a big bang frequently end up with a bum fizzle. The early-and-continual delivery of value is far preferable, in both the short and long terms.
What is “Self-Service Data”?
Industry pundits hopped up on the buzz of business intelligence throw around the term self-service with impunity, hoping that BI will deliver to them some magic universe in which every conceivable reporting or analytic requirement can be accounted for by a “self-service portal” front end to the wonder of the data warehouse. The truth is that no such indefinite and infinite vision to the horizon is possible. Even in the most ideal world, you will never experience a 100% self-service environment.
Here’s what BI can do for you in this realm …
There are too many people in your organization devoting too many hours to manually massaging and manipulating data in response to totally unpredictable (seemingly random) requests for aggregated, cross-referenced, or other newly-contextualized data sets. BI does promise that over time, these manual efforts will be replaced with a uniform data model, capable of fielding ever-broadening, increasingly complex requests for knowledge from the data. This will free up your data/statistical research experts to be more strategic and attend to a higher-order of complexity, but the demand for them will not go away. Success means making these resources more strategic over time, not eliminating them.
What BI will not do for you …
Alchemy, card tricks, cold fusion, or other magic reliant on some illusive silver bullet. BI is more about discipline and intentionality than any form of magic. No overnight miraculous change of any kind will occur.
Don’t deal in all-or-nothing scenarios! Companies expecting it to take 3 months (or even 3 years) to go from 100% manual ad-hoc request management to 100% total automation of all reporting are going to learn to live with disappointment … the hard way. Ask yourself, “What would you give to gain 20% automation per year at the cost of creating 10% new demand for higher-order higher-complexity higher-value ad-hoc requests (which drive more manual request management and therefore drive new requirements of the BI environment)?”
This is a far more realistic scenario. The phrase that pays is, “Progress, not perfection”.