Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Succeed by Trying

The image is used under Creative Commons license, from en.wikipedia.org -- Pictured   is
Stephen C. Dunn, Deputy Comptroller for the US Navy, at the time this was taken.
When I was growing up, there was a musical comedy on broadway called "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying".  It was a big enough hit to be made into a smash musical movie, too.  But it's success came from going against the play's title.  We'll get to that.

In a book I'm reading that's a compilation of a variety of business writers, Steve Emery wrote a piece titled "How to Get Good".  In it, he mentions Ed Penhoet, who founded the company that conquered such medical breakthroughs as sequencing the HIV genome.  Mr Penhoet likes fortune cookie sayings. In particular, one that reads, "Whatever you are, be a good one.".  I think I've gotten that one a few times.  But there was a difference in how I responded.  And that gets to what we want to look at, today.

In Steve Emery's article, he had several other similar examples.  Another was a woman chef, Alice, whose Chez Panisse restaurant (in Berkeley, CA) was named by Gourmet Magazine as the 2001 #1 best restaurant in the entire US.  Mr. Emery has other examples, such as Warren Buffett before he was a billionaire.  All of the examples in the article had several common elements.
  1. They loved what they were doing.
  2. They focused on the present circumstances, not future possibilities.
  3. They learned as much as they could to improve at what they were doing.
  4. They keep doing what they're doing, to get better at it.
Three of those four are essential for most of us, in just about everything we experience.  Here's why:

The most commonly used verse for looking ahead is Proverbs 29:18 (KJV), which says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.".  But that vision isn't necessarily off in the distant future.  It can be a vision of successfully completing what God has put on our plate, RIGHT NOW!  The truth is that how well we do now effects how we do in the future. So, #2 is important.

The focus on the present doesn't eliminate having goals for the future.  But, if I'm so focused on my future plans if I get to that point, I'm spending time on that instead of the present steps to take me there.  And the present is always a foundation for the future.  No matter whether it's my activities or myself being built up to prepare for the future, something from the present always needs our attention in order to move forward.

That brings us to #3, also important to our progress.

Judges 18:5 (KJV)  And they said unto him, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous.

Ask counsel, gain information, learn.  While that can range from brief "on the job" training to formal courses, we never know all there is to know about the various tasks that we do or integrating them together.  There's always a learning process.  The learning adds quality to what we already know and adds new things we can do to go further.  It's part of what gets us noticed.  Like those in Judges 18:5 who asked for counsel, the goal was to hear the words in Judges 18:6 (KJV), saying, "And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the LORD is your way wherein ye go.".  We want the present to take us to the right future, whether temporally or spiritually.

The fourth item on the list may be one of the most important.  Doing what we do.  There's truth in the saying that "practice makes perfect".  Whether it's digging ditches in a way that doesn't hurt your back, writing blog posts that someone actually wants to read, or knocking on doors to share the Gospel, the activity does two things.  It's part of the learning process in #3.  We learn the basic functions, so we can do them without thinking, we discover little tricks to make things easier, and we find ways to make it fun.  Learning.  But we also assimilate it into our being.  The task becomes second nature and we get better.  Which is what gets us noticed and promoted -- at work, in the Kingdom, or both.

Common competence allows us to keep our jobs, but it's learning and doing more that gets us promoted.  An extra 15 minutes to make sure something is done right and completed, doing a related task because the person responsible is busy and can't get to it, attention to detail.  All things that have potential of getting us promoted.

We look at #1 last because it's the one most of us don't get to see immediately, if ever.  It's awesome if we can find a job we really love doing!  But many of us start out at a job because we need money to live on.  While we look for the thing that's going to be the beginning of our series of career moves, we're doing something menial to pay for food and shelter.  Or we may have visions of being the next Billy Graham, but we're at the small local church folding tracts for outreach.  Our starting point may not be doing something out of love for it.

The interesting thing is that, while what God has placed in front of us may not be what we love, the other three steps can take us to a point of loving what we're doing.  A dishwasher can be learning other kitchen jobs that eventually moves him from bottom rung to owning his own restaurant.  The tract folder can realize that his function is just as important as the preacher's in bringing souls to God.  The overall vision for how what we do now impacts everything around us can create that love for what we do.  And it's another thing that gets noticed.

I'm reminded of something the famous missionary, Jim Elliot, said, "Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.".  In other words, wherever we are, whatever we're doing, be "all in".  I'm sure Jim loved pretty much everything that got him to Latin America.  Except for those moments when he was being killed by the Auca indians.  But God used all of it, including his death, to bring many of the Aucas to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  If Jim didn't focus on the immediacy of #2-#4, his future vision would have been for nothing.  Instead, despite not seeing the results while on earth, it got something more.

Ephesians 3:20 (KJV)  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

I've said before that I believe that God wants us to be active participants in our own blessing.  He doesn't need us to do something to make blessing happen.  God's quite capable of handling that all by Himself.  But our human nature seems to have a need to see how things work together.  And, most of the time, we appreciate the blessing we get more, if we have something to do with it instead of just having blessings handed to us.  When we get work or service awards, we don't thrive on the fact that we did something, but rather that what we did made a difference.  Yes, it's a form of works. But, until we're totally perfected in heaven, we're all stuck with it, to some degree.  God knows that and sees to it we get maximum effect from Him blessing us.

I said I'd get back to the musical.  The title may have been "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying".  And it may have been about getting over on the system.  But it became a smash hit because the entire cast and crew were diligent in the four steps we've discussed.  That was evident the very first time the curtain opened for an audience.  And it was evident in the number of awards it won.  That kind of diligence is a principle both on earth and in the spiritual realm.

We need to have vision for the future, but keep our focus on the present.  We learn from what we do and about how to improve what we do, for results both now and in the future.  We repetitively practice what we do to change tasks to habits.  And we allow the results of all that to engender a love in us for what we do.  Those get us noticed for promotion, at any level.  What are you doing today to get promotion worthy notice?

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