About seven years ago, my friend Art gave me the book Visioneering: God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision by Andy Stanley. SeAbout seven years ago, my friend Art gave me the book Visioneering: God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision by Andy Stanley. Seven years ago is a guess: my memory of him giving me the book is more strongly tied to the time shortly after graduating from college, which was about seven years ago. He was trying to off-load the book, I believe; and I still was of the mindset that books were awesome. I had this grand scheme that during my lifetime I wanted to amass a huge and totally awesome library. He didn’t give a very high recommendation of the book – kind of a bland, “egh, it’s okay. Not the greatest, but not terrible.” But, hey, it was a book; and my collection was just beginning. With that recommendation, I’ve been carrying that book with me for seven long years without having any interest at all in reading it… that is, until last week, when I found myself looking for and feeling like I need to know what to do next. Now that I’ve found my other half, I feel a greater responsibility to know what’s happening and to know what to do next. Visioneering seemed liked it had potential to fill in some blanks.
To summarize it concisely, Visioneering provides a 20-point checklist, or “building blocks,” for choosing and executing a “life project” using Nehemiah as the primary case study to support the approach. “Life project” could also be called “vision,” could also be “career,” could also be some thing or part of our life that we feel we need to do in our lifetime, whether that’s having a good family, improving other people’s lives, or whatever. The book closely follows Nehemiah’s record of how he was a Jewish slave in Persia and went to Israel to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem, from the time he was burdened with the project to the time the Jewish people were back on track worshiping Jehovah. Stories from the author’s personal experiences are peppered throughout the book, as well, to illustrate certain points. Stanley himself is a Dallas Theological Seminary-trained pastor of a church in the northern suburbs of Atlanta.
At its best, Visioneering is thought-provoking, challenging, and insightful. I am at a time in my life when I can choose what my next path will look like… what type of job opportunity I want to pursue, where I want to apply my passions and skills. This book says, “okay, do this, do that, be sure to stay true and keep a watchful eye, and you’re good to go.” Stanley backs up his claims though the actions of Nehemiah, an Old Testament hero (not a prophet), and examples of acquaintances, friends, family, and members of his congregation. To this end, when reviewing each of the 20 items, it is easy to remember why each point might be important. The challenge is that the reader must acknowledge God’s will as sovereign throughout every aspect of the life project. At its worst, however, Visioneering could be preachy, fluffy, and vain.
On a number of occasions, Stanley's words come off as preachy. He supports his argument that God’s will is sovereign because, as Christians, his readers have already committed their lives to Christ. But he doesn’t need to go on and say, “After all, we are not our own. We have been bought with a price. Remember the rest? We are to glorify – or honor – God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)” (p. 12). The reader knows what he or she has committed to and doesn’t need a spiritual “you owe me one” to be called into action. The author further reads into the text of Nehemiah to deduce how Nehemiah must have been feeling at various stages:
* “As hard as that was for Jim to believe, I imagine it was just as hard for Nehemiah to believe” (p. 49) * “After years of routine and menial service to the king, he must have felt like a caged bird that had been set free” (p. 73) * “… but I think Nehemiah was just ticked off. He was tired. The builders were tired. And now this. He was not in the mood…” (p. 149)
Really? Nehemiah is a fairly straight-forward piece of text. There are a few times when Nehemiah describes his feelings in certain circumstances (Neh 1:4, 2:2, 5:6, for example), but the book is more often an account of events. These assertions may be educated guesses, but they distract from what is really being said and give the reader the illusion that the author has some sort of divine knowledge that gives him authority to make other unsubstantiated claims. Stanley really knows the inner feelings of a person he’s never met, who’s from a different time period, a different culture, and a different socioeconomic status? Talk simply, present arguments in a straight-forward manner, and let the reader choose how things relate to his or her life.
Along with reading into the text, all too often case studies were presented to support the building blocks. Case studies are not bad per se, but I find them as weak supports for an argument. Just because one person did something one way doesn’t mean I will have similar results if I do the same thing. Even further, just because Nehemiah took a certain approach to building the wall doesn’t mean I need to follow his same approach for my project. At times in Visioneering, it is difficult to tell whether a story is based on a real event or an invented character. Other times they are summarized in an all too perfect vignette (e.g. Grant’s Story, pp. 205-6). If presenting a 20-point checklist for a life project, show me examples of people who tried the entire checklist rather than just pieces of it. To strengthen an argument, show me a cohort of individuals who followed a protocol and what their outcomes were.
If we are to use Nehemiah as an example for building a life project, one omission by Stanley warrants explanation. Chapter 3 of Nehemiah includes what appears to be a fairly exhaustive list of who built each section of the wall. It is one thing to direct people to build a wall surrounding a city; it is another thing to record who did what for such an extensive project. While most of the book is a description of Nehemiah’s reaction to events, Chapter 3 is a departure, where he lists everyone else who was involved. Could not another building block be, give credit where credit is due? What about the importance of being organized and maintaining a record for a large project? A number of the building blocks imply a community environment (5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 18, 19, and 20), but these principles are not included.
Well, so what? What does this mean? Is the checklist Stanley presented exhaustive? It appears not. Has the effectiveness of these building blocks been proven? Not really. But, for a guy looking for something – almost anything – to use as a template to get the ball rolling, Visioneering answers a few questions. It gives examples of choices other people needed to make and obstacles they needed to overcome while pursuing their visions. It underscores the importance of moral principles, God’s sovereignty, and prayer in pursuing a vision. And if nothing else, it’s there, on my bookshelf, one small step towards a totally awesome library....more
Without looking for it, the Story of Christianity, by Michael Collins and Matthew Price, was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I am interestWithout looking for it, the Story of Christianity, by Michael Collins and Matthew Price, was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I am interested in learning more about the foundations of Christianity - who was Jesus, really? where did Christianity come from? what do Christians believe? - and when I saw it on display at the library, it seemed like a good thing to check out. It has been a while since I've read a book with pictures, so I was skeptical at first. But it provided an excellent 'lay of the land' of the history of Christianity, spanning the breadth of time in which it has existed, including some of its Jewish origins. The perspectives seemed impartial: for the most part the authors stated what groups of people believed rather than saying their beliefs were wrong or false. It read like a history textbook.
While I am mostly happy with the book, my criticisms are minor. Page limits are always a concern with text books, so I appreciate their efforts to keep things brief. My purpose in reading the book was for it to be a starting point, a place where I can pick out what I want to read more about or that I can neglect. Thus, I didn't want to spend too much time on this book. Nonetheless, a few areas seemed like they were missing or lacking.
* I wish the authors cited their references, or at least provided a bibliography or section on suggestions for further reading. * As noted by a reviewer on Amazon, I wish they spoke more about the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church. How did their theology develop over time? * I wish there was a complete list of popes and when they were in office. * For a person not familiar with the Catholic church, I wish they described the roles of bishops, presbyters, cardinals, and archbishops.
After reading this book, I see history as very complex and layered but also accessible. I can appreciate how ideas from hundreds of years ago still impact today's world. I have my list of topics I want to explore further, now it's time to keep on keeping on....more
The Dip was a good, quick read. The author, Seth Godin, kept it simple by focusing on the single topic of quitting. Should we quit? When should we quiThe Dip was a good, quick read. The author, Seth Godin, kept it simple by focusing on the single topic of quitting. Should we quit? When should we quit? Is it a bad thing to quit? It didn't go into gritty details for deciding when to quit but gave general principles to help with the decision: be proactive, be the best (i.e. in the eyes of the beholder) in the world (i.e. your market) (Good to Great's hedgehog concept kept coming to mind), and greater challenges typically mean greater pay-off. The 'dip' is that period after making initial progress when results seem to level off for the effort exerted but the pay-off for carrying on is significantly greater afterward.
At a time when I feel like I am in the middle of my dip with Twin Cities Tech Connection (while I've made initial progress with Courage Center, I need to write a business plan, need to choose a logo, need to establish relationships w/ funders, and so on), this book has encouraged me to think about my long term goals. Will forging through the dip be worth the pay-off or vice versa? Without giving specific reasoning other than 'life is short,' the book has also encouraged me to decide soon what to do (continue w/ (TC)^2 or job hunt) now; stop dragging my feet 'waiting' for some magical decision to just appear out of nowhere. Put simply, the book provided a polite kick in the pants to keep on keeping on. ...more
Steven King wrote an interesting and slightly cynical article for Entertainment Weekly about how to interpret critics comments that advertise movies.Steven King wrote an interesting and slightly cynical article for Entertainment Weekly about how to interpret critics comments that advertise movies. For example, "actors as you've never seen them before!" actually means "actors terribly miscast for their parts!" I think the same could be said for some of the reviews on the cover of this book. "I read the book one sitting" probably more closely means "ya, I skimmed through it." Unfortunately, while A Contrarian's Guide had a couple good parts, overall it didn't provide me with much new insight. It was a lot of common sense written on paper. Sorry this isn't a very thorough review, but there really isn't much else to say. Also, dinner is about ready, so I must go....more
Onions are to cooks what history is to authors. Onions, like history, have many layers. Cooks fry onions in a buttery batter to add texture and flavorOnions are to cooks what history is to authors. Onions, like history, have many layers. Cooks fry onions in a buttery batter to add texture and flavor. Likewise, authors will paint pictures of historical events to improve the audience's reading experience. But, while the overall presentation may be improved, the original crispiness of the onion may be lost. I think this is the case with Jesus A Revolutionary Biography: the subject matter was very provocative and well presented, but it seemed like the author John Dominic Crossan added too many assertions - too many unsubstantiated claims - for me to conclude that this presentation is a truly historical account of Jesus's life. It just felt, at times, he was being too intentionally provocative with some of his claims. The areas I think Crossan did well were his accounts of Jesus's birth stories; John the Baptist; and the greater, social context in which Jesus lived. The parts that were lacking for me were his accounts of the Passion, his ambivalence regarding the Eleven or Twelve apostles, the time immediately following the crucifixion, and his humanist perspective.
Prior to reading Jesus A Revolutionary Biography I had not been able to see mythology in the Gospel accounts. I had heard people talk about it, but it has been too well-ingrained in my brain that they were true, historical accounts of Jesus's life. In response to someone claiming the Gospel of John was a spiritual romance, [Author: C.S. Lewis] wrote in "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism" (in Christian Reflections), "I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." But now, I can see where parts of the Gospels can be interpreted as mythical creations. Crossan referenced other stories that were circulating in Jesus's culture about Caesar's birth account or about the bad ruler who whimsically executed his prisoners. Of course, I can't know for sure what the first century Christians were thinking, but knowing that these other stories existed, I can see how they would want to leverage off of them to give themselves a sense of credibility or validity that their leader - that their story - can fit in the larger (i.e. Mediterranean) picture of world history. Jesus had in their experience the same amount of grandeur Caesar had for the Romans' experience. What better way is there to convey that grandeur than by recreating that story within their own tradition?
I had previously thought of the Jordan River as simply the location where John baptized. But reading about the accounts of other Jewish rebels from the same time period (approx. 100 BC to 100 AD), it seems that the Jordan was more than just a place on a map. The Jordan is where Moses and Joshua crossed into the Promised Land. Crossan presented well how Jewish peasants, under Roman occupation, would want to recreate their scenarios of old to gain freedom. It wasn't that John baptized in the Jordan, it's that John baptized in the Jordan.
The other kudos I want to give to Crossan before my criticism begins are his references to other period literature. I appreciated his references to Josephus and Philo and to other Roman authors. I appreciated how he put them in context, too. For example, while Josephus was Jewish, he was also hired by the Romans (or indentured to? an elite slave?). One can see how that would skew his accounts of historical events.
Crossan's interpretation of the Passion was lacking primarily in presentation. It is a significant claim, I would say, to say that all four accounts (M, M, L, & J) are prophecy historicized rather than history remembered. He attempted to make his point by bringing in the Essenes and their biblical scholarship, but it was difficult for me to connect all his dots. I think it would have helped if he had shown more examples of Old Testament literature the first century Christians would have used and elaborated on the Epistle of Barnabas more. Somewhat related, I wish he had explained in more detail why he thought the prophecy about the virgin birth from Isaiah 7 was taken out of context.
Crossan's accounts of the Eleven or Twelve left me a little confused. On page 108, he makes the claim that the Twelve was created after Jesus's death as a means for demonstrating a new Israel, or a new order (there were 12 tribes, now there are 12 disciples/apostles). Jesus didn't actually have 12 guys following around with him as he toured through Israel, he claimed. But later, when Crossan was talking about the time surrounding Jesus's death and appearances, he makes effort to show how Paul didn't think of himself as one of the Twelve, how Luke didn't see Paul as a candidate to replace Judas (pgs 166-9), or how there were political struggles for who was first among the apostles. While Crossan made an interesting assertion there about the fictional nature of the Twelve, I think this area needs a little more follow-through.
Crossan's last chapter felt too out of context - too much of a departure from the theme of the book. It was not about the historical Jesus, and Crossan didn't really go into the impact of the historical Jesus. I guess maybe he did, but the last chapter was more about the political struggles after Jesus's death than his impact... unless the impact of his death was a void that needed to be filled.
Throughout the book, Crossan gives very little credit to the supernatural. He side-steps Jesus's healing miracles by claiming not that the diseases were cured but that people's perceptions of the diseases had changed. If this were the case, why do the Gospels read so clearly that an individual changed after healing and not the community? Also, Jesus was not resurrected, but people imagined that he appeared after his death. True, God of the Gaps is not a good explanation for all cases, but to completely ignore God's presence, I think, is equally inadequate.
Overall, Jesus A Revolutionary Biography was worth the read. It challenged my perceptions; and it presented new, relevant information that I would not have considered otherwise. I appreciated how he supported his claims about the Gospels' relationship to mythology by citing other literature from the time period (whereas C.S. Lewis's argument is based solely on his authority). My palate is wetted to looking more into period literature (esp The Didache, The Gospel of Thomas, The Epistle of Barnabas, the works of Josephus, and the historical Constantine). So how shall I compare this work? It was like a lettuce wrap from PF Chang's: light at crispy with some substance, but it wasn't quite the main course. 3 stars!...more
As billed, The Wealthy Barber: The Common Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning is an introductory guide to managing personal finance. The targAs billed, The Wealthy Barber: The Common Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning is an introductory guide to managing personal finance. The target audience is people 20-45 years old, and the author presents three case studies - a young professor starting a family, an entrepreneur, and a young professional - all looking for financial wisdom. Top themes included saving at least 10% for retirement, investing in mutual funds, living within one's means, and making sure one has the correct amount and type of insurance. Other topics included wills, paying taxes wisely, saving for a child's education, and buying a home vs renting.
Overall, the book seemed okay. The format was easy to read, and content was presented in manageable doses. Because the book spoke in broad terms, I think its best service was as a reference when talking with a financial adviser in real life. This book helped with knowing what questions to ask....more
I liked the references to individual studies highlighting some of the contradictions in how we make choices. But, for each of those references, there's no way to know the validity of the individual study. How many people were involved in the study? Was statistical significance achieved? Which reminds me... the way they used footnotes in the book was dumb. There were no numbers. Instead, the relevant phrase was repeated at the end of the book in the notes section. The reader had no way of knowing of a block of text had a footnote related to it by looking at the page he or she was reading.
It also irks me when an author inaccurately uses evolution to make a point. Schwartz says we have difficulty with choices because early humans had only limited options: live in a cave or not live in a cave; eat or don't eat. Was he there with those early humans to know what choices they faced or how they made decisions? It's mere speculation and a waste of paper.
I think the recommendations I will use - and Mandy and I have started doing - are the following: * limit options: instead of considering all the options available, pick two, three, or four and compare only those * practice an attitude of gratefulness: Mandy and I started sharing five things each of us is thankful for at the end of the day (not every day, but every so often). * good enough is good enough: the solution I pick doesn't need to be perfect.
Was it a Good Read? It was a read. I feel more educated. Now onto the next thing....more
I liked the format of the book: short, single-topic chapters that presented a design project; heavy on cool pictures; thoughtful infographics; and Q&A sections interviewing leaders in design. Some of the projects are really quite inspiring, and the breadth of topics - from architecture to boats to robots to video games - kept my interest.
The conclusion was thought-provoking as the author pontificated the future of design - infinite computing, digitized reality, democratized design, and amazing complexity. But, it felt a little open-ended, like 'now what?' I'm not sure what it was exactly. Unfortunately. Maybe it felt too open-ended, and my engineering mind wants a box and more tangible conclusions. The other thing I was wished was that the author for each section was better identified. Contributors were listed at the end, but I wish there was more info on who wrote what piece.
In any case, it was a good read. I think I am going to pass it off to my robotics team this year and have each team member read a chapter, Q&A, and infographic a week then report to the team what they read....more
The director of advanced technology at Tennant Company, who also supports the FIRST robotics team I coach, highly recommended Why Innovation Fails: HaThe director of advanced technology at Tennant Company, who also supports the FIRST robotics team I coach, highly recommended Why Innovation Fails: Hard-Won Lessons for Business to me last summer. It was very difficult to find the book, but Mandy was able to arrange it as a birthday gift from Granny. Interestingly, the source of the recommendation and rarity of the book created a substantial amount of hype in my mind about the book. Having finished it now, I'll admit I feel a little let down. While it certainly had its moments, it was not the life-altering, eye-opening testament to creating truly innovative products I imagined it would be.
Why Innovation Fails' strongest moments were the definition of innovation (pgs 38-40), characteristics of adopters (pgs 43-44), the checklist for critiquing hype (pgs 81-82), the dangers of "bad thinking" (chap 6), emphasis on and techniques for market research (chap 7), the correlation between the source of ideas and probability of success (pg 208), description of the Stage-Gate(TM) process (pg 209), and the gentle reminder that failure is an option (chap 13). As mentioned in my status updates while reading the book, I felt reminded a number of times of the importance of the Universal Design Principles - to keep the end user as the focus throughout the design process. Likewise, one must also be mindful of the the resources used develop the innovation - that is, not to throw them away but to be mindful of the design process such that the resources are well-spent.
On the flip-side, the weakest moments were the apparent bashing of ideas that did not pan out. It was difficult for me to discern if Franklin was applying the critical analysis techniques he set up in the earlier chapters or if he was simply calling out ideas that failed spectacularly for entertainment purposes. Franklin also locks his book into a specific time period by calling out "doomed technologies" [emphasis mine] such as 3G or Anoto's wireless pens (Livescribe seems to be using the technology quite successfully). Lastly, the organization could probably have been improved upon - fewer boxes and fewer questions in the Appendix.
I think if I had applied the hype checklist to this book before reading it, my expectations probably would have been more realistic. Maybe I should have asked, "Why is this book so difficult to find, really?" True, the authors' thoughts seem to be a little disorganized, that he has seen maybe a few hundred too many bad ideas, and like he's trying to meet a word quota. But I did appreciate the references to studies in product development and his international perspective. "Group think" and ego involvement are real issues to be cognizant of during product development (citing personal experience here). Some of his case studies - like metric vs standard units - were also quite illustrative. So... without the hype, would I have read it? Yes. Without the hype, would I recommend it to others interested in design and innovation? Again, yes....more