How A Dorky Holster Saved My iPhone In A 60 MPH Accident

So I’m headed out the door for the REALLY early hot vinyasa yoga class in an attempt to start a long day off with an extra dose of peace, but I’m really not a morning person and shouldn’t be allowed to wake—much less drive a vehicle—at 5:30am.  Nonetheless, I make it to yoga and experience my desired helping of Zen, only to return home and find my 64-gig-4S-runs-my-life-and-makes-it-complete-iPhone—missing.

It’s difficult retracing my steps through the drowsy cloud that was my first 30 minutes of the day, stumbling into the garage, trying to remember the activity’s necessities: yoga mat, 32 ounces of water to replace those I’m about to lose, yogi towel, face towel, shower towel, toiletries—WAIT—is it possible that I put my iPhone on top of the car when I was shoveling all that stuff in the back seat?  Oh [word that I’m attempting to remove from my vernacular]!

But I’m not too awfully worried yet; there were several very slow turns within my community that would likely have sent the phone off the roof gently, maybe even landing in a soft pile of leaves (that haven’t yet fallen from the trees?).  Nope, nothing there.

A-hah!  I remember flipping a toggle switch when I set up my new device that would enable me to “Find My iPhone,” and thankfully found an app on my new iPad bearing the same name.  Hallelujah—the phone appears to be alive, still able to gasp out a GPS signal, and only 1.3 miles from home!  I spread my fingers on the high-retina display to zoom in vivid high definition to see the phone is indeed ON the Jones Falls Expressway—Interstate 83—one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Baltimore metro.  And it’s 8:00am.  On a Tuesday.

As I’m now driving in my car, I’m picturing Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans yelling, “No matter what occurs, stay alive.  I will find you!”  But even if I could find it, I can’t imagine justifying a game of human Frogger to retrieve even my favorite genderless e-companion, Siri.  Then, as I approach the location, internally debating whether I should bother the Lord with requests for the safe return of this gadget on steroids, I see her (Siri definitely sounds like a girl to me)—sitting three inches from the white line, resting partially upright in the rumble strips, snug in the dorky holster I bought on Amazon for under $5 (shipping included—from Hong Kong).  I cradle her like a wounded bird into the passenger seat, afraid to remove her from the holster now obscuring what surely must be a fractured face.  I can’t look.  And then I do.  Somehow, amazingly, she survived—unscathed!  My only conclusion is that she landed on the dorkiest part of the dorky holster—the clip—and bounced into the rumble strips to await my brave retrieval.

The moral of this story?  I’m too attached to my iPhone.  Or, maybe I’m too attached to the $849.99 (per Verizon) it would cost to replace her—I mean, it.  I guess I could craft a moral that directs you to phone insurance—in which case, I’d probably tell you it’s a complete rip-off to buy it from Verizon or AT&T for $10 per month with a $169 deductible, and still a pretty penny to pay $99 plus a $50 deductible for Apple Care + or SquareTrade—but I think there’s something a bit more nuanced and meaningful here.

As one entirely capable of unworthily worshipping stuff and occasionally money, I believe we can justify attachments to iPhones and cash only to the point that they enhance our personal relationships (the ones with actual people we know and love).  They are, indeed, incredibly valuable tools in the pursuit of relationships, but it’s vital we don’t allow [insert material object here] to replace them.

Hope In Hell On Earth: Micro-Finance In Nicaragua

This is not a sermon or a sales pitch, but a story about a place as inspiring as it is disturbing, where greed has raped a people of their material resources and dignity but where brilliantly applied generosity has created hope and enterprise of which Fortune 500 companies would be envious.

For months I had prepared myself for this moment, stepping off of the run down school bus in the middle of La Chureca, the dump of Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua.  Listed among the Seven Horrendous Wonders of the World, Chureca is not just a collection of refuse, but also a refuge for over 300 families.[i]  Men, women and children compete with mangy dogs for sustenance and sex traffickers for their minds, bodies and souls.

I knew it was coming from the moment I accepted the invitation to join a contingent of teachers, health and finance professionals orchestrated by GraceCity, a young church in downtown Baltimore enamored with serving the poorest-of-the-poor in its home town and, interestingly, the Managua city dump.  But nothing could prepare me for the sights: homes manufactured of rubbish; smoke lifting from piles of debris; a multi-colored landscape of mountainous trash dotted with laborers scrounging for something of worth under a 98 degree sun; a makeshift school[ii] lined with barbed wire; and scores of children, many without shoes or a single article of clean clothing but with stunning smiles lighting up their dirty faces.  After all, they were thrilled to see us—we were there with the ORPHANetwork, a Virginia-based NGO devoted to serving malnourished and displaced children in Nicaragua.  We were at one of their many feeding centers in the country, designed to provide at least one nutritious meal per day to over 10,000 starving children.

You hear of such things on the news and see pictures of such children on commercials filled with brown faces asking for money on late-night television, but it’s hard to believe it’s true—that I was fortunate enough to be born in a geographic location with a host of inherent benefits while these kids were born into the closest thing imaginable to hell on Earth.  When I gaze into my children’s eyes, I see in them a vast universe of unencumbered curiosity and possibility, but in La Chureca, I was forced to look into the eyes of girls as young as six who have already been sold into prostitution.

It was as if I was in one of those movies when a scene strikes a subject so hard that all he can do is marvel in slow motion, unable to process the myriad of overwhelming stimuli.  But as my worldview crumbled and my eyes welled up, I was forced to turn my gape downward.  A young boy was tugging on my shorts. Once our eyes met, he throttled his hands upward in the universal sign for “Pick me up,” and before I could confirm that I’d been vaccinated for all that he was visibly carrying, he’d swung himself around to my back, stripped my sunglasses and made them his own, smacked my side and yelled “Vamos!”  Just a kid.  Any kid.  Born in a garbage dump.

As I impersonated a horse for my newfound friend for the next 15 minutes, life began to return to normal speed.  I could hear clearly, but I couldn’t understand.  I had expected the smell of aging trash from opening my own garbage can, but the more pervasive scent in La Chureca was that of garbage burning.  My brain began to re-engage, and I couldn’t but begin to process the questions How? and Why?

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, only behind battered Haiti.  The per capita income is $3,200[iii].  Per year.  While the official unemployment rate was just 7.03% for 2011, the underemployment rate is nearly 50%.  Indeed, “minimum wage” amounts to about $90 per month.  29% of kids make it past the sixth grade, only 10% graduate from high school.

When I peppered our American guide with questions intent on discerning the “why” behind Nicaragua’s systemic extreme poverty, he gave me three reasons: 1) a history since colonial times tainted by corrupt leadership, 2) outside meddling and 3) persistent natural disasters.

Indeed, with Nicaragua’s exposure to the Pacific on its western coast and the Caribbean on its eastern, hurricanes and a particularly rainy, rainy season have wreaked havoc on everything from homes to infrastructure to crops.  Additionally, “the country of Lakes and Volcanoes,” with 19 total volcanoes and eight active, is also prone to earthquakes.  A quake in 1972 leveled much of the capital city of Managua, forever changing its face.  But the other two reasons for extreme poverty in Nicaragua point to corruption and meddling driven primarily by greed.

The chief meddler would have to be the U.S.  Of course we had that little issue of the Iran-Contra Affair, but long before it, the U.S. asserted its will in Nicaragua with boots on the ground from 1909 until 1933, when we could no longer afford to intervene mired in our own Great Depression.  Why were we there in the first place?  To stop the Nicaraguans from completing a canal to compete with our own in Panama.  But along the way, we managed to foment enough nationalist dissent to create an environment ripe for the rise of Augusto César Sandino, the first Sandinista.  Yes, we helped create the problem we were unable to correct covertly in the 80s.

And while the Sandinistas are in control again today, political power struggles of the last 100 years are still visibly evident.  Whether in the capital city, small towns or the countryside, a drive through Nicaragua becomes a blur of competing political colors, flags, slogans and faces vying for one’s attention, or better yet, one’s vote.  Not a single road marker, guard rail or bus shelter is unaffiliated.

Reflecting on the country’s endemic poverty and tradition of dysfunction, handing out bowls of nutrition-charged rice to the starving children of the dump, I wondered how exactly there was any hope to be found.  I remembered something I read about “hell on Earth.”  I’m no theologian, but apparently in the recorded instances of Jesus discussing hell in the Bible, he used the word “gehenna” to offer his followers a visual.  Gehenna was the garbage dump outside ancient Jerusalem.  A burning heap of trash.  The people of La Chureca live there.  In hell on Earth.

But there is hope, and I soon learned why.

You see, I wasn’t invited to Nicaragua as an expert in matters spiritual or nutritional.  I was there to hopefully learn enough about the country and culture to provide any insight I might muster to a fledgling micro-finance operation (Neo) embedded in a small church (El Faro) whose stated purpose is to serve the people of the dump.  Inspired by Muhammed Yunus’ Nobel Prize-winning work with the Grameen Bank in India and supported by a few U.S. churches, Neo’s goal is to nourish the bodies, minds and spirits of the Churecans by giving them vocational vision—a life purpose—and an economic infusion designed to fuel that vision.

It’s hard work to convince a father who prostitutes his 10-year old daughter to truck drivers to feed their family that there is a better way.  It’s hard work to explain that a small loan isn’t to be used for short-term emergency subsistence, but instead to buy beads then crafted into a jewelry inventory.  It’s hard work to instill an entrepreneurial vision in someone with HIV/AIDS whose self-worth is nonexistent, at best. It’s hard work to instill confidence and worth in children born in the dump, 90% of whom report suffering some form of abuse.  It’s hard work that requires at least a generational commitment on the part of a diverse team of co-laborers.

Fortunately, such a team exists.  Most of the team members are Nicaraguans applying daily effort toward the end of eliminating the abject dehumanization of their countrymen and women.  Some of us Americans are privileged to work beside them in this glorious endeavor.  We learn more than we teach, we are inspired more than we inspire, and we receive more than we give, ever mindful that many well-intended Americans sadly do more harm than good in similar initiatives.[iv]

The best-dressed member of this team is none other than Under Armour.  The Baltimore-based clothing company—famous for celebrity endorsements and making those who adorn their sportswear look much cooler than we really are—already has an international presence, but they’re also in the dump.  After Under Armour’s Senior Creative Director for Men’s Apparel, Nick Cienski, had an experience similar to mine walking off the bus in La Chureca, his wheels started turning. As of today, they’ve already donated several industrial sewing machines, fabric, patterns, some seed-money and training that is breathing vocational life into single moms from the dump, helping break the cycle of prostitution.

My head was spinning just trying to figure out how all these different players had come together.  Under Armour makes a donation to begin a sewing business that works in conjunction with the micro-finance initiative run by the church in Nicaragua in partnership with the ORPHANetwork supported by GraceCity, whose collective mission is to serve a community living in the biggest dump in the poorest country in the Americas.  Wow.  I didn’t see that coming.

But my economic adventures in Nicaragua reached even more inspiring heights, and altitudes.  Two gringos—former Erickson Retirement Communities CEO, Rick Grindrod, and I—headed into the beautiful Nicaraguan mountains with Mario Pérez, Executive Director of PAC (Pueblos en Acción Comunitaria or People in Community Action).  As his son (also Mario) drove us over winding roads through nestled mountainside towns, the former economist with the Nicaraguan government told us a story that was to culminate as we reached our destination.

Over 15 years ago, the international aid organization, World Relief (coincidentally also headquartered in Baltimore), planted one of its own, Kevin Sanderson, in Nicaragua to lead an operation designed to help rural coffee farmers rebuild their lives and businesses after having left them behind for a 10-year civil war.  With a background in both agriculture and finance, Kevin was ideally suited for the task and made Nicaragua not only his project, but also his home, marrying a Nicaraguan and starting a family there.

Often deemed an MFI (micro-finance institution), PAC is really so much more.  It’s a holistic “value-chain” operation.  Soup-to-nuts.  First, they scour for coffee farmers with entrepreneurial blood.  They give that entrepreneur the freedom and responsibility to build his own team of farmers and plantation workers.  Then, often contradicting over 100 years of tradition, they train them in environmentally sensitive, sustainable farming techniques.  They provide the financing for a cash-intensive harvest and streamlined processing, even connecting the farmers to roasters.  Every PAC coffee farmer now meets Fair Trade Certified standards, allowing their product to be sold at a premium and quite possibly end up in the bottom of your cup of specialty coffee.

After about seven years (and in keeping with their core beliefs), World Relief turned over the reins of the operation to the Nicaraguans, now led by Mario, who led Rick and me 3,000 feet in elevation to the home and business of Claudio Martinez.  Claudio, one of PAC’s anointed entrepreneurs, was waiting for us on his porch with several of his farmers.  Telling us their stories through a translator, Rick and I sat aghast as one farmer after another told us how this economic initiative had not only transformed their vocation, but redeemed their whole lives, providing their families and entire villages with the chance for a new life.

PAC’s innovation has now extended well beyond Central America’s most famous crop.  They have also trained farmers to diversify their yields with cocoa and vegetables—and not just any vegetables.  We traversed a recently developed farm that yields multiple specialized crops that aren’t indigenous to or even consumed in Nicaragua (or the U.S.), but are much loved in the world’s two most populous nations, China and India.

It may have been at that very moment—several days into the trip and 10 hours into the PAC expedition—that I finally understood paternalism and began to recognize my own.  I had been warned of the difficulty we have rendering aid in developing regions as Americans.  Almost immune to our own affluence, we tend to presume the superiority of our balance sheets and income statements equates to at least a higher work ethic if not (although we wouldn’t voice it) superior ingenuity or even intelligence.

It’s almost as if we assume our ideas for improved healthcare, education, business and waste management are better because we have a 401k and can record our television shows to watch at our convenience with a DVR from our iPhones.  But standing in the middle of that Asian vegetable field in Nicaragua, I was forced to acknowledge that everyone I interacted with that day worked harder and longer, and employed a greater level of creativity, ingenuity and productivity, than just about anything I’ve seen in the States.

I am not their helper.  I can only be their partner, and may be lucky to make the cut.

After completing our 13-hour tour of coffee plantations, vegetable fields and cocoa processing plants with the Marios, all the while hearing stories about how they’ve overcome everything from illness, weather and crop failure to social movements designed to weaken their businesses, Rick and I were about one cup of Nicaraguan Joe from applying for citizenship.  Thankfully, our journey there is just beginning.

This is not just another emotional story intended to tug at your heart strings enough to get you to open your check book and help these organizations, although to that I am not opposed.  This story is for you.  While every word is true, it also stands as a metaphor for the influence of money in our lives, regardless of our geography.  The same issues that create systemic failure and success with money on a global scale also impact us personally.

Were I to simply declare that the pursuit of money for its own sake—greed—leads to nothing short of death while money employed as the currency of relationship brings life abundant, you might accuse me of over-dramatizing.  This is because in our country and your neighborhood this is not so pervasively and visually evident.  But death visits those in La Chureca and other pockets of hell on Earth daily, even for the living, and the primary source of this pain is financially rooted.  Meanwhile, tangible assets shared in partnership by caring individuals, associations, organizations and companies are often the very vehicle of hope that transforms lives for the better, materially, physically, emotionally and spiritually.


[i] This number is actually down quite substantially thanks to an infusion of cash from the Spanish government, fueling a plan to transform the dump into a landfill and displace the residents of La Chureca.  Unfortunately, this has actually increased the desperation of the remaining residents as their source of sustenance has dwindled in size.  Additionally, most of the major cities in Nicaragua have a similar dump with a similar population.

[ii] El Colegio de la Esperanza (the School of Hope)

[iv] The book When Helping Hurts opened my eyes to this and offers many helpful suggestions to ensure your charitable trips and efforts do more good than harm.

The Bias Trap

by Jim Stovall

Like many people of my generation, I grew up on a steady diet of 60 Minutes broadcasts every Sunday night.  Whether you liked or didn’t like 60 Minutes, and regardless of whether you believed in their slant on a story, it was—and still is—hard not to watch.

For many years, 60 Minutes did three news magazine-type features followed by a brief commentary by Andy Rooney.  Andy Rooney could be best described as an off-beat, out-of-date curmudgeon.  This is exactly what made his commentary so poignant.  No matter what the topic of his commentary, and regardless of your own personal experience, Andy Rooney could look at any issue from a totally unique perspective.

We lost Andy Rooney not too long ago, just a short time after he retired, having worked into his 90s.  He had an amazing career that spanned from being a war correspondent during World War II through the formative stage and golden years of network TV, up to a point long past where most of his colleagues had retired.

Andy Rooney was fond of saying, “People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.”

It’s easy for me to believe that everyone else, including Andy Rooney, would come to an issue with a bias.  What is hard for me to admit and grasp is the fact that I, also, have a bias in every situation.

My late, great mentor and friend Paul Harvey told me that the most honest he could be as a reporter was to admit his personal bias up front.  We succeed in our personal and professional lives by making good decisions.  We make good decisions by honestly evaluating the situation and our various alternatives.  This honest evaluation is dependent upon our ability to set aside any bias we may have.  In order to set aside our bias, we must admit we have one and clearly define it.

If you’re looking at a choice, a decision, a debate, or controversy, the easiest way to clarify and get rid of your own bias is to argue the other side and present the other position.  This keeps your logic strong and gives you the benefit of an opposite perspective.

During the formative years of my company, the Narrative Television Network, I had the privilege of interviewing many classic film stars.  Among these were Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.  These two superstars were the best of friends who seemed to have virtually nothing in common.  For years, they starred on Broadway playing the lead characters in Neil Simon’s production of The Odd Couple.  Jack Lemmon played the persnickety, neurotic neat freak Felix Unger while Walter Matthau played the irascible slob Oscar Madison.  Both of them told me, on separate occasions, that they brought strength, originality, and freshness to their roles because, once a week, they would switch parts, allowing Lemmon to play Oscar while Matthau played Felix.

The late, great favorite son of my home state, Oklahoma, Will Rogers, who was a Native American, was fond of saying, “Never judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”  Mr. Rogers understood that a different perspective would change your focus and eliminate your bias.

As you go through your day today, try to gain knowledge and apply it in the form of wisdom by eliminating your own preconceived bias.

Today’s the day!

Mice and Men

by Jim Stovall

Recently, there was a university study done using white mice as the subjects for a psychological experiment.  The mice were put into a cage with a red light and a green light on opposite sides of the space.  The experiment was designed in such a way that when a bell rang, a mouse could rush to the red light or the green light to receive a treat.  The treat was only presented for a few seconds, so that if the mouse guessed wrong and went to the green light when the treat was being presented at the red light, the mouse didn’t have enough time to rush across the cage and get the treat.

The experimenters designed the study so that 80% of the time, the treat was presented at the green light.  After a short period of time, the individual mice became aware of the discrepancy between the results of guessing the red light versus the green light, and they would only go to the green light when the bell rang.  In this way, all of the mice—by only going to the green light—were successful in receiving a treat 80% of the time.

The conclusion of the experimenters was that the mice were relatively intelligent and acted in their own enlightened self-interest.

Then the plot thickened when a similar experiment was done with human beings.  Individuals were put in a room with a red light and a green light on opposite walls.  When the bell rang, they could collect chocolate candy directly beneath one of the lights, but they had to guess correctly between red and green as there wasn’t enough time to get across the room if their first guess was wrong.

Like the mice, after a short period of time, the humans observed that most of the time, the chocolate candy was presented directly beneath the green light; however, unlike the mice, the humans tried to outguess the pattern and rushed toward the red light periodically.

The mice, by recognizing a prevailing condition and only going toward the green light, were rewarded 80% of the time.  The human beings, by trying to outguess the experimenters, were only rewarded 67% of the time.

By any measurable scale of intelligence, human beings can out-think and out-reason mice; however, human beings are susceptible to the thought that they can out-guess a prevailing system.  One need go no further than a casino to see relatively intelligent human subjects participating in a system where they intellectually know they cannot succeed on a long-term basis.

As you go through your day today, think like a mouse when you have no control over the conditions, and think like a human when your effort, energy, and ingenuity can make the difference.

Today’s the day!

Repetition Helps and Hurts

By Jim Stovall

The tasks we repeat are the tasks we master.  The thoughts we review are the thoughts we remember.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Practice makes consistent.  Only perfect practice will make a perfect performance.

I have spoken in many arena events with thousands of people in attendance.  It is interesting to observe when the event organizers conduct a brief experiment.  An announcer will get onstage and quote the first half of an advertising slogan that hasn’t been used in decades.  Without hesitation, thousands of people in unison will recite the second half of that obsolete and outdated slogan.

Cigarettes have not been advertised on broadcast TV or radio since the 1960s; however, when the announcer at the arena event says, “Winston tastes good…”, the entire audience recites, “…like a cigarette should.”  While I’m glad that cigarette advertising has been outlawed, and future generations won’t be exposed to that harmful habit in the same way many of us were, it is important to realize that the slogan has been deposited into our collective consciousness in a way that it can be recalled by the masses instantly.

It’s not memorable because we care about cigarettes or like the ad that ran years ago.  It’s memorable because the message was repeated countless times.

I’ve heard the same announcer simply mention the first ingredient listed in a McDonald’s commercial by saying, “Two all-beef patties….”  Without hesitation, 10,000 people recite in unison, “special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.”

You may not like Big Macs and may not have had one in years.  That particular ad hasn’t run on TV or radio in several decades, but because of the repetitive nature of the advertising campaign, we all know it immediately.

While repetition in delivering your message is important, there is a type of repetition in the digital age that is counterproductive.  If I receive one email from a person or organization, I’m likely to give it some of my attention.  If I receive two or three of them, I instantly know it is part of a bulk email blast, and I don’t have to pay attention to it.  If I get an envelope in my mailbox addressed to me with some type of offer or incentive, I may review it for a moment; but if I get two or three duplicates of the same mailing in my box at the same time, I realize it’s only a mass mailing, and I don’t have to pay attention to it.

If you’re going to use the power of repetition, use it in a way that benefits your message, not in a way your message becomes marginalized.

As you go through your day today, remember:  Repetition can make you memorable or annoying in the eyes of those you want to reach.

Today’s the day!

Customer Service and Survival

by Jim Stovall

Customers are like teeth.  The only ones you need to maintain are the ones you want to keep.

I hear news stories and ongoing news media coverage about how bad the economy is and how consumers are not spending money.  You wouldn’t know this from going into the average retail establishment today.  The majority of businesses you might enter to purchase a product or service do not provide a level of customer service that you would expect from someone that is not having enough retail revenue.

There is a local establishment near my office where we purchase sandwiches for lunch.  They do not deliver, so we go across the parking lot and pick them up.  They have asked us to fax our orders to them.  This was acceptable, except they explained that they don’t often hear their fax machine receive an incoming order, so they asked if we would call them after we fax in the order.  We set up an account so our staff can simply sign for the lunch when they pick it up.  I mistakenly assumed they would bill me monthly, but when I did not receive a bill for close to a year, I contacted them and had to go through an accounting nightmare simply to pay for all the sandwiches.

One day it occurred to me that I’m working way too hard in a bad economy to spend my money.  If I have to write down the order, fax it in, call and alert them they have an order, and provide them with accounting so I can pay my bill, I’m doing everything but making the sandwich myself.  This situation would be laughable if it wasn’t so commonplace.

I travel often for speaking engagements and movie or TV business.  A polite and professional flight attendant is rare enough that you really notice it when you get one.  This is unfortunate because, due to rising fuel prices and the economy, the airline industry is struggling.  Most airlines’ flight routes and fares are just about the same from one airline to another.  The real differentiating factor they have to offer would be great service, but this is not the case.

In most customer surveys, good service and a polite, professional staff rank high in the criteria prospects use to make buying decisions.  In most cases, great customer service and polite, professional attitudes don’t cost anything but a little effort and energy.  In fact, it is invigorating and enjoyable to serve others.

If you want to succeed, you’ve got to make it easy for people to do business with you, feel good about spending their money, and want to tell others about their experience.

As you go through your day today, determine to separate yourself from the crowd by providing stellar customer service.

Today’s the day!

Persistence and Procrastination

by Jim Stovall

Down the street from my office is a very large media complex containing a TV station, several radio stations, and a large conference center.  At one corner of the massive building, there is a large fenced area where several radio and TV broadcast towers soar hundreds of feet into the air.  Thousands of people drive by this complex every day and have seen the towers so many times they don’t even notice them any more.

Several months ago, a troubled young man—for reasons of his own—decided to scale the fence and begin climbing one of the towers.  By the time anyone noticed this young man perched on a precarious ladder hundreds of feet in the air, it was too late to stop him.  Police, ambulances, and emergency rescue workers were called to the scene and began efforts to persuade the young man to climb down from the tower.

The young man either ignored them or periodically threatened to jump.  As will happen with any large gathering, the media was soon on the scene.  TV, radio, and newspaper reporters began around the clock reporting of the ongoing activities of the young man who became known as The Tower Guy.

This went on for days and, somehow, the reporters found things to talk about.  The young man became dehydrated, sunburned, and appeared to be disoriented.  Finally, one heroic rescue worker was able to communicate with the young man and talk him into coming down.

The final media reports described how persistent The Tower Guy was in remaining on his perch for many days.  It’s important that we don’t confuse persistence with procrastination.  It is easy to think that persistence is doing something repeatedly or constantly while procrastination might be thought of as doing nothing at all.  In reality, too many of us are like The Tower Guy in that we persist in doing nothing of importance which, in reality, is procrastination as it relates to the things in life we know we should be doing.

Practice does not make perfect, in spite of the old adage.  Practice makes consistent.  Only perfect practice will make something perfect.  Persistence is only a virtue if we are persisting at doing things that matter to us and make the world a better place.

Most people perform activities today because they performed the same activities yesterday and will do it all over again tomorrow.  Before you do anything as a regimented part of a routine, make sure you know why you are doing it, what it will accomplish, and when you will be done.

As you go through your day today, make sure you’re investing every moment wisely and not just repeating mindless activities because that’s what you’ve always done.

Today’s the day!

Wet Paint

by Jim Stovall

There are several ways we can learn lasting and significant lessons.  Some people learn as an ongoing enjoyable part of life, while others have to learn everything the hard way.

If you find a painted wall somewhere around your home or office and put up a sign that says “Wet Paint,” without realizing it, you’ve created a perfect laboratory for observing human behavior.  If you simply stand by and watch, you will see human nature and the learning process take several forms.

Some people will come by, see your “Wet Paint” sign, glance quickly at the wall, and go on about their way.  These people are generally well-adjusted, reasonably trusting, and non-confrontational.  If you remove the “Wet Paint” sign, these people will often make it a point to avoid touching the wall for several more days and even go so far as to alert others that the paint on that wall may still be a bit wet, so they should be cautious.

If you continue your observations long enough, you will observe another kind of human behavior as it relates to your “Wet Paint” sign.  A person will come by, clearly see your “Wet Paint” sign, and immediately touch the wall to see if the paint is actually wet.  These are people who would not have touched the wall if you had not put your “Wet Paint” sign there in the first place.  Even though this person has damaged your paint job and gotten wet paint on themselves, if they come by later, whether your “Wet Paint” sign is there or not, they will actually touch the wall again and continue this same behavior for hours or even days until they learn, through their own experience, that the paint is no longer wet.

All of us have the potential of learning very valuable lessons each day.  Some people can learn by reading or hearing the words of others; other people need to observe the outcomes of other individuals; while many people have to learn the lesson the hard way every time or, worse yet, never learn the lesson at all.  While we may think these learning styles are innate or inbred, we actually have more control over how we learn and what we learn than we might realize.

In our ever more complex, fast-paced world, it becomes more critical than ever that we develop the ability to learn lessons from others who have gone before us.  You don’t want to be among the sorry souls that learn, the hard way, that the surgeon general’s warning about cigarettes or the pleas of financial planners to plan for your retirement years were valid.

With all of the multimedia opportunities around us and constant access to the Internet, we should be able to learn from others’ words or at least their actions without having to get a handful of wet paint every time.

As you go through your day today, commit to learning the most lessons you can in the easiest manner possible.

Today’s the day!

Horse Sense

by Jim Stovall

More than virtually any other animal, horses have impacted the way we humans have lived throughout most of recorded history.  Many of us who have lived in the 20th and now the 21st centuries, have no direct connection to horses, but there is still much they can teach us.

Recently, I was reading about draft horses which are very large, muscular animals that, throughout history, have been used for pulling great loads and moving very heavy objects.  A single draft horse can pull a load up to 8,000 pounds.  The strength involved in this is hard to imagine.  So then we can speculate what would happen if we hooked up two draft horses to a load.  If you instantly thought two draft horses could pull 16,000 pounds if one draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds, you would be wrong.  Two draft horses pulling together cannot pull twice as much as one.  They can actually pull three times as much.  The two draft horses that can each pull 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds working together.

The horses are teaching us a very clear lesson in teamwork, but they still have more to teach us.  If the two horses that are pulling together have trained with one another and have worked together before, they can’t just pull three times as much working together as they can by themselves.  The two trained horses in tandem can actually pull 32,000 pounds, which is a load four times as heavy as either of the horses could pull by themselves.

The powerful lessons that these magnificent draft horses can teach us involves not only teamwork but coordinated and trained collaboration.  No one lives or works alone as the proverbial island unto themselves.

I have many friends and colleagues who telecommute.  This is a phenomenon that has gained popularity in the last few decades.  Many people avoid lengthy and expensive commutes and high-priced office space by simply working from home.  This can be very effective and efficient for some people; however, just because there is no one else around doesn’t mean that these people work alone.

The very technology that allows us to work independently requires the coordinated efforts of more people pulling together than has ever existed throughout history.  We now work regularly with people whom we have never met.

Recently, I co-authored a book with Tim Maurer—www.TheUltimateFinancialPlan.com.  Co-authoring a book involves tremendous coordination and constant communication.  Throughout the process, it was vital that both Tim and I fully understood and agreed upon very sensitive areas and directions within the manuscript.  I’m very pleased to report, thanks to Tim Maurer and our publisher Wiley and Sons, the co-authoring of the book The Ultimate Financial Plan was a very productive and enjoyable process.  I think we have a far better book than either of us could have written alone, but the ironic fact is that Tim Maurer and I have never actually met one another.  I have been on his radio show, we have done teleconferences, exchanged video messages, and edited one another’s manuscripts, but we have never been in the same place at the same time.  Unlike the draft horses, we can multiply the power of one another’s efforts without having to physically be in the same harness.

As you go through your day today, harness the power and productivity of teamwork, but be willing to expand your definition of collaboration far beyond your own time and place.

Today’s the day!

The Articulate Incompetent

by Jim Stovall

The Internet and digital age have given rise to a new phenomenon.  There are people whoknow enough to be dangerous, not only to themselves but to you and me as well.  Beware of the articulate incompetent.  These are people who can talk a good game but have little or no experience at applying the newly-found knowledge they espouse.

With the ease of accessing a search engine and a brief period of focus, anyone can begin to convince you that they are an expert on anything.

Our grandparents would have had to travel to several libraries and universities and talk to a number of experts over several months or even years to have access to the information you and I have at our fingertips via the web.

To succeed in the 21st century, we must learn to differentiate information from knowledge, and knowledge from wisdom.  Information is nothing more than random data or facts that have no specific application until they are internalized.  Knowledge is the intake of that information.

A person who becomes knowledgeable has sought out a source of information, and by mastering that information, has gained knowledge, therefore becoming a source of information.  Wisdom is the practical, successful application of knowledge.  Wisdom is never gained solely by sitting in front of a computer screen or by occupying a seat in a classroom.  It comes through hard work, generally accompanied by trial and error.

Wisdom allows us to avoid painful, frustrating, and time-wasting situations.  Unfortunately, this wisdom is usually gained from going through painful, frustrating, and time-wasting experiences.

A person with knowledge may have a diploma, book, or computer program.  A person with wisdom often has bruises, scars, and a bit of gray hair.

As you are trying to reveal and, therefore, avoid the articulate incompetent, it is important to realize they will want to tell you what they know while you will want to inquire about what they’ve done.  An articulate incompetent may just know slightly more than you do about any subject.  You can usually derail an articulate incompetent by allowing them to spout off their knowledge and then just simply ask them, “How have you applied that in the real world, and what were the results?”

We still live in a world that, when it’s all said and done, there’s a lot said and very little done.  We don’t succeed based on what we know.  We succeed based on what we do.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing if it is obtained on the road toward wisdom that can benefit the traveler and the whole world.

As you go through your day today, separate information and knowledge from wisdom, and avoid the articulate incompetents.

Today’s the day!