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A poem that made me think about things besides politics and money

July 19, 2011

The quiet of Aspen allows me a lot of think time. I am indebted to Luci Shaw, the poetry editor of Radix Magazine, where I have been writing lately, for pointing me to the work of Donald Hall, whose provocative poem is followed by my own response: Here is the Hall poem:


The Hole

He could remember that in the past, seven

months ago,

and much of the time for fifty years before


his body walked without pain. He breathed

in and out

without knowing that he was breathing, and

he woke up

each day to the day’s process

as if it were nothing to wake and dress in

the morning.

When the doctor confided that his body would

flake away

like a statue of rust, he looked into the long


at his own strong shoulders with the skin

smooth over them

and at his leg muscles which continued to be


He announced to his body,

“We have resolved, and we will hold to our


Then eyes faded, limbs dwindled, skin puckered,

lungs filled.

He dug himself into the private hole of his dying

and when he talked to his wife his voice came

from a distance

as if he had married his pain, and lived alone

with her.

He kept himself col

and lay and twisted and slept, until nobody

called him.

Donald Hall’s poem made me think so I wrote my own poem:

An empty shell of a body. 

Without transcendent purpose. 

A busy person seeking stimulus from a host of sources –

empty stimulus – little, if any residue. 

A tragic life – like Solomon of Ecclesiastes – “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” 

Taking life, health, and prosperity for granted. 

Self-absorbed. “He dug himself into a private hole.” 

Clinging to those things that money can buy and intelligence can know. 

 A life unspent. … A life of despiritualized humanism with no hope of a life beyond this life in eternity. 

But I do know God. … And that makes all the difference. 

       — Bob in Aspen


The poem, “The Hole,” is drawn from White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006, by Donald Hall. All the poems are challenging.  Radix Magazine — “Where Christian Faith Meets Contemporary Culture

Radix Magazine, P.O. Box 4307, Berkeley, CA 94704   (510) 548-5329

So What About You? 

  1. Do you know God?
  2. If you do know God, write a list (or a poem) describing the sort of person you would be if God were not in your life.


Words of Wisdom

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,

I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. …

Love never fails. … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

— St Paul in I Corinthians 13 NKJV

“As long as death persists, the optimistic concept of life, the belief that eternity can be reached through time, and that the individual can fulfill himself in society can therefore have only one outcome: despair. There must come a point in the life of every man when he suddenly finds himself facing death. At this point, he is all alone; he is all individual. If he is lost, his existence becomes meaningless.”

— Peter Drucker in 1943

Drawn from a lecture in tribute to Soren Kierkegaard. The lecture is the first one in a new book titled, The Drucker Lectures: Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy

Report from the Aspen Ideas Festival 2011

July 7, 2011

I promised in my last chapter to describe the tone of this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival. There were 250+ speakers from every imaginable sector. Richard Stengel, Editor in Chief of Time Magazine, expressed it perfectly when he said, “This Festival is a cornucopia of ideas. It makes you feel like your head is bursting.”

Once again this year, I concentrated on the Economy. Let’s start for comparison’s sake with a pair of quotes from a year ago:

Last year’s session began with Harvard Professor and Financial Historian, Niall Ferguson, who declared that “history indicates that the U.S. is now on the edge of chaos … I think this is a problem that is going to go live really soon. In that sense, I mean within the next two years. Because the whole thing, fiscally and other ways, is very near the edge of chaos.” Another panelist, David Gergen, underlined the seriousness of our situation when he said, “We were a couple hours away from total financial collapse – twice!”

Not very cheerful. If anything, things are worse today. Listening to the Aspen Ideas Festival speakers, conditions are more precarious now than then. We are far from out of the woods. Listen in on what I heard:

August 2 and the debt ceiling/gridlock 

I was surprised that three of the most expert voices (Tom Friedman, David Brooks, both NYT political columnists, and Robert Hormats, Ex-Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs and now top economic voice for the State Department), actually believe there is a chance that the United States might default on its debt. All three said the consequences for international finance would be historic and catastrophic … a dramatic rise in interest rates and a rout in stocks. Friedman called the two party system “a corrupt duopoly,” also saying, “If there ever were time for a third party this is it.” He asked in his session for a show of hands for one of three choices: 1) Liberal Democrats, 2) Conservative Republicans, and 3) Moderate Independents. The count in this predictably liberal audience was 60% Independents, not at all what one might expect.

Now I would like to go to direct quotes taken either from my notes or from the Aspen newspapers. Let’s start with Tom Friedman, who gave us a preview of a new book coming out September 5. His title: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.


Tom Friedman 

“The first decade of the 21st century was the worst in American history … the biggest national security threat now is the health, vitality, and vigor of America. The American dream is now in play.” Friedman argued that the U.S. has become complacent and needs a “shock to the system” – we need a third party to emerge and provide a sane centrist balance between the increasingly polarized views of the Republicans and Democrats. … We have lost the ability to act collectively.”

“America is falling behind on many fronts. We are the tent pole that holds up the world. The big mistake of the last decade since 9/11 is that we have been chasing the losers (Al Qaeda) not the winners. American workers are falling behind the workforces of several other countries because of a flawed U.S. education system. The whole global curve is moving up. Being average doesn’t cut it anymore, every day there is a little more above average talent anywhere in the world or above average software or above average robotics. This is a really dangerous market right now. Everyone is going to have to ‘find your extra’ in order to compete.”

I have quoted Tom Friedman at length because his views were mirrored in the words of so many other speakers. Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former chief of Time Magazine and CNN, described Friedman as the clearest thinker in the USA today … “He reports common sense.” And now on to some others:

Alan Greenspan

The longtime Federal Reserve Chairman was also interviewed by Isaacson, Greenspan blames government intervention for the national debt and made a case for the federal government to stop interfering and do nothing. “People say do something! And the government does and makes it worse. There is no painless solution.” The former Fed Chief believes everyone should be taxed, including those in lower brackets. “I think it is a mistake to deal with taxes only above $250,000. I think it is stoking class warfare.” Greenspan then quoted American Economist, Arthur Burnes, saying that the public will rue the day when a large sector of the population doesn’t pay income taxes and they don’t have a vested interest in keeping them low.

Michael Sandel, A way-left-of-center professor of Government at Harvard:

“Young people today do want to do good but not through politics. They don’t see the political system as a way to achieve the common good. We need to reconnect ideals and the public spirit with political governance.”


Arianna Huffington, Columnist, blogger, and author of thirteen books. 

“We have long had faith that our children will be better off than we are. That promise has been broken; we have betrayed the American Dream. I would say that the American Dream has become a game of chance.” There are 400 million more people around the world able to do the middle class jobs that used to be ours.


Time Magazine / Aspen Institute Poll 

This is a preview of a 2,000 person poll soon to be released in print. The summary is: The historic spirit of optimism, perhaps America’s greatest asset, is fading. My notes:

  • 9/11 shifted the arc of American History.
  • 2/3 of Americans believe America is in decline.
  • We’re in the most sustained period of pessimism since WWII.  We’re at a tipping point toward a more European view from extreme optimism to, not so much pessimism, but to realism and maturity.
  • We have the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy if we lose our native optimism. This period is not going to be easy or quick to reverse. The reality has to change the perception. We can’t talk our way out of this.
  • The good news is 71% of the major threats are internal not external, things we can control if we will – the deficit, debt, the economy, education.  Our future is in our own hands. “There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with America.”


Next Chapter 

This chapter has been unmitigated grim news. Believe it or not there was another track, titled “Happiness.” I dipped into that subject for relief from the grim forebodings. There was some good stuff there too: David Brooks’ “The Modesty Manifesto” was one of the best messages I have ever heard.  And Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, has completely reversed his ground with a new study of the role of religion in the United States.


Stay tuned and let me know what you are seeing out your window.

Cheers from Aspen. Mornings 50 degrees / afternoons 75-85 degrees.

My recommendation: Go see my favorite summer movie – Midnight in Paris, with Owen Wilson. You’ll feel better.



My Summer Reading List

June 21, 2011

My Summer Reading List 

It has been a weird year for weather. Even super sophisticated Tina Brown, of Newsweek, thinks the “rapture guy might just be right.”

Linda and I are headed for our one-month sabbatical in the cool and beautiful mountain oasis of Aspen. There is no place better in the world for reading — mornings outside in 50 degree weather next to the Roaring Fork River. Within walking distance, there are six four-star restaurants and just down the road is the Aspen Institute for our annual dose of pundits.

People often ask BJ and me “what should I be reading these days?” Here are my recommendations:


The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen (Kindle price: $3.99)

The most unbiased short, easy to understand common sense e-book on how we got into the current mess and what to expect for the foreseeable future.


Modern World History; The Rise and Fall of Empires 

Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson. Copyright 2011.

“Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.” – from the book jacket. I agree. Ferguson is my favorite Aspen Ideas Festival resource of the past five years.

Ferguson documents how often it is that once-great empires (British, Ottoman, Russian) decline and fall in as little as a decade. Read first his last chapter titled, “Conclusion,” for this historian‘s evaluation of the current prospects for the U.S. and Europe.


Philosophy of Life 

The Book of Ecclesiastes, by Solomon, son of David, King in Jerusalem. Solomon wrote three books in the Old Testament: Song of Solomon in his youth, Proverbs in midlife, and Ecclesiastes at the end of his life. For me, this is the best book of existential philosophy ever written – biblical or secular, ancient or modern. I read Ecclesiastes at least once a year as a personal review and discipline. Solomon indulges himself fully in every temptation known to man – riches, physical pleasure, power and celebrity – he was the rock star of his age. Only in the last two verses does he look back to sum up and tell us the secrets of a rich life. He begins “the conclusion when all has been heard is” _____ (I will let you, the reader, look it up!)



100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century. Mark Strand, editor.

My personal favorite anthology. If the purpose of a poem is to bring something more richly to mind, to describe a state of being, to reopen remembrance of an intimate moment, a shared experience, to carry you into multiple worlds, this is your book. My copy is filled with a sea of marginal “talk back” notes of reactions, disagreements and the sheer wonder of words to conjure emotions and experiences.


Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nutall

For me, hands down the most comprehensive understanding of human nature is Shakespeare. This book which I have been discussing with my literature maven, Dr. Larry Allums, for the last three months unfolds all manner of fresh and fascinating insights into Shakespeare’s unsurpassed plays.


Visual Arts 

Peter Drucker had an exquisite collection of Japanese painting and calligraphy on scrolls, many housed in museums. Peter took three scrolls out every month to display in his home. We used to stand in front of an ancient Japanese painting with Peter advising me in two words that the way to study art is to “Just Look.”

Twenty years ago, I began doing just that by purchasing used art books from Half Price Books and tearing out three pages every day to pin up on cork board in my walk-in closet where I dress each morning. You can do the same. Just find a used book store (The Strand in NYC) and start pinning up a few reproductions every day or so. Or you can buy a terrific and inexpensive book, titled A Year in Art, which has the great paintings with succinct commentaries. Tear ‘em out and “just look.” It is like a trip to The Met with no excess baggage fees.


Christian Calling 

The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The answer that changed my life and just might change the world., by Richard Stearns

The book all my Christian friends are reading today. This is the Halftime story, extremely well told, of a corporate CEO who faced his own struggle to answer God’s call on his life … at the cost of leaving his high paying, high power job as CEO of Lennox China.


Linda’s Favorite Morning start-the-day-right Book

When I asked about her favorite devotional, Linda said, “Whatever I’m reading now,” then she handed me Jesus by Beth Moore. Beth Moore is the writer and teacher of many Bible studies and best-selling books. She is attractive and accessible. This volume is an up-close-and intimate introduction to Jesus, served up in fifty 3-page one-a-day stories.


My Favorite CDs

Nighttimes in Aspen after dinner, I often sit outside in the moonlit dark. I put on my Bose headphones and listen to my favorite CDs (interesting local phenomenon: one night a brown bear passed about three feet in front of me. Neither of us disturbed one another’s evening.) My five favorite CDs are mostly live concerts:

Keith Jerrett Trio – Standards in Norway

The standards trio is stunning here. The sound on this record is among the greatest of all their recordings, live from Oslo Konserthus (Concert Hall).


Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

A studio album, it is said to be the best-selling jazz record of all time.


The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival

This CD contains what is considered by most listeners to be the finest recording of the Oscar Peterson-Herb Ellis-Ray Brown trio, a group that lasted from 1953-1958. Although the soloing was always quite passionate and spontaneous, the very complex arrangements are really what made this unit sound unique.


Dave Brubeck – Jazz Goes to College

Uniformly flawless, heavily improvised, memorable music


Kenny Loggins – Concert in the Red Woods

My favorite rock concert ever.


Parting Words 

I may write a little less often, but I will promise to tell you what emerges from the Aspen Ideas Festival. Have a good summer. Life is good.



Searching for self-identity – Who am I now?

June 5, 2011
 Searching for self-identity – Who am I now?

“What we find now is not primarily an economic problem, but an existential problem.”

— Peter Drucker

Most of what I write about and work with others on these days has to do with transitioning between a season of extreme structure to a season of uncertainty and openness. Ten times a year I spend a 27-hour period with a team of very capable colleagues guiding a dozen or so people in midlife through a program we call Halftime Institute. Participants are men and women who have built lives and formed habits that, with varying degrees of success, provide self-identity and structure based on what they do. They are Halftimers who have pretty much come to an inflection point in successful lives of accumulation and are now excited about giving back. They find themselves voluntarily or involuntarily in a new season of life.  And most of them don’t have a clue about what to do now.

I can count six distinct seasons in my life so far:  Learning ⇒ Apprentice ⇒ Entrepreneur/Leader ⇒ Parallel Career combining success alongside significance ⇒ sell company and redistribute proceeds in significance work (what I’m doing now) ⇒ eternity (thankfully yet to come).

Meanwhile I have lately developed a budding interest in the 25-40 post-college crowd. The big surprise is that I find them asking almost the identical questions as the Halftime Institute mid-lifers.  What is the common link between recent college graduates and mid-lifers separated as they are by three or four decades of age?  David Brooks (The New York Times May 30, 2011) describes the younger cohort as having been “perversely structured.” He says, “This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhood and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree. Yet upon graduation, they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured – college students are raised in an environment that requires one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast into a different environment requiring a different set of skills which they have to figure out on their own.”  Goodbye structure. Hello “real world!”

In an interesting book, titled Quarterlife Crisis (1), two authors say that the mid-life crisis is the only age-related crisis recognized as a common inevitable part of life – the subject of hundreds of books, movies, and magazine articles. But they say, “The midlife cri sis is not the only age-related crisis we experience. This other crisis can be just as, if not more, devastating than the mid-life crisis. It can throw someone’s life into chaotic disarray or paralyze it completely … at their cores both the Quarterlife Crisis and a midlife crisis are about a major life change.” The authors discovered that “after about 20 years in a sheltered school setting – many graduates undergo some sort of culture shock … the extreme uncertainty that 20-Somethings experience after graduation occurs because what was once a solid line that they could follow … has now disintegrated into millions of different options.”

Back to Brooks, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling … fulfillment is a by-product of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly — Life comes to a point … when the self dissolves into the task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It is to lose yourself.”

All of this made me think back on one of the conversations I had in the course of writing my fourth book, Finishing Well. I talked about self-realization with Armand Nicholi, Editor of The Harvard Guide to Psychiatry. He told me many things about self-realization and competing priorities, but in the middle of the conversation he boiled it down to three words: “It’s about relationships.” I recall that Nicholi spoke about both students and mid-lifers in the course of our conversation. He said, “You know I teach people who are just starting out. As Harvard students, they are all bright to start with … early in the semester I ask them, ‘What is your life goal?’ Invariably they answer, ‘to be successful.’ So I ask, ‘what does that mean to you?’ And their answer has some relationship to fame and fortune. I let that soak in for a few days, and then in a subsequent lecture I ask ‘if you had twenty days left, what would you do with them?’ The universal answer is that they would spend the time working on their relationships with family and friends, and if they are people of faith, with God. Then I suggest that ‘fame and fortune,’ what they claim to want more than anything, are actually in conflict with their highest stated priority of friends and family. They become so intensely focused on what they want to achieve, that of wealth and glory, that they largely neglect the things they value most in life – their relationships.

Later in the conversation, I asked Armand if he could compare his students’ responses to those of a middle age patient sitting before him, unpacking whatever issues he or she had been dealing with. I asked, ‘what do you see there?’

“Two words,” he said, “Disordered priorities. These people have spouses who are of secondary importance to them; they have children they are not close to anymore and who have formed influences other than family and they have been so busy looking after their own interests that they basically neglected God altogether.… For the last thirty or forty years, they have been getting their sense of self-worth from what they do for a living and when that’s gone they don’t know who they are.” Or, I might add, what to do with the rest of their lives.

So What About You? 

  • How does your age and stage on life’s continuum affect your self-identity just now?


  1. For more about Halftime Institute, see
  2. There is a new just issued Zondervan paperback edition of Finishing Well which includes Ten Principles for Life II by Peter Drucker. Good summer reading.


(1) Authors, Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner – Tarcher Books

A Sea Change in Leadership Style / Will Millennials Lead Differently?

May 24, 2011

A Sea Change in Leadership Style / Will Millennials Lead Differently?

As most of you know, the topic of “Management” has been a lifelong preoccupation. Several books I have noted lately argue that there is going to be a significant generational shift in the way Millennials will go about life and leadership. Cheryl Hall, of The Dallas Morning News, began a recent article (May 18) this way: “Don’t talk to Millennials about leadership … they will tune you out.” This was in the context of reviewing a book with the curious title, Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It, by Jeremie Kubicek whose company puts on large scale leadership events around the country for the under-30 crowd. Kubicek uses the term “influenced development” instead of “leadership” which he obviously visualizes as the top down “you’re fired” Donald Trump style. The article says that under-30s “aspire to be influencers.” “They want to have impact and leave an imprint more than get rich.”

More than 3,000 Millennials were gathered two weeks ago in Addison, Texas to hear Kubicek push the idea he calls “a liberating leader.” It is about empowering and liberating others to be all they, and the organizations they work for, can be. The focus is on service to others and giving yourself away through memorable, positive impact on others.

My other longtime preoccupation has been the application of management to the growth and effectiveness of what people now call megachurches. An article in USA Today (May 16) titled “Faith in America; Get Ready for Change” leads with a question: What is the future of religion in the USA? followed by a supposition: “One in which church is less rigid, creedal, and hierarchical.” In this evolution, Christianity might just return to its roots.

The author, Oliver Thomas, says, “It is almost a return to early Christianity which was spiritually fluid with an emphasis on prayer, worship and acts of charity … Young adults appear mostly uninterested in our denominational joisting over ‘correct doctrine.’ They seek opportunities to worship, serve, and become part of an emerging community that cares deeply for one another … They are interested in what works and are not worried so much about what is religiously proper or acceptable … Young people don’t need much in the way of intermediaries … They want to experience God for themselves.”

Not long ago, Linda and I went to hear New York Times columnist, David Brooks, speak in Dallas. His major interest these days has been brain research and psychology. There is lots about the inner life coming at it mainly from a secular but sympathetic-to-religion point of view. In a NY Times piece (also dated May 16) titled “Nice Guys Finish First,” Brooks says, “Humans build moral communities out of shared norms, habits, emotions and gods, and then will fight and sometimes die to defend their communities … For decades people tried to devise a rigorous ‘scientific’ system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality and there is no escaping ethics, emotion, and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.”

Last week I spoke with Reggie McNeal, who writes a great deal for congregational leaders, pastors and staff leaders. Reggie directs a group of large church leaders who focus on what we at Leadership Network call Missional Renaissance. Some might call it community outreach. I asked Reggie to comment on the Dallas Morning News and the USA Today articles. He said that “religion for younger people today is more personal and authority is less positional. Leadership is determined by the task to be accomplished, not so much clergy dominated – lots of collaboration. The church is more in the business of searching for how we are alike, not how we are different, more centered on Jesus and less on denominational distinctives. There is a focus on getting things done, on Christianity as a way-of-being not just a way of believing.”

Is this a “sea change” in leadership? The more I observe younger cohorts, the church leaders that Leadership Network convenes week after week, the more I am convinced that something big is going on. If I were to summarize what I see as the “futurity of present events,” it would go something like this:

  • From hierarchies to networks.
  • From institutional learning to learning from best practices.
  • From good intentions to results and performance.
  • From tell ’em what to do to support their aspirations.
  • From catch & keep to catch & release.

My friend, Ken Blanchard, the management bestselling author, and now “Chief Spiritual Officer” of Blanchard Training and Development, says in Lead Like Jesus, “The more I read the Bible, the more evident it becomes that everything I have ever taught or written about effective leadership over the past 25 years, Jesus did to perfection. He is simply the greatest leadership role model of all time.” Ken taught me what I began to call “Management by the Third Way,” which I keep with me on a wallet card.

My wallet card sounds pretty much like what’s going on now!

So What About You?

  1. Do you interpret these changes as favorable or negative for churches?
  2. Where do your kids and grandkids go for authority (friends, media, school, etc)?


I would love to hear from you. I read all responses.

Seeing Fresh Energy for American Christianity

May 10, 2011

Seeing Fresh Energy for American Christianity 


“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” 

— Theodore Roosevelt 

Twenty years ago in a private moment at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, my friend and mentor, Peter Drucker, provided one line that crystallized the vocation I had been discussing with him for several years. This one sentence became the central “work worth doing” of my subsequent life. He said, “It is your work to transform the latent energy in American Christianity into active energy.” By that time, Peter had laid the foundation for the practice of Management. He had also become certain that his discovery was equally useful to all domains of work — the fast growing nonprofit organizations as well as business. Peter had written that “Nonprofit institutions are central to American society and indeed its most distinguishing feature.”1 He said nonprofits would be America’s greatest export to the rest of the world – more than business, more than government. Surely a bold prediction. Ever since I have worked on the development of great leaders in nonprofits generally.2

But my special interest has been leadership development in the American megachurches that have grown from just about a hundred churches then with more than 1,000 attending to over seven thousand today! 

These large suburban churches are for the most part the product of one age cohort of leaders, now aging Baby Boomers. They have been the drivers of what can only be considered a historic movement, one that has been relatively invisible in the media. I’ve wondered a lot lately, ‘Is there a cadre of next generation leaders coming along? What will their churches look like?’ 

In search of answers, I flew last week to a conference called “Exponential” in Orlando. It was exhausting but very gratifying and hopeful. From Wednesday through Friday, I spent breakfast, lunch, dinner and all points in between with inspiring leaders who answered my questions and lit up my spirits. Here are some notes of what I saw – one man’s observation of what feels to me like the sort of paradigm shift I saw in American churches when I began Leadership Network 27 years ago:

1. Micro churches Growing within megachurches. As it turned out, I had the privilege of spending five hours in different circumstances with Rick Warren, one of the quintessential megachurch pastors. Rick is building his church with a bias towards an externally focused multiple church format. He has sent thousands of parishioners on global missions to the two-thirds world. He says they all come back transformed by seeing how the rest of the world lives. Rick told me that he is building on the idealism of a younger generation through reproducing churches that convert social needs to a variety of external ministries to communities around the world. Here is one amazing fact: Rick told me that he had baptized 500 people during his Easter service and an equal number – 500 people through his food bank. Orange County has 11% unemployment. Essentially he is building micro churches focused on different needs. The strength of his publishing and his megachurch are the launch platform for a multitude of social enterprises. Rick is a relentless mentor. 

2. Reproducing Churches. More than 4,000 people attended the Exponential Conference – all devoted to planting new churches. These churches begin not just by stockpiling Christians but with two major objectives: 

  • Transformed lives and transformed communities – a strong social justice theme. They release people to service, not just sitting. (“Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” James 1:22) 
  • Churches begin with the objective of reproducing themselves. For example, take a look at this intentional sequence on the back of a beverage napkin:

3. Peer to Peer Learning – from hierarchies to networks. For 27 years, I and my associates have developed a conviction that the best way for church leaders to learn the practice of church is through peer to peer networks sharing innovations and encouraging one another through best practice. An example is The Future Travelers Network, a group of 40-something pastors who build large central services through solid preaching and high quality music (95% contemporary), multiple sites, small groups, community-focused task forces and the like – all the stuff that Leadership Network has promoted for years. The napkin above shows how they develop leaders of churches and networks of like-minded entrepreneurs. One of them told me, “The only institution that can reproduce a church is a church.” 

4. From local to global. There is evidence of a global Renaissance all around. Recently I had lunch with author Philip Jenkins. I asked him what was the major trend he saw for churches going forward. He answered, “That’s easy. The world is turning upside down. There is more vitality in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere.” Not long ago, I had lunch with an Anglican Bishop from Little Rock, who was commissioned for that role by Bishop John Rucyahana from Rwanda. Leadership Network is just completing the fifth year of building a European Church Planting Network that has thus far planted over 1,000 churches in that post Christian part of the world. 

5. Hi Tech/High touch. I flew back from Orlando to Dallas with two 30-something pastors of huge churches. Matt Chandler began with a church that had 160 members. He now leads a network of churches in Dallas with over 12,000 members. Several conventional churches have transformed themselves into multi-sites of Chandler’s Dallas network. Chandler uses DVD and broadband to deliver the message each week to multiple venues. This is part of a broad trend of churches that do everything but the central message “live” mostly through lay people. The message comes from a great teacher with all the proper theological training. The music is live. The pastoral care is high touch through relationships, small groups and close-to-the-customer locations. 

6. Back to the Bible. My other traveling mate to Dallas was Matt Carter, who heads Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. Carter represents a strong trend in younger congregations (average age is 27) towards robust Biblical preaching. For example, Carter told me that he spent years going just though the Gospel of John!!! Younger people want two things: a very clear knowledge of Biblical examples and teaching. And they want their church to be like an aircraft carrier that launches them into idealistic social justice projects in the community and overseas. 



  1. What are the trends that you see?
  2. really want feedback on this Chapter. I am still exploring. 
  3. Does what you see make you an optimist or a pessimist for American Christianity? 

Recommended Reading: 

On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Exponential Series), by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. This is the book to read to stretch your imagination if you are interested in fleshing out what I saw at Exponential Conference 2011. 


Wise words

“The truly great companies of the 21st century will change within the context of their core ideologies while also adhering to a few timeless fundamentals.” – Jim Collins  




1  See Managing the Nonprofit Institution. 

2  In 1991, I was Founding Chairman of The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management in New York City (now Leader to Leader Institute and still led by the indefatigable Frances Hesselbein). I now chair The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. Doris Drucker, who turns 100 later this month, serves on the board! 

3  The napkin illustration is drawn from the book, Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement (Exponential Series), which is part of The Exponential/Leadership Network Innovation Series (


As always, I welcome your thoughts. You can e-mail me personally at, 
or converse with the entire community at

Despite everything … I feel fine

April 22, 2011

Despite everything … I feel fine 

I received a flood of response from my last museletter titled “Is America Going From Great to Good?” Most all of the respondents thought that we were in decline.

I have been discouraged myself lately about America. Political gridlock and rising distrust in U.S. economic credibility. I just read this morning that if the proposed 2011 budget were implemented our national debt would be increased more in this presidential term than the amount accumulated by the preceding 43 presidents combined. Forty percent of people tell Gallup they have little or no trust in the Federal Reserve. Standard & Poors just downgraded their evaluation of U.S. Treasury Bills. A daily cascade of bad news. 

Linda, my wife and editor at home tells me that I should stop reading the papers and that it is getting me down. She insists that I write something encouraging and useful (which I do most of the time). Linda says, “That is what people look to you for.” 

So that is what I am going to do. 

When people ask me how I am doing lately, I answer that “I feel fine.” For some reason, it has occurred to me often lately that Linda herself is a primary reason that I am fine. I’m in good shape financially and physically … doing work that is deeply meaningful to me with the most competent and encouraging team I have ever worked with – either business or nonprofit. 

I have been in the past couple of weeks listening to a song by my all time favorite singer/song writer, James Taylor, that expresses, and I mean literally, just the way I am feeling these days. I asked my ever faithful assistant, BJ, to see if she could dig out the lyrics for this strikingly appropriate song. So for this museletter, I am sending Linda and you a very clear expression of exactly how I am experiencing life these days. In this case, I will let James Taylor carry the message through his lovely poetic Valentine. I hope there is someone in your life that lights you up this way. 


James Taylor:  Something in the Way She Moves Lyrics:

There’s something in the way she moves,

Or looks my way, or calls my name,

That seems to leave this troubled world behind.

And if I’m feeling down and blue,

Or troubled by some foolish game,

She always seems to make me change my mind.

And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now,

She’s around me now

Just about all the time

And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now,

She’s been with me now quite a long, long time

And I feel fine.

It isn’t what she’s got to say

But how she thinks and where she’s been

To me, the words are nice, the way they sound

I like to hear them best that way

It doesn’t much matter what they mean

If she says them mostly just to calm me down

And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now,

She’s around me now

Just about all the time

And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now,

She’s been with me now quite a long, long time

And I feel fine.

Every now and then the things I

lean on lose their meaning

And I find myself careening

Into places where I should not let me go.

She has the power to go where

no one else can find me

And to silently remind me

Of the happiness and the good times

that I know, got to know.

And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now,

She’s around me now

Just about all the time

And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now,

She’s been with me now quite a long, long time

And I feel fine.


So What About You? 

  1. What do you depend on to get you out of the dumps in this me-first/rights-without-responsibility culture – faith, family, friends, finances?  
  2. How are you feeling these days? Write yourself a short journal entry about what’s running around in your mind and why. 
Linda and I wish you and whoever makes you feel fine 
a wonderful Easter weekend.


  1. The words from all the James Taylor lyrics can be found (223 songs!) at
  2. Below is my all time favorite James Taylor concert album.  It is rated 5 stars and available right from this link. It is likely to be the best $15 you will spend anytime soon.  

Get the James Taylor (Live) Album Here!

 As always, I welcome your thoughts. You can e-mail me personally at,

or converse with the entire community at

Is America going from Great to Good?

April 5, 2011

Is America going from Great to Good?

My friend, Jim Collins, certainly the most curious person I know, got me thinking about this over a long dinner in Chicago.

First a story, one I have partially related before but one that haunts my subconscious. Collins was invited by our mutual friend, Frances Hesselbein, to present at a seminar that she and the Secretary of the Army hosted at West Point. The respondents were equally divided between three sectors: C-level executives in large corporations, leaders of nonprofit organizations (Frances’ pals from her Life II leading the Girl Scouts) and three-star generals. You might reasonably call them America’s elite.

Jim asked Frances what topic she wanted him to hold forth on. She answered in one word: America.

Knowing that these managerial wizards had heard many a speech in their years of service, Jim decided to take a different approach. He began with a question, one that references his best selling book, Good to Great. He asked for a show of hands on the question, “Do you think America is going from Great to Good?”

The answer was a shock to me. Half of the people felt America was headed from Great to Good. Half! And these were people embedded in influential roles that exposed them to our strongest rivals in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the rest of the world. This informal ballot was taken before the 2007-2008 financial collapse where Ben Bernanke and others thought we narrowly averted a global catastrophe.

You may recall that last summer I wrote a pessimistic piece from the Aspen Ideas Festival. It was a prior museletter (The Aspen Ideas Festival) based on the session with David Gergen, real estate magnate Mort Zuckerman, and Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson. Asked last month by Fareed Zakaria on a television special about the current state of America, Ferguson rendered the following opinion, “We are standing on the edge of a cliff. We have lost a lot of our margin for error.”

Ferguson is the author of a stunning 300-page 2011 update on what I heard in Aspen. The title is Civilization: The West and the Rest. Beginning in 1411, Ferguson covers with reams of deep research (21 pages of notes, 30 pages of bibliography) a defining-narrative of modern world history – the rise and fall of one civilization after another. Ferguson is a very engaging story teller of some great tales of circumstances that at the time would have struck their predecessors as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened.

Now a confession. My major interest on this book grew from what this dire prophecy might mean to the investment portfolio that supports my assured lifestyle and my Life II work as a Social Entrepreneur.

Sooo, God forgive me, I skipped the first 294 pages and went straight to the chapter titled, “Conclusion” which begins thus:

“There is not better illustration of the life cycle of a civilization than The Course of Empire, a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole that hang in the gallery of the New York Historical Society. … 

“Cole beautifully captured a theory to which most people remain in thrall to this day: the theory of cycles of civilization.

“Each of the five imagined scenes depicts the mouth of a great river beneath a rocky outcrop. In the first, The Savage State, a lush wilderness is populated by a handful of hunter-gatherers eking out a primitive existence at the break of a stormy dawn. The second picture, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, is of an agrarian idyll: the inhabitants have cleared the trees, planted fields and built an elegant Greek temple. The third and largest of the paintings in The Consummation of Empire. Now the landscape is covered by a magnificent marble entrepôt, while contented farmer-philosophers of the previous tableau have been replaced by a throng of opulently clad merchants, proconsuls and citizen-consumers. It is midday in the life cycle. Then comes Destruction. The city is ablaze, its citizens fleeing an invading horde that rapes and pillages beneath a brooding evening sky. Finally, the moon rises over Desolation. There is not a living soul to be seen, only a few decaying columns and colonnades overgrown by briars and ivy.

“Conceived in the mid-1830s, Cole’s pentaptych has a clear message: all civilizations, no matter how magnificent, are condemned to decline and fall.”

Through the course of the prior 300 pages, Ferguson cited numerous examples of civilizations that were supremely powerful and collapsed within a decade. He summarizes, “Swift collapses have been the leitmotif of this book.” He cites the Incas of 1530, the Ming Dynasty of the mid-seventeenth century, the French Monarchy that overextended themselves financing our Revolution in the 1770’s, the British Empire that bestrode the world stage “whose age of hegemony was effectively over less than a dozen years after its victories after over Germany and Japan” and, of course, the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe that fell apart in 1992.

What are the implications for Western Civilization today? Jim Collins, in Why the Mighty Fall, says one reason for decline is “a failure to face the brutal facts.” Here is just one brutal fact, also a shock to me, cited in Civilization, “In the space of just ten years, the US Federal debt in public hands has doubled as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). … “Note that these figures do not take account of the estimated $100 trillion of unfunded liabilities of the Medicare and Social Security systems. Nor do they include the rapidly growing deficits of the states, nor the burgeoning liabilities of public employees’ pension schemes. On this basis, the fiscal position of the United States in 2009 was worse that that of Greece. With a debt-to-revenue ratio of 312 per cent, Greece was manifestly in dire straits. According to calculations by Morgan Stanley, however, the debt-to-revenue ratio of the United States was 358 per cent.”

Ferguson does not think it is “all over” just awfully close to the edge.

Ferguson is not alone. Here’s what that most reasonable of political/social columnists, David Brooks, said in yesterday’s NYTimes, “The President’s budget would double the nation’s debt over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget office … doing nothing is not a survivable option.” Further on, Brooks mentions “national bankruptcy” as a possibility.

“Whether you prevail or fail, endureor die, depends more on whatyou do to yourself that on whatthe world does to you”.

— Jim Collins


“Trust in the LORD with all your heartand lean not on your own understanding.”

— Solomon, Proverbs 3: 5

Like the West Pointers, I am about 50/50 on Great to Good. We have a lot going for us. How about you?

Bob’s Museletter

March 13, 2011

Subscribe to Bob’s museletter at: His latest museletter is below.  Enjoy…stay a while.

ROTATION – As a Way of Life

March 12, 2011

Rotation- as a way of life

I am still processing things I learned at The Drucker Institute CEO Forum – so many smart executives saying so many wise and useful things. How to take it all in? I expect you too have been to stimulating conferences where you take pages and pages of notes only to set them aside the first time your cell phone rings with some matter that demands a right-now-micro-decision. So much for those big global ideas that you jotted down.

One of the CEO’s had a great way of dealing with the overflow dilemma. He challenged the rest of us to write down, before the day was ended, no more than from one to five words or phrases that we were likely to take action on. I am trying it out personally. I have a blank calendar that I carry with me now. I intend to fill in a word or phrase that captures something actionable I have learned each day. Today’s word is ROTATE.

This idea came from the CEO of a huge retail chain, who was of the opinion that it was more effective to act on one idea that to “learn” pages of sprawling notes that were interesting but unlikely to get put into play. When asked what was useful to him that came from the prior 24 hours, he told us that one word had kept recurring in his mind. The word was ROTATE. He said that many of the jobs in a retail store were doing simple things repetitiously – over and over – day after day. That was just the nature of the business. His big idea was to rotate people from one job to another so that there was always something new to learn and execute. The illustration he used to drive the point home was, “You can only make a hot dog so many times until it gets boring.”

In his 1974 classic big book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Peter Drucker asserted that “while work is … best laid out as uniform, working is best organized with a considerable degree of diversity. Working requires latitude to change speed, rhythm and attention span fairly often. It requires fairly frequent changes in operating routines as well.” A one word way to recall this essential advice is ROTATE.

This one word capture of a big idea got me to thinking of how important the concept of rotating from one sort of task and rhythm has been in my own life. A good deal of the advice you see in self-management books says, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” We have all see unfortunate cases where this leads to “Burn out! Burn out! Burn out!” – a life of unrelenting stress that leads to all kinds of mischief. Charlie Sheen comes to mind. He did 177 episodes of the same show!

Several years ago, I took a useful course called The Strategic Coach. Dan Sullivan, the master teacher, has made a handsome living converting complex self-management ideas to simple tools. The idea I remember most and have used everyday since is FREE DAYS.

Sullivan taught us to organize our time using six words: Free Days, Focus Days and Buffer Days. A Focus Day is primetime for work. For an NFL Quarterback, it is time to suit up and get your game face on – time to concentrate. Buffer Days are for practice, preparation, fulfilling promises and cleaning up all those loose ends (dental appointments and email responses). A Free Day is a 24-hour period dedicated to rest, recharging and recreation. On my 62nd birthday, I gave myself a gift of one more Free Day a week. As my antidote to burn out and full time retirement, I chose to chill out, go to the Farm one day early  and return refreshed on Monday morning.

The Rotation idea is going to be a big factor in the lives of our next demographic tidal wave: soon-to-retire baby boomers. In a Harvard Business Review web post, Tammy Erickson begins:

“I love meeting people who are planning to retire soon.”What are you planning to do?” I always ask. Inevitably, I get an answer along the lines of “my wife and I are planning to take a cruise.” Hmmm. With a healthy life expectancy ahead of 20-30 more years, that would be a very long cruise. Rarely do I encounter someone who gives me a big answer — goals that could fill 30 years. But that’s the type of answer each of us should have, well before we come close to retirement.”

We find this almost universal in our Halftime Institutes, a 24-hour program I lead a dozen or so times a year for Halftimers who are exploring their desire to make a reallocation of their time and talent from success to significance and their treasure from accumulation to investment in good causes.

Tammy Erickson continues:

“We should be thinking of new skills we’d like to learn, education yet to be pursued. We should identify ways to stay connected socially and active physically, whether through volunteer work, community outreach, or simply greater involvement with friends and family. Perhaps most important, we should be figuring out ways to remain economically productive — whether through part-time or project-based work or even a new entrepreneurial venture.”

How do you know what your next venture might be? I often suggest that people try two approaches alongside their First Half careers: Low Cost Probes and/or Parallel Careers in volunteer (or paid) projects.

A Low Cost Probe is a temporary engagement in something you have always wanted to do. You keep your day job but allocate some free days to a learning adventure to see if you are drawn to it. If you are captivated, you can make it a part time career.

My author friend, Jim Collins, is an avid rock climber. His wife, Joanne, won an Iron Man Triathlon competition several years ago. More recently she has been coaching a school sports team.

I have always wanted to study literature and history. Some people are fascinated with computers. I now spend about half of my time in my significance career and half of my time reading and learning — and writing. I ROTATE from fairly intense meetings with those we serve through Leadership Network and Halftime. It is very satisfying people intensive work.

Literature is part of my Free Day rotation. For example this past weekend, I spent one of my Free Days at Still Point Farm making ten pages of handwritten notes on Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, in preparation for a two-hour discussion with my “personal trainer in literature.” Using my newly discovered habit of memory aids, if I were to summarize that play in a word it would beAMBITION. Overblown ambition caused Macbeth to kill the king and to blow a fuse mentally.



A very personal P.S.:

After hearing this morning’s alarming news about the earthquake and tsunami, please join me in prayer for our many friends in Hawaii and Japan. Especially God’s special Christian servants, the Iijima family and the Cordeiro family. Keep them safe, Lord.