Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Failure of Imagination...or Not

Opportunity.  God.  Overwhelm.  Beauty.  What do you see?
"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." -- Howard Stevenson

I recently discovered Howard Stevenson when talking with John Bates, one of his former students at the Harvard Business School.  John is an entrepreneur and fellow at the University of London Business School.  He's also a Unitarian I met when preaching at his congregation in London earlier this month who, like almost everyone I've talked to in the last few months, is intrigued by the possibilities and opportunities that integrating spirituality and business offers.

The Stevenson quote came from this article in Inc. magazine which explores what's different between entrepreneurs and people who work in corporations.  Although the article claims that some people have to read the quote out loud 50-100 times, I read it once and said out loud, "that's it!"  That is the difference between entrepreneurs, calltrepreneurs, from many of the people in the world.  We see opportunities first and then look for, maybe even create, the resources to make the vision, the opportunity to come true.

St. Francis sold and/or gave away all his resources before seeing the vision, the opportunity to serve God and his brothers and sisters differently.  He didn't think or say, "how much will the church give me to create an order of men and women devoted to poverty and service?"  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and so many others in business, religion, non-profits, didn't wait until they had all the resources they needed before creating their organization.  They started with ideas based on the opportunities they imagined and created.   In the religious world we sometimes say "money follows mission".  The same is true in just about every entrepreneurial organization I know.  People get excited about opportunities, possibilities and mission and it's our jobs to find/create the resources to make them come true.

I often preach and teach about abundance and what we need to do to become more aware of how present and possible it is in our lives.  I invite people to imagine a picture, like the one above, from the Hubble telescope and ask them "What do you see? Do you see a place of abundance, a place where anything is possible, where there are enough of the basic things that we need – food, love, shelter and competence for everyone? Or do you see a universe where goods are in short supply, a place where only a few can win, only a few can have what they really want and need?"

What do you see?  Ideas and opportunities that you are so passionate and clear about that you must make them a reality?  Or do you see obstacles such as not enough time, or people, or money to make them come true?

The Inc. article  claims that researchers at the Harvard Business School discovered that entrepreneurs  were much more likely to start out poor than rich. “They see an opportunity and don’t feel constrained from pursuing it because they lack resources,” says Stevenson. “They’re used to making do without resources.”

Making do without resources.  Pursuing opportunities without regard to resources.  The challenge of calltrepreneurship, of life, is to look at the world and see where the opportunities are for ourselves, our communities, our future.  It is easy to look at people who seem larger than life and say it came naturally to them.  But what of each of us?  Start with the most basic.  Our life.  We are born into different settings and places.  Some of us are surrounded with resources, some of us weren't so lucky.  
When I read the stories of successful peoples' lives I notice many, if not most, of them were not surrounded by obvious riches.  In fact sometimes they got in the way (i.e. St. Francis.)  

Would I have preferred to have been raised in a family wealthy enough so that I didn't have to get free lunches at school, start working at age nine or wait to my late thirties to get my college degree?  I'm not sure.  On some days I say yes but on most others  I can't imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't started shining shoes when I was nine, selling newspapers on the street corner when I was 11 or managing restaurants when I was 17.

How do we listen to the bad news of the world, with its true and/or perceived stories of dwindling resources, and find opportunity?  Hang out with people who dream on the stars and are opportunity/possibility people.  List all the reasons why there aren't enough resources to do something and then list all the reasons, passions and opportunities will make it so.  Look at pictures from the Hubble telescope and imagine, meditate, on what on what's possible instead of what's not.  Because looking at the pictures of the universe, the closest pictures I know of God, it's almost impossible to forget that the boundaries in what we can imagine and accomplish are infinite.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What's Right About Business?

"The ultimate purpose of business is not, or should not be, simply to make money.  Nor is it merely a system of making and selling things.  The promise of business is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy." -- Paul Hawken

 Paul Hawken is a charter member in the Calltrepreneurship Hall of Fame.  Amazon describes him as "an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and best-selling author of six previous books."  I first noticed his work in the early 80's. His Growing A Business was one of my first companions in learning and teaching about the possibilities and practicalities of starting small businesses.  He has inspired me over the years reminding me that businesses can do amazingly good things in the world.

I begin with Paul Hawken today because he is a "cool" guy in both the business and religion worlds.  He has built successful businesses, he's a tireless advocate for saving the planet and he's written about the shadow side of business ("There is no polite way to say business is destroying the earth.") and the hopeful side of business (see the quote above).  Hawken is someone who most of my "bottom line" business friends and "let's save the world" religious friends  - some people are both - can't argue much with.

But giving props to someone from the business world is a hard thing to do for many these days.  Business, like religion, is an easy target to bash.  Where do we start?  Enron, the greed and illegal acts of banks,  the outrageous salary gap between CEOs and average workers, the takeover of the American political system by millionaires and billionaires, the ridiculous ruling that business have the same rights as individuals, Apple's use of low-paid Chinese labor in questionable working conditions; the list is long.  If someone cares about the world and the people in it, especially those whose jobs include "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable" - i.e. ministers - calling business out for what it sometimes does wrong is the right thing to do.

And yet.  Religious communities and ministers are fueled and paid by the money that is generated by businesses.  (How often I have had to remind congregations that money isn't the root of all evil, per the Bible, but the love of it is.)  Men and women in business, whether for profit or not, are changing the lives of millions of people for the good.  And they are doing it with integrity, compassion and even love. 

Think of all the products, creations and innovations that we use today which keep us healthier, more connected to those we love, more entertained, better educated than ever before.  Think about the work people are doing in science, in social entrepreneurship, in technology, sometimes even in finance, to take on the biggest challenges in our world - global warming, poverty, water inequities - and doing something to make the world better.  Check out what MBA students are being taught about ethics, spiritual principles and practices such as meditation and discernment.  Visit the companies that are bringing in speakers like Martin Luther King III and the Dalai Lama while creating work environments that nurture the body, mind and spirit.  And look around at the universities, museums, hospitals, and community centers that have been paid for by business people who wanted to make a positive difference in the world.

Business has its flaws.  So does religion.  Lots of them. (That's because they are created and led by human beings!)  They are also filled with creative, loving people who are doing their best to make the world a better place.  As someone who has lived my professional life in both worlds I know their strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone.  And I know that the distinctions and judgements we make about both limits our ability to learn and be inspired by the other.

In the last few months I have been interviewing people from business, academia and religion.  We've been talking about the intersection between business/entrepreneurship and spirituality/religion and the possibilities and obstacles.  The conversations have been inspiring, in part, because there seems to be a new appreciation of what the "other" has to teach.  How about you?  Are you someone who bemoans the real problems and shortfalls of business and/or religion, or are you someone who looks for what the other has to teach?  The issues of business and religion are complex.  But here is something easy.  If you are someone who thinks business is evil or more bad than good (maybe you are a minister), take an entrepreneur or businessperson out to lunch to learn how they look at the world and how your work/life might be better using some of their wisdom.  If you are someone who is in business and aren't involved in a religious community and/or consider yourself "a-spiritual", take someone out to lunch who looks at the world a bit differently.

There are a lot of challenges and uncertainties in the world around us.  People like Paul Hawken are utilizing every thing possible to find answers to those challenges while working with others "to increase through the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy."  It's hard to imagine a much better goal/motto for calltrepreneurs... or anyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Right About Religion?

"Are there flaws in the church?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty in the church?  Absolutely." -- Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert is a charter member of the  Calltrepreneurship Hall of Fame (grand opening date and sight to be announced.)  Last weekend the New York Times reported on a conversation with Colbert and Cardinal Timothy Dolan about humor and the church.  The event was hosted by Father James Martin, a Jesuit Priest and author who received an MBA from Wharton before entering the priesthood.  Father Martin is a "friend of the blog", so to speak. He wrote an excellent article highlighting the similarities between Steve Jobs and the saints, and a book My Life With the Saints which was my companion throughout Italy last July.  His latest book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, was the reason for the conversation and is on my to-read list. 

The article reminded me it was time to write about what is right about religion.  One of my main curiosities and goals with this blog is to look at the intersection of the best in business/entrepreneurship and the best in religion/spirituality.  My experience in the business world and in the religious world is that most of the time people look for the worst in each.  There are a lot of bad things about religion and business.  In the last week the riots and killings in the middle east provide an example of what can happen when one religious group offends another and believes their view of God and faith is truest. Corruption, dishonesty and criminal behavior have too often been the qualities of people leading religious institutions and communities.  Narrow interpretations of scripture have been the catalyst and rationale throughout human history for human rights violations, war, discrimination and hatred.

Whenever religious fanaticism rears its ugly head I am reminded of the sermon I preached the Sunday after September 11, 2001 titled Clinging to...Religion?  Like all preachers that weekend I was struggling with what to say that might offer a little comfort, some hope and reassurance during a hopeless and scary time.   I'm not sure how successful I was but if nothing else I reminded myself of what religion is truly about.   In the words of the Rev. Ray Baughn, religion is "our hunger for life, the need for meaning in our lives, for ultimacy, for intimacy and for community." Religion is not about God as much as it is about coming together with others to "re-bind"ourselves to that which makes us whole - a sense of the sacred, our deepest values, including love.

If someone wants to debate the value of religion I'm happy to do so.  For every atrocity that has been performed in its name I can mention an act of compassion, justice or love.  Our challenge as calltrepreneurs is to learn and practice the best age-old secrets religion offers us, i.e. creating and taking part in a community, looking inward for guidance in prayer, meditation and looking outward to help our brothers and sisters.  Gratitude and generosity, perhaps being the two most important lessons of all.  Why?  So that we can create businesses, ministries, lives that bring out the best - and not the worst - in ourselves and others.

On Sunday night Rosh Hashanah was celebrated and the 5773 year of the Jewish calendar began.   The Jewish High Holy Days are a time of reflection, recommitment and hope. Practices that are essential for people and businesses whether or not they consider themselves religious.   One of my favorite writers and teachers is Rabbi Harold Kushner.  He writes, "What religion offers me is not fellowship with God, but fellowship with other human beings who are looking for the same things I am. Loneliness is today's greatest spiritual problem.  Religion should offer us that sense of community, that sense of "Here are people who share something important with you. You don't come to church or temple to find God - you can find God on a mountaintop or in your bedroom. You come to church or temple to find a congregation, to find others who need the same things from life that you need. By coming together, you create the moment where God is present. This is the one indispensable thing that organized religion offers us, which our vague individual sense of spirituality cannot."

The role of the calltrepreneur, whether it be St. Francis, St. Clare, Steve Jobs, Stephen Colbert, Rabbi Kushner, you or me, is to bring people together, to look for possibilities that nobody sees and find ways to make them become a reality.  At its best religion does this and so much more.   At their best calltrepreneurs do the same.  Are their flaws in the church?  In the temple?  In the mosque?  In human beings?  Absolutely.  But is there great beauty?  Absolutely!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three Prayers - Part 2

My altar in Assisi.  A place to say the three prayers every day.

I have been across the pond in England preaching and attending a minister’s conference and then down to Florida for more preaching and a meeting.  I have missed you!  I promised that I would have a part two on Anne Lamott’s three prayers - help, thanks and wow from the personal perspective of my pilgrimage to Assisi and Silicon Valley.  

Help - One year ago this month I was diagnosed as having clinical depression.  I have had occasional bouts with depression during my life but this was the first time I was diagnosed.  What a difference a year makes!  I am so grateful for my wife Kathleen, and friends and colleagues who have been there, especially when I didn’t want to own up to how low I was feeling.  I have had a team of people who have been in my corner the last year that helped me get in touch with my call to take this pilgrimage and start this blog -  Rob Ferguson, my therapist, Ted Purcell, my spiritual director, and Leslie Guttman, my writing coach.  With their help, some good drugs and rediscovering my passion my depression is a memory.  Knowing when to ask for help, personally and professionally, is a key skill for calltrepreneurs.  I forget sometimes, I bet you do too.  Don't!

Thanks - To all the people above, of course, but also to the amazing people I met and who have given their time to talk to me about spirituality and business.  Here’s a list of names and links for you to get to know more about who they are and what they do.  Rev. Scotty McLennan, Dan McLennanDave Evans, James Doty, James Koch, Andre Delbecq, Rev. Scott Scruggs, Dale Miller, David A. BrownRev. Lowell Brook, and Luna.  These men and women are calltrepreneuers who have inspired me with their life stories and how they are making a difference in the world.  I could add the names of the 1700+ members of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association I serve who inspire me with the commitment and dedication they bring to their lives and ministry.

I also want to say thanks for the men and woman I will never meet in person but who I have gotten to know very well the last few months - Steve Jobs, St. Francis and St. Clare.  I appreciate all the words that have been written about them but visiting the places they lived, worked and died has made me feel even closer to them. 

Wow - I’m looking out the window of a plane as I write this.  Puffy clouds are dancing outside the window; trees, green fields, lakes and houses are specks below.  When I think of the places I’ve been able to visit the last two months from Assisi, to Rome, to Silicon Valley, to San Francisco, to London I am overwhlemed with a sense of awe (and of course gratitude.)  I have (re)learned that wonder and appreciation for life and the world around us isn’t a matter of where we go or who we are with.  Being wowed by life is “simply” a matter of paying attention.  Take a breath and be awed by what created and sustains us.  Look at a tree and imagine how it got there.  Create something, step back and reflect on the reality that it is something new and unique that the world has never seen.   Help.  Thank you.  Wow.