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Monday, July 28, 2014

Back to the Future

Alvin Toffler’s bestselling book, Future Shock, arrived in bookstores in 1970 and sold more than five million copies. In it we learned that our culture was changing rapidly. Concern was raised that change was coming at such a speed that it would overwhelm us. Do you believe that has happened and continues? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Alvin Toffler’s wife, Heidi, once made this statement: “Anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen, don’t believe a word they say!” This from the woman who predicted women would buy and throw away paper dresses (that did happen in the 1960s). Alvin and Heidi did see the day of the Internet and YouTube, cloning, and the growth of home schooling. But they missed on the idea of underwater cities and the doubling of the earth’s population by the 1980s.

Future thinkers have a tough job. The future doesn’t always agree with them. Kind of like what we find with weather forecasters. I wish one would just say, “There’s a 50% chance I’ll be right today.”

A recent business article posted for fellow Linked In members gives an important perspective to thinking ahead. Daniel Burris is apparently one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts. He has authored six books including The New York Times bestseller Flash Foresight. His challenge to business leaders today is to be “anticipatory” — in the right way.

What IS the right way? To learn to distinguish between hard trends and soft trends. Hard trends are those areas that WILL happen. Soft trends MIGHT happen. I’ll let him explain:

“Understanding the difference between hard and soft trends allows us to know which parts of the future we can be right about. When you learn how to analyze trends in this way, you can accurately predict future disruptions, identify and solve problems before they happen, and practice what I call ‘everyday innovation.’ This enables you to solve challenges and problems faster and see opportunities that were impossible just a few years before. In other words, you become anticipatory rather than reactionary.”

Okay. Got it. Uh…how do you DO that? I think this is how he makes his money.

I’m in an industry (radio) that has a LOT of people trying to figure out these trends. What does the future look like for “terrestrial radio” — those AM/FM stations that have been around for decades. Decisions made now, preparing for what is to come, have enormous considerations financially, as well as their impact on people’s lives. Certainly, these weighty matters are worthy of time devoted to research.

The Bible had one stringent requirement for futurists—or as they were known, prophets. You had to be right EVERY time. Here is the way it reads in Deuteronomy 18:22: “You may be wondering among yourselves, ‘How can we tell the difference, whether it was God who spoke or not?’ Here’s how: If what the prophet spoke in God’s name doesn’t happen, then obviously God wasn’t behind it; the prophet made it up. Forget about him.” (The Message)

But get this. It’s said that 353 prophecies made about one person were fulfilled in the life of one man: Jesus of Nazareth. That amazing truth is why Jesus is called Messiah by millions of people…still today. Jesus….the Savior of mankind. You have to admit, it’s hard to beat those odds.

As for futurists, here’s what I don’t recommend. Psychic hotlines. Or if you do call one, try this: “When will the Cubs win their next World Series?” Stumps them every time.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Yes, Sir! Or ... Tell It like It Is

Last “Saturday in the park” (Cantigny in Wheaton), “I think it was the [19th] of July.” Yes, it was. A time for “Rockin’ for the Troops.”

This annual event is sponsored by Operation Support Our Troops. Their mission, and yours, should you decide to accept it, “is to support the morale and wellbeing of American forces by providing comfort, resources, and education to them and their families both while they are deployed in harm’s way and after their return.” A noble cause by noble people. You can find out more at  

The concert I attended is an annual event filling the historic military park at Cantigny with around 12,000 people. This year, for the eighth time in nine years, Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band performed. A few other groups preceded Mr. CSI New York (Sinise) on stage: The SempletonsAudio Adrenaline (a Christian band), and The Voices, a group of Afro American men dressed in white tuxedos who did covers for songs by Al Green, The Temptations, The Stylistics, The Spinners, etc. Hot stuff. But the headliner was Sinise. Great show.

In between groups, various introductions were made of political figures, radio personalities (thank you), and even an Army parachute team landing midfield. A big band of Harley guys with military history also showed up. There were booths for food and merchandise and you could even sign up to join the Army on site! I passed on that opportunity this time.

The parachute boys work in precision, much like the military Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. Discipline and teamwork are critical in making sure this all happens correctly. It takes many drills and practices that require following directions and learning to say, “Yes, sir!” or “Yes, Ma’am!” That’s the military way.

Phil Fernandez, the CEO of Marketo, which sells marketing automation software, sees it differently. Here is one of his business maxims: “I can’t work with people who salute back. Everything’s a judgment call about what we’re doing. People who are assertive, mindful, and willful thrive with me. I try to be pretty explicit about what I need.” He has several other management preferences that are different than other successful people. Read for yourself.

That’s what is beautiful about leadership styles. They can work well in different ways depending on what’s most needed. The general manager of the company for which I work makes it known that he “tells it like it is” and prefers the direct approach. I appreciate that.

Followers of Jesus of Nazareth know quite well that Jesus spoke directly and indirectly. His parables left many people scratching their heads. Other times, he fired off comments many feel are rude, 
calling members of his audience a “brood of vipers” and “hypocrites.” (Read Matthew 23) Yes, that WOULD be telling it like it is!  

The business advice of “Christianese” we hear most often is, “Speak the truth…in love.” A paraphrase might be, “Chew me out, but do it nicely.” Actually, the counsel to speak truth with a loving heart IS good advice. The hearer of the message does not always receive it in the intended spirit. But it must be done.

Successful communication is a true art. Phil Fernandez and my boss like straight talk. Others hope you feel the love. As for me? I prefer those parables. They make staff meetings SO much more interesting. Like the one about the shrewd manager dude. Juicy? Yes, SIR!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Passionate Losers?

“‘Do What You Love’ is Horrible Advice!” That headline certainly caught my attention. Thank you, clever headline writer.

It is an interesting article, albeit one where there is room for disagreement. I make my own assertions at risk, since the author of this article is a Georgetown University professor (Cal Newport). Hopefully he likes HIS work.

So here is a piece of his thinking about doing what you love: “That advice has probably resulted in more failed businesses than all the recessions combined... because that’s not how the vast majority of people end up owning successful businesses.” He argues that following your passion has it wrong — “Passion is not something you follow,” adding that passion follows those who work hard and provide some value to the world.

Professor Newport correctly cautions people that it is easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion. In more recent decades, much has been written encouraging people to pursue what they most want to do. Reality is that this is sometimes true, but not always. And the hobby piece certainly fits in the discussion.

Here’s the way I see it. Part of the beauty of God’s creation of humans is that He has gifted each of us. All people have talents, interests, and abilities in which that giftedness connects. Some have more. Some have fewer.

As a young boy, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Only one thing kept me from that career: talent. Doing what I loved worked well until curve balls and better fielders and hitters got in my way. But the door was still open—to coach kids and to play in softball leagues as an adult. Which I did. Forget my “career calling” as a Chicago Cub.

It took me until about the age of 40 to determine that of the several things I enjoyed doing—and was capable of doing well—being on the radio was my “bullseye.” Since then, I have aggressively pursued my career calling. I have put those two words together for a reason.

Professor Newport breaks down work into three categories. There’s a job: that pays the bills. A career: which is a path toward increasingly better work. Thirdly, Newport views calling as work that is an important part of your life and vital part of your identity. But I believe your greatest satisfaction comes when your career matures in a field where you sense it is also your calling.

There is truth to the point that what we pursue should be of value to others. And there is truth to realizing that enjoying work at the expense of not paying the bills lacks wisdom. But for most people there is a happy medium that can provide a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction in our daily work.

So what about this advice? 

“I have seen what is best for people here on earth. They should eat and drink and enjoy their work, because the life God has given them on earth is short. God gives some people the ability to enjoy the wealth and property he gives them, as well as the ability to accept their state in life and enjoy their work. They do not worry about how short life is, because God keeps them busy with what they love to do.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NCV)

This wisdom from Solomon does not pan out perfectly for all. But his reasoning on this matter followed a lifetime of people research. Probably more than our friend Cal.

I’m pretty sure it’s time for some passion fruit.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Come on and Start Me up

I love the idea of business incubators. Some communities hoping to help inexperienced business people actually put them together as a resource. They are comprised of professionals from various fields who can help the entrepreneurial types get on the fast track to a successful venture.

A while back I read about a variation on this concept. It’s called “1 Million Cups.” The program is a couple years old and is run by entrepreneurs. Several cities have adopted this method of helping others.

It was started by Kauffman Laboratories for Enterprise Creation out of Kansas City. Founders Nate Olson and Cameron Cushman both have entrepreneurial minds. They wanted to help startups succeed but were frustrated as they were unable to name five from their local area. (

One of these men read a blog suggesting that building a good business took about a million cups of coffee with a lot of connections. Thus, the name of their organization. They tested the plan to invite start ups to the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City for idea sharing. It worked. In just over two years they are now operating in 30 midsize and small American cities with a lot more invitations coming.

What has resulted from their efforts to help businesses grow by helping each other is quite remarkable. Not only are business owners learning how to present their objectives clearly and effectively, but the relationships have proven quite valuable. And there are significant community benefits as well. Imagine that!

It was Thomas Merton who made the wise assessment of our great need for others in his work, No Man is an Island. His words: “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no expects us to be ‘as gods.’ We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”

In writing to a body of Christ followers in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul wrote these important words to develop a strong family of believers: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (Thessalonians 5:11).

If you’ve come to an impasse in some situation at work, or your company seems to be stagnant, perhaps it’s time to invite others to your party. See if there’s a 1 Million Cup group in your city. Who knows? You might find some needed personal help there, too.

Five cents, please.

That’s The Way WE Work. To connect via Facebook, click the link to the right.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.