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Monday, October 31, 2016

Marketing Fear

Today, of course, is Halloween. It is also Reformation Day—a day many Protestants would consider is commemoration “of perhaps the greatest move of God’s Spirit since the days of the Apostles”—according to Ligonier Ministries. The date of October 31, 1517,  is when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Church, Germany. And a revolution was born.

Generally, Americans spend very little money on celebrating Reformation Day. On the other hand, another celebration of many churches on November 1st, known as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, has helped create a marketing bonanza. All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as most people know it, has developed into an event that is anything but sacred. And the cauldrons are bubbling over with cash.

The fear business is thriving in many ways. Halloween leads the devil’s pack. To be fair, many participate in this annual tradition with safe, sane, and even fun ways. Many costumes are meant to delight—not to create nightmares. But here’s the story.

Halloween appears to be the second largest commercial holiday in the United States. And about 100 countries have Halloween celebrations. The age group most involved in some activity is surprising—teens 18-34.

Retail spending estimates on Halloween for 2016 are projected to be around $8.4 billion. That would be a new record. Last year it was $6.9 billion. It’s guesswork, but roughly 171 million people get Halloween kicks, with average spending at $82.93 per person.

And how is that money distributed? Obviously “treats” are a big part of it. About 71% of Americans spend roughly $25 per household to satisfy their fright night visitors. More is spent on decorations—approximately $30 per household. The biggest expense is costumes, with an average cost of $32.

And for the curious, here are the top five costumes for adults: a Batman character, a witch, an animal, a superhero, and a vampire.The top five for the kiddos: an action/superhero, princess, animal, Batman character and a Star Wars character. No Halloween would be complete unless you dressed up your pet! The most popular pet costume characters are pumpkin, hot dog, bumble bee, Lion/Star Wars character, and the devil. (This information is supplied by the National Retail Federation, which hired Prosper Insight & Analytics for the survey.)

But aren’t we missing something? Yes! Haunted houses! More fear marketing. A group that puts these kinds of themed places together is They estimate over 300 amusement facilities produce some sort of Halloween or Haunted House at an amusement park or family fun center.

Then there are those “charity” run spooky places. More than 3,000 of these attractions open for one day on Halloween or one or two weekends in October. There are likely other smaller venues in communities that do some form of haunted experience as well.

Theme parks also create fear through thrill rides. A good article on this is titled, “10 Scariest Thrill Rides on the Planet.” Two they mention include Hersheypark’s Fahrenheit, featuring one of the steepest drops in the US, and the X2 at southern California’s Magic Mountain. I’ll pass.

Fear marketing is also profitable in movies. The category of horror films is the seventh highest grossing genre in the movie business. Some horror films turn out to be the most profitable. In 2012, terror films made over $413 million in the U.S.

The biggest box office gross of all time for a fear based film was The Sixth Sense, which came out in 1999. The gross from that film was almost $700 million. The film Jaws holds second place at nearly $471 million. The Exorcist comes in third at over $441 million.

With no pun intended, by now you get the picture. There is money to be made in scaring people. And why do people do this? David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah, says “People enjoy feeling scared and seek the feeling out because, deep down, they know they are in no real danger.”

I have a limited fear enjoyment range. I will do some roller coasters and the milder haunted house experiences like at Disneyland. Horror films are off my list. I try to avoid things that will give me nightmares. Why pay for night time sweats? Real life is scary enough!

One of the worst real life fears is found in panic attacks. The person who battles these learns that the very thought of an attack possibly coming on creates a fear of its own. I know about these first hand. While it’s been several years since I had a panic episode, I’ve known the internal terror it can create.

The fear that most people have—admitted or not—is fear of death. There is a very potent passage in the Bible centered around love and our fear of death. A paraphrase reads, “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” (1 John 4:17-18, MSG)

In a season of skeletons and deathly scenes, Christ followers can be fearless—if we are grounded in God’s love.

What a treat!

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

I’m Failing, and I [CAN] Get Up!

Friday of last week, I returned as the emcee of a dinner banquet for the Wayside Elgin ministry. The center has been a daytime intervention center for the homeless since 1993. The Elgin location is part of a much larger ministry based in Aurora that dates back almost 90 years.

The larger Wayside Cross ministry thrives with a few meagerly paid staff and tons of volunteers. Together they serve many “down and outers” through residential programs for men, women, and children. Wayside has a prison outreach and a youth ministry that includes after school and athletic programs.

I’ve been a part of many of their fundraising banquets over the past 14 years. At each event, there are stories to be heard. For those who are willing, you hear about what brought them to their lowest time on earth. And then you hear how their lives turned around.

Mind you, these stories often come from people who lost at the game of life. They played well for a while, accumulating a house and the normal possessions. Perhaps a marriage and children were involved. But then the job went away. Or a habit kicked in too hard. And the game of life kicked them out. Often with nowwhere to turn.

The recovery piece they share publicly does not take a turn to greatness. Most are still in survival mode, but finding new hope and a future through faith and new disciplines. Oh…and a hand that reaches down to help them back up. These people are not about to tell you how failure has now helped make them a big success.

Oddly, the world today has those kinds of stories as well. I learned about this kind of “failure as a winning formula” in a story from the New York Times titled, “The Art of Failing Upward.”

In this scenario, entrepreneurs who launched start-ups that went sour found new life in losing. Apparently, there are blogging sites that cater to the riches-to-rags-to-riches storytellers. Conferences, too, such as FailCon. Don’t ya love it when failure can be repackaged and marketed for big bucks? Is America great, or what?!

I looked up FailCon’s website to get the big picture. Here’s a bit of info from their “About” drop down:

“FailCon is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success…Entrepreneurs need to hear that from each other: it’s okay to fail; it doesn’t mean you're worthless. You’re just like the rest of us, learning from making mistakes and building something bigger next time.”

I love that pitch! Okay, so can losers really turn into winners because of failure? As Jerry McGuire heard from his client in the movie starring Tom Cruise, “Show me the money!”

So how about Bradford Shellhammer, the 38-year-old e-commerce entrepreneur. In 2011, he received $325 million in funding to help start up a company called Fab. As the Times reports, it “eventually zoomed to a billion-dollar valuation—only to be sold last year for what Bloomberg called a ‘paltry sum.’”

Within months, Shellhammer was back, raising $2.25 million in first round funding for a new firm, Bear. And as Shellhammer wryly told the tech news site Pando about the failed Fab, “You walk away and you are a poster child for not good things. But the cool thing was that it put me on a different stage, and I could go meet the people I wanted to meet.” So Bradford is back living the high life.

The tech world is a different beast. Venture capital flows a lot more readily for “the next big thing” if investors like it. But two things should be stated here. First, angel investors are not so quick to jump on first time entrepreneur ideas. Second, the process is not color blind. Minorities have a much harder time raising capital it seems, as the Times article documents.

Failing upward does seem to have become big business. TED talks thrive on the topic. And the interest in recovering from failure permeate a wide variety of fields. There’s Stuart Firestein’s book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful. And apparently in Silicon Valley there is an AltSchool, where “model failure is a part of the curriculum.” The pre-K tuition is $27,000 a year!!

It all sounds rosy if you are one of those fortunate ones who find your way back. The homeless of this world do not see their failings quite the same. In fact, most of us don’t. We need encouragement for recovery. Something deep, meaningful…lasting. Something exactly like these words from the Bible,

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, TLB)

Struggling in something right now? As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.”

Keep looking up!

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Big “I” Workplace Lesson

For several years now, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute has published lists rating their top places to work based on the feedback of the employees. They’ve broken it down into categories including churches, parachurch and missions organizations, and schools and places of higher education. There are a few other categories as well. I believe the most recent list came out in August.

Willow Creek Association frequently gets very high marks. They made the 2016 list, as did Wheaton Academy, Kids Around the World (based in Rockford), Community Christian Church in Naperville, Christ Community Church in St. Charles, and Glen Ellyn Bible Church. Other Chicago area churches were listed as well. Olivet Nazarene was listed among the top schools of higher education.

The Best Christian Workplaces Institute started with one question being pursued by two people: “What makes an exceptional place to work?” Some of the descriptives listed for evaluation are “organizations where employees experience healthy, even flourishing workplace cultures.” Employees who give favorable ratings believe “the work they do to be so meaningful and transformational they are willing to go the extra mile.” And apparently they like each other, noting this criteria: “The rich day-to-day relationships and fellowship experienced are particularly meaningful.”

It is wonderful to hear of organizations where Christian values are demonstrated in such a way that the corporate culture creates an environment of fulfilling work. It is also worthy to note that there are likely several organizations that get frustrated by entering this “competition” only to discover their employees do not rate them so highly. And, of course, the BCWI is not about to publish the “Disgruntled Christian Workplace” list.

So much for faith centered employers. What makes for a meaningful and happy existence in a workplace NOT known for any Christian connection? This past week, I read an article from titled, “The Biggest Way Small Businesses Can Make Employees Happy.” There were a few surprises worth sharing.

The conclusions were derived from the 2016 ranking of The Best Small and Medium Workplaces. This list originates from the firm Great Place to Work in partnership with Fortune Magazine. Here’s the major finding: Employees at both small and mid-size firms “are 10 times more likely to call their workplace great when they say their leaders are honest and ethical.”

Logical conclusions follow. Integrity at the top leads to a more engaged workforce. And with confident employees, organizations are more competitive. Companies who “fit the bill” in moral leadership showed above average revenue growth!

To be fair, the happiness quotient isn’t solely based on this issue of integrity. Benefits also come into play. Some of the top companies turn out to be quite generous in profit sharing and paid time off. Smaller firms also seem to groom a “family feel of pride and ownership.” Well satisfied employees turn out to be great ambassadors for their employer, too. As you might expect, turnover is reduced in these “best workplaces.”

Here’s another important criteria. Competence. The survey summary states, “Employees we surveyed who describe their managers as consistently competent were seven times more likely to describe their workplaces as great.”

Add to this another important component: trust. Employees in high trust environments were 11 times more likely to pass along their pride in their company.

The final asset of a great workplace focused on what is termed “innovation-related behaviors.” This is where employees feel they have participation in decision making, cooperation with team members, and room to make mistakes. All marks of good workplace health.

I found this article to be striking for another reason—its timing as it relates to our current political season. The top two presidential candidates have enough testimony about their past behavior to call into question their standards for leadership. Based on the polling data on the lack of trustworthiness of these people, the issue of integrity is in serious doubt.

Beyond integrity, we also question how these candidates actually treat people. One of them appears to see people as play toys. The other has former Secret Service people complaining of boorish, rude, and belittling behavior. I’m afraid we lose in either case. No wonder millennials are distancing themselves from the traditional voting models!

It seems like the clarion call to a better America—and better workplaces—is the call for integrity. As noted earlier, a great workplace is one where “leaders are honest and ethical.” It takes effort and focus to retain that!

The Message is a paraphrase of the Bible. It yields appropriate modern day interpretation to the wisdom of Proverbs 4:25-27:

“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.
Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip.
Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you.
Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.”

Great workplaces and great countries require that kind vigilant effort. Whether you are at the top or working your way up, keep in mind the sage advice found in Proverbs 4.

And while you’re at it, those lessons from companies that do it right are worth a second look.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Master Mediator

Cable television has a fair share of advertisements for lawyers. Many of them encourage you to call if you’ve been injured or your prescribed medication has actually harmed you. Some of the firms seemingly fit the term, “ambulance chasers.”

A few years ago, I was up for jury duty. I got as far as the actual selection process. As it turned out, I knew a relative of the prosecuting attorney and lost my favored status. It was a case of dog bites girl, which did intrigue me.

Our courts are filled with civil law entanglements. Perhaps many of these situations could avoid lengthy and expensive efforts at resolution through another method: arbitration. Or mediation.

Most often, we hear about arbitration in disputes between unions in sports or government agencies—like the Air Line Pilots Association International. As for the business world, a study a couple of decades ago surveyed around 1,000 large US corporations to determine their use of what is known as “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) techniques.

Results revealed that in the prior three years, 87% of respondents had used mediation and 78% used arbitration. There was also a clear projection that this type of conflict resolution was going to significantly expand in the days ahead in commercial and employment disputes.

A second finding was that mediation was preferred to arbitration. Mediation has been proven useful in almost all industries and types of disputes. Why?

In mediation, both sides must agree to a settlement. Using arbitration and litigation, the final outcome is adjudicated. Parties have to live with a decision with which they may not agree. It’s been said that mediation often helps the parties preserve relationships.

I like the idea of alternative dispute resolution. The company where I’m employed uses this method and it’s spelled out in our employee manual. Across the board in America, those surveyed showed that mediation saved money and time. And that benefits both parties.

Having said all this, there is a “however.” It showed up recently in a New York Times article titled, “Start-Ups Embrace Arbitration to Settle Workplace Disputes.”

The story begins with a woman employed at a Berkeley, California, company. She claimed the job description and her actual duties—and especially the hours—didn’t match up. She was refused overtime pay.

The employee attempted to solicit help from her coworkers by means of a class-action lawsuit. Not so fast. The company, WeWork, had a policy requiring employees to resolve disputes using arbitration. This would eliminate any type of class action lawsuit in the courts. When the employee, Tara Zoumer, refused to sign the new policy, she was fired.

But the trend is definitely headed toward more of this type of conflict resolution. As the Times points out, “Uber and Lyft, the ride-hailing services, make their drivers sign an arbitration clause. Square, the mobile payment processor, also requires that employees agree to bring disputes to arbitration…Amazon and Google also use arbitration to resolve disputes with customers.” One San Diego law firm advocates arbitration for Internet-based companies because of the cost savings.

This is the rub. Ms. Zoumer lost her job by rejecting the arbitration method. She felt locked out of options. The assessment is made that arbitration is most often secretive and favors the employer. The process also keeps employees from sharing their experiences to help others facing similar concerns.

According to the Times story, just recently “the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule that would limit financial companies from using arbitration to prevent their customers from filing class-action lawsuits. But the rule does not apply to arbitration used in employment disputes.”

(There is more to the Times story of Tara Zoumer and an interesting twist on a military man with a workplace struggle over arbitration if you’re interested.)

Is there a perfect system to resolve disputes? I doubt it. Two parties locked into their beliefs that they are “right” find it hard to move. Even if one of them is “more right.”

Followers of Jesus were told to avoid lawsuits. In the book of First Corinthians, the hard truth is spelled out:

“And how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God’s ways instead of a family of Christians? …I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you’re doing. Is it possible that there isn’t one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don’t believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice? These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, MSG)

It’s so hard to let go when we feel we’ve been wronged. But the beauty of a deep trust in a personal God is that He can turn your misfortune into blessing. Try not to curse your enemies. Learn to forgive them.

For Christ followers, the Great Mediator has done so for you.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Good Communicators Connect

Surely you have heard the song, Getting to Know You. Here’s a quick reminder of a few of the lyrics.

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

It’s well known as a show tune from the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. And also for the 1956 film adaptation as Anna sings the song while striking up a warm and affectionate relationship with the children and the wives of the King of Siam. Versions of this song have been recorded by notables including Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Nancy Wilson…and James Taylor! 

Most successful selling relies on relationships. Most long term business relationships rely on authentic, trusted communication. Every human being can increase their effectiveness in this world by being a better communicator. It matters on the job, and certainly in the home.

A few years ago,  my business leader friend John Blumberg worked with me in doing a series of presentations we called “Success On The High C’s.” Each session focused on a word in the work world that began with the letter “C”—such as character, competence, creativity, and so forth. Of course, a must in that series was “communication.” I was assigned that topic.

It’s easy to see how important this is to leading thinkers. 

Author Richard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Philosopher and scientist Joseph Priestly said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  
Motivational meister Dale Carnegie postulated, “When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”  
Humorist Mark Twain observed, “There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking, when you are busy interrupting.”  
Looking back at my talk in that series, I thought I would share three critical observations about how communication impacts relationships. These three certainly apply to our most personal of relationships, but I believe they also create an environment in business for long term associations as well. 
  1. Without open communication there is no depth of relationship. Openness is really another way of saying transparency. Hidden agendas eventually are discovered. Healthy organizations function best where difficult matters can be discussed in an environment of trust. 
  2. With broken communication there is no growth of relationship. In the workplace and in the home, this is manifested by people who stop speaking or connecting with one another. The distance grows steadily. Something has happened and one of the parties may not even be aware of what changed. But it needs repair. Someone has to “man up” to fix it.
  3. With hurtful communication there is a damaged relationship. In Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink, he introduces many readers to the term “thin slicing.” This is the unique ability humans possess to diagnose a situation, almost intuitively, based on a combination of learning and experience. One of the most dramatic examples of how this works is the work of psychologist Dr. John Gottman. In his forty years of marital research, he can predict with remarkable accuracy whether a couple is likely to be divorced simply by watching their communication. And particularly, four types of hurtful communication.  The four are: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. And the most dangerous of those is contempt. Whether in personal or business relationships, evidence of these responses to another person will breakdown a relationship over time.
On a broader level, people who learn to communicate effectively are of great value in any organization. Developed skills in this area reap rewards at any level.
Also in my talk, I quoted from an interview I had with Lynn Wilford Scarborough on her book, Characteristics of a Master Communicator—subtitled “Learning How to Talk Like Jesus.”  Here are the ten things on her list. I’ve added my interpretation to these ten points. Good communicators are…
  1. Relational. They find ways to connect through questions and discover the interests of others.
  2. Bridge builders. Good negotiators understand this in particular. Progress is made first by establishing common ground. 
  3. Birthing the new on the past. Use things that have been learned and build something productive that encourages growth.
  4. Establishing new truth. Many times, misunderstandings exist because of false assumptions.  A new foundation of truth moves understanding forward.
  5. Able to deliver fresh images and new vocabulary. Jesus did this with remarkable effectiveness through the use of parables and challenges to conventional thinking. 
  6. Focused and congruent. Keeping the main thing the main thing. And as importantly, not sending mixed messages.
  7. Humble. The winning hand of communication often comes with self deprecating humor or a gracious reply.
  8. Quotable. Finding a unique way to send a message will encourage others to repeat it.
  9. Able to explain relational paradigm shifts. Sometimes a new leader brings a new language of change. Helping others see and understand the new approach builds loyalty. 
  10. Able to reproduce their values. Jesus spent just three years in the development of His twelve closest followers. They took His message when He left and it still resounds and inspires followers today.
For a clear example of Jesus’ communication style, read chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the book of Matthew from the Bible.  
That will shift anybody’s paradigm.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.