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Monday, January 30, 2017

Trickery and Inflation

This Sunday the Super Bowl will be played in Houston, Texas. We know the competitors—the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. By game time, we will know almost everything one would care to know about the players and coaches and history of these teams. But not quite.

The missing pieces are the ones that might very well determine the outcome of the game. They collectively become the components driving the strategy that will be unique for this contest. Both teams will likely innovate and offer surprises we have not seen from them before.

In football, this often comes in the form trickery. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speculated the Falcons will try to incorporate something a bit different in this game—something the Pats will have trouble adjusting to. Perhaps a new wrinkle on a play they've previously used but that’s “dressed up differently.”

But it’s New England that has the true history of trickery. Some have called it cheating. Or at least “scandal.” The most recent involved Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the amount of air inflated in the footballs he was using in a game.

Last winter, Stephen Smith of CBS News wrote about this and other Patriot incidents over the years. Along with the most recent, “Deflate-Gate,” there was “Deception-Gate”—in which Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh accused New England of using an “illegal type” of formation.

There was “Tuck-Gate”—from the 2002 game with the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots were losing to the Raiders when, late in the game, the Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Tom Brady. Tom fumbled the ball. The Raiders recovered. But officials huddled and invoked an obscure “tuck rule,” which determined that Brady’s arm was moving forward. Thus, no fumble, but rather an incomplete pass.

One all fans can remember is “Snowplow-Gate.” This one dates back to December of 1982 and a cold, snowy day in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots are playing the Miami Dolphins. Snow is falling. Neither team has scored in the first three quarters. Suddenly, the stadium snowplow operator comes onto the field and clears a spot on the field for the Patriots’ kicker. Up goes the game-winning field goal in the final quarter! Later, the Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula referred to the incident as the “most unfair act” ever in the history of the NFL.

There’s more. “Spy-Gate.” As the Patriots’ successes mounted in the 2000s, the team was accused of “espionage”! Apparently, they were caught videotaping signals in a 2007 game with the New York Jets. It was later determined that New England had illegally videotaped opponents from 2002 to 2007 and they were fined $250,000. Their coach, Bill Belichick, was fined $500,000!

Depending on your loyalties—and your perception of sportsmanship and fairness—the Patriots are either on mission from the Dark Side or simply push hard against the rules of engagement. It’s like that in business, too. Some companies play it tight and by the rules and others push the ethical envelope. (Witness the legal battles between Apple and Samsung in recent years.)

Oddly, the Bible has a story that includes spying and lying for “the good guys”! It’s recorded in Joshua, Chapter 2. Spies are sent out by Joshua to “see the land, especially Jericho.” It was in that city that we find a woman named Rahab who hides the spies from her own people—and then lies about it to save the spies! It resulted in her own family being rescued when the city was destroyed. (Joshua 6)

One should be careful here. The Scriptures of God do not endorse acts of lying, deceitfulness, and manipulation for selfish gain. A Godly purpose was being served.

But people of faith ARE encouraged to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV) For more on this, I recommend reading, Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus, by Rick Lawrence.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the Super Bowl this Sunday. Expect trickery. Deception. Brain twisting decisions.

And most likely, a lot of over-inflated egos.

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, January 23, 2017

A Crash Course in Team Building

We just returned from a vacation that included air miles and sailing on the ocean. Any such travel has risks. We’ve experienced significant turbulence while on jets and cruise liners. Fortunately, not on this trip!

Stories about planes crashing into water have been made into movies. Sinking of big ships have been put on film as well. Perhaps the most well known is Titanic.

Would you believe there is money to be made by simulating the terror from a plane crash into the water? There is. An interesting New York Times story is titled, “Need Better Morale in the Workplace? Simulate a Plane Crash.”

The tale is woven of eight people who endeavored to survive mock plane crashes at an indoor pool just before Thanksgiving last year. These were all clients of Survival Systems USA, based in Groton, Connecticut. The company has been teaching aquatic survival since 1999. Usually, the people pushed to endure this are from airlines, the military, and rescue services, such as police and fire departments.

But the company has found a new market for this experience. Maria C. Hanna, the president of Survival Systems USA, noticed some residual effects in teaching survival skills, such as improved morale and self esteem. People were stretching their capabilities. She sees people advancing themselves in new ways.

This is NOT for the faint of heart. The company uses a Modular Egress Training Simulator which can be arranged to resemble the cockpit of a helicopter or small plane. A crane lifts the simulator up and then lowers it into a pool. The equipment can generate rain, darkness, 120-mile-per-hour winds, smoke, and fire. Sounds fun, huh?

The eight pre-Thanksgiving warriors were dressed in flight suits, water shoes, and helmets. After some preliminaries, the eight were strapped into the simulator, submerged, and flipped. They were coached on how to get out. Everyone does, but in these exercises, panic is common. Some people back out before the actual testing begins.

Greg Drab, the owner of Advantage Personal Training of Mystic, Connecticut, had some staff go through the course. They were not paying the full fare of $950, but Drab said it would be worth it. He noted, “You get to see how people handle stressful situations. This unifies the team.”

Merrick Rosenberg, chief executive at Team Builders Plus, puts this kind of training in the “extreme experiences” category. He sees the value of Survival Systems classes as good for team bonding—learning trust, communication, and leadership. He also notes groups that prefer this kind of experience would often include lawyers and people in sales, public relations, and marketing. He adds to that list: millennials.

Personally, I think an early and cheaper testing ground on handling risk and fear is to go to Six Flags. See who is willing to jump on the fastest and most dangerous rides. Watch who screams and who doesn’t.

On the grand scale, people of faith realize fear has been put in its place. The writer of Hebrews said, “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”(Hebrews 13:6, ESV)

And that is certainly true. But please don’t put me in a cockpit, underwater, trying to kick out a window to survive.

Team building around a pizza will do just fine, thank 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, January 16, 2017

Your Creativity Rocks!

Trade shows are marvelous places to see creativity in action. Winter months in Chicago (and likely in many other cities) feature an annual auto show and a few home and garden events. Various new products and services are fun to see, as well as many clever marketing pitches.

I know a little of the trade show world. In days past, I was in management for Gary Brown Enterprises. Gary began his company with a home and garden show and a fall version for home improvement in Sacramento, California. This expanded into other California cities. But the big prize became the involvement with the Government Technology Conference in three states. These events were packed with innovation and cutting edge people.

The one trade show that always sounds attractive to me is the annual International Consumer Electronics Show. It’s held each January in Las Vegas. Its size is mind boggling—2.47 million square feet! The single star of the most recent event was Alexa—Amazon’s virtual voice assistant. Many of these virtual assistants have become so capable in speech recognition that they rival humans in “word error rate” comprehension.

There are ample articles available to read about the 2017 CES. One I liked is from the Washington Post titled, “What 6 Wacky CES Gadgets Tell Us about the Future.”

Two of their featured wacky offerings are robots—bound to be big in the future. One is named Elmoji, capitalizing on the Sesame Street character Elmo, that will teach kids how to code. Don’t underestimate this. So much technology relies on the ability to code. My son (who works in Silicon Valley) is encouraging family members to use an app titled Swift Playgrounds that teaches coding in a fun game-driven way. Toys including Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar are moving this direction as well. The beauty in this is how it encourages creativity!

The other robot-related product they liked was a “3.5-foot tall robot designed to act as a concierge, retail greeter, or companion for children and the elderly.” It’s from AvatarMind and its name is iPal. Of course. This robot “boasts an array of software functions—emotion-reading, storytelling, the ability to carry on a conversation with a 5-year-old.” Or those of us who will pretend to be five years old.

There is always the future garage sale items that pop up at CES. I make no prediction here, but if I WERE to make a prediction, try this: the Kerastase Hair Coach. You need an app on your smartphone for this. It claims to track your “hair health”—something many of us did not even know we needed to do! Once the brush figures out your mane, it will recommend a care plan for your head. You can guess which products it will recommend.

The innovation that is most useful to our world is that which improves our lives in some fashion. It meets a need or a particular want. Contrast that image with the famed Pet Rock from years ago. The 1975 Christmas season fad sold at least 1.5 million rocks with instructions on how to treat it as a pet. Each sold for $4. The creator of this gem became a millionaire. Oh, well.

Regardless of where you work or what you do in life, one of your greatest gifts from God is being creative. And we all have it. Some seemingly more than others. Use it wisely. It can take you to exciting places!

King Solomon once wrote, “What has been is the same as what will be, and what has been done is the same as what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, MEV)

But that was written before the pet rock.

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, January 9, 2017

Don’t Change for Change Sake

“I don’t want you to wake up at sixty-five and realize, ‘I just spent forty of my best years doing something that just funded my life.’” - Jon Acuff, from his bestselling book, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job.

Jon Acuff is a truly inspirational guy. I try to get interviews with him several times a year because he is such a capable motivator. Jon is the author of five books and worked for the Dave Ramsey organization for several years. Then he abruptly…quit. He is now pursuing his own writing and speaking career.

Jon came to mind this week as I read a Washington Post story titled, “The new year is the time to ask: Do I have the job I really want?”

Career questioning is very common. Almost everyone deals with it and often on a recurring basis. There are several reasons. Job discontent in some form is the primary reason. Some folks feel stuck in a job they don’t like. Or they think they’ve reached the end of how far they can progress in their work situation. Maybe the routine is all too predictable and they want a fresh start.

One reason that drives many to get serious about change is when they sense their primary interests and gifts are not being used. A variation on this is when they see a way to be self employed doing what they do best. Of course, low pay can motivate people to want change as well.

The WaPo story featured a former laser engineer named Dan. His 9-to-5 job gave him the right pay and benefits. But the too routine workload became too much. He left to become self employed as HandyDan, who specializes in fixing anything in your home.

Another example was a successful international trade lawyer who dreamed of an associate position. Then she discovered her soul was discontent even after reaching her dream position. She left and started to bake cake pops. Today, she owns a shop across from the National Zoo and loves the reward of smiling faces from satisfied customers.

While it’s inspiring to read of these success stories, job change can be risky. Some people are really wired to build and create. Moreover, they are self disciplined and often funded reasonably enough to make these kinds of changes in their work life. But it’s certainly not true for others.

A safer path for the discontent might be a gradual shift. This is something Acuff recommends. Jon claims the secret is simple, “Find something you love so much you’d do it for free and then get so good at it that people pay you a lot to do it.” Again, that’s one way to make the move.

A third option is simply to consider a fresh start in full time work you believe is more closely aligned with who you really are. This is an especially good option for those under 40. Test the waters a bit.

In Ecclesiastes we read, “So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?” (3:22, NIV)

One thing for sure. Don’t simply change for change sake. Grass always looks greener at the other company.

Especially in the lawn care business.

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

P.S. Consider reading Jon Acuff’s recent blog titled “The tweet I want you to send me next year.” Find at
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, January 2, 2017

Priorities, Prayer, and Adventure

How do you start your work day? Better phrased, how do you prepare for your work day? It is relatively easy to conclude that the first hour or two of your day can set the tone for the rest of it.

We have just welcomed in a new year. It’s a great time to review priorities and create new ones if needed. Some adjustments may be in order. For many years when my children were growing up, I would ask my beloved Rhonda and my children, annually, if they believed they were priorities in my life. I didn’t want to be an absent father or husband.

Later in life, I needed to re-prioritize the start of my day with exercise and spiritual development. So after making my morning coffee, I get on my exercise bike each day for thirty minutes. Then it’s to my desk for Bible reading, prayer, and some quiet meditation. This is a tone setter for my day.

Part of my prayer time is spent in my own version of a “prayer journal.” I have developed specific prayer statements that help on those many mornings when my mind is not as clear as I’d like. Some of these are worship based. Several are about work preparation. A few are lists of people for whom I pray.

Some people struggle with words to communicate to a powerful God. If that is you, I believe you can best be served by finding meaningful verses already written. Select material that resonates with your soul and can be spoken in sincerity.

No doubt, Jesus’ disciples had their own issues with learning to pray. They had heard the long, extravagant pleas from seemingly insincere people. Jesus told them it was much simpler.

“When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words…Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored; may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need. Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.’” Matthew 6:7-13 (Good News Translation)

I’d like to offer you some recommended wording of a work related prayer. It actually comes from a song titled, “Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer),” recorded by Keith and Kristyn Getty. It can just as easily be spoken.

Before You I kneel, my Master and Maker,
To offer the work of my hands.
For this is the day You’ve given Your servant;
I will rejoice and be glad
For the strength I have to live and breathe;
For each skill Your grace has given me;
For the needs and opportunities
That will glorify Your great Name.

Before You I kneel and ask for Your goodness
To cover the work of my hands.
For patience and peace to shape all my labor,
Your grace for thorns in my path.
Flow within me like a living stream,
Wear away the stones of pride and greed
till Your ways are dwelling deep in me
And a harvest of life is grown.

Before You we kneel, Our Master and Maker;
Establish the work of our hands.
And order our steps to seek first Your kingdom
In every small and great task.
May we live the gospel of Your grace,
Serve Your purpose in our fleeting days,
Then our lives will bring eternal praise
And all glory to Your Name.


*Audio of this song is available at:

Making prayer a priority will change you and your life circumstances in positive and remarkable ways. It’s worth the time and effort.

Welcome to 2017! Adventure awaits 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.