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Monday, July 31, 2017

Does Alexa Want My Job?

“Alexa…would you write my blog for me?” No such luck. And, frankly, I’m glad Alexa can’t! Or Siri. Or any other virtual assistants that are coming on board these days.

I’ve not succumbed yet. No Alexa. No Echo. And for now, no worries.

For the late arrivals to the technology scene, Alexa is Amazon’s virtual personal assistant. Although we really don’t know much about her virtues except that she seems most cooperative in helping where she is able. This non-real-person lives inside the Amazon’s Echo smart speaker. Users are able to dictate commands to the assistant to control products throughout their home, listen to music, and much more.

New “skills” are being added with updated technology. And Alexa/Echo have competition. Apple's Siri and Google Now for example. I have no idea if they get along and play well with others.

These virtual assistants and many other new technologies certainly help to make life easier. Most would say “better.” On the other hand (so to speak), many are beginning to wonder if our devices have created a new monster. We can’t seem to let them out of our sight. Or our hands.

Let me address a much larger concern that is looming with technology. Robots. And I’m not joking.

A plethora of new material has emerged in recent months raising awareness that we are headed toward a “humanless economy.” I spent quite a bit of time on two of my talk show programs dealing with this. There is a sense of urgency arising about how fast the robotic advances are changing our workplaces.

I found great encouragement to discover two articles in July on focused on the rise in robotics. Both are excellent and I would recommend them.

One is titled, “The Luddites and the First Contest of Man Versus Machine.” Here you’ll find a dramatic—and surprising—bit of history from the 18th century that appears to pit certain church people against the industrial revolution.

New machines were coming on line rapidly. Skilled workers were losing their jobs in factories. Families were suffering. Efforts to unionize were being made with limited success. A rebellion was brewing. And the meeting place for several of these desperate workers became a Methodist church. In fact, a group was formed known as the Primitive Methodists to fight what they considered exploitation. It’s quite the story.

Unfortunately, it included violence. To destroy the new machines, young men began to attack factories at night. And they chose the name of a fictional local hero, Ned Ludd. Of course, these rebels became known as “The Luddites.” I’ve wondered about the source of that term.

More sinister considerations emerged with more militant objectives. Gunfights eventually erupted. Court cases followed. The wheels of the justice system, perhaps administered unfairly, took several Luddites to the gallows. Like I said, it’s quite dramatic.

While we are not seeing the same intensity of rebellion today, mass job displacement within the next ten years could change things. We are wise to be thinking ahead. Not just of employment, but for human compassion in several ways.

The Psalmist writes, “In the morning let me hear of your gracious love, for in you I trust. Cause me to know the way I should take, because I have set my hope on you.” (Psalm 143:8, ISV)

Next week, I’ll share the second of those two excellent CT articles. One that offers great insight into how the faith community can lead the way for hope.

In the meantime, I suggest you don’t bond too closely to Alexa. She might have connections with the Evil Empire.

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, July 24, 2017

What was that Question?

Perhaps you have read the classic personal development bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People. First published in 1936 and written by Dale Carnegie, the book has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. I read it many years ago.

An entire course has been built around this book. Warren Buffett reportedly took the course at the age of twenty. Thousands upon thousands of successful people have benefited from it as well. Dale Carnegie training courses abound today.

A number of the principles in this best seller advise on how to engage others. Such as…
  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. 
  • Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

Seems like basic stuff. And to most good communicators, it is. Carnegie’s techniques, once developed, are very helpful to sales people in particular.

I thought about Carnegie’s book when I saw this recent article, “Do These 5 Emotionally Intelligent Things Within 5 Minutes of Meeting Someone.”

It’s written by Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence expert, author, and speaker. He must have read the Carnegie classic.

Here’s a quick summary of his big five:
  1. Show genuine enthusiasm for meeting.
  2. Offer a compliment.
  3. Ask at least two open-ended questions.
  4. Find something you share.
  5. Say their name before you leave, and commit key facts to memory.

So I’ll say it again. This seems like very basic stuff. But you can believe it, because Harvey is an “emotional intelligence expert.”

Harvey Deutschendorf’s reasons for encouraging you to develop these skills is to help you form deeper, closer relationships with others. The key to this is likability with obvious career benefits. “Being likable,” claims Harvey, “and liking your coworkers in return—can increase your chances of getting promoted.” Thus, the real issue is self interest.

Contrast this with another growing purpose of good people skills. Winning people over to the faith!

I recently interviewed Randy Newman, the author of Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did. The book has had a couple of re-releases over the years. Newman’s basic thesis is that in our society of today, questions are better than answers.

He adds to this perspective by saying he hopes his book serves as a catalyst to developing “a different way of thinking about people, their questions, and our message. And because of that difference, our evangelistic conversations will sound less content/persuasion driven and more relationship/understanding driven.”

And then there’s Q Place based in the Chicago area. This organization exists to mobilize Christians to facilitate group discussions with spiritual seekers. As part of their mission description, they state: “We envision Christians all over the world inviting people into small groups to question, discover, and grow in their relationship with God.” Obviously, the “Q” stands for questions.

As Newman points out, and most in the Christian faith know, Jesus of Nazareth loved to ask questions. When religious leaders asked him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus requested to see a coin. Then he asked whose face was on the coin. And his classic response, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:21, CEV)

Whether in business or in a ministry effort, you simply cannot lose by taking a sincere interest in others. Learning to ask good questions is a great relationship building tool. (I make my living at it!)

These skills will likely help you win friends. And hopefully, you can become a person of significant influence.

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, July 17, 2017

Monkey Business Orientation

The big office supply stores have already begun the major promotion of back-to-school supplies. I love watching the dirt-cheap competition for pencils, note cards, and such. Some stuff you can find for pennies. My daughter is on the lookout on behalf of our grandkids.

A higher level of back-to-school shopping takes place at Target, Bed & Bath & Beyond, and similar stores. This is to equip the soon-to-be college student with everything they need to start life away from home. If Mom is doing the shopping, it truly will be an attempt to provide EVERYTHING the student might need. But moms do that. This mainly happens for the freshmen level student.

The real challenge comes when that freshman college student arrives on campus. I recall taking our firstborn to the Rochester Institute of Technology for his first year. We were included in some basic freshman orientation activities. We got to see his dorm, various buildings, checked the bookstore, and met some of the people who would help shape our son’s perspective on the future. Scary. Especially the tech-oriented upperclassmen.

It became noticeably clear, however, that as this orientation time wore on, our son was “ready” for us to leave. His new solo life was about to begin and he didn’t need mom and dad “hanging out.” Like many parents, I’m sure we left wondering how our son would manage on his own in a world very different from home. He did fine.

These days, the Internet can do an amazing job of pre-orientation. You can take complete digital tours of college campuses and interact with future team members. You can establish your entire social media world and begin relationships with people of similar interests. It goes on and on.

Many companies have become more serious about workplace orientation. For a new hire, there is always trepidation about entering a new work environment. Getting familiar is a process. Companies do well to help make this a welcoming and easy progression to the real job.

One company which takes this very serious is MailChimp. (Of course, any company with that name you wonder about how serious they can be!) I read about their new hire practice in Fast Company in the article, “Why Mail Chimp Doesn’t Let New Hires Work for Their First Week on the Job.”

As noted, most new hires are eager to get to their real work. Hiring processes can be long and tedious. But MailChimp lets no employee get to that work until they’re given a behavioral assessment and a “Chimpanion.” Of course.

The article lists out a full week of scheduling for the new employee beginning with Day One, which they refer to as "Welcome Wagon." Bags of swag and personalized notes await the new arrival. In the first week they will also take the Birkman Assessment to help teams best determine occupational and communication styles. Later, it’s discussion on Customers, Cofounders, and Coffee.

It’s really quite a powerful approach to helping someone recognize, “You really are on a team. Ours.” (My words, not theirs.) It seems to work. The turnover rate at MailChimp is about 4%. Remarkably low.

In the first years of the rapidly growing band of Jesus followers, they were a remarkably welcoming group as well. They shared. They cared. I doubt they “flared”...much. That young fellowship grew incredibly fast. Read those first few chapters in the book of Acts. It’s remarkable. And apparently, there was very little turnover.

When it comes to healthy orientation, take a lesson from the early church. And also from the people at MailChimp.

Obviously, they don’t monkey around.

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, July 10, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

I’m not a “binge-watcher.” This media viewing trend has become quite popular, especially with the under-40 crowd. Binge-watching is also called “marathon-viewing” where multiple episodes of a television program are viewed in one sitting. It’s been brought on with the online media services including Netflix, Hulu, and others. Those who binge-watch start with two episodes or more.

Having said that, my wife Rhonda and I have come close to binge-watching a series I recorded all last season but never viewed. Designated Survivor. We are now both hooked on the program and it’s making our summer television time more anticipatory.

For those who’ve never seen it, the plot is a good one. I’ll share Wikipedia’s description: “On the night of the State of the Union, an explosion claims the lives of the President and everyone in the presidential line of succession, except for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman, who had been named the designated survivor. Kirkman is immediately sworn in as President, unaware that the attack is just the beginning of what is to come.”

The intensity of the series is what grabs you. Next would be the complexity of relationships that must be vetted to develop trust. And determine whose loyalty to question. This makes for great intrigue!

One thing stands out most to me, however. Tough—almost impossible—decision making. The number of decisions a president must make, the voices of influence pressing their agendas, and the immense consequences of his or her decisions is quite staggering. And in the end, the president alone must live with those decisions and bear responsibility.

Of course it’s TV, and reality plays out differently. Our current president is faced with mind-bending decisions to make on North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia, China, etc. And then there’s the domestic agenda. Listening to press conferences alerts one to how many subjects where expertise is required. Thank goodness for very wise advisors!

Allen Webb is the editor-in-chief for the McKinsey Quarterly. He recently penned a piece titled, “Humility, courage, and decision-making.” Webb promotes another article just published in the Quarterly called “Untangling your organization’s decision-making" which he recommends for leaders.

His final paragraphs in the piece I read were the most important. They focus on three key themes McKinsey folk find emerging on decision making. My summary of the three are:

  1. Ignorance is not bliss. Leaders need a lot of information. As was written, “cognitive and organizational minefields surround most of their decisions.”
  2. It’s the process, stupid. (His words, not mine) Biases are hard wired into us. Organizational dynamics are insidious. Leaders need processes in place to overcome these two potential decision-making pitfalls.
  3. Wanted: humility and courage. Leaders must be humble to acknowledge bias and that organizational obstacles abound. They must be courageous in allowing the processes, not the will of the leader, to guide decisions. 

My wife and I agree that one of our worst decisions made in our marriage was to “invest” in a time-share. Applying the three guidelines above, we lacked a lot of information that we needed to make a wise decision. We acted on impulse rather that a clearly thought out and well reasoned process to make a good decision. And we thought we were smart enough to make the move on the spot—not relying on good counselors to give us wise input. We did not act with humility.

In 1 Chronicles 27:32-34, several men are listed as advisors to King David, including his uncle Jonathan. Solomon also had wise men giving him counsel.

All of life involves decisions. Most are small. But many require great discernment. Humility, courage, and wise counsel are tools to help make you a savvy decision maker.

Oh…I also recommend you pray. A lot.

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.

Allen Webb’s article:

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Cross of Freedom

Revisionist history has come of age in my lifetime. Often, conflicting stories of what actually took place in our nation’s growing up years leave one with the classic question, “What is truth?” I’ll give you an example.

Around 1976, the legendary newscaster Paul Harvey created an album titled, “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor.” It was to give tribute to America’s 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A birthday, of sorts.

The title cut from that album was a powerful piece that moved my soul. It was said to describe what actually happened to the men who committed themselves on that famous declaration after their signing. In essence, many paid the price of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

While most stirring, has given this widely circulated piece a closer look. ( The Harvey reading is passionate and certainly gives rise to patriotism. It may not give tribute to complete accuracy. Take Snopes' synopsis with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, I am convinced from reading other sources over the years that our historic patriots paid a great price. As Harvey shared, a good number “were men of means.” They knew that their futures were in jeopardy without the needed rebellion against Great Britain. And, thus, they took on part time jobs as defenders of freedom.

We don’t have militias today in the same sense as in times past. We do, however, have full time assignments in our military serving the freedom cause. And for this, we should be most thankful.

That being said, it is not solely the job of our military to keep us free. It is our assignment as well. Each of us owes a contribution to maintaining the beauty of a free society.

Craig D. Lounsbrough (MDiv) is a licensed professional counselor. I get his newsletters every so often in my email. He obviously has the heart of a patriot and this shows up often around Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July.

I found several of his quotes to be quite moving. Here are some of the best. To my understanding, these are all his words—not quotes from others:

“If I have become so pathetically dulled that I hold freedom as my right and the privileges of liberty as my due, I can stand beside the stilled graves of a thousand soldiers fallen in defense of freedom and not feel a thing. And my most solemn prayer is that I will never be this.”

“'Rights’ are ‘privileges,’ and if I am arrogant enough to demand the former without respecting the latter I will lose both.”

“I think we need to consider a radical rewrite of any form of patriotism that serves the individual at the expense of the community, as that is nothing more than patriotism to one's own small and solitary cause.”

“Real patriotism embraces the wholly immovable belief that without freedom, the essence of the human soul and the life-breath of the human spirit is doomed to perish for lack of space and absence of light.”

And perhaps one that speaks most to our age…

“The birthplace of anarchy is the cemetery of freedom.”

Yesterday, I spoke at our church on “The Perils of Freedom.” It was not a political message. It was instead a focus on keeping our spiritual focus on what Jesus brought to the world. And it’s centered around freedom. A perilous plight of spiritual freedom is to miss the costs associated with that freedom.

Craig Lounsbrough sums this up well:

“The most elusive and ultimately impossible act of liberation is freedom from sin and self, and no document or declaration of man regardless of how exquisitely penned can do that. Such an astonishing act of liberation could only have been penned in one place: the cross.”

Now THAT freedom is truly worth celebrating. Have a blessed Fourth of July.

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.

Craig Lounsbrough’s website is: