Saturday, February 27, 2010


"If you have five lines of business, any two of them will carry you through a bad period; but if you have only one or two kinds and they both go bad, then you are in the soup."
-Thomas A. Edison-
In business, one seeks diversification in order to built profit margin by diving into new product development and reaching out to different markets. In investments, one seeks diversification in order to spread investments to a wider range in order to prevent the damage of flucuation in the market. Either way, diversification is a simple safety net. It is protection against the potentials that risk always bring. As Edison developed products and added to the Edison name - multiple companies sprang up which covered the idea of diversification. In this manner, Edison protected himself and the companies against the damage that came when a product or market did not respond in the way they thought it might.
In light of this, I wonder how I do with diversification in my own life. How many different options have I properly explored and developed in order to provide myself with a safety net against the risks of job loss, income depletion, or the simple need to move in a different & new direction? Sometimes I think we become so fixated on becoming the best "..." that we begin to lose sight of how poorly developed we are as people. This is not a knock on specialists - as they certainly hold their purpose [i.e. I want a surgeon operating on me - not a family practice doctor]. However, how much more value do we add to ourselves when we allow ourselves to branch out and develop different parts, attributes, and skills. In other words: what is my value IF I were to ask for evaluations outside of my current occupation and set of duties. If the answer is low - then I am left, as Mr. Edison said, "in the soup."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Commitment v Obstinance

Innovation entails a high degree of risk and is often made possible only be an innovator's faith in and commitment to a new product or process. This situation, however, can produce a difficult dilemma when the innovator has to decide whether the degree of risk has begun to outweigh the possible rewards.
Edison's confidence in his ability to solve nearly any technical problem and his enthusiasm for and commitment to the ore-milling venture sustained him even in the face of skepticism from his closest associates.
Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 338, 358.
The ore-milling failure period of Edison's professional life is perhaps the most intriguing period of his life. He dumped considerable amounts of time, energy, and finances into the venture which proved to be his greatest failure. Multiple times along the way he could have backed out and listend to advice to move on, and yet he stuck to his belief that he could figure out a way to make it work. The possible rewards never came into play, and the high risk gamble proved to be a very poor decision.
And yet this is what made Edison great. Whereas most people would have quit - he had the courage to continue forward. Certainly this stubborn trait cost him dearly but it is that same trait that helped push him foward with the telegraph, phonograph, and electric light. Everyone wants to be known as committed, but as a society we have deemed stubbornness a negative trait. So the questions then becomes when does commitment end and obstinance start? How much time, energy, and finances do we need to pour into our pursuits? And how long should our confidence hold strong in the face of steady & reasonable skepticism? My thought is that it is only in failing at these that we will ever see the rewards of the high risk gambles we take. In other words the failures we have in obstinance can lead to the rewards we have in commitment.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Edison was quite willing to accommodate the press and to use it in promoting himself and his inventions.
Working in an industrial setting with connections to leading companies and entrepreneurs, Edison and his colleagues had access to much greater financial resources for their work and they could more easily employ skilled assistants and machinists.
Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 147, 155.
One of the keys to Edison's success as an inventor was his ability to use his connections to best promote himself and his work, while also using those same connections to secure the necessary resources to further his career. There is no doubt that he was an absolute genius, but without the necessary resources or connections - there is no way he would have achieved all that he did. In fact the idea of an inventor simply doing everything on his own (the "lone inventor" as Israel calls it in his book) was made to look foolish and shortsighted by Edison. I cannot imagine a more practical application to my own life. It is critical to network and use all that can be available to me. Opening the door to greater resources puts more opportunity in front of me. Self promotion may seem like a pride thing, but in reality if I don't promote myself - no one else will. No one is going to fight for me to get what I want out of life. I have to be willing to go for it myself. Edison accomodated the press because he knew that in turn he could use the press for his advantage. I am not suggesting only using relationships for selfish gain. However, I do believe that it is helpful in life to recognize how key relationships can be relied upon for the futhering of one's cause or purpose.

Friday, February 12, 2010

No Experiments are Useless

"'But,' he told Harrington, 'it is of no consequence whether it worked or not. It was an experiment as I told you once before, not made to show but to Satisfy me that I was all right.' And he furthermore explained to Craig that although 'Mr H says that some of our experiments were useless...after he has had more experience in this business, he will find that No experiments are useless.' Edison recognized that failed experiments often provided important insights during the research process, but Harrington and other backers were interested only in positive results."
Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 61.
What seems to have set Thomas Edison apart was not a particular genius in inventing so much as a willingness to try. He had no fear of failure. He tried and tried and tried again. Failure simply became a building block for the future. While his financial backers might have struggled with his concept of failure because of their incessant need for results; Edison continued to plug away at his own pace and on his own sense of progress. I am amazed at how counterintuitive this is. Today's culture is every bit as 'positive results' oriented as his was and failure is never an option, especially when finances are on the line. How many people and ideas have been labeled useless simply because they were not immediate financial hits? The lesson here seems to be the need to press forward beyond those willing to abandon or deride you for failure. It is in those failed attempts that true success might be found.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Christian Liberalism

"The obvious problem for liberals is that most Americans don't share their mistrust of public piety. Time and again, secular reformers defeat themselves by assuming that this difference doesn't matter, that they can appeal solely to the economic self-interest of working-class Americans and ignore moral issues grounded in religious conviction. But more than 80 percent of Americans believe in a God and an afterlife. Like Bryan, millions derive their political views from their faith and prefer that others do the same. As Mario Cuomo, a Catholic liberal, writes, 'I do desperately want to believe in something better than I am. If all there is is me in this society, then I have wasted an awful lot of time, because I am not worth it.' Any revival of a religious left must begin from the premise that one's fellow Americans of the lower and middle classes are brothers and sisters whose well-being ought to be the main goal of political activism."
-Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York, 2006), 303.
To be a liberal means that I am simply in favor of progress and reform. Those 2 things should be at the top of every progressive leader and person's agenda. We live in a world that is broken, full of ugliness, sin, and deceit. Yet within the bounds of humanity there is hope because of what "could be" not what "is." The could be is bound up within the need for progress and reform. That is why I am a liberal. Because to turn one's back on such necessary change means to close oneself off to the hope we as people need to cling to. The poor, downtrodden, struggling, and hurting people cannot simply wait for a trickle down hope to appear. They need action, help, and support right now. As a Christian my calling is to provide that. The sad reality is that reform has gotten ripped apart from a heart of conviction for the hurting and suffering. To believe in change now means to stand against Christianity. Instead believers in Christ are called to recall the glory days of Reagan and strong capitalism as the necessary means for civic good and Christ glorified. In conjuction with that, those on the left are encouraged to remove the very idea of God as it is staked to the misinterpreted ideas of who Christians are and what their God represents. The only hope it would seem would be to remove God in the hopes of achieving peace and civic good. In the end, like all of political and activist thought, the truth lies mixed and mangled in between. We have to rise above and think for ourselves what is truly the best approach. As for me, I will cling to the positive benefits of progress and reform while maintaining the belief that I cling to those as one made in the image of God.
I am not a liberal in spite of my Christianity, I am a liberal because of my Christianity.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Historical Leadership - Washington Roebling

I have been given a unique opportunity to write a monthly post for my friend Ryan Russell on historical leadership. To view it click here. To view his excellent blog on leadership principles click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Sea Lion

I love John Eldredge. The following is from The Journey of Desire which is one of my favorite books. Many a times this piece has encouraged me...

• Once upon a time there lived a sea lion who had lost the sea. He lived in a country known as the barren lands. High on a plateau, far from any coast, it was a place so dry and dusty that it could only be called a desert. A kind of coarse grass grew in patches here and there, and a few trees were scattered across the horizon. But mostly, it was dust. And sometimes wind, which together make one very thirsty. Of course, it must seem strange to you that such a beautiful creature should wind up in a desert at all. He was, mind you, a sea lion. But things like this do happen. How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one can remember. It all seemed so very long ago. So long, in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How could that be? He was, after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, not matter how odd, you come to think of it as home.
• There was a time, many years back, when the sea lion knew he was lost. In those days, he would stop every traveler he met to see if he might help him find his way back to the sea. But no one seemed to know the way. On he searched, but never finding. After years without success, the sea lion took refuge beneath a solitary tree beside a very small water hole. The tree provided refuge from the burning rays of the sun, which was very fierce in that place. And the water hole, though small and muddy, was wet, in its own way. Here he settled down and got on as best he could.
• Had you journeyed in those days through the barren lands, you might have seen the sea lion for yourself. Quite often in the evening, he would go and sit upon his favorite rock, a very large boulder, which lifted him off the burning sand and allowed him a view of the entire country. There he would remain for hours into the night, silhouetted against the sky. And on the best nights, when the wind shifted to the east, a faint smell of salt air would come to him on the breeze. Then he would close his eyes and imagine himself once more at the sea. When he lay himself down to sleep, he would dream of a vast, deep ocean. Twisting and turning, diving and twirling, he would swim and swim and swim. When he awoke, he thought he heard the sound of breakers. The sea was calling to him.
• The sea lion loved his rock, and he even loved waiting night after night for the sea breezes that might come. Especially he loved the dreams those memories would stir. But as you well know, even the best of dreams cannot go on, and in the morning when the sea lion woke, he was still in the barren lands. Sometimes he would close his eyes and try to fall back asleep. It never seemed to work, for the sun was always very bright. Eventually, it became too much for him to bear. He began to visit his rock only on occasion. "I have too much to do," he told himself. "I cannot waste my time just idling about." He really did not have so much to do. The truth of it was, waking so far from home was such a disappointment, he did not want to have those wonderful dreams anymore. The day finally came when he stopped going to his rock altogether, and he no longer lifted his nose to the wind when the sea breezes blew.
• The sea lion was not entirely alone in those parts. For it was there he met the tortoise. Now this tortoise was an ancient creature, so weathered by his life in the barren lands that at first, the sea lion mistook him for a rock. He told the tortoise of his plight, hoping that this wise one might be able to help him. "Perhaps," the tortoise mused, "this is the sea." His eyes appeared to be shut against the bright sun, but he was watching the sea lion very closely. The sea lion swept his flippers once against his side, gliding to the end of the water hole and back. "I don't know," he said. "It isn't very deep." "Isn't it?" "Somehow, I thought the sea would be broader, deeper. At least, I hoped so."
• "You must learn to be happy here," the tortoise told him one day. "For it is unlikely you shall ever find this sea of yours." Deep in his old and shriveled heart, the tortoise envied the sea lion and his sea. "But I belong to the sea. We are made for each other." "Perhaps. But you have been gone so long now, the sea has probably forgotten you." This thought had never occurred to the sea lion. But it was true, he had been gone for a long, long time. "If this is not my home, how can I ever feel at home here?" the sea lion asked. "You will, in time." The tortoise appeared to be squinting, his eyes a thin slit. "I have seen the sea, and it is no better than what you have found here." "You have seen the sea!" "Yes. Come closer," whispered the tortoise, "and I will tell you a secret. I am not a tortoise. I am a sea turtle. But I left the sea of my own accord, many years ago, in search of better things. If you stay with me, I will tell you stories of my adventures."
• The stories of the ancient tortoise were enchanting and soon cast their spell upon the sea lion. As weeks passed into months, his memory of the sea faded. "The desert," whispered the tortoise, "is all that is, or was, or ever will be." When the sun grew fierce and burned his skin, the sea lion would hide in the shade of the tree, listening to the tales woven by the tortoise. When the dry winds cracked his flippers and filled his eyes with dust, the sea lion would retreat to the water hole. And so the sea lion remained, living his days between water hole and tree. The sea no longer filled his dreams.
• It was in May that the winds began to blow. The sea lion had grown used to wind, and at first he did not pay much heed at all. Years of desert life had taught him to turn his back in the direction from which the wind came and cover his eyes with his flippers, so that the dust would not get in. Eventually, the winds would always pass.
• But not this time. Day and night it came, howling across the barren lands. There was nothing to stop its fury, nothing to even slow it down. For forty days and forty nights the wind blew. And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. The sea lion lifted himself to have a look around. He could hardly believe his eyes.
• Every single leaf had been stripped from his tree. The branches that remained, with only a twig or two upon them, looked like an old scarecrow. And I do not need to tell you there was no longer any shade in which to hide. But worse than this, much worse indeed, was what the sea lion saw next. The water hole was completely dry.
• Three weeks after the wind ceased to blow, the sea lion had a dream. Now, as I told you before, there were other nights in which he had dreamed of the sea. But those were long ago and nearly forgotten. Even still, the ocean that filled his dreams this night was so beautiful and clear, so vast and deep, it was if he were seeing it for the first time. The sunlight glittered on its surface, and as he dived, the waters all around him shone like an emerald. If he swam quite deep, it turned to jade, cool and dark and mysterious. But he was never frightened; not at all. For I must tell you that in all his dreams of the sea, he had never before found himself in the company of other sea lions. This night there were many, round about him, diving and turning, spinning and twirling. They were playing.
• Oh, how he hated to wake from that wonderful dream. The tears running down his face were the first wet thing he had felt in three weeks. But he did not pause even to wipe them away; he did not pause, in fact, for anything at all. He set his face to the east, and he began to walk as best a sea lion can.
• "Where are you going?" asked the tortoise.
• "I am going to find the sea."