Billy Graham on Technology and Faith – Lunch w/ TED

Technology has enabled us to accomplish astounding things and solve many problems.  Instantaneous world-wide communication, prolonged life, flight, space travel, deep sea exploration, and more.  Yet with all that technology has changed, with all the problems it has solved, man is left to wrestle with this: the problem of evil.

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John Wooden, Winning Versus Success – Lunch w/ TED

This week renowned basketball coach John Wooden passed away.   Coach Wooden’s talk on winning versus success was one of the first TED talks I posted on this site; it is one of my favorite talks.

“Thou dist thy best, that is success… If you make the effort to do the best of which you are capable, that is success.”

Jake Halpern calls many of us, me and my peers, “fame junkies.”  When polled, we’re the generation that would rather be the assistant to a movie star than be the CEO of a company or the President of Harvard College.  Our definition of success is spelled across the covers of People, OK, and various celebrity magazines.  We want the spotlight and our lives are uninteresting unless we bask in it.  Sure, almost all of us will never attain to it and we’ll settle for our lot in life, but deep inside there will be a nagging suspicion that we failed to be as successful as our youthful hearts foretold.

If John Wooden is to be believed, if we gave it our best and worked our hardest, we attained the exact level of success to which we were destined – or perhaps for which we were designed.  I’d contend that we would then be more successful than our hearts foretold because the success which we will have attained at the end of our life will be real whereas the success after which our fame-addicted hearts yearned never was real.

It’s a liberating message that frees us from slavery to the tyranny of misguided, misconceived ambition.

Wooden’s message is deeply Christian, full of wisdom and insight attained by one who has lived a long life shaped by reflection and discipline.  Among the many biographies and tributes that you’ll read in newspapers or magazines and see on ESPN or FSN, few will capture the rarity of this man and his wisdom as do his own words in this talk.

*Image credit: Fox Sports*

Hidden Influence of Social Networks – Lunch w/ TED

This week, Nicholas Christakis explores the “widower effect,” the increased probability that one will die because one’s partner has fallen gravely ill or has died.  Christakis contends that not only is the effect a real, measurable phenomenon, but it has a bigger influence than researchers first thought.

I’d like to consider three key arguments Christakis advances.

First, Christakis argues that one’s social network shapes one’s experience of the world.  To this end, he argues that it is not only who we befriend, but how we befriend them.  He speaks of the “nature of the ties” between people and references the different arrangement of carbon atoms to form either graphite or a diamond.

Second, Christakis argues that Social networks are necessary for the spread of good and valuable things like love and ideas.

Third, Christakis argues “what the world needs now” is more connections because “social networks are fundamentally related to goodness.”

Regarding the second and third arguments, the counter argument must be made that social networks in and of themselves act as conduits and are neither good nor evil.  Rather, it is the persons within the networks that influence whether good or evil things spread through the network.  The argument that connections vis-a-vis social networks are fundamentally related to goodness falls apart when one considers a social network of slave traders and buyers.  As the book of Proverbs reminds us, “make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

That being said, it seems that churches and Christian schools and universities could learn a lot from understanding the importance of social networks to advancing good ideas or loving action.  Having spent most of my life as a good Christian in the pews, it seems to me that many within Christianity see “networking” as an evil practice that necessarily results in using people as a means to an end rather than treating them properly as people, an end unto themselves (to put it in Kantian terms).   As a result, very few churches or schools that I’ve seen have solid networks established and, ironically, end up using the same handful of people to solve problems because they do not have a network of people upon whom they can crowd-source for funds, ideas, or action.

Regarding Chrstakis’ first argument, I do not have a conclusive thought so much as a question to ponder and discuss in the comments section.  If it matters how we form our networks, then what is the impact of social networking via Facebook which fails to account well for how we are connected to our “friends”?  Facebook doesn’t consider our “place” in the network, it only connects us to, and inundates us with information from, more people than we’d naturally be connected to.

How is Facebook, considered from a social network perspective, shaping our experience and perception of the world?  What behaviors have you developed because of Facebook?  To what degree do status updates, shared links, and other similar things shape your inflow of news and information and, ultimately, your perspective on the world? ‘

Why Versus What – Lunch w/ TED

This week’s talk by Simon Sinek alerted me to the backwards nature of my (and most people’s) approach to marketing.  For three years I was responsible for marketing a web media conference for Christian bloggers and entrepreneurs.  My hook would always be either a prominent speaker, an inspired session, or the conference location – items that Sinek refers to as the “what.”  Instead, I should have focused on the “why” and my efforts would’ve been more successful.

If Sinek’s point sounds uninteresting or cliche, I challenge you to think back to the last time you saw an invitation or advertisement for an event; perhaps it was conference or a book club meeting, a company picnic or a church get-together.  How did the invitation or advertisement appeal to you?  Odds are, the invite or ad used prominent speakers, activities, or an enticing location to woo you into participating in said event.  These items are “what” items and they are used constantly to grab our attention and compel us to action.  Sinek is calling our attention to a technique which is actually quite problematic for at least two reasons.

First, marketing “what” items is hard and can dehumanize people.

At some point most “what” items become old news.  This leaves marketers with the problem of how to make “what” items seem more interesting, a problem they typically solve by dressing “what” items up in ever more flashy and intrusive packaging.  Read up on the psychology of marketing and you’ll realize that, at some point, the marketing frenzy to woo people with “what” items becomes a highly psychological effort to manipulate people into buying stuff they don’t need or participating in activities that aren’t beneficial for them.

Second, the problem with “what” items is they miss the important part; the part that justifies why we ought to participate.

Consider a church picnic for example.  You shouldn’t participate in a church picnic because there will be hot dogs and a giant inflatable slide present at the event.  You should participate because it provides fellowship and community building time that is important for cultivating relationships valuable for growing, learning, and serving together as the body of Christ.  The inflatable slide is fun, but if that is the thing that woos us, perhaps we are too immoderate in our desire to be entertained.

The solution to the problem of marketing by “what” items is to market by “why.”  The power of “why,” Shinek contends, is in its appeal to our most basic instincts.  Shinek sources biology and argues that our brains process “why” information in a much more rudimentary way than it does the “what” information.

Though it may be true that our brains see “why” information as much more rudimentary, I believe that “why” information is often more complex than “what” information and is demonstrative of the coherence of the thought behind one’s project.

Consider again my conference.  I spent many hours wrestling with my reasons for embarking on the project long before I ever booked the first speaker, scheduled the first session, or made arrangements for a conference location.  My team and I produced the conference because we believed that real life community was critical for the development of any digital community.  We believed that the internet was powerful but that embodiment was human and that Christians who were serious about impact in the digital world needed to recognize the design of God’s world – a world both spiritual and physical.

That was our “why.”

It was more compelling than any single speaker or session.  It also justified why one ought invest their resources of time and money to our endeavor.  The “why” treated people as humans, appealing to both their rational and primal sensibilities.  The “why” doesn’t try to woo one with treats – after all, people are not dogs in training.

At some point in the future you will likely be asked to help market some event such as a bake sale or booster club event.  Before you load your flyer with gimmicks and treats, consider why you’re doing the event and share that with others.  You might be surprised at how many people are inspired to action by the same things that first inspired you. ‘