Category Archives: Odds & Ends

Odds and ends that don’t fit elsewhere.

Measurement and wonder – counting and celebrating


This is an article I posted on my business website, but I thought my readers here might enjoy it too – those of you who haven’t entirely given up on another Wondering Preacher post.)


‘Soon man will count all his days, and then smaller segments of the day, and then smaller still—until the counting consumes him, and the wonder of the world he has been given is lost.’    Mitch Albom, The Timekeeper

Ians HourglassMitch Albom has hit on one of the missing ingredients of our modern pressurised existence. A sense of wonder. We seldom get or make the time to stop and enjoy. Counting and measuring is far more important to us.

I read Mitch Albom’s book, rather significantly, while preparing a workshop on performance management. Managing performance comprises a great deal of measurement. We measure success against our targets, of course, but we also want to know how we fared against others chasing the same targets. Because everyone knows that first is the only position that really matters.

Measurement is essential in business, of course. In manufacturing, mere seconds saved in one part of the process can translate into thousands of rands off the price of the product. In accounting, accurate records ensure efficient management of funds. And cash flow is one of the most important measures in any business.

However, in all the measuring, it is easy to forget the wonder. Wonder? In business? Has all this ‘soft skills’ training made Simply Communicate soft in the head? Actually, no.

Steve Jobs, for all his drive and lack of people-management skills, never forgot the wonder of innovation. He delighted in what he could show us, and delighted us as well.

Richard Branson has always been ready to throw out measures that restrict rather than empower, and in his latest book, The Virgin Way, he explains that he has thrown out the measurement of annual leave.  With employees expected to be available 24/7, a company can no longer measure time spent on the job; how can one justify, therefore, trying to measure the time spent off the job?

It comes with a risk, but it will deliver more empowerment to employees than dozens of other initiatives might. Employees are expected to be up to date and organised before riding off into the sunset, of course, which presupposes that other measures are in place. An employee must know what their job is, for example, and what their deliverables are.

Brand Pretorius writes in his book, In the Driving Seat: Lessons Learned in Leadership, ‘I’m all for chasing the numbers in business, but … I found more satisfaction in the so-called “soft issues”.’
‘I believe that business is about much more than just the numbers. It is about making a difference to the lives of employees and the community. It’s about doing what is right for the benefit of all.’

Do the things we measure add to our employees’ sense of wonder, their enjoyment, their sense of achievement, or do they act as a burden, slowing employees down? Do employees become focussed on the measurement rather than what the measurement enables them to achieve? Indeed, are we so obsessed with measuring achievements that we forget to stop and applaud the achievement itself?

When a child comes home, excited at having come second in the race, do we ask them why they didn’t come first? If their report card says 80 percent do we ask them why they didn’t get 100?

Albom pleads with us to celebrate the moment. Take time to wonder. Applaud the achievement. Most people respond with enthusiasm to recognition and applause. We want more of it and we will do anything to get it. Give your employees and your children something they will want to experience again and again. Celebrate the moment; take time to wonder. And that goes for your own achievements, your own moments of celebration as well.

What have you stopped to celebrate recently? Tell us in the comments below.

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Filed under Articles, General Writing

A prayer for Madiba


Almighty God,
We thank you for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,
our beloved Madiba.
We come to celebrate his life:
A hard life, but a life well lived;
A life committed to the freedom of others;
Unselfishly seeking freedom and justice for all.

Thank you for keeping and moulding his spirit
Through those 27 years of imprisonment.
Thank you for keeping his spirit
from the seduction of power.
We know how easily we become grumpy
When we do not get our own way,
Angry in the face of perceived injustice,
Ready to use power for revenge.
Yet you moulded Madiba’s soul in the furnace
of intolerance, violence, injustice and imprisonment
And helped him find true freedom.

Lord God, we celebrate Madiba’s life.
Not a perfect life, but a life well lived.
Thank you that, whatever he may have gotten wrong,
He got the big things right:
He learned how to forgive, and showed us how;
He learned reconciliation,
And ‘he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.’¹

Lord God, we celebrate a life well lived.
A life that allows us to live in freedom and peace,
That demands that we, too, strive for the freedom of others.
‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’²
We pray for this freedom for ourselves, our children and our communities.

We ask it in the name of the one whose birth we celebrate
And whose coming as a baby sets the tone
of vulnerability and peace our world so desperately needs.
Amen

A prayer shared at a brief interfaith memorial service for Madiba held at Shuter & Shooter Publishers (where I am privileged to be a consultant) on Friday 13 December 2013

1  FW de Klerk
2  Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995

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Filed under Meditation & Prayer, The News

Nelson Mandela: friend of the world


We have lost an icon, a friend of the world, a statesman; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has died.

We knew this day would come but it is hard to express our feelings. I am relieved that his suffering is over and he can rest in peace. No one would want him to linger on. But he was, as President Jacob Zuma said, ‘Africa’s greatest son.’ And President Barak Obama said, ‘He was one of the most courageous, influential and profoundly good individuals.’ It has been a huge privilege to live under his shadow and under his influence.

Read more of this post on my website, Simply Communicate

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A pregnancy, a donkey, and an update


A visitThe Internet is a place full of shadows. People come and go; they visit this blog as I visit others. One or two leave a comment, which is a most welcome and tangible sign of their visit.  But most leave no more than an echo; something the system picks up to say that someone was here, visiting this page.  Who they were and how long they stayed; whether they were challenged, horrified or simply indifferent, the echo doesn’t say; they are simply shadows.

I wrote the story, “A pregnancy, a donkey, and a whole bunch of questions” for an Advent service on 28 November 2010, and I posted it here two days later.  There wasn’t much interest that year, and only 210 visitors looked at the story in the whole of 2011.  This year, 2012, must be the year of the donkey, or the journey, or whatever, because 245 people viewed the story in November alone, and another 280 in December so far.

No doubt many of those who came, left with nothing more than a quick glance.  Others perhaps stayed to read the story. What I’m interested in is whether someone out there has tried to use the story themselves somewhere else.

I used it again last Sunday at another church here in Pietermaritzburg.  The response was very good, with the general comment being, “It finished too soon. I want to hear what comes next.”

Telling storiesIt’s not often a preacher gets asked for more!  Which is why I believe that we should tell more stories.  There are risks in telling stories, which we don’t always want to take. With a sermon we lay the foundation, prepare the listeners, and then we draw them to the main point.  The message (we hope) is clear, and it can be summarised in a few words.

A story is its own message.  There is usually (as in the great stories of the Bible) an overall message of God’s grace, of God’s involvement in the world, of our struggle with God’s call, etc., but how people connect with the story is out of our hands.

In this story of Mary and Joseph’s journey, it is not the dialogue or their assumptions that matter.  The key is simply recognising that the conversation took place; that Mary and Joseph were real people like us, who would have asked the same questions we ask, with the same fears.  Yet they found a way to engage with God, and to trust him for the impossible future to which he was calling them.

When we begin to understand the people of the Bible in this way, as their experience and their encounter with God becomes more real to us (and more like ours), we can more readily engage with their story, and their story becomes our story.  We can no longer ignore the challenge that their lives present; we can no longer say “well, it was all very well for them….” It wasn’t all very well at all.  Yet as they listened and responded to God’s challenge, they began to reflect God’s glory, and their light still shines for us today.

Their story is no longer a fairy tale of otherworldly people, whose feet don’t quite touch the ground, and whose eyes are constantly raised heavenward. They are people like us. God took his chance with them, as he does with us. He loved them in their misunderstanding and lack of faith, as he loves us. He reached out to them when they were farthest away from him, as he does to us. They had the same questions we have, and God answered them as he seeks to answer us.

What has been your experience of story?  Do they help or hinder your journey?

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Filed under Bible, Blogging, Stories

Clearing the Clutter: Old Words for a New Life


Where have I been? I have been clearing clutter.

Sixteen years’ worth of accumulated notes, gems and (mostly) nonsense had to be sorted before 31 August 2012, which is when I left the safety of employment in Human Resources Management. Previously, when moving from office to office, I did not have time to sort, and simply carried the nonsense with me.  This time it had to go, and I had a free hand.

At home, before starting my new venture, I had to clear a space in which to work. What we have euphemistically called “the study” had to be reclaimed.  Usually marriages are made up of one pack rat and one neat freak.  Our happy marriage comprises two hoarders. Twenty years’ worth of notes, gems and (mostly) nonsense had to be sorted and (mostly) thrown out.  It’s a liberating experience. The picture shows the long-hidden carpet and an almost-forgotten desk.

But all of that has left little time for blogging, especially as I have also had to work on a new website, arrange business cards and start looking for business; the latter, I’m sure you will appreciate, being quite important.

Let me share with you a word from Brother Lawrence that has been an almost daily prayer of mine over many years as I start work in the morning.

“O my God, since you are with me, and I must now, in obedience to your commands, apply my mind to these outward things, please grant me the grace to continue in your presence; and to this end prosper me with your assistance, receive all my works and possess all my affections.”

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Filed under Blogging, Odds & Ends, Prayers and Meditations

Out of work: A new venture


I handed in my notice this week.  I have done that a couple of times in my life, but this is different. I am not going to a new job; there is no pay cheque waiting; there is nothing out there but good intentions and interested people. While I’m taking early retirement, I’m not retiring, and, having received a salary every month for the past 40 years, that’s a rather scary prospect. 

I have spent the past few years thinking about my future and what I am going to do with myself until retirement age and beyond, and more important, who is likely to pay me to do it.  I have seven years before compulsory retirement age, but I have a mother alive and well at 84, and a father still working as a pharmacist in a local hospital at 86.  You will understand, therefore, that, however uncertain life may be, long-term planning is called for.

What I do know is that I do not want to run an organisation’s Human Resources Department for another seven years.  A training department, now that’s a different matter, but there are few of those opportunities around this area. 

I knew that training would have to be part of what I do; I knew also that writing should play a role, but exactly what I could offer to whom was elusive.  After a long time wondering, praying and generally feeling somewhat inadequate for anything, we finally have a plan.

Raymond Ackerman, of Pick ‘n Pay fame, wrote about four legs to a business table.  Perhaps I am not aiming high enough, but I have three “legs” on my model.  The first is training and development of people.  This will take various forms, including part-time lecturing, workshops and seminars, and individual coaching and mentoring.  The focus of the seminars and workshops will be management skills, so-called soft skills, writing, and other themes that may take my fancy (and that I can persuade enough people to pay for).  Some will be my own material while some will be in partnership with quality training and development specialists.

The second leg is writing.  Having spent 16 years working with journalists I know that I will not, in the short term, make a healthy living from writing (I am no J. K. Rowling).  But my love for writing came as a serendipitous discovery a couple of years ago, and I have been indulging myself (with your help, of course, Dear Reader) ever since. Any form of writing or editing will do, and a couple of possibilities have taken shape.

The third leg will be general consulting work in the field of people management.  There is a surprising oversupply of HR Consultants, from the highly qualified to the not so, in this small city, so I do not expect to do much here, but the other two “legs” may feed work into this area.

I am creating a website with its own blog called Simply Communicate where I hope to draw readers (and clients) to my wise words and helpful hints geared towards managers of people. Do pay a visit, but it will be a work in progress for a month or so. Although some themes are universal, the emphasis will be on the South African workplace, and managing people in the ever-changing landscape (some would call it a minefield) of this country’s labour legislation.  Personally I never complain about the legislation.  Its complexity (trying to bring order and certainty into the mess of human relations) and it’s employee-centred focus has helped provide me a good living for 16 years, and long may it continue.

With the internet, of course, writing is no longer restricted by geographic boundaries, so if you have any writing or editing to be done come 1 September 2012, do let me know, I shall have some time on my hands—not too much time, I hope.

I plan to continue this blog with its particular focus, so don’t go away.

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