Closing the loop

Donating blood to the American Red Cross can be an inherently rewarding activity. You know you’ve broadly done a good thing. You’ve helped someone.

But look what happens a few weeks after you donate:

What a surprising, unexpected follow up!

It’s another chance for relationship and a reason to remind people to sign up to donate again. It makes the general good a specific good and further anchors the positive feelings.

How many times do we thank people in the moment but miss an opportunity to follow up, close the loop, or add specifics?

The direct application might be that survey you give or the feedback you request. What happens with it? What change does it inspire?

But take it a step further. What other ‘one more thing’ moments might be embedded in your daily routine?

“Thanks for the discussion in our staff meeting. Here’s what we did and where we’re headed.”

“We noticed you all really liked this event, so we’re planning two more like it!”

It’s easy to underestimate the noise we all live with and assume others see the things we see. It makes us think the follow up we did from that conversation or work is obvious.

Sometimes, a small ‘here’s what we did’ can make a big difference.

Preaching and the mystery box


I just read notes from a session with Chris Seay over on the Collide blog. He’s talking about the power of story – preaching the bigger narrative, asking questions, leaving mystery. There’s something big here for people who communicate and teach. I love this. I see it. I want it. But can I be honest? The journalist in me fights it. I want to share a story and pull people along with the mystery of it all, but I end up giving them the answer in one short paragraph.

So I’m trying to move there, but I have to find a balance with my own style. I guess the question is, how do you feel communication works best? What about in sermons? Should sermons involve more stories and mystery? Is there still a place for the direct teaching style (I think Andy Stanley does this well)? Maybe more discussion? Maybe we need to rethink the “person up front speaking to everyone” idea all together?

If it’s a topic that interests you, you need to listen to JJ Abrams’ talk from TED. Mystery, he says, is more important than knowledge. It’s the catalyst for imagination.

A few other points he makes:

  • The best stories are mystery boxes (alluding to a story he tells about a family member and an unopened box of magic tricks). They are question after question after question that pull you through a complete story.
  • Withholding info increases interest. The Jaws shark didn’t work half the time so it was shown less. That’s what made it frightening. The unseen.
  • The best stories hold a difference between what you think you’re getting and what you’re really getting. ET isn’t about an alien who meets a kid. It’s about a heartbreaking divorce and a kid who’s finding his way in life. Jaws isn’t all about a shark attacking people, it’s about a man wrestling with his place in the world, his masculinity, and his family. (If you want to do a sequel, don’t rip off the shark, that’s not what makes it work! Rip off the story – the characters – the struggle)

So you kind of miss the point if you talk about the value of story and then read an outline of the talk :). But it’s good stuff. If you have 18 minutes, go watch it.

Teamwork means unity (or, boats don’t get anywhere if you’re paddling in 12 different directions)


“The successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert.” – Peter Drucker

The success of a team depends on unity and common direction. And that unity and common direction comes from intentional communication, building relationships, listening, sharing stories, and spending time together. It’s not easy work, but it’s work that can’t be ignored.

But the challenge is, this important stuff is the stuff that doesn’t feel like work. Talking about why we’re doing something doesn’t feel as important as planning the next event. Getting to know and understand a team member’s story doesn’t feel like we’re accomplishing much. It almost feels like wasted time.

But it’s not. Being a successful team means working together. And working together means getting the right people in the room, figuring out the problem or goals, and coming up with a solution that everyone has a stake in – that everyone can contribute to. Unity may come before or during the problem solving process, but for a group to become a team, that unity has to happen.

Communication (and the President-elect)

I love it when leaders embrace communication and new technology. It’s so important to communicate regularly with people, and it’s time to look at how we communicate (is television the only way a President can address a nation?). So along with weekly addresses that will be distributed online (and other places), Obama’s team also has a blog where they’re already sharing news and updates.

Leaders know that vision leaks. You have to continually present a plan and direction. In times of crisis, it’s important to stay visible – to show your team is at work and you have a plan. It seems like Obama is doing just that.

Regardless of what you think about his politics, Obama’s plans for communication are exciting to watch.

(Now, if they can just lower the camera a little for future updates, we’ll be golden. Compare the shot to typical interviews on television. Too much head space makes Obama look small – like a little child. Zoom in a little and frame the picture!)