The simplest problem-solving method we never use

problem-solvingJohn and I are listening to a fascinating book in the car. It’s call Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by two brothers name Chip and Dan Heath. They tell story after story of how big changes took place because of surprisingly simple solutions. We’re not even halfway through the book yet but I already feel like this simple problem-solving method is a major takeaway.

The authors tell a very moving story about malnourished children in Vietnam during the 1990s. A man named Jerry Sternin was tasked with addressing this issue in a six-month time frame by not-too-friendly government officials who weren’t thrilled to have a foreign expert telling them what to do. It seemed impossible since many many experts had already spent hundreds of hours analyzing all the contributing factors and determining root causes and pointing out the systematic problems causing malnourishment, none of which Sternin could influence or change within a six month time-frame.

So Sternin did something else. He started interviewing Vietnamese moms in villages. All the kids were weighed and measured and they discovered that even in the same conditions, some kids in the village were actually not malnourished. Sternin established what moms were normally doing to feed their children and then interviewed the moms of the healthier kids to see what they were doing differently.  The moms of the healthier kids were feeding them four times a day instead of twice (not more food just spread out over four meals) and they were supplementing the rice with tiny shrimp and crab collected from the rice paddies (traditionally not fed to the kids) and mixing in sweet potato greens.

The changes were tiny and easy to replicate.

Sternin used a problem-solving method we don’t use enough: look for what’s already working and then see how we can replicate it. This is also called Positive Deviance.

This “problem-solving” method isn’t looking at the problems at all – it’s looking at the positive “bright spots” as the authors term them. How simple is that? And yet, by nature, we all tend to focus on the negative. We get mired in analyzing all the things that are wrong instead of looking at what’s already right and seeing how that could translate for us. We focus on fixing what’s broken instead of just implementing more of what’s already working.

We do the same thing when we consider our own strengths and weaknesses. Instead of focusing on what we’re already good at and continuing to hone those skills, we often bog down on trying to “fix” or improve all our weaknesses.

So the next time you feel like there’s a huge problem you’re facing, is there a way to turn the question around and say “What is working in this situation and how can I apply that to what isn’t?” It might just work.

The Definition of Hospitality


I married into a hospitable family. My husband’s parents has lots of stories to tell about the foreign exchanges students who lived with them growing up, the missionaries they’ve hosted, random kids they’ve taken in here and there. And it’s not just John’s parents but his entire extended family as well (the picture on the left is from a few years ago). A Crozier party isn’t a full-scale party unless there are some unexpected or even uninvited guests to be welcomed and squeezed in at the table. Hospitality is something that flows out of them and I find their example very inspiring.

Last Sunday at church we had an interesting discussion about how alike and how different Christians are from non-believers. We talked about the good and bad aspects of being similar to our culture and the good and bad aspects of being different from non-Christians. I was reminded that we have so much in common with every person we run into, and yet have such key differences in our lives (for example: hope).

I came home thinking that one of the things that highlights both our similarity and our difference from our culture is the call to hospitality. When you boil everything down, the willingness to engage with the other and seek common ground should be a defining mark of the Christian. It certainly was of Jesus. He engaged with anyone and everyone: women, children, Samaritans, Jews, Gentiles, healthy, sick, rich, poor – you name it.

In Transforming Conversion, Gordon Smith comes back to this theme of hospitality several times. I’ve blended some of his thoughts into a definition:

God calls us to welcome the other (Romans 15:7) in the radical hospitality of accepting the other, receiving the other, and not demanding that the other conform or change or be likable or agreeable before they are received. A crucial sign of this hospitality is that we listen to the other – which surely is an act of service . . . We listen to their story, to their joys and sorrows, to their longings and points of disillusionment . . . We respond to the other with a deep regard for persons – for who they are now, and for who they can and might become.

My in-laws welcome all kinds of people into their home without fear. If we as Christians can offer this kind of hospitality to those around us, it will allow us to highlight common ground among diverse people but it will also differentiate us by our listening and our love.

Being welcoming and really listening doesn’t have to mean large parties. You don’t have to have a perfect home and a perfect meal. It can be as simple as a conversation at the mall or work. It can mean finally meeting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to. Don’t let the idea of “hospitality” keep you from practicing it!

Dependable Strengths or Motivated Abilities Exercise

I recently got to attend a great seminar on finding your “Dependable Strengths.” It was interesting to see that the core exercise was very similar to the Motivated Abilities Pattern that Arthur Miller suggests in his book The Power of Uniqueness. Today I thought I’d repost an exercise I blogged last year with a couple updates to the instructions from this seminar.

“The surest way I have found to unlock the essence of a person is to look at what he likes to do and do well.” – Arthur Miller


Jot down at least 10 experiences you can remember that satisfy the two criteria: things you enjoyed doing and things you did well.

Be specific about these experiences. List as many details as possible about what you were doing, how you did it, who else was involved and what you felt throughout the process. Here’s a handy acronym to help you:

  • S – Situation
  • T – Task(s)
  • A – Action(s)
  • R – Result(s)

These experiences don’t have to be from a job or school. If building sandcastles as a child was something you enjoyed doing and did well, then write about that! Cleaning your closet, dancing, leading meetings – it really doesn’t matter what realm of life your accomplishments come from or how tangible/abstract they are.

When you’ve written out these ten things that you enjoyed doing and did well, you want to look at the patterns. Even if the activities themselves are widely diverse, there will probably be things about each one that are the same.

Here are some questions to help you:

  1. Do your experiences all fall into one or two general categories of interest? If not, are there other things that each experience has in common?
  2. Did you see patterns to the situation, tasks, actions you took in each scenario?
  3. Look carefully at the results you wrote down. What do they tell you about your motivations?
  4. What did you enjoy most about each activity – your actions, the social factor, the environment you were in?
  5. If you had a hard time coming up with ten things you liked doing and did well, why do you think that was?
  6. Did anything surprise you?

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you uncovered about yourself!

In which my business goes “live”

After much delay, I finally have almost everything put together on my website and feel ready to announce that I’m open for business. My Calling IQ has become more than a blog. A week ago, I got my business license and today I finally decided to quit tweaking my website and officially hang out my shingle.

So what am I doing?

  • I am now offering consulting services to individuals, couples, and corporations using The Birkman Method. Read all about it here and see what I offer here.
  • I am available for speaking engagements and seminars/workshops on topics like calling, work & faith, knowing yourself etc. You can read more about this aspect of my work here.

Why am I doing this?

  • I want to be part of transforming the work experience and the workplace for people just like me. I have seen over and over again how applicable and relevant the Birkman Method material is to real life situations at work. The information in the Birkman reports is actionable in a way that most personality tests aren’t.
  • While writing a book on calling was great, I want to provide people with opportunities to interact with me directly (whether at a speaking engagement or workshops) in the hopes that sharing my experiences will help them on their own journey of pursuing their callings.
  • I’ve wanted to run my own business for a long time now and it feels like the right time for our family. Doing this work would allow me to contribute to our income while still being at home with Canon. I’m ready for the work-at-home-mom challenge.

I would love your help.

Do you know someone who is struggling with career frustration? Friends or family who aren’t sure what direction they should be taking? Acquaintances or colleagues that are stressed or burnt-out? Maybe you’re struggling with a manager, co-worker or your whole work team? Maybe you know event planners, chapel coordinators, retreat facilitators or other people who are often looking for speakers to bring in for events and meetings. I would love to work with anyone in these scenarios and:

I need you to spread the word. Emailing your friends and sharing my website on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn or Pinterest (have I missed any?) would mean a lot to me.

Want to test out my services before you start recommending them to your friends? I’m offering a two week 20% off promotion on any services purchased to celebrate my launch (ends Friday, June 7th). Simply enter the promo code “LAUNCHPARTY” at checkout!

Seriously friends, it would mean a lot to me if you took the time to share my information with anyone you think could benefit.

Have questions? Leave a comment!

Calling in The Voice

The VoiceJohn and I have been enjoying watching “The Voice” together this season. We had never watched it before but for some reason the set-up for this reality show is more engaging than other singing shows. It’s a little less cutthroat-feeling and it’s fun to see the coaches argue with each other. It’s also interesting hearing people talk about their dreams.

In the course of the show, the contestants give mini-interviews and many of them speak about getting confirmation of their “callings” when they’re picked for the next rounds. Initially the choices are up to the coaches and then it becomes an audience voting system as the show progresses.

This gives me pause. I wonder how all the pieces really go together. Talent. Calling. Recognition, “making my dreams come true” “showing America who I am” etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great way for these people to get onto the career paths they’re looking for and affirmation of our talents is something all of us look for . . . but what happens when the validation stops? When America stops voting for you?

If voting validates your calling, what happens when the next vote sends you home?

There’s a tricky balance to handling the input we get about what we’re doing with our lives. Sometimes, its essential to hear the message from those around us because we’re deluding ourselves. Other times, we have to ignore outside opinion to continue forging ahead. We have to be careful who we lean on because I think it’s possible to have callings that no one else validates for us. Or maybe not in such a definitive way. If we wait for cues from others to move forward, we risk missing out on our callings. Knowing who you are and trusting yourself is crucial. At the same time, we can really be blind and needed wise advisers who can speak truth to us.

I see I’m back to the balance theme. Wow, I feel like that happens to me all the time (see my Nuance post?)

The contestants left on The Voice are all extremely talented people. They definitely have vocal gifts. There aren’t delusions about talent at least. But I wonder if there is still blindness about what following the music dream is supposed to look like. Should they all get record deals and start down the path of touring and concerts? Maybe but maybe not. Are they all called to serve with their voices? Probably . . . but the way those callings play out may look very different than winning The Voice – in fact for most of them it will have to look different – there is only one winner after all. Their career as artists may not follow the “path of success” they think they need to be on in order to fulfill their callings. I hope they realize that when America likes someone else a little more in the next round of voting.

So what’s our takeaway since most of us don’t have superstar singing skills we’re currently displaying on a TV show? Well, I think it’s just good to think about where we’re looking for validation. What are the things you think should happen for you to feel affirmed/confirmed in your calling? Who are the people you think should do that for you? Are they the right people? Is the affirmation or confirmation from others truly necessary? Is it possible that you’re already pre-approved by the very Person who gave you your gifts in the first place and wants you to steward them for his glory?

The Right Attitude for Living Your Calling

I’m always thinking about the lyrics when I listen to the radio. The other day I was driving home and “I won’t give up” by Jason Mraz came on the radio. It’s a fun, inspirational song, and while it’s written about a relationship, the bridge in the song moves into different territory than the majority of love songs. I like how he highlights the importance of knowing who we are and what we have to offer but then also connects that with being able to embrace diversity without falling apart.

Here’s the bridge:

I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make

Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use

The tools and gifts we got, yeah, we got a lot at stake

And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend

For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn

We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in

I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not, and who I am

I always perk up when I hear a song that expresses “calling” in some way and what I particularly like about this one is that it’s the right attitude. It says we’ve got a lot at stake but we’re going to learn. And it stands in stark contrast to another song I’ve often thought about in terms of calling: John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.”

Me and all my friends

We’re all misunderstood

They say we stand for nothing and

There’s no way we ever could

Now we see everything that’s going wrong

With the world and those who lead it

We just feel like we don’t have the means

To rise above and beat it


So we keep waiting

Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting

Waiting on the world to change


It’s hard to beat the system

When we’re standing at a distance

So we keep waiting

Waiting on the world to change


Now if we had the power

To bring our neighbors home from war

They would have never missed a Christmas

No more ribbons on their door

And when you trust your television

What you get is what you got

Cause when they own the information, oh

They can bend it all they want


That’s why we’re waiting

Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting

Waiting on the world to change


It’s not that we don’t care,

We just know that the fight ain’t fair

So we keep on waiting

Waiting on the world to change


And we’re still waiting

Waiting on the world to change

We keep on waiting waiting on the world to change

One day our generation

Is gonna rule the population

So we keep on waiting

Waiting on the world to change


Sad, isn’t it? While the lyrics resonate with me to some extent, this song has a very passive stance. Sitting back and simply being cynical doesn’t get us anywhere.

What songs inspire you to live intentionally?

Calling in Transforming Conversion

This book was so rich. I wanted to dig in more deeply here on the blog but these days, it’s hard to get the time required to do that. So here’s just another quick passage I wanted to share with you that makes an interesting connection between our conversion experience and our callings:

Thinking about Conversion“Each conversion narrative has a distinct energy to it: a focus, a movement, an emotional longing that is fulfilled, or a sense of purpose or destiny that moves the experience and thrusts the narrative forward. An honest and authentic spiritual autobiography has the potential to provide the subject with a sense of his or her own vocation and destiny. It helps one answer the question who am I? but it also gives clarity to the question what is my calling? Just as the conversion experience of the first disciples (see Luke 5) and for Paul was, essentially, both a conversion and a calling, in similar fashion many will find that their conversion experience has within it the seeds of their vocation. Reflection on their experience can give them clarity about how they are being called to engage the world.”

Smith highlights the importance of “spiritual autobiography” as a practice in noticing or seeing. He asks, what is the history of your experience with the Spirit of God? As someone who has been a Christian my whole life, I don’t feel like I have much of a story as far as my journey to Christ, but reflecting on my journey in Christ has definitely been an essential aspect of recovering a sense of my calling. Patterns and themes emerge when I look through my past experiences that clearly connect with what I’m doing with my life currently and it’s exciting to put those pieces together.

What do you think? Have you taken the time to write down or tell someone your spiritual autobiography? Have you seen themes in your own life that indicate your calling? 

3 Great Quotes from Transforming Conversion by Gordon Smith

Thinking about ConversionI don’t have time for a long post today (maybe you feel relieved about that) but as a follow up on last week’s post, I thought I’d give you some great quotes from Transforming Conversion by Gordon Smith. I didn’t have too much familiarity with the “revivalist” era of America history before this book, but it was fascinating to see where our evangelical culture came from. While Smith does point out that our revivalist heritage has some great benefits, he spends most of the first chapter critiquing how it distorted our understanding of salvation and conversion.

One of the noteworthy features of the language of revivalism is that the words conversion and salvation are used synonymously. This means, for example, that those within the movement are inclined to use the language of salvation almost entirely in the past tense (one is “saved”), and this reference to being saved is directly linked to some action that the person in question has taken . . . Conversion is certainly a human activity, but God alone saves.

Thinking salvation was just a one-time event of conversion allowed room for other issues like thinking that all that mattered was getting saved so you could go to Heaven.

As a result, conversion is oriented toward the afterlife, toward one’s postdeath experience rather than toward transformation for life and work now, in the present world, in anticipation of what is coming . . .

What is alarming is the failure to appreciate how conversion is as much about this life as the next. It is as much about becoming who we are called to be now, women and men who through an experience of God’s saving grace are enabled to be now, in this life, thoroughly and redemptively engaged with our world.

I love this. I wrote a big “AMEN!” in the margins (duh! He’s talking about us being called!). Sometimes it feels like evangelism efforts are targeted solely at counting conversion prayers and getting people into Heaven, when there’s really so much more to it than that. Smith writes that there is:

Dynamic tension between arrival and beginning. Through conversion we come home, we find ourselves and we find God, and we know the salvation of God (we are saved), but this “arrival” is a point of departure for the rest of the Christian life. Conversion is both arrival and departure simultaneously, and our new language of conversion must not only assure us that we are the children of God but also remind us that the journey has just begun, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, looking forward to the day of our salvation.

Just the first chapter really made me think a lot about how we talk about the whole conversion process and experience. Do you have any reactions to these quotes? Thoughts on the conversion experience?

Thinking about Conversion

Thinking about ConversionI’ve been a Christian my whole life so “conversion” isn’t really something I know a lot about firsthand. I meant to start a series on Transforming Conversion by Gordon Smith last month but I’m actually happy I’m diving in now. Writing up my series on going Paleo showed me a bunch of parallels because it’s a process of conversion to a new way of eating. Going Paleo has actually helped me understand better what it takes for people to even contemplate beginning a journey into faith in Christ.

In Smith’s book, he talks about how unhelpful it is to talk about conversion experiences like it they are one-time events where someone prays the sinner’s prayer. In evangelical circles we’re taught evangelism “techniques” where just getting someone to pray the prayer is the goal (not always but I’d say it’s a widely held assumption that the most successful witnessing will end in a “repeat after me” prayer). The point is we don’t focus on the process. And it is a process. Usually a LONG process. Smith notes that a British study in the 1990s concluded that the average conversion process was four years long!

I heard about Paleo more than three years before I really started contemplating it seriously. The first time it was explained to me, I thought, “No way!” because it sounded so restrictive and so foreign to the way I was eating at that time. The person who explained it to me didn’t pressure me to start eating that way right now. He just told me what he was doing. It was an introduction to an alternate way of living but there were no strings attached. I could walk away from the idea (and I did for awhile), but at least I was now aware of it when it cropped up again in other times and places.

Smith quotes J.I. Packer that conversion:

“is best understood if viewed as a complex process that for adults ordinarily involves the following: thinking and re-thinking; doubting and overcoming doubts; soul-searching and self-admonition; struggle against feelings of guilt and shame; and concern as to what realistic following of Christ might mean.”

The most interesting phrase for me is “what realistic following of Christ might mean.” Smith rejects “The revivalist propensity toward making it easy and simple, uncomplicated and not costly” to convert to Christianity and calls us, “to turn from the inclination to be minimalists when it comes to what a person needs to know in order to come to faith.” It is complicated and it does cost us something so it’s important to have a firm understanding of what you’re getting yourself into.

Using the Paleo example: changing our eating habits was neither easy, simple or cheap. It required a lot of research, extra time for meal planning and shopping, extra time prepping meals and complicated our relationship while we figured things out. And as soon as you start something like this, you get push back from those around you who are not doing what you’re doing. Seriously, I’m starting to see how hard it is to “convert” to something that most people don’t believe in.

This reminds me why friends who walk with you on your journey are so vital. I’ve found a few Paleo friends. This has been helpful in being able to swap notes/recipes and feel normal as we start walking against the cultural stream. You need friend with the same beliefs because other people will feel threatened by your change. You’ll get “conventional wisdom” thrown at you repeatedly with “the facts” which based on your new research and experience, you’re finding out aren’t really “the facts” at all.

Having a few friends who can encourage you is essential so that you don’t feel isolated or start doubting what you have learned. It’s easy to think you might be wrong when it feels like “how could so many other people not know this?” or more scarily “how could so many doctors not see this?”

However, I find in myself a great reluctance to start delving into the details of everything that’s wrong with gluten or high fructose corn syrup or vegetable oils. I recognize that no one is really asking to listen to a detailed lecture and giving one isn’t going to change their minds. Plus, I don’t want to turn into a zealot. The most I hope to do is intrigue people to explore the idea for themselves. Which makes me wonder if that kind of attitude has any crossover value into the world of “witnessing and evangelizing.”

Even though we’ve been eating 80% Paleo for a long time, I would shrink from saying “I’m Paleo” as a status yet. Maybe I will feel comfortable with that in the future but for now I feel like there are still too many non-Paleo items in our diet for us to be “legit.” This makes me wonder if there are many people who are seeking Christ, yet fear to claim the title of “Christian” because their life still doesn’t quite line up with what they have heard is expected of them. We’re often so concerned about “Are you or aren’t you a Christian?” and I’m wondering if this is really the right question to be asking. This is where the parallel breaks down, of course, because while a full commitment to Paleo is not required of me from some higher authority, eventually you have to come to terms with the fact that Christ wants you to love him with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and if you love him you will obey his commands. Jesus does ask for all of you.

However, I think the point about status is something that we in the church should consider. Smith writes:

“The language of revivalism has left us with a vacuum here because of its focus on conversion as punctiliar: a person either is or is not a Christian, in or out. We do not know how to speak meaningfully about those who are coming to faith.”

“We need to be able to speak with simplicity and frankness about how a person can come to faith in Christ, but we also need to be able to live with the complexity of it all, with the ambiguity of religious experience, with the fact that many are ‘on the way’ and that their coming to faith may take months or even years. The church needs to be a place where this transitional status is okay, a safe place for those who have no previous Christian identity or orientation as well as for those who have been raised in the church and who are, through the grace of God, coming to an adult affirmation of their faith.”

How can we welcome people to explore first without requiring, expecting or assuming an upfront commitment? If we learn best by doing, can we encourage participation by everyone regardless of their “in” or “out” status? What kind of implications does this have for us?


A Student’s Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

I was organizing in the office last night (you can expect a new “organizing the house” blog post on that coming up soon – the transformation is in the works) and I finally sat down and went through all my paperwork to at least sort it into piles. Wow – I’m a paper hoarder. It’s my weakness. I can’t bear to throw away articles I might reference again, notes I took long ago that might provide some insight later. I get all nostalgic about pages containing brainstormed ideas for projects long completed. Maybe it’s a bit narcissistic (ok, it totally is) but I love rereading my old thoughts and seeing the roots out of which later writings grew.

Anyway . . . all that as a long introduction to a prayer I wanted to share with you today. It was in my pile of notes and it’s something I had propped up at the computer when I was writing the rough draft for my book and I prayed it before sitting down to write every night of that month. I think I first ran across it in Mrs Storr’s English or Creative Writing class in high scool. Sometimes it’s so comforting to pray with someone else, to use someone’s else words. This prayer gave me the words I needed and probably wouldn’t have found on my own.

The Student’s Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

The Student's Prayer

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.

I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hope this prayer is inspiring and helpful to you today with whatever you’re working on. We may not be formal students anymore but I think it’s still applicable even in our most basic daily conversations.