DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Small but sustainable

Written by: on November 29, 2018

Scott Galloway’s book, The Four, is a dystopian vision of our world run by the Four Horsemen of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. They read our mail, they track our steps, they know in advance what we will purchase, they listen in on our conversations. They know our political convictions, they lurk among our network of relationships: friends, family, and even those that offend us who are blocked. They suggest movies and songs and news media and ways home that we will “love”. They anticipate the questions we are asking that we haven’t dared yet ask out loud. They know us better than we know ourselves. And this is a scary proposition that has crept up upon us while we were sleeping.

All four of these horsemen are driven by the insatiable quest for More, driven by the raging fear of irrelevance. I will resurrect a Mad Men theme here in recalling our first term when we had drinks with Don Draper[1].

“In Season 5 of Mad Men, ad man Don Draper declares in a pitch, “Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary. You get hungry even though you’ve just eaten . … You’re happy because you’re successful — for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” There is no such thing as enough. No matter how much luxury or love you accumulate, that feeling of insufficiency doesn’t ever go away. Draper is perhaps the best example of a character who had it all, but spent every waking minute craving something different and potentially greater — fearing stagnancy above all else.”[2]

Can I underline at this moment in this blog post, dear friend Mike, how satanic this is? The Four are driven by the need to acquire 100% of our lives under their domination. I alluded to this voracious appetite unleashed on our world in my recent “Globalism and the Tower of Babel” post[3]. World domination through Empire is the agenda of the evil one. Poor Don Draper epitomizes our sad, exhausted age.

St Paul counsels a different pathway: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[4] Jeff Bezos doesn’t live by the simple rule that small may be good. But small may be very good, as long as it is sustainable and giving life.

Now, this post up to now has focused on the dark side of world domination by the Four. What vestiges of glory can be found even in the darkness of Empire? Without a doubt, each one of the top four have risen to greatness through a creative challenging of the status quo and a brilliant execution to take advantage of their moment in history and the convergence of multiple advantages.

For Apple, for instance, it was small but powerful batteries with a long life, an insatiable need by consumers for data on demand, a mobile society, the inclusion of a personal, high-quality camera, the migration to cellphones from landlines, the integration with social media, music and video, and amazingly simple, yet beautiful, design. Galloway says the risks are real: “Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.”[5] You take what converges, and creatively propose a solution.

Today, I participated in an invitation to a fellow named Shaun to join us on campus to explore the concept of social innovation for our small, impoverished university community as a pathway forward for sustainability and mission fulfillment. A group of ten of us met throughout the day to brainstorm possibilities led by this leader who has witness social innovation transform impoverished fly-in communities of the Cree First Nation in northern Manitoba. His book, An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy outlines his dream that is taking root.[6]

As Edwin Friedman stated, reframing questions is a key activity that is required to exit the swamp.[7] As a leadership team, we are now grappling with the risks of upending the entire university model and creating a new type of socially innovative community going forward. Learning from Apple, we know that we must experiment or die. When we fail to risk, we invest in continued irrelevance and eventual death. Refusing to reframe questions means staying stuck.

Being faithfully present in a small town, however, means more than being static. It requires a willingness to risk it all to serve through social innovations unleashed. The goal is not world domination, just sustainable livelihood at the margins of Canadian society, contributing real value and an invitation to transformation. This is God at work and released through us and through the renewed institutions at hand.

_____________________________

[1] https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/drinks-with-don-draper/

[2] Sadaf Ahsan, “What If All of This is Enough?”, National Post, November 26, 2018. https://nationalpost.com/entertainment/television/how-amazons-forever-asks-what-if-this-were-enough.  Accessed on November 29, 2019.

[3] https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/globalism-and-the-tower-of-babel/

[4] Philippians 4:11-13, NRSV.

[5] Scott Galloway, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (New York: Portfolio, 2017), 37.

[6] Shaun Loney, An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy (Shaun Loney, 2016).

[7] Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 38.

About the Author

mm

Mark Petersen

Mark Petersen is the CEO of Stronger Philanthropy, a Canadian firm specializing in maximizing family philanthropy. He leads a diverse group of visionary individuals, foundations and organizations to collaborate in leveraging wealth for charitable impact.

16 responses to “Small but sustainable”

  1. Great post, Mark!

    Thanks for sharing about your new tactics and journey for the university. I’m excited to see it all unfold. You mention that, “As a leadership team, we are now grappling with the risks of upending the entire university model and creating a new type of socially innovative community going forward. Learning from Apple, we know that we must experiment or die.” Galloways would commend you and remind you that, “When brainstorming for new ideas, entrepreneurs have a tendency to focus on what can be added – how to enhance the experience – instead of what can be taken away, thus making it less painful” (Galloway 2018, 1790. Change is not only what we add, but what we take away. How have you determined what needs to go in order to make room for new innovation?

    • Colleen,

      I love the idea that for innovation to happen, we also must stop doing something we are currently doing. (I often ask that same question to charities proposing an innovative solution when they are seeking funding.) We will be grappling with this question in the months ahead.

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Mark,
    I will write more tomorrow, but wanted to give you a quick commendation and Praise the Lord for seeing and discerning the real threat.

    Ministry at the margins is an excellent way of describing how in God’s economy, He uses all things for our good and His glory while still advancing the Gospel of Christ.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  3. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Mark,
    Wonderful insight to our reading this week. To be honest I am most intrigued by the idea of a new model for higher education. As a father of 3, one in college two soon to be the ability to pay for this is sometimes overwhelming. My wife works for a university in a consultant role and the cost seem ever spiraling. The common person will soon be completely priced out of education as Galloway wrote. It will just be for the extra ordinary or already wealthy and something must be done.

    Thanks
    Jason

  4. mm M Webb says:

    Mark,
    Doing “all things through Him who strengthens me” is the key for living in the digital, pre-apocalypse age. I like that you covered both sides of Paul’s “having plenty and being in need” context of how to live in this world. So, I guess you are saying that it does not really matter if it is the 1st Century or the 21st Century, abacus or quantum computers, as Christians our position in Christ is still the same. Right?
    Yes, Satan rules in this world, within the permissive limits established by God, and knowing he has already been defeated by Christ, and knowing his time is limited before he Christ returns. Wow! I think of how Boris and Natasha on Rocky and Bullwinkle portrayed an evil vs good theme. No matter how many times he was defeated, Boris always kept trying to do evil but was always ultimately defeated by good.
    Thanks for being our shining light for advancing God’s Kingdom in the margins of Canadian society.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • It’s been a long time since I’ve considered Boris and Natasha, or the Jetsons for that matter!! 😉 But I remember them! I wonder how many in our cohort can say that?

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Greg says:

    Nice words…appreciated the hope in the midst of those that are profiting from habits. I was recently in a meeting that talked about the decline of smaller universities and that there is a move to provide education for free…it was also a group interested in finding an avenue for a university to survive. How does a small university survive in a world where larger entities are giving away the product because they have sponsors or other revenue streams?
    This quote hit me:
    “Being faithfully present in a small town, however, means more than being static..” I am at a meeting this week with people that reminded me that life is about relationship and true relationship takes more time then we usually want. I suppose what I read in my own life was that there are time that life seems to be static but that slow movement is still movement. (and busy activity isn’t alway moving forward). I am sure you have to be intentional in your plans. I know that was a bunch of ramblings but I appreciated the way your blog made me reflect.

    • Yes I am being more and more drawn into the local, into the small, into the incremental… and finding it all quite refreshing and an expression of God’s kingdom organically sprouting on earth in a sustainable and true way.

  6. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Mark,

    I was struck by this statement in your opening paragraph; “They know us better than we know ourselves.” Isn’t that what we have always heard about God and our ultimate relationship with the divine? I had not thought of ‘The Four’ this way until you slipped that line in there. But, perhaps this is why they have grown so enormous and powerful – they truly have usurped the need for God in the lives of many.

    I think you are correct that ‘The Four’ have a need to “acquire 100% of our lives under their domination”, but it seems that many of us also have needs that enable that to happen. Satanic? Yes – absolutely. The enemy has come as an angel of light and we have blasted open the door permitting him into our lives.

    While those of us in this program and others like it may be alert to this issue, do you think there is any hope for those that have become so enamored with contemporary life and also become disinterested in what Christianity has to offer?

    • Dan,

      Yes I think there is hope for all of us who are so embedded into tech and disinterested in faith. Such a life is thin gruel and ultimately meaningless. I have hope that when confronted with life’s crises that people will find God again. His love pursues us all; I think it will find them too.

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    So Mark, you present an interesting dilemma between your post and the imagery that was in this reading; how do you feel the average community business fares against the growing monsters that were mentioned here. Financially, they are slowly being squeezed out.

    • Yes. I think the average community business hates the big time players because they consume so voraciously. Look at how Walmart decimated the downtowns of small towns by building big boxes at the interstate exits. We need to learn to shop local to honour those in our midst who are trying to make a decent living.

  8. Chris Pritchett says:

    Mad Men, Friedman, and such eloquence. Hats off to you and this post. And man…social innovation in St. John?! We are going to have to share stories. Cool stuff happening here and to know you’re getting in on local work (beyond your current large portfolio of social innovation granting) is so exciting to me.

  9. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Mark,
    I really appreciated your focus on this idea of “enough” and bringing in the Don Draper reference. I think this is a key concept for our contemporary situation in North America. What a challenge this is, as all of these tech companies are assuring us that we don’t quite have enough, and just need a little bit more…

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