Monday, 31 May 2010

People First

I wrote a blog entry on 1 November 2009 where I promoted putting people ahead of balancing the financial books. Schultz (2009) in his Foreword to “It's not about the coffee” wrote "we are in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people" (p xi). It is easy to miss the significance of this statement. The focus is that people are put first and not the business of providing coffee.

Behar (2009) in his preface to the book reinforces this people emphasis when he says "Without the people who buy, roast, deliver, prepare, and serve the coffee, we wouldn't have Starbucks" (p xvii). The people make the business and not the business making the people.

Behar contends that even in the tough times, "It is the people who have the creativity, energy, and passion to move us forward" (p xviii). The business doesn't run itself. The ideas come from people. The people make things work. Without people nothing would happen. People make the difference.

He further emphasises this when he says "You can't retreat to success. You can't retrench to success. You need to reach toward success which means the honouring of people who will take you there, treating them not as assets but as creative human beings" (pp xviii-xvix). If we don't foster an environment where people feel valued and enabled then we will not see their creativity at work. Enabling a person's capacity comes from a sense of belonging, of being able to contribute, and genuinely feel accepted in the organisation.

Behar observes that his parents taught him that people survived the Great Depression because of the help that they received from others (p xx). His parents never talked of blame for the depression. The focus of his parents was on "how they managed and what they did to make their lived work" (p xx). I wonder whether this is our attitude now?

Behar (2009) contends "If you grow people, the people grow the business," arguing that "If your people are better human beings, they'll be better partners of the company" (p 2). By treating customers as people, you will establish a better relationship with them. The people factor in a business or any operation can't be ignored.

In his list of principles, he argues that you should do things because it's right and "not because it's right for your résumé" (p 5). I echo this principle in relationship to teaching. So often teaching is treated as secondary to research because research gains Kudos and résumé credits but teaching doesn't. My future is at risk because I am failing on research targets. Failing to do what I know is right in respect to teaching, leads to dealing with disgruntled students and activities that distract from the teaching role.

Another of his principles is knowing who you are or wearing one hat (p 5). What he means is that we should remain true "to a deeper sense of ourselves and our values" (p 12). This is about being "consistent with oneself." This he contends leads us to feel good about expectations of others but act true to who we are as a person. In discussing his own development, he says "He showed me that by faking it - by changing myself to meet the expectations of others - I was preventing myself from doing what I did best" (p 15). "I needed to learn how to bring my emotions to work so they could work for me and could inspire others" (p 15).

It is easy to get caught up in a system that seems to pressure us to produce a certain type of result or output and forget that when people come asking for help, they really need our time and abilities. In teaching, it is easy to give the student seeking help a solution rather than to spend the time helping them to work through the problem so that they come to the solution themselves. If we are truly people focused then we will spend the time helping the learner to understand rather than providing the learner with answers.

What will be important in research is the improvement that it brings to people's lives rather than the kudos or résumé points that we gain. Tomorrow, I travel to another university to present my research findings and in late June, I will go to a conference. Why do I go? I am partly looking for people who are interested in the research that I am doing but I am also hopeful that some may actually want to use my research to improve their teaching. I know that the conference will count as a research output and that publishing journal articles will count as research outputs but my selection of the conferences and journals is more about who the likely readers are and whether the readers will benefit from what I write. My work has to be for the benefit of people and not for the kudos accrued through producing research outputs. After all, I chose my line of research not because it was a high profile area but because it would help me in my teaching and working with students.

As I look toward the production of games for learning, the same applies. I want to ensure that the games open up the desired space of learning rather than whether they will bring in lots of acknowledgement.


Howard Schultz (2009) Foreword. In Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.

Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Why did we come this far?

We have just passed eleven months since we packed up everything and moved to the United Kingdom. Since the teaching year is also drawing to a close, it seems to be a good time for reflection. Not much has gone as we had planned on this journey but that doesn't mean everything has gone wrong. There are positives and negatives in this journey.

Why did we come this far? The primary focus was to spend more time with our daughter and her family. That has certainly happened. The second reason was to find meaningful work that allowed me to continue what I had started over the last few years both with teaching and research. There has also been some progress here.

But and the are big buts, next weekend, our daughter and her family move to the US. This means an end to the regular family gatherings that have occurred since our son arrived in December. In some respects this is sad because of the growing relationships that have been developing. However, that is were our son-in-law's work is taking them so off they go.

On the work front, there is still long term uncertainty. My current contract at the University of Birmingham ends on 20 June but they have indicated a willingness to extend it for twelve months. That takes some of the pressure off financially but not in terms of making research progress. I have to meet with the head of school and discuss my interests.

The housing is also uncertain. We continue to rent when we would prefer to purchase but where should we purchase when we don't know how long we will remain in this area? We are thinking that we may purchase regardless of the uncertainty simply to give us a better base to work from and there are other reasons now to stay in Birmingham.

What has become clearer is the focus for my research and work. Some of this has been reflected in recent blogs. From a research perspective, the use of variation theory to plan opportunities for learning is now a major focus. This applies to my teaching of introductory programming and agile practices, and to a training system for cycling commissaires. This builds on the work that I did for my PhD thesis.

I am also looking at how to apply variation theory to foster more fundamental rethinking of assumptions and philosophies in society. This comes from my commitment to the good news of Jesus and of bring form God's kingdom in shalom. The world wide financial crisis and the recent election here in the UK, have helped push this forward again in my thinking but possibly of even greater influence is my reading on anabaptist spirituality and my attendance at Workshop. My current reading (McLaren 2007) sums it up in the books title, “everything must change.” If everything must change then what lays the foundation for the new structures? How do you foster the type of thinking required to usher in the new understanding of these issues?

Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet that seems to be what our politicians and economists want to do. Somehow we have to help change the underlying assumptions and frameworks used in western society. Someone needs to exploring the alternatives and the variations in thinking that will bring the fundamental change. These need to be presented in ways that stimulate grass roots change. Here I believe variation theory and possibly serious games can make a difference. There is much work to be done in this domain to understand what works and how to make a game of this nature that inspires people to play it and to allow it to challenge their thinking.

This isn't about brain washing. It is about helping people to look at alternatives from all perspectives and to understand the issues that need to be addressed and the alternate systems that may be put in place. The goal is to challenge underlying assumptions without alienating the learner.

What I do now with programming or commissaire training is simply laying a foundation for the greater challenge. Who wants to join me on this journey?


McLaren, B. D. (2007). everything must change: When the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Economic Revolution

The BBC website starts an article with this opening statement, “Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has promised the "biggest shake-up of our democracy" in 178 years as he sets out plans for political reform.” Supposedly the government is looking at a “power revolution” and is willing to relinquish control. Yes, the British political system probably does need a shake up but is it really going to address the real problems of our current period in history? This is supposedly power to the people but what about an economic revolution!

I propose a complete overhaul of economic thinking. As long as the focus of economic thinking is on balancing books and profit ahead of benefit or value to people or the world, we are going to continue to have social and environmental problems. The assumptions behind a lot of economic thinking is that resources are unlimited and that people are simply disposable resources.

The focus on economic thinking has to change to putting benefit and value to the world, including people, ahead of profit. It needs to focus on the welfare of the planet and the people ahead of financial benefit and on having sustainable resource utilisation. Recycling should be part of the standard approach to doing business and not an additional cost factor which can be discarded if there is not enough profit margin.

A focus on balancing the government books has to be more than the monetary income exceeding the expenditure. It needs to include the environmental, social, community, health, and welfare costs. If we need to spend billions to correct the excesses and destruction caused by past economic thinking then we need to be willing to pay that cost regardless of whether traditional economic principles are being broken.

If we really want to solve the world's problems then traditional economics needs to be pushed aside and we need to look at the destructive costs to the environment, people, and culture caused by our focus on profitability. Let us examine how to live a balanced and equitable life style not based on financial accounting but on the welfare and living standards of our planet.

So politicians, when are we going to see the economic revolution that will bring us to a new ecological and social order?


BBC News website (2010) “Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832”, From

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What drives our decisions?

What influences my decisions and the way that I live? Am I more concerned about how others might think about me or am I more focused on what God desires of me?

For the Anabaptist, it was what God desires of them. They referred to this as “fear of God.” The “fear of God” is a motivation for consistent living of biblical faith rather than a fear of penalty. They had real motivation to stand firm in your beliefs despite the pressures from surrounding visible society. The Anabaptists went to their deaths at the hands of human authorities rather than turn from their beliefs. Their “fear of God” exceeded their fear of human authority. The human authority may take this life from us but God can condemn us for the rest of eternity. When you hold such a belief, fearing God takes priority.

Snyder (2004) describes the Anabaptist attitude when he says “God, the almighty creator of heaven, earth and of all things on earth, is a living God who has promised salvation to those who repent, return to him and obey him. He also has promised judgement and condemnation for those who persist in unbelief and self-willed disobedience” (p 31). While I don't hold any more to the gospel of salvation in the life to come, I do see God's salvation as being worked out in this life. In the prayer that Jesus taught, he said “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That isn't about a future salvation but of a new kingdom coming now. One that lives according to God's will and purpose. This new kingdom issues in God's shalom, an active peace that works for reconciliation. Those who fear God ahead of all else, will seek to live out this new kingdom in this age. The “fear of God” in this context is the only door to salvation and obedience to his commands.

The Anabaptist attitude is often illustrated with the story of Dirk Willems who was escaping from his persecutors when one of the chasers fell through the ice, Dirk returned to help his chaser. He knew that his return to assist would mean his arrest and death but Jesus command was to “love your enemies” so Dirk returned, was arrested and was burnt to death for his beliefs.

Snyder summarises this as “The 'fear of God' is the biblical door that stands at the beginning of the path back to God because it describes the necessary attitude and frame of mind needed to get reality back into proper focus” (p 32). That is any pressure from this world to turn from God and what he desires of us are seen as of little consequence compared with what God desires of us.

Howard Behar (2009) talks of being true to oneself. When we fear society and the views of others then we will act to reduce our fear of their opinions and views and be inconsistent to ourselves. Being true to ourselves helps build confidence and provides inner peace.

For the Anabaptist, the fear of God provides the foundation for being true to oneself. The fear of God is the first principle of Anabaptist spirituality. Everything else is subordinate to this principle.

The second principle is to treat all people as equals. No person is regarded as having authority over an Anabaptist believer. God and his principles come first. All persons are subservient to God and should be treated as equals (Snyder 2004, pp 33-35). God treats all people as equals and so should the believer.

The next principle is that of repentance. In the Anabaptist view, we can choose to be disobedient to God's will but if we fear God then we will only sin inadvertently. When we become aware of our sin, we should immediately repent and God will forgive. Snyder quotes Joost de Tollenner who says “Have God always before your eyes in all your ways and seek to please Him with an upright heart; and God shall be with you, and have compassion upon your weakness, and look past your sin when it comes upon you unawares through ignorance \and misapprehension” (p 37). If God is before our eyes then we will endeavour to act in accordance with what we believe he desires and true to ourselves.

This leads directly to the idea of yielding to God's will and “what God wishes to accomplish through one's life” (p 41). The 'fear of God' clearly leads to this willingness to yield to God's will. It also reflects a belief in the integrity of God and that God will not treat those who trust in him unfairly. There is, however, a willingness to accept suffering at the hands of others because there is a focus on God. The willingness to suffer is also accepted because Christ suffered and showed willingness to suffer (p 45). If Christ was rejected by the world, should the believer expect it to be any different.

The Anabaptist understanding of faith, works, and salvation is based on the belief that if a person has accepted Christ as their saviour and his redemptive action on the cross then they will seek to live out that faith in what they do and say. The Anabaptist faith comes from the belief "that Christ must be born in the heart of every believer (by grace through faith), and that this birth was a transforming power that produced actual (not imputed) righteousness" (p 52). Faith must be accompanied by a transforming power leading to living "a new life as a condition" for our commuted sentence. That is Christ didn't die that the believer might continue as they had always been. If a person accepts the free gift of power to change the way that they live then salvation is not separable from a change in lifestyle.

Belief isn't an add on to a Christian life. It is the beginning of a transforming Christian life. Our acceptance of God's gift of salvation is proven "by means of concrete response and action" (p 54). God's grace "is a living power that actually transforms sinners, here and now" (p 55). God's grace isn't passive, it is active in transforming the person who accepts that grace. As a consequence God's grace will be evident in the life of the believer.

The Hutterites express this in their writings as people "can never be born again until they hear the Word in their hearts and obey it, as Christ taught us" (p 60). The acceptance of this life changing grace is a covenant decision and not something that God forces on us. He makes it freely available to us. We can decide to accept or reject it.

For the Anabaptist scripture is lived out in the believer's life. Although they were clear on the biblical support for their actions, the memorisation of scripture was so that it become a living part of their lives and not something to be quoted as and when required. "The very essence of the spiritual walk, then, is to be prepared to follow after Christ in word and deed. This is done, not out of heroic acts of the will, but by the power of God, born of God's living Word in the heart" (p 63).

This ability to live out the faith stems from "the presence of God" in the believer's life (p 64). Snyder contends that "The experienced presence of God is to be sought in repentance and submission to God ... In the second place, the presence of God defines the experience of rebirth without which, the Anabaptists maintained, there could be no new life" (p 64). Faith is about coming into the presence of God and allowing God to transform everything about our lives. For the anabaptist, God's presence wasn't "one of ineffable rapture," a feeling of contentment and peace, "God's presence was an experienced power that led them to repentance, to a new life in community and to a Christ-like life in the world. It was God's immediate presence and power that strengthened them in the midst of their suffering" (p 66).


C. Arnold Snyder (2004) Following in the footsteps of Christ: The anabaptist tradition. New York: Orbis Books.

Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Hung parliament or Negotiated Government

The British election has ended with no clear party having a majority. The term being used is that there is a hung parliament and that it will be ineffective because no one party can carry out its manifesto. There are rumours that even if a majority coalition is formed that the government will not last its full term. Why such fear and scaremongering? Clearly the people didn't want all the policies of any party. They want some blend of the policies. The parties need to get on and govern looking for the common ground and negotiating for policy decisions.

The foundation for these fears and the attitudes expressed is that of confrontation and domination. If I have the majority then I must be right and you must be wrong. You will acquiesce to my decisions. Wake up, none of us have all the answers. We need to learn the art of listening and negotiating and move away from confrontational politics. We also need to be questioning the assumptions that form our opinions and expectations.

Parliament is a place where a standard can be set for society. If we have confrontation at the top then we should expect it throughout society. If we have leaders who are prepared to listen and learn then society has a chance of also listening and learning.

My call is that the parties making up the new parliament come to agreement on who will lead the government and who will fill the ministerial posts. Let them look for the best person to fill the position and not simply the person who belongs to a particular party. The person who takes up the Prime Minister role is the person who can get the groups to work together. Let them not form a fixed coalition but rather negotiate in order to achieve specific goals, objectives, and solutions. Let them look for ways to resolve problems rather than argue over problems. Let them also recognise that the majority isn't always right. The minority also needs a voice.

Above all else, any call for new elections is a recognition of failure on the part of the elected MPs.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

What God can do with us?

Barclay (1975) commenting on Paul's attitude to ministry as written in Romans 15:14-21 says “It is when a man ceases to think of what God can do with him, that things began to happen” (p 203). I see many people looking for what they can do for God, often with the result of driving others away. There is an egotism in thinking of what we can do.

God has equipped us; he has given us skills and talents; he has put us in particular contexts. God does these things so that he can do things with us. We are in these contexts because of what He wants to do with us and not because of what we can do.

How many battles do we have to go through before we realise that God will reveal to us what he wants us to do if we will wait on Him rather than push ahead with our great plans and schemes.

As I write this, I am reminded of Colsen's (2006) book where the main character begins to learn to respond to situations that are around him. It is the response to our current situation that makes the real difference. This means developing our personal relationship with Jesus and learning to hear His voice in each situation of each day.

Jesus advised his disciples not to prepare a defence but that they would be given what to say when the time came. How much do we believe that God can give us the words and direction for each day? We might think we can plan our day but each day, we are faced with new and unexpected opportunities. Can we really plan for them? All we can do is trust that God will give us the words that we need and has given us the knowledge to know how to respond. God uses parts of our journey to prepare us for what lies ahead.


Barclay, W. (1975). The letter to the Romans (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Colsen, J. (2006). So you don't want to go to church any more: An unexpected journey. Los Angeles: Windblown Media.