Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Plagiarism 101

For all of you that know my story I think most of you would agree that I have seen my fair share of stressful situations. In spite of all of my near death experiences there may be one that sticks out in my mind as being the most memorable. It is not the time I fell on a bow saw in third grade cutting my neck wide open, nor is it the time I thought to my self, “If fish can breath underwater why can’t I.” For the record, nearly drowning is off my to do list. No, one of the most death defying events in my life happened when my mouth engaged before my brain and I said the wrong thing to the wrong person. You are also wrong when you sit there reading this and are laughing while waiting to see what I said to my wife. Granted I have said many things to my wife that would be classified as brave, dangerous, or down right stupid, but these pale in comparison to this, my most death-defying action. I looked a librarian in the eye and said these words,”the key to innovation is plagiarism.” Yep, I said it. With that look that only a librarian can produce with a finger up to their lips and eyes that could bore a hole to China in seconds she looked at me and said, “excuse me?”. Yes, I did it. I repeated myself. What is interesting is after explaining myself, she had to agree with me. So I lived to write this blog.

I work with folks all the time who struggle with getting their message across. They spend no time at all on their message or way to much time trying to find a new way to tell their story. There are other organizations that are chiseling their message in stone and are looking for another chisel. What’s funny about this is the dyslexic guy knows there are less than 40 possible plots for any story. Some say there are only four plots. So for starters, if you tell a story you just changed the characters. 

Contrary to popular belief, I am not fond of making mistakes. Especially the ones that hurt me or other people. It kills me to watch people make mistakes that are avoidable. Understanding current and past history is a great way to learn from others’ mistakes and not repeat them. Learning from others’ mistakes is usually simpler and protects us and those we affect. My dad always says learning is what happens when you read the manual and an education is what you get when you don’t. Maybe you need to be dyslexic like me to find the humor in the statement that “plagiarism is copying anyone without giving them credit”. Well, quite frankly I can’t even spell the Ikea guy’s name who wrote the directions when putting together their furniture (how do you give the guy credit if you can’t even spell the guy’s name??). Yet I am supposed to copy whatever he drew on the directions?

I think I am done rambling and ready to get to the point. Every successful advertising campaign, leadership fad, program, fill in the blank has one thing in common. It worked before with another name. All that someone did is make it understandable to a new audience or generation. So if your company, organization or church is having a herd time getting your message across, take a look back and see when it quit working, then look at your audience and see how they are communicating and tweak the message as needed. Take a close look at others that are successfully communicating and copy it with your unique signature. A great example is  missions. Many churches across the country are struggling with declining numbers. Their message and actions haven’t changed in decades and they are confused why they aren’t getting anywhere. They do this while supporting missionaries around the world that have churches that are growing and thriving. The churches that take the basic principles of the missionaries they support are also growing and thriving. When fire professionals take basic pastoral care principles and apply them to people effected by disasters, people are thankful and calm. When the old, cold tactics are implemented, people are angry and frustrated. See? The key to innovation is plagiarism. Take what works and use it to positively change lives without hurting people or yourself. Within your area of influence it is considered innovative. For those who understand history, it is wise. Just don’t tell the librarian.

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Monday, August 20, 2018

Staying onTarget

Last week I had one of those nights in parenting that could have gone horribly wrong. I did take my own advice and I took a deep breath, thought the situation through, waited to open my mouth until I was sure I would say something intelligent, useful and educational. We have all been there as parents and as kids, when something didn’t go right and someone jumps to the worse case scenario and freaks out as if being on fire without a fire extinguisher would be better then what they are encountering. Like freaking out has ever helped anything ever, yet it is the go-to for most people in perceived stressful situations. So as things seemed to be going downhill fast, I looked at Peter, who wasn’t sure if he should be concerned or not, and said, “it’s usually the little things that cause trouble, don’t think worse case.” He said OK as we are driving home with randomly dimming headlights, surging engine, gauges flickering and way more wacky things happening that would make any movie special effects coordinator happy as could be. For the three of us in the truck, we were thinking about the possible long walk home. Peter was wondering how he was going to pay for repairs and/or get to the fishing tournament that was on the schedule that week, with a truck that was behaving like the leading character in a horror movie. However, Peter trusted my word and as we made it home we agreed to take a good look at it in the morning and then see if it was ok to get concerned about it.

Five years earlier, Peter and I went through an interesting chain of events that taught both of us a lot about looking at the whole situation before jumping to conclusions. When he was eleven years old, Peter bought a new bow for his first year of archery hunting. Over the last two years he had worked diligently to gain the needed proficiency and strength to go deer bow hunting. There are some out there who love to say this is too young, but the trouble with objective standards is age has little to do with them. The fact was that he was ready and his older brother and I were not. Peter had a consistent three inch group from all shooting locations out to 30 yards. On our first trip to the stand we were two and a half hours into the hunt when a deer walked in at 12 yards. My heart was pounding like never before as Peter stood up and aimed like he had been hunting forever. He gave me the nod and I gave a grunt, the deer stopped and Peter released the arrow and time stood still. I was shocked when the arrow went wide right hitting the deer, but way forward of where it should have been. We stayed in the stand and waited as the deer ran off. I was lost for words as we looked for 3 days for that deer before seeing it alive and well with a graze mark on it’s brisket. As we drove home that night of the miss, I was consoling Peter and justifying in my own mind why he missed that give-me, 12 yard shot. I explained to him that in the heat of the moment everyone gets excited and grips the bow too tight and that throws off the shot. For the next two weeks I worked with him and tried everything I could do help him focus on getting back that three inch group. All to no avail, his shots were flying left and right covering a six to eight foot area. He was hitting dead-on only about half the time. What was most frustrating to me is that I couldn't see what he was doing wrong and he was frustrated because he was doing every thing the same every shot, which is the key to archery. A mentor of mine recommended that I lighten up on the training and just spent time in the tree stand with him. If it is in his head the only way to get it out is with a good clean shot, he recommended. As we were walking out to the stand that trip, Peter look at me and asked, “Dad why is my sight moving?” What in the world? His sight is loose. I pulled out the allen wrench from my pack and tightened up the one screw that the archery shop never put lock-tight on and he was back to his old self and 2 hours later we were tracking the deer he hit at 22 yards with a perfectly placed shot.

Getting back to our seemingly possessed pick up truck. Peter and I went to the place of wisdom and endless knowledge, both useful and worthless, that’s right; YouTube. With less than 5 minutes of searching we found multiple videos that showed the same possessed pick up symptoms that we were encountering and the solution was annoyingly simple. Turns out there is an 11mm bolt on the back of the engine compartment that holds the grounding wire tight. We tightened it up and the truck lost all hopes of ever starring in a Hollywood feature movie. 

What I love about parenting is learning together with my family. Freaking out about something never helps and never ever makes things better. Think of how much it would have cost if we had rushed to a dealer to have someone else fix our problem without thinking it through. Peter would be broke, he and his brother Andrew would have missed weighing their personal best in the fishing tournament. If I would have scolded Peter for missing the deer he may have never bow hunted again. I would have never figured out that he missed that deer because of a simple mechanical problem that I and the archery shop neglected to find. Most long term hurts in life are a result of losing sight of the target. It’s our job to teach others what we have learned. When we assume what is wrong instead of fully assessing the situation, we hurt people. But when we learn together, we find the real problems together, make the needed adjustments together and hit the target together. No freaking out required. Besides fun stories and laughing about silly little stuff is way better than hurting people because of short sightedness.

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

You’re Not Really….

I had an interesting discussion with someone last week. We were talking about statements like these: 
“You’re a volunteer, you’re not a real firefighter.” “You have a job so you can’t be in ministry.” “You’re at the bottom of the seniority list you can’t be a leader.” Take a minute to come up with the list of statements like these that you have heard over the years. If you are the one making comments like these, please read the whole blog in context before passing judgment. 

What’s intriguing about comments like these is where and when they are made. Typically these comments are made in the context of an occupation, whether someone is paid for the activity or not. Secondly, these comments are made within the confines of a organizational chart. Another thing about these comments is where they pop up and where they don’t. I have never heard someone say, “you’re not a fishermen because you only fish weekends.” “You’re not a high school football player, you only play 8 games a year.” “You can’t be a wood worker, you don’t own a business.” But when it come to areas of life involving leadership and life safety, these statements come out of the woodwork…sorry couldn't help the pun. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of principles before we look at the statements above. My son Andrew asked me a question the other day after attending his drivers ed class. “Dad there was an ad for a first aid kit that said I am a first responder. Is that right?” I responded “yes”.  Regardless of who you are, if you are the first person on a scene you are a first responder. What makes the difference is what level of training and experience you have. I know life guards who have never had to make a save. I know people that just as part of life, have a half dozen or more. Whether you are paid or just in the right place at the right time, you are the one who saved a life, if you took appropriate action. It’s all about being available and then acting when a need is evident. The second thing to look at is leadership. It’s tough for many people to handle, but here it is. Leaders are people that others follow, not a position on an org chart. Someone may have all the titles they want before and after their name, if they are not a leader, no one’s going to follow them. Leaders are people that have many different qualities and styles but through their actions, compel people to follow them anywhere, through anything.

To start summing this all up, it boils down to this. You are what you are made for, what you step up to do when it’s needed and what you specialize in. There are many kinds of firefighters and they are all firefighters. The kid digging line, the logistics unit leader, the finance team, the runners, the radio dispatchers and all the other positions on the team are firefighters. Regardless if their job at home is biologist, business owner, full time, part time, volunteer, retired or housewife. They are all still firefighters regardless of anyone’s opinion or expectations. 

The same is true when it come to spiritual things. It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor, church worker, new Christian or lifer. Your availability to meet the needs at hand have more to do with your ability to minister than any title or pay grade. Here is another hard pill for many to swallow. If you are not willing to live life with people, you are incapable of carrying out the Great Commission. Let that soak in a little bit. Remember, you are what you are made for, what you step up to do when it’s needed and what you specialize in. Whether you are paid or not, it’s about being available and taking the appropriate action that saves lives. 

Over the years, I have found one other similarity in pretty much every person I have heard who the beginning statements are made about. They are almost always servant leaders. They don’t care about accolades, position, or power. They care about being available to do what God made them to do. They care about meeting the needs of those who have needs. They put others first because it’s the right thing to do. I heard an EMT tell a reporter one time, “I just do what I hope someone would do for my family if they were in need.” 

These beginning statements are made in ignorance, with uninformed expectations and non-practical standards. If you hear someone make them, put them in their place. If you make these statements, think about what you are saying. Realize that your understanding does not determine other’s understanding and most importantly their willingness to be available when needs arise.

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fix It

So here are a few comments that I keep hearing about the church. “It’s our church so we go.” “It’s full of sinners, you just have to accept that’s the way it’s going to be.” “It’s not perfect, but you still need to go.” “That’s just the way they are, we need to show grace.” “Every church is good at some things, you need to find the one that’s right for you.” I have spent years trying to figure out how to answer these false statements but seem to struggle at every turn. For those of you reading this that like to jump to conclusions, this is not an anti-church blog. On the contrary, it is a pro-Biblical church blog and a call to many to look in the mirror; to see what they are justifying instead of fixing. 

It’s kind of funny, really, when you step back and look at it. If every time you took your car to a mechanic where it never got fixed and sometimes got worse, would you still go to that mechanic…nope. What would you do if you took your clothes to the dry cleaner and when you went to pick them up they were mostly clean, except for one new stain that wasn't there before. When you inquire about the stains the answer is, “That’s just the way it is.” My bet is you’re never going back. 

For the sake of space, I am going to break the building blocks of the church down into a few simple points (this is because there is not room to quote all 66 books of the Bible here). The Church is where we are to learn and grow in Christ together. The Church is where we are to eat, pray and worship together. The Church brings people together who, outside of Christ, would never hang out together. The Church meets peoples’ needs.  Finally, the Church lives life together praising God in all that they do. When the Church does all of these things it grows and is healthy.

Now, the comment I hear all over the place is, “but people are sinners, it doesn’t work that way.” One of my mentors in ministry puts it this way, “the Church is God’s perfect institution entrusted to sinful people.” The Church will never be perfect and we do need to operate with grace. What we can’t do is ignore mistakes, ignorance and sins in the name of grace. We need to repent of our mistakes, ignorance and sins, seek reconciliation and make the necessary changes to prevent it from happening again. When we justify mistakes, ignorance and sins in our churches, we hurt people and lose track of the foundation of the church.

Here is the painful reality many in churches are unwilling to accept. Church is not an excuse. Regardless if it’s a mistake, something done in ignorance or a sin, it is something that needs to be identified, repented of and not repeated. When these things are ignored and justified they are rewarded and they replace the Biblical building blocks of the church. Churches with these weaker foundations still do some good but are like an engine running on five of it’s eight cylinders. They have all sorts of great stories that sound good about things happening in their church but are leaving a wake of spiritually and emotionally hurt people. 

What is sad about this problem is it has a simple fix. If your car needs oil, you add oil, you don’t say, “that’s the way it is.” If we make a mistake, we need to say we are sorry and work hard to not repeat the mistake. If we don’t, then we are now justifying our actions and are guilty of sinning. We need to listen to others and the Holy Spirit so we can recognize when we have done something wrong and instead of justifying it we need to make amends, repent and take actions to keep it from ever happening again. The goal is not to be perfect, it is to help people, not to hurt them. Because what is rewarded is repeated, what isn’t corrected is assumed to be correct. It kills me to hear church leaders sit around asking why their church isn’t growing, while refusing to look in the mirror or the wake they are leaving. If they did, they would see what building blocks they need to attend to. We can only fix that which we are willing to look at. So don’t be afraid to identify what’s wrong in your church and fix it. 

Geremy Olson
Outdoorsman, Producer, Firefighter & Public Speaker