Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blogging to Learn: Being a Collector

Several years ago, I read Tom Stanley's amazing book Millionaire Mind . Stanley is a student of the wealthy and their habits. He decided to focus his attention on the "balance sheet" wealthy (not the folks who generate huge amounts of income and then blow through it; but rather the people who over time accumulate and hold on to wealth). He found that the true balance sheet millionaires were people who might live next door to the average middle class household -- they didn't drive fancy cars or have lavish habits. They were millionaires because they were wise with their money and their spending and earning habits. He published his findings in the book The Millionaire Next Door (itself a good read).

Millionaire Mind was his followup book in which he talked about the character traits of those who had the tenacity to over a lifetime build significant wealth. He highlighted many traits -- gratitude, risk-taking, emotional stability, etc. But the one that has stood out for me these many years is "Have a Collector Mentality"

Simply put, Stanley suggests that a key to success is approaching each book, each lecture, each magazine with a question bouncing in the back of the head "Is there something here that I might be able to apply to my vocation....?" He suggested that if you have such a clear reason for coursework, reading, and other activities, you'll get a lot more out of the material. In his own words:

“Too many people today lack focus; they are not collectors of anything -- not data, not customers, not specific marketable skillls. On the other hand, collectors can read one newspaper and find several ideas or pieces of information about their chosen vocation. In twenty years they can generate a collection of treasure. Noncollectors often don’t understand what they should be doing given their aptitudes and abilities. They can read thousands of newspapers and not add one item to their collection. Perhaps they never started one or, worse, they hate their jobs. In the long run, it’s impossible to work at a high level of productivity if you dislike your work.” (213).

Mom will tell you, I've always had something of a collector's instinct -- stamps, coins, seashells, comic books (I promise, I'll get them out of your closet someday, Mom). I saved every notebook from college - usually with a vague sense that someday, I'll find a use for this stuff. However it wasn't until I read Stanley that it all began to make sense that I was collecting stuff (stories, experiences, articles, ideas) to prepare me for the vocation of being a minister. Now my collection could have a lot more focus. What was lacking was the how of the collection. How would I archive my stuff?

David Allen gave me the simple insight in his productivity book Getting Things Done (which I reviewed over on Writer's Read last year) -- have a single filing cabinet system for everything -- simply an A-Z file. Give yourself the freedom to add folders ad hoc ("ahah, here's an article on refrigerators...we're thinking about buying a new one next year. I'll make a new folder and slip it in the A-Z file right behind "Reformed theology"). The A-Z has to cover everything -- personal life, work life, etc. So I created one on the laptop for digital files and one at work for paper files. I bought one of those label printers so I could easily print labels on the fly -- and then I just throw stuff in the cabinet when I need it.

So I have the collection, and I have the system for the collection. Now here's the rub -- Allen suggests that you review the collection at least annually. Either set aside a day or two to review the entire contents and make a decision "save or keep" (don't make it a life or death decision -- if there's any doubt, save it -- you're going to review this again and have the chance next time). He also suggests that in those odd moments (like the five minutes you have while waiting for coffee to brew), you rifle through and review five or six folders. This way you will 1) keep the collection current and 2) familiarize yourself with the collection for easy accessibility.

What does this have to do with blogging? Simply put, blogging enables me to:

1) add new material to my collection. Being forced to think about something and digest it gives me ideas on where to place things in the collection. The entire blog itself is archived in the collection. Book reviews are all worked out in my "reading notes" folder. Many of the topics that I come back to repeatedly have folders in my collection. Often these topics will work themselves out in other areas of ministry (preaching, counseling, etc)

2) blogging encourages me to put the collection to good use. The collection doesn't just sit there -- because I'm going through it on a regular basis, I am constantly confronted with information that might be worth sharing with a church leader, a friend....or the Eagle and Child readers.

3) the collection adds texture to themes that I'm thinking about. For instance, this blogging to learn topic.... As I work through some concepts, I'm able to quickly find additional material that fleshes out thoughts (such as the above quote from Tom Stanley, which is in my summary of the book that I read 7 years ago -- I can pull that out anytime I need it because I know exactly where it is in my collection).

4) the collection helps me to help other people. Just yesterday over lunch, I found myself talking with a sociologist and his wife about the challenges of generational change (long story...). I recommended Strauss and Howe's The Fourth Turning as an interesting text, and was able to give them a pretty detailed synopsis because I had blogged my way through it last year -- they're also able to go read my summaries to get a better idea of whether it is in their interests to purchase the book or not.

And those are just advantages that I cooked up on the spot to illustrate a point. THoughts???
Soli Deo Gloria

Blogging to Learn: Intro