Constructs that constrict

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Every December, Mary and I spend seven days on the Queen Mary 2, traversing the North Atlantic from London to New York. It is an incredible experience; I want to be on that exact trip every year until I die.

This year we took my four-year-old grandson, Benjamin. Prior to leaving, I determined that I would assume a new role in Benjamin’s life; in addition to being his favorite adult playmate I would become his tutor. 

So I developed a plan. Every day after lunch, we would meet for one hour to study mathematics, vocabulary, and other subjects, then go swimming, then take a nap. If he completed that quadfecta (eat, study, swim, nap), he would get a present (I felt it necessary to include some extrinsic motivation).

When working on addition and subtraction we used our ten fingers as the main teaching tool. It’s amazing what you can teach using your ten digits (and math can get more involved when you include toes).  

Which reminded me of an interesting, hypothetical connection that Fred Hoyle (a famous British astronomer) made about our fingers and computers. Hoyle speculated that if we had been born with eight digits instead of ten, we would have adopted octal arithmetic instead of decimal arithmetic. (He assumed that early humans learned the basics of math using their ten fingers just like Benjamin did on the trip.) Since 8 is a power of 2, we would have discovered binary arithmetic early on and since electronic computers are built on binary numbers, we might have invented computers a century earlier than we did.

Things that give order to our world can also restrict our thinking. Our division of time—24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year—is helpful but highly suggestive and can become deterministic. 

We inherit structures and systems from the past that both assist and mislead.

For instance, do you know why American trains run on tracks 4 ft 8.5 inches wide? You’re not going to believe the answer. Click here to read all about it.

Do you know why the letters on our computer keyboards are arranged very inefficiently, such that it slows down our typing speed? Because when mechanical typewriters were first invented people could type faster than the mechanics could accommodate (are you old enough to remember the levers getting jammed before they struck the page?) so engineers designed the keyboard in such a way as to slow down the typing. More efficient keyboards have been developed but people refuse to learn a new approach. 

Beware of constructs that constrict. We’re helpless to change most of them (railroad tracks, keyboards), but some of them can be altered. 

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at or respond to this blot post.

I don’t envy, and neither should you

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Envy is the most stupid of vices, for there is no single advantage to be gained from it. Balzac

I have many personal defects but there’s one vice I don’t struggle with: I don’t envy anyone. 

As a young professional I struggled with envy, but perhaps age and maturity have dimmed that vice. Now, I can honestly say I am free from the debilitating and distracting feelings of envy. When someone wins, profits, or is acknowledged, I am happy for him or her. 

Envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. We resent the advantage enjoyed by another person and we often desire to possess the same advantage, coveting what someone else has.

Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.” Bertrand Russell said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. Not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his or her envy, Russell explained, but that person may also wish to inflict misfortune on others, because of their advantage.

Most situations in life are not zero-sum scenarios (in order for someone to win, someone else must lose). To the contrary, there’s usually ample room for everyone to do well. So why be envious of others? And even in zero-sum situations (for instance, only one team can win the Super Bowl each year), why not graciously rejoice with those who come out on top? Is there any redemptive value in envy? I don’t think so. Someone else’s victory is not your defeat.

  • Envy is spawned when we have a limited and myopic view of ourselves and the world: embrace the vastness of time and space and envy will dissipate. 
  • Envy is also cultivated by a self-centered, self-reverential worldview: prefer others and envy will lose its grip. 
  • A perpetual attitude of gratitude will help guard against envy: be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have.

Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of your own and it has no benefit.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at or respond to this blot post.

Breaking barriers

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

On May 6, 1954, middle-distance athlete Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in recorded history. The 25-year-old native of Harrow on the Hill, England, completed the distance in 3:59.4 at Oxford. At the end of the year, Bannister retired from running to pursue his medical studies. He later became a neurologist.

For hundreds of years, running a sub-four-minute mile was thought to be humanly impossible. Many predicted it would never happen. Then Bannister did it, breaking the previous record by 6/10th of a second.

Interestingly, within one year of Bannister breaking the record, 37 other runners ran the mile in under four minutes. The next year, 300 runners did the same. Today, high school athletes do it regularly. Once the mythical barrier was punctured it ceased to be an impregnable obstacle.

In 1999, Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj set a new world record for the mile – 3:43.13  minutes – an incredible 16 seconds faster than the “impossible mark.” 

We are often limited and constrained by artificial boundaries. Conventional wisdom tells us that something can’t be done, and we acquiesce to the suggestion, considering it to be fact.

In my opening illustration I gave a larger-than-life example—breaking a world record—but let’s make this more accessible.

  1. Personally – have you been inhibited by the artificial boundaries set by your upbringing, environment, or friends? I grew up in a low socio-economical culture; it took years for me to think outside that box.   
  2. Professionally – are you in a small box with a low ceiling? Rethink your career aspirations. Years ago, my daughter was in a dead-end job in Dallas so, in a bold and audacious move, she moved to New York City, enrolled in a master’s program at Columbia, and got a job at American Express.
  3. Organizationally – does your group ever challenge the status quo? When was the last time you challenged your team to excel?

Using these three categories, list three areas of your life in which you might suffer under the yoke of “it’s never been done before” or “only exceptional people can do that.” And then dream about how to make progress in each area. You might not get into the Guinness Book of World Records, but you’ll exceed your current level.

Here’s a video of Guerrouj setting a new record in the mile-run.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at or respond to this blot post.

Leaders: does your team benefit from synergy or suffer from antagonism?

A draft horse is a large, muscular animal that, prior to the industrial age, was used for pulling big loads. One draft horse can pull an 8,000-pound load. Two draft horses randomly linked together can pull a 24,000-pound load. If the two horses have been trained to work together they can pull 32,000 pounds 

This marvelous phenomenon is called synergy.

Synergy is the energy or force that is generated through the working together of various parts or processes such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Antagonism is the extreme opposite of synergism. It is the reduction of energy due to the misalignment, friction, and opposition of individual elements that are connected. The whole becomes less than the sum of the parts. An example of antagonism is the effect between the opposing actions of insulin and glucagon to blood sugar level. While insulin lowers blood sugar, glucagon raises it.

Now, apply these thoughts to your organization.

How team members relate to one another: antagonism………………..……….synergy

The result:                                   dysfunctional                  functional           miraculous

All organizational teams can be placed somewhere on the spectrum between antagonism and synergy. If your team leans far-left, you’re working against each other. If you’re in the middle, team members are probably siloed: they’re not adversely affecting each other but neither are they complementary. Teams on the far-right of the spectrum are doing amazing things together.

Use this spectrum to analyze your organization at all levels. For instance, your team may be working well together—benefiting from synergy—but your team may not be aligned with other teams in the organization. 

A prerequisite for synergy (and an antidote for antagonism) is a clear vision that is shared widely and embraced deeply. A north star. A picture of the future that produces passion. A challenging but credible goal.  

Wholesome communication also helps. Robust dialogue encourages transparency and respect. Lots of face-time with other team members both in meetings around the lunch table will also help.

Basic people skills are necessary. It’s hard to work with someone who is abrasive and insensitive. Team members need to “play well in the sandbox with others” for synergy to happen.   

Your team’s synergy-quotient may be the most critical factor in your organization. Business writer Patrick Lencioni underscores this significance when he says, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Leaders, I double-dog-dare you to show this post to your team members and ask them to honestly evaluate where the team is on the scale.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Join me on an unforgettable journey to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon Rainforest

May 6-15, 2020

In the past ten years I’ve led groups of friends on annual trips to Paris, London, Europe, the Mediterranean, Baltic States, Russia, and North Africa. We’ve never had a malfunction or bad experience; just memorable, life-enhancing moments.

I invite you to join me on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of the great historical and geographical countries in the Southern Hemisphere—Peru. We’ll start our trip in Lima, then travel to Cusco—the gateway to the Sacred Valley and home to the Inca civilization. We’ll visit Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Then we’ll travel to the Amazon Rainforest and spend three days at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica lodge in the diverse Puerto Maldonado area. In 2013, it was selected by National Geographic Traveler magazine was one of the world’s 25 best eco-lodges. We’ll travel on airplanes, trains, buses, vans, boats, and shoes.

Mary and I took this trip in July, 2018. It was one of our favorite trips of all time (we’ve been to 47 countries). We always felt safe, the accommodations are elegant and authentic, the food is world-renowned, the geography is diverse (metropolitan Lima, the Andes mountains, Amazon Rainforest), and Peruvians are friendly—the trip was incredible.   

It’s been said that one of the joys of traveling is not only where you go but who you go with and who you meet along the way. This tour group will be limited to 50 interesting ladies and gentlemen who travel well—friends of mine who enjoy exploring great places. 

Travel takes time and money, but it’s worth the investment. You’ll be stretched and challenged, and you’ll learn more about the world in which you live and the life you live in the world. 

I hope you’ll join me on this memorable trip to Peru. 

Here’s a brochure about the trip. PeruBrochure2

Don McMinn

Question: Questions about the trip? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The pain of pretending

Both my daughters studied violin in high school. They excelled, taking lessons at SMU and playing in the Dallas Youth Symphony. For one concert, they played in the Meyerson Concert Hall (one of the best musical venues in the world). Mary and I were seated in the middle of the hall, our attention focused on Lauren and Sarah. 

After the concert we went backstage to greet the girls. Sarah was crying. She held up her violin and said, “Dad, when we were tuning at the beginning of the concert, my E string broke. I didn’t know what to do; I was embarrassed and didn’t want to draw attention to myself; so the entire concert I pretended to play, but my bow never touched the strings.”

My heart was broken. I could only imagine the painful mix of emotions she endured: sadness, frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, hiding,   

I’m not sure what alternative she had—should she have walked off the stage and left an empty chair?—but I do know that for 45 minutes she experienced the pain and discomfort of pretending. 

I suppose all of us occasionally need to be temporarily inauthentic; social grace often mandates it (I dislike opera, but if I’m attending with a group of friends, I’m not going to leave at intermission). I’ve written a post titled Sometimes fake it in which I suggest that for professional reasons and for love, we often need to engage in counter-dispositional behavior.

But in general, don’t go through life denying or hiding your true self. Don’t pretend. Discover who you are, be who you are, and associate with people who accept you as you are.

Sadly, many people have never achieved a clear understanding of who their authentic self really is so pretending is their default mode. I’ve written a workbook—Signature Soulprint—that can help lead you in that discovery. 

Coach Don Meyer said, ”Be what you is. Because if you be what you ain’t, you ain’t what you is.” C.S. Lewis was more lyrical in saying, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The difference between managers and leaders

Most organizations are vastly over-managed and desperately under-led. Stephen Covey

There’s a difference between a manager and a leader. One role is not more important than the other, they’re just different. 

In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis draws these distinctions:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon. 
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

[From: On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis, Basic Books, page 39-40.]

The cumulative effect of this list seems to denigrate managers and extol leaders. But in his book Learning to Lead, Bennis says:

“No organization can function successfully without both roles. The danger, however, is to confuse them, to fail to provide for both and to diminish the potential contribution of each. The difference may be summarized by viewing the activities of leaders as those of vision and judgment – in other words, effectiveness – verses the activities of managers that focus on mastering routines – in other words, efficiency.”

I prefer to use the term “leader” when referring to both roles; there are tactical leaders (managers) and strategic leaders. 

Most leadership positions require a combination of both skill sets. In my current position at the church, I “lead” about 30% of the time and “manage” 70% of the time. I am aware of when I’m switching from one role to the other and I try to balance both roles.

Mastering the skills of management is a prerequisite for leading well. Good managers lean the fundamentals of how an organization works, which becomes helpful when crafting credible vision. The opposite approach—becoming a leader with no management skills or experience—usually produces a detached, oblivious leader. 

To personalize this essay, respond to these issues.

  • Do you agree that there’s a difference between a manager and a leader?
  • Is it advantageous to be skilled at both?
  • Are  you a better manager or a better leader? 
  • Does your current position require you to manage or a lead? 
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires management skills.
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires leadership skills.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Virtue is found in moderation

In medio stat virtus (Latin)

Most virtues taken to an extreme can become a vice. For a particular virtue to be beneficial, it needs to be balanced by a different virtue. The Stoic philosophers had a term for this—anacoluthia—the mutual entailment of the virtues; no virtue is a virtue by itself. 

For instance, notice how each of these virtues, if not balanced by another virtue, can be unproductive, but when paired together they create balance.

  • Confidence without humility can lead to egotism and unhealthy self-reliance. Humility without confidence can make you timid.
  • Courage without caution can lead to recklessness. Unbalanced, caution can lead to passivity.   
  • Frugality without generosity can lead to excessive thriftiness and stinginess. Generosity without frugality can lead you to the poor house.
  • Openness can lead to healthy transparency and aid to developing relationships; but it needs to be balanced by discretion.
  • Self-control has its advantages but without some spontaneity you may live a stiff and dull life.

Any strength, out of balance, can become a weakness. For instance, I am fanatical about being on time. Granted, punctuality is a virtue, but my zeal for being on time can consume too much of my attention and may cause me to miss other, equally important issues.  

Philosopher Gregory Bateson expands this thought to include other elements: “There is always an optimal value, beyond which anything is toxic, no matter what: oxygen, sleep, psychotherapy, philosophy.”

Analyze yourself. What are your core strengths? What is the potential downside of each strength? What virtue would balance each of your core strengths? 

So the key is balance; moderation. Extremism and fanaticism excludes alternative ideas or activities and lead to imbalance, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.