Sunday, January 23, 2011

Working juuuuuust a bit outside the system

Jamie gave me some good feedback at home after my last post, and noted that only in the area of corporate systems did I mention that my best memories are when working slightly outside the system. She then noted that perhaps this was true in other areas as well, and I think she's right.

Corporate systems

When our company's strategy started to look really broken a few months ago, I worked to see what I could do to help. I couldn't fix the problems, so just before the holidays I transferred all my current responsibilities (10 employees across three teams, and all the responsibility for sales/revenue) to other Directors. That leaves me without a job, and pretty soon that will become formal.

Once I knew I couldn't lead my team to success, I gave it to someone who thought they could. But judging from the company's response, apparently this isn't the way things usually work in corporate systems. Usually a manager or leader will walk straight into failure for their team, if it means continued employment and a paycheck. I can't do that, so I guess you'd consider me outside the system.

Financial systems

I'll try to limit my rant here, but the system I reject is the industry of managed mutual funds. For over 40 years every analysis has shown that mutual fund managers pick stocks that do worse than the market as a whole, while racking up management fees, transaction fees and additional taxes for their clients.

It's one of the biggest scams ever, and the true role of an investment guru should probably be as educator and psychologist for the client, helping them to understand how stocks/bonds work, and then helping them cope with the volatility of those markets. Sometimes you've got to stop a person from selling low and buying high, and a financial manager can help with that.

I was fortunate with my education to learn about the markets, and I'm not interested in having someone to call for soothing advice when stocks go up and down. So we manage our investments on our own, and it's all in basic index funds. We pay almost nothing in fees and taxes, we spend less than an hour a month on managing the accounts, and our returns have beat almost every mutual fund manager in the country over the past 10 years.

So yeah, I have no interest in getting inside the system of fund management.

Social systems

White people who make the kind of money we do don't move to our neighborhood; they're supposed to live in the suburbs. We went way outside the social norm and chose to live as the alien (by race and by language), and we have no regrets!

Governmental systems

The city of Houston recently made a ruling that people cannot feed the homeless unless their food has been inspected by an official during its preparation. This impacts our family, as we've made a few trips downtown recently to meet, visit and feed some homeless people downtown on Sundays after church.

I'm not looking to get arrested of course, but this type of legal ruling isn't exactly the kind of thing I'm going to worry too much about following. The ruling was so bizarre and so opposite to the needs of the community that I have no doubt Jesus would laugh at it and keep on providing food.

Our first act of rebellion will probably be hosting a Super Bowl party for our friends, which would qualify as us feeding a group of people, with no inspection! Ha!

Religious systems

This is the one that launched so many great comments in my last post.

An elder and I discussed last year how in this day and age, it's almost impossible for a church like ours to meet all or even most the spiritual needs of its members. We live far away from the building and from each other, and may only be together once a week. In between, we are fed spiritually by online friends, neighborhood connections and office mates. And with the web, there are resources everywhere available 24/7. Most of these don't fit within my own denominational doctrine, but they have been priceless to me nonetheless. So in some ways I already am somewhat outside the system.

But what sparked the discussion here on the blog was the issue of congregational financial management, and Jamie and I will be speaking with our church's leadership soon about the topic. First I will be looking for understanding, to get an idea of their framework for thinking about, and making decisions with, the heavy responsibility of the church budget. For example, what are the priorities? What are the "have to haves" and what is up for grabs when it comes to expenses? Are those areas based on effectiveness, or is there another method for determining how ministries change? When we need another 8% to fund important work, does all of that have to come from additional giving or can we meet halfway with savings somewhere else?

Overall, I'd like to understand if our church manages its money like a family, like a business, or like something entirely different. Right now I really have no idea.

But even the fact that we'll be discussing it with the leadership, seeking to understand these things, probably puts us a little outside the way things normally work there.

Just where I like to be!


MamaRose said...

Yep, as your Mom, who like your Dad, has KNOWN YOU ALL YOUR LIFE, Michael, I can say that it didn't take you very long, at all, in your life to start thinking this way.

We, also, probably encouraged it--because these day & even in those days, way back in the 70's & 80's, the ONLY WAY LOTS of things are gonna get SOLVED/BETTER is for SOMEONE to 'THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX'--I KNOW you heard these exact words from your Dad a LONG, LONG TIME AGO, so.......


How's that?--coming from a/your Mother?????!!!!! I'd say--"YOU DID GOOD"!!!!!!!!! KEEP IT UP!!!!

Debby said...

I think that perhaps, friend, you were designed to work juuuuuuust a bit outside the system.

And I agree with Logan. It is good to see you back posting regularly. I believe that these thoughts are important, and that we all should give them some thought.

Very proud of you.

Don R said...

You rebel you!

Redlefty said...

You're so kind, guys -- thank you.

I am enjoying the respite from the ridiculous intensity my job was under for so long, which left me little capacity for things like blogging/reading.

Tit for Tat said...

Just curious michael, do you golf?

Redlefty said...

Not in the past year or so, but only due to lack of time!

I very much enjoy golf and four of the past five years have attended a 4-day golf trip with some buddies. Will skip this year.

Why do you ask?

Tit for Tat said...

The wife and I like to travel and meet new people. I like golfing wherever we go. So where are you located?

Redlefty said...

Houston, Texas. Better get down here quick before the heat comes!

Bob said...

So what's next on your career path?

My wife has managed the finances for our (very large) church for about 13 years, as an employee, and now contractually through her business. It's very difficult for her, as a church member, to see some of the things that happen because noone is perfect and no church is perfect. There have been times that she has very boldly gone to "powers that be" and spoken out. She tells me very little, which is at is should be, but sometimes can't hide her frustration. And it greatly frustrates both of us that, because she is a woman, and our church teaches that women can't be in leadership roles in the church, her opinion only matters so much.

I have to say, though, that the finances are very open. We might not agree with everything but nobody tries to hide anything either.

Enjoying reading your words again. They always make me think.