There’s a great story in Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy that has been tickling my imagination for the past few weeks. Rumelt – a senior professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management – was at a top technology event, along with the Dean of his college.
Suddenly, they found themselves talking to Steve Jobs – at the time, the CEO of Apple. Jobs asked them who they were, and what Anderson School of Management specialised in.
“We are the management school that seeks to develop transformative technology companies, that can make change at a global scale,” the Dean proudly announced.
“Have I heard of any of the companies your graduates have created?” Jobs inquired.
The Dean paused. He then quietly said, “No.”
In true Jobs-ian fashion, Steve stated – “Well, you’ve failed, then.”
Rumelt tells this story to cut to the point about strategy – if your strategy isn’t working, it’s failing. A great business strategy is valueless if it’s merely words on a document, or ambitious goals carved onto the wall. The value of a strategy is in the action – and the results can be seen (or not) when we honestly look at an organisation.
Simply put, Steve Jobs saw that the UCLA School of Management were saying they did one thing, but in reality doing another. The truth was in their actions, not in their words.
More recently, I’ve been reading the excellent Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief & Behaviour by Steven Garber. Although over 20 years old, this book cuts with a scalpel-like precision to a key weakness among people today – an inability to unite our belief with our behaviour.
We have assumed that belief is something that is simply taught through an educational program. If you want someone to believe something – you just have to teach it well. If they can then recite back to you what they’ve been taught – they believe it. Within this framework, belief is primarily cognitive – it is shown by our thoughts, and our ability to communicate the right thoughts correctly.
However, the limits of this approach are seen all around us – regardless of your faith background. People believe that giving to charity is important, yet donations are decreasing. People believe that healthy eating is important, yet obesity is increasing.
I remember walking with a young guy once, talking to him about God’s power and how God works in the world around us. We’d talked about prayer, healing and miracles. I’d explained my belief with Scripture and logic. We strolled across our church carpark, about to re-enter the building, when he stopped and looked over my shoulder.
“We should go pray for that guy,” he said.
Behind me was a man on crutches, limping out of the adjacent medical centre, heading back to his car.
My young person was keen to go pray. I was reluctant. I could communicate a belief of God’s power much more powerfully and eloquently than he could.
But who really believed in God’s power?
Belief is shown by our actions, not by mere verbal assent or cognitive agreement. That’s why Jesus didn’t just teach on the mountainside, but also went out and lived his convictions.
At one step, this is hard challenge to us all. It seems easier to mentally agree with the fact that God is in control, that money is not everything and that the Kingdom of God is found among the weakest of society than it is to embody this.
And yet, this understanding that belief is shown and developed by action is also profoundly liberating. Because you can start growing that belief now.
If you want to start believing in the generosity of God, you can be generous. Today. You don’t need to wait till you believe it more. It is through acting generously that you will learn to believe in generosity.
If you believe that worship is central to life, you can start acting more worshipfully today. Perhaps you don’t feel it. That’s OK. Because belief is shown by and grown through action.
This is the liberation of action. Our beliefs both grow and are shown as we act upon them. And may this set us free, today, to act out the beliefs we truly believe are important to life.