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Where do you do your best work?

Jason Fried, at a recent TED conference, presented his thoughts on why work doesn’t happen at work.

There’s a lot of what he said that I can really resonate with; I work in an open-plan office, and for the most part find that quite difficult. My best work (and probably my best thinking) happens in a quiet atmosphere, or somewhere I can tune out the background noise. One of the pitfalls of an open-plan office is that noise-levels are, in large part, dictated by others: some people like to think aloud or in conversation with others, and their ideas thrive in connection with other people. Some people just enjoy an almost constant background banter. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy that too, and find external processing of ideas and creativity with others incredibly stimulating. But when I need to get something done, I prefer a quiet calm, or at least somewhere I can tune out the background noise.

There are certain tasks that need me to be able to think clearly and coherently. For example, coding often needs you to be able to plan how one piece of functionality could be coded in a number of different ways, and determining the best route requires being able to consider not just the next line of code, but the implications of that on the next 50 lines.

Unfortunately, it’s often when doing those tasks that need my highest concentration that I find it all the harder to tune out what’s going on around me. And I’m not a nice person when faced with those conditions.

Jason compares work-patterns to sleep-patterns. When we sleep, it’s not a simple binary. You are not just asleep or awake, but your sleep is characterised by cycles and patterns. Medics and psychologists alike recognise how disruptive it can be to have your sleep disturbed, and Jason suggests it can be equally disruptive to have a work cycle interrupted; something that might happen many times every day in most offices. “The best gift you can give to a colleague is four hours of uninterrupted time.” He even goes as far as suggesting ‘silent Thursdays’, or even one silent Thursday afternoon each month, to see what difference this makes. It doesn’t sound terribly realistic, and I know many people in my office would (rightly?) balk at the idea; but as I think about it, I wonder if it might redress the balance of ideal working conditions for different types of people. If we work in an open-plan and ‘disruptive’ office for 160 hours a month, suddenly 4-16 hours a month given to conditions that might be more favourable to other people doesn’t sound a lot. Although that does assume that you can do your best work, under those conditions, in a specifically allotted time.

I think one of my major problems with Jason’s presentation, though, is that it feeds my selfishness. The working conditions he describes are my ideal, and I would love to be able to regularly have quiet space to get things done. But deep-down I know that’s not realistic. Part of my value to the organisation isn’t just my individual productivity, but the shared value of connections; being disrupted to help another, and having the freedom to interrupt someone else to get the help I need.

And people work differently. My ideal would be, I suspect, far from ideal for a good number of my colleagues; people whose creativity and productivity is catalysed by constant connection with others. One colleague (not based in our office) explained to me recently that when he needs to get something done, he turns his wifi off; but he also admitted that, as an extrovert, he thrives on ‘distraction’.

People are different, and that is good. People work differently, and how we accommodate those differences is important.

As we consider an office move this year, with potential to change and shape the way we organise that office, this certainly does give food for thought.

changing communication

If technology and communication are two areas that interest you, I can highly recommend reading or listening to Jeff Jarvis. Author of What Would Google Do?, Jeff blogs about media and news at buzzmachine.com, and is a regular contributor on the This Week in Google podcast. He is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He also writes a new media column for The Guardian.

I find his thinking critical, fair, and very helpful. Whilst I am not certain of his perspective on faith, his insights do also help me think about technology and communication from a Christian perspective; reviewing the impact of technology on journalism, communication and society, leads me to think further about the impact on faith and church.

In a recent post, Jeff refers to a “group of Danish academics [who] say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural.”

Being involved in a communications team that happily embraces new media, this sort of thinking excites me, but I’m also aware of some of the fear it propagates within the Christian community. I think some of this is caused by confusing the timeless and unchanging truth of the Gospel, with the means and media used to communicate it. Christians, particularly in the West, are often ‘booky’ people, and feel a little threatened by new media and its malleable nature. More on this in another post…

Jarvis goes on to recognise that “technology brings change; change brings fear and retrenchment. Gutenberg scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein reminds us that for 50 years after the invention of the press, we continued to put old wine in this new cask, replicating scribal fonts, content, and models. That’s what’s happening now: We are trying to fit our old world into the new one that is emerging. We’re assuming the old way is the right way.” I’m pleased to know many forward-thinking and tech-savvy Christians for whom this isn’t true, but as well as those who fear technology, there are also some who embrace technology to do the same old things in a slightly different way; something Christians have been notoriously bad at in recent decades, with questionable ‘Christian’ fiction, film and music.

(There are however, some success stories to be celebrated; not least Mars Hill Church in Seattle for the creative way they use design and new media to make their sermon content available online, embracing a wide variety of creative gifts to further the reach and impact of their resources.)

There is an argument that new media is shallow and distracting, with twitter being used as a case for ‘short attention span’ syndrome. Jarvis continues, quoting an earlier post: “Maybe the issue isn’t that we’re too distracted to read but that reading can finally catch up with how our brains really work.”

I’ll leave you with some of Jarvis’ questions that I will be considering as I prepare for the IFES Bible Study Consultation.

So is this new generation distracted or advanced? How can they best learn? How can they teach? What tools can we use today besides books? What new opportunities do all their tools present? That’s what educators should be asking. That’s the discussion I’d like to see start.

How are you using technology to improve what you do? Do you know of others that are making good use of technology in new and creative ways?

technology and faith

I’m incredibly privileged to have been asked to participate in two upcoming IFES events that, in different ways, explore some of the issues surrounding technology and faith.

The first is a Bible Study Consultation, bringing together about 20 students from around the world, to explore the impact of changes in society, culture and technology on Bible study, and asking questions about how we can best equip the next generation of students to ‘rightly handle the word of God’.

The second is the next IFES World Assembly, where one of the Word and World sessions will be exploring the impact of technology on faith, and seeking out the challenges and opportunities presented. I’ve already done a fair amount of thinking around this session, in dialogue with friends in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, but still have more work to do. Will post some of these thoughts soon.

As I think more about these topics in the coming weeks and months, I will try and blog a little more, and would welcome comments, thoughts and suggestions… I want to hear from you, to help provoke more discussion and help me represent other perspectives at these events.

Pray for Niger.

Please join us in praying for Niger.

Military junta seizes power in Niger coup: the junta, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, has captured the president and his ministers. – The Guardian

Pray for our brothers and sisters, the members of GBEEN, the IFES movement there. Pray that they would be assured of God’s sovereignty in the midst of this situation and that “nothing shall separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES)

And here is another update from The Guardian. This further highlights the need to pray for Godly leaders, for Christians who will live out their faith in all areas of society; this is a goal towards which IFES is working.

my urbana story, so far…

I went to Urbana in my role with IFES, with jobs to do and people to meet. I went with an uncanny ability to block the sound of God’s voice, to keep me from being distracted from the work I had to do. Slowly I realised this had become a reflex action in many of the contexts in and through which God has been trying to speak to me.

God made me realise how hard my heart had become to the gentle touch of his Spirit.

Following Urbana, God opened my eyes to see this, and is now gently breaking my heart with a desire to see His glory in my life and in the lives of those around me; the ones I love, and the ones he is calling me to love.

Praise God for his patience and persistence with us.

The story continues…

IFES prayerline: Urbana

Dear friends

This week’s prayerline comes to you direct from the last day of Urbana 09, InterVarsity’s 22nd missions conference, in St Louis, USA. Over the last five days, 17,000 students, staff, supporters and missions agencies have gathered here to worship, pray, and consider the theme ‘he dwells among us’.

A few weeks ago we asked you to pray for Urbana – that delegates would be challenged by the spiritual and physical needs of the world. Thank you for your prayers – God has been mightily at work here. We have been challenged to see mission as incarnational, following the model Jesus set before us. Thousands of students have committed or re-committed their lives to Christ, thousands more have declared their intention to serve in cross-cultural mission.

Now please join us in praying for everyone who has heard God’s call on their life this week – that the seeds sown here at Urbana would be nurtured in the coming days, weeks, months and years. Please pray that God will raise up workers for his harvest. nd praise God with us for the faithful service at Urbana of staff, organisers, speakers, volunteers and so many more. To hear more about how God has been working in the lives of IFES delegates here at Urbana, we invite you to take a look at this short film.

Thank you for praying with us in 2009; we look forward to seeing what God will accomplish through the prayers of his people in 2010.

Andy

Andy Moore
IFES Global Communications

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The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) is a fellowship of students, staff and supporters right around the world. A third of a million people praying, working and giving to see a vibrant gospel witness on every campus in the world.

urbana day 3

It was chilly again in St Louis today, as the Urbana ‘tribe’ went about their daily routine of bible study, teaching, worship, seminars and receptions. Everyone seems to be figuring out quicker ways to do things now – quicker to file in and out of the massive Edward Jones Dome, quicker to find the way to food at mealtimes, quicker to connect with people and get talking. Urbana is getting efficient!

But amidst the growing speediness of the day, there is more and more that is drawing us to stop and think deeply. In the morning bible study, which focussed on John 2:13-25, Ramez Atallah reminded us of the enormous shifts that have taken place in how we think about mission over the past few decades. He recalled the courage and risk-taking of Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar and John Stott at the Lausanne Conference in 1974 which encouraged evangelical Christianity to move  beyond the past injustices of the missionary movement and seek to engage in holistic mission. He asked us to pray for next year’s Lausanne Congress in Capetown – “that it would challenge the Christian world to reach out with a holistic gospel.” Ramez also challenged us to guard our integrity in mission, amidst a results-driven culture.

The focus of the day began to shift to money: how to give, what to give, stories of those who have given sacrificially for mission. In the evening meeting, after talks from Shane Claiborne and Oscar Muriu, Urbana was called to contribute to an offering. The target total for the offering is $1m, which will be given away to mission causes, including future IFES mission conferences.

I’ve been trying to make these blog entries fairly generic: to give a taste of what’s going on here to anyone in the IFES world who would have liked to be here. But I guess it’s also OK to write as myself, as one individual among thousands.  I have been finding the sheer spectacle of Urbana – crowds, technical wizardry, big personality-driven moments – amazing but hard. I find it hard to meet with God in carefully orchestrated ‘moments’. So tomorrow my challenge to myself is this: shut out the spectacle, and seek God with all my heart and all my soul.