It has been said of me that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve made a living in a variety of ways in my life from working cattle on a ranch to making lumber in a sawmill. I’ve been an oilfield worker, professional photographer, carpenter, minister (20 years), realtor, developer, writer, speaker, founded an organization that empowered 120,000 volunteers to provide 20 million meals for disaster relief in Haiti and spend a great deal of my effort empowering people to feed the hungry.

I’m exactly what I want to be: curious and flexible. I leave very few stones unturned.

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Writer and Speaker

Aerial Scenics, Cloudscapes

Is it Time to Climb? The Value of a 30,000 Foot View


I’m going to spend time at 30,000 feet this week.  Although I don’t like the hassle of flying, I do like the view.   Identifying landmarks makes me feel like a little kid on a road trip trying to find things that start with the letters of the alphabet. Q and X were killers.

Stuck in a rut.  Getting down in the weeds.  Can’t see the forest for the trees. These phrases describe getting so involved in the details that we lose the big picture.  While details are important because that is where the devil lives, it is good to gain an elevated view.  For me, it seems that a 30,000 foot view helps me figure out what small stuff is worth the sweat. When I’m down in the muck, I can’t always figure that out and waste a lot of energy on silly things.

Here’s what I notice about my view from 30,000 feet:

The important things become a lot more clear.  Family. Health. People. Passion for what I do.

I see connections better than I do on the ground.  Dot-connecting is a lot easier for me from above.

I feel insignificant and that is a good thing. Sometimes I get an overinflated sense of my purpose which usually only stresses me out.

The future looks brighter.  It’s always a clear view at 30,000 feet.

Storms are below or behind me. I can coast.

Staying at 30,000 feet for very long is unhealthy.  I need to get unstuck from the rut.  The weeds are where the treasure hides. I need to bang around from tree to tree in the forest because that’s where the work gets done.

It just really does me good to climb up occasionally and get a different view.







How a Little Curiosity Fed the World: Dr. Norman Borlaug


He was a farm-boy from rural Iowa but is considered as the man who saved a billion lives.  He became a scientist because his grandpa said, ““You’re wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on.” He filled a lot of bellies.

He’s also known as the father of the Green Revolution.

All because he was curious.

Dr. Norman Borlaug grew up in Cresco, Iowa, but spent a great deal of time in Mexico researching wheat.  While there, he developed a strain of wheat with high-yields and disease resistant. His strain of wheat is considered to have saved over a billion people in South Asia from starving to death.

1,000,000,000 people saved from starvation because one man was curious.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, then started the World Food Prize in 1986 to honor people who have created great solutions to improving agricultural production in the world. I’m in Des Moines this week for my 5th time at the WFP. Hundreds of people from around the world gather for inspiration, education, and networking.

Agricultural production has to increase by at least 70% in the next 35 years in order to feed the world’s population of 9 billion.  The World Food Prize brings together the sharpest minds in agriculture trying to figure out how to make those numbers.

It was started by one man.

All because he was curious.





The Value of Watching the Dance From the Balcony


Was your first junior high dance as miserable as mine? My first one registered 9.6 on the Richter Scale of catastrophe to my tender adolescent soul. However, I finally got a girl to dance. I may or may not have traded her a candy bar.

Our old gymnasium had a balcony along one side for spectators. It hunger over the gym floor enough that you couldn’t make a jump shot from the baseline, but we weren’t very good at basketball so it didn’t matter.

The balcony was where our chaperones watched our adolescence get the best of us as shy boys asked giggling girls for a dance. The perspective of the chaperones was much different than ours as we were caught in the drama of the dance.

I often think of that old gym and the creaky wooden stairs to the balcony when I feel like I’m getting stuck in the drama of the dance. I mentally climb those wooden steps to look out over the dance floor of my current situation and ask myself a few questions:

      • What’s really going on here?
      • Why aren’t people enjoying the dance?
      • What is the fundamental principle at play?
      • What advice would I give myself as an outsider?
      • What matters most at the end of the day when the dance is over?
      • What can I trade a candy bar for?

When I feel like I’m getting caught up in the drama of the dance, I climb the creaky old wooden stairs to get on the balcony to get a different view.

The view is much different; the answers come more easily.

The dance is much more fun.


Leadership Lessons Learned in a Kayak


The greatest celebrations in life are often the simplest. For example, each time I sit in my kayak without dunking myself upside down is a moment of triumph.

I’ve dunked myself- and have had others dunk me- out of canoes so many times that I just assume I’ll be soaking wet before the journey begins. However, I nearly drown while being dunked because I’m laughing so hard. A recent acquisition of one-person kayak has opened up new opportunities for self-dunking. However, I’m happy to report that after several hours of kayaking on open waters, I’ve yet to dunk myself. Give me time; I’m sure the first Class III water I hit on a river will change that.

Kansas lakes frequently have whitecaps big enough to surf. Kansa means children of the south-wind that blows like a 50,000-watt hair dryer in the summer. It’s easy to find directions in Kansas by looking at the trees; they lean north.

On a particularly windy day, I managed another successful launch-without-dunk and pointed across the lake and directly into the ferocious wind. As I dug my paddle into the water, I began to understand a few similarities to leadership:

Leaning in to adversity works best – facing straight into the wind was the hardest, but produced the greatest results. If you’re anything like me, you prefer an adverse-free life. But what if, in order to reach our long-term goals, we have to go through adversity? If I can approach adversity as something I must go through to accomplish my goals, then I can reframe my narrative in the midst the tension.

Adversity secretly makes me stronger- It would be much easier to float down the river and let the current take me, but paddling into the wind was a better workout. Somehow, knowing that each arduous stroke was making me stronger made the adversity more endurable. If I can reframe difficult times with the understanding that I’m getting stronger then I can approach them more positively.

Take a break- I took a detour from the straight-line to my destination and found the lee-side of the dam quite refreshing. I coasted within spitting distance of a herring gull perched atop a buoy looking at me rather amused. We chatted a bit then I carried on. Finding a place of peace in the midst of adversity is the sacred work of poets, religion, philosophers and psychologists.

Kayaking lakes is getting a bit boring; I’m ready for more adventure. I’ve spotted a fast-moving river I want to try out. Next time I’m near the ocean, I’m in it on a kayak.

I have a sneaking feeling I’ll learn all sorts of new ways to get dunked.

I took the photo on Easter Lake in Iowa. It was NOT windy that day.

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The Solution

What if we Built Reciprocity into Charity?


I was feeling pretty good about myself when, in fact, I was being an arrogant jerk. I was in a rural Nicaraguan village being interviewed by the government about all we had done to help the hungry people. The village’s crops had been wiped out in torrential rains and we arrived with truckloads of beans, rice, and other staples to help them through. Oh, yeah, and I brought along my arrogance.

Standing in the shade of a Jicaro tree in the tropical sun, I boasted of our team and how we’d come to save-the-day for these poor people.  It was early-on in my passion to fight hunger and I had a few things to learn. Boy, did I have a few things to learn!

As I talked, it occurred to me how arrogant I sounded. In fact, one part of my brain whispered to the other, “Get off your big white horse!”  So I did; I shifted my conversation around to what they had done for us.  Their hospitality had been more welcoming than any I had ever known, their gifts back to us were proportionately far more than anything we had ever given them, and they treated us like family.

Near the end of the conversation, I was approached by Santiago- The Man Who Taught Me to Hate Charity. He came up to me holding a wiggling burlap bag. I had no idea what live creature was in there such as a boa, an iguana, or chicken, but I opened the bag carefully and, down in the bottom, was a little white rabbit. Since that moment, I try to create ways that reciprocity can be built into charity.  Reciprocity is a two-way street; charity is typically one way.

One of the most brilliant stories about reciprocity built into charity is about Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, founders of Outreach, Inc., who witnessed children die of starvation in Africa. Floyd bought a couple of truckloads of maize (white corn), but told the villagers that he would barter with them the things he needed to help build an AIDs hospice such as sand, aggregate, and charcoal. The next day, the mammas in the village came with beautiful grass baskets and the bartering began. Since then, Outreach has purchased over 65,000 baskets!

The only people who like charity are those who have the capacity to give. So what if we started building reciprocity into our charity? Not because we want something in return, but because we value human dignity and believe that no one really wants a hand-out.

Here are a few questions:

      • How can we help  the person receiving the charity find a way to give back?
      • Is there something in our current charity model that could be tweaked bit to provide opportunities for trade of work or items for goods?
      • How can we help that person(s) who is at the receiving end of charity create self-worth and dignity in return for the help they’ve been given.
      • I’m not suggesting we attach strings to charity, but how can we provide opportunities for people who  seemingly have nothing to give back?

We won’t always be able to build reciprocity into charity. I’ve watched straggling lines of starving people crawl into the largest refugee camp in the world and they have to be given aid or else they die.

But what if we found ways in our systems of charity to create opportunities for human dignity to thrive?

If we were successful, one day we’d no longer need charity and we would find our streets being two-way instead of one-way.

The photo in the blog is one I took in the Dedaab, Kenya refugee camp- the world’s largest. After refugees are on their feet, ways are created that they can give back.

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