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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Business Lessons I've Learned from the Bible

Posted on September 18, 2010 at 4:09 PM

As mentioned previously, I started this year with the goal of reading the Bible completely through. As Big Dan Teague from Oh, Brother would say, “The truth, every blessed word of it. From Genesis down to Revelations. Yes, the word of God.” (You can read some of my previous Biblical commetary here; the borderline lewd Update 11/15 done, the hilarious Song of Johnomon and the looking for typos Spell Checking post.)


I just completed the Gospel of Luke last night, and while reading I have noticed that, to once again borrow from Big Dan Tout Court, “Let me say, there's damn good money in [the Bible] during these times of woe and want.” While not a handbook for business, it turns out that there is a ton of advice found in the Bible's oh-so-thin pages that is amazingly applicable to business dealings today. Especially in the books of Matthew and Luke, where Jesus relates parables and illustrations. So, here are some business tips that I’ve gleaned so far in my readings, or what I like to call, the first course in Bible for Business 101.


 It pays to be aggressive:

Luke 11:9 says, “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.”


This is incredibly true of starting a new business relationship. What might not have been feasible once, might present a real opportunity if asked again a bit later. Keep your name in front of prospective clients, builders, whatever. And most importantly, you can’t expect them to call you! You have to go out and create business in these challenging times, and often times decisions are made based on just being in front of someone at the right moment in time.


…but not TOO aggressive:

In 1 Kings, a King named Ahab wanted another man’s (Naboth’s) vineyard. Supposedly this was prime land, picture it like the Napa’s Carneros region or perhaps the Pomerol appellation near Bordeaux’s eastern border to Saint-Émilion. You know, this place was rocking some fine wine terroir. So, the king naturally wanted it for himself (to shockingly turn into a garden of vegetables, which was just clearly wrong thinking). So he offered Naboth money and another vineyard, but no go. So, his wife, Jezebel, comes up with the perfect solution. Hey, you’re the king; let’s just have Naboth killed and TAKE his vineyard. This ends with him receiving the prophecy “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, the dogs will lick up your blood.”


So, being TOO aggressive can certainly backfire. While actually killing someone is perhaps an extreme example, I’ve heard of situations where people have tried to make themselves look good by bad-mouthing their competition. This is a terribly risky strategy that can often backfire and cause you to not only lose that project but future work as well.


Illustrations drive the point home:

A great teacher can make something difficult easily understandable. Jesus had an amazing teaching ability, explaining complex lessons by means of illustrations and parables that still resonate today. The gospels are filled with illustration after illustration (The Good Samaritan, The Golden Rule, Prodigal Son, etc.) allowing those without understanding to grasp his message.


Similarly, audio/video systems can be incredibly complicated concepts for many people to grasp. An illustration I use over and over is describing the amplifier in a housewide audio system as the gas, and the volume control as the brake. It helps people to – hopefully – grasp that instead of just continually adding more and more gas – eventually breaking the engine – it is best to first let off on the brake. Nothing is more frustrating than when someone says, “Wow! You’ve given me a lot to think about. I feel like I’m leaving here more confused than when I came in.” Bad, John! Bad! That is a total FAIL!


Keep employee pay on the low-low:

In Matthew 20 Jesus gives an illustration about a master hiring workers for his vineyard. When it comes pay time “they began to murmur against the householder” because some felt they worked longer/harder/in the hotter part of the day and should have received more. Or at least a tall, bonus glass of Country Time.  Essentially even though they agreed to work for pre-determined amount, they were mad that the master paid others who did less work the same.


Nothing can foment discontent amongst a staff more than, “What?! He makes more than me?!” Nothing, and I mean *nothing* good can come of people knowing what other people are making. (Especially what YOU make. Do NOT leave pay stubs around. Tis the makings of revolution!) Jesus knew this nearly 2000 years ago. As the boss, you might reason, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with my own things?” ie: Can't I pay whomever I want whatever I want? Yes. Just don't let anyone else find out. Best solution is sealed envelopes on payday.


Don’t get too greedy:

In Luke 12 a “certain rich man” (almost always a title that is going to come with problems in Bible-speak) decided that he would tear down all of his storehouses to build bigger ones so that he could lay up many good things for years to come. That night, he died.


When business is good – a big job signs a contract, that big deposit check comes in – it can be tempting to run out and start buying things. Even if they are “smart” purchases – new tools, vehicles or inventory, expanding a location, new hires – sometimes it is best to grow sloooow. This is especially prudent thinking in times when people are backing out of contracts and wanting that deposit moneys back. Also in Luke is the counsel, “Who of your that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Oh that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have had a small dose of Luke before giving out all those 103% loans!)


Be humble:

In Luke 14 there is an illustration of the “humble guest.” Instead of taking the most prominent seat at a wedding feast and then being told to move it along, someone cooler, funnier, better looking and more important than you is here, Jesus advises to take the lowly seat and then wait to be asked to move up to a better seat. “For everyone that exalts himself will be humbled, and he that humbles himself will be exalted.”


Let your work and your references speak for themselves. Instead of constantly telling everyone how great you are, allow examples of your work and your past customers and builders to do the bragging for you. A third party compliment carries far more weight and is infinitely less douchey than bragging on yourself.


Even the most trusted employees can betray you:

Of course everyone recalls Judas, who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. Then there is Peter, who despite vigorous protests to the contrary, denied knowing Jesus  three times before the cock crowed twice. In Luke 16 is the example of a steward that was accused of handling goods wastefully. Before he was fired, he went around and slashed the amount due to his master so that he could get in good with those owing the master, setting himself up for another job.


No matter how good or close you think an employee is, there is always the chance that they will leave – betray – you one day for the offer of more money, a perceived better opportunity, or to start their own company. We had an employee years ago that told one of our better customers that we were WAY overcharging him and that if he decided to have the employee do the job on the side for him, he would save him a ton of money. (Sound like a certain steward?) The customer told us this, and of course we fired him. Another employee walked in one morning, picked up his tool bag, and quit. Said he had to go to where the big money was: tract housing. That company is out of business now and he is on to some other venture. While tricky to enforce, a signed non-compete clause can also be a prudent measure to protecting yourself against the wicked and sluggish slave, err, employee.


Responsibility to those who deserve it:

Matthew 25 talks about a master that commits his belongings to his workers; entrusting them with goods in the amount of 5 talents to one, two talents to another and one to the last. “To each one according to his own ability.” When the master returns, those with 5 and 2 talents doubled their money and gave back 10 and 4 respectively. The one given one talent did nothing with his responsibility and just gave back the single talent. (This didn’t go over well with the master who apparently was an exacting man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not winnow. Kind of like Steve Jobs with the iTunes store, but less black-turtlenecky.) 


Let’s face it, not all employees are up to the same level of responsibilities. Some are chiefs, some are sergeants and some are going to be grunt privates. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Every army – company – needs privates, especially those that will one day advance to sergeants and chiefs. But part of being the Big Boss is knowing where to entrust responsibility and when to give more to those that can handle it. And when to pull it away for those that can’t.

Categories: September 2010, Books

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