The Rules of the Game


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Matthew 5:17

Rules are rules.  We often dislike them and chafe under them.  We have a natural antagonism towards regulations of any kind.  They restrict our freedom and upset our sense of pride and self-determination.

But not all rules are the same.  Some are, as we always suspected, designed to control us to protect the interests of others.  Sometimes parents tell their children to be quiet, not because the children need to learn that skill, but because the parents prefer quiet.  Sometimes bosses assign projects to their workers solely for their personal gain, rather than for the benefit of the workers, or even for the good of the company.

Other rules are different.  They are designed to protect us from ourselves.  They are designed to teach us good and to shore up the weakness in us that always tends towards self destruction.  The problem we frequently encounter is knowing which rules are which.  How do we know which rules to defy and which rules to embrace?

The character of the rule giver provides us easy clues.  Some of Christ’s followers might have mistrusted the law.  They might have seen it as invasive or unnecessary.  But Christ advised them in our text for today that He wasn’t there to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

His fulfillment would come on the cross.  There, the law of God was vindicated.  Christ’s voluntary death to pay the price of the law proved it didn’t come from a self-serving tyrant.  It was given by a self-sacrificing, benevolent creator.  The root of God’s law was not control.  It was love.

Many of us are rule givers – in our families, our workplaces or elsewhere.  On what basis do we craft rules for others?  Are we preparing to control them or to sacrifice ourselves for them?  May we always follow Christ’s example and instill trust and appreciation in those who look to us for the rules they live by.

Loving Your Neighbor

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14

A true story…

In the late 1990’s our company produced a software product to meet a specific vertical market. We poured everything into it, expending tremendous amounts of money and effort to bring it to market. It was good stuff. It demonstrated beautifully to high acclaim by sales prospects.

Once the product was in the field it started behaving inconsistently. Systems crashed without warning and problems could not be duplicated. For about a year we increased the size of our bug fix and support teams. People pulled all-nighters. It was miserable.

Finally, during a site visit to a customer struggling with this mess I called the president of our company and said, “This product is dead. We need to pull the plug.” He agreed. It was installed in almost two dozen customers. We are we to do? What happened next is “exhibit A” in how to conduct business on a relational, not transactional basis.

Our accounting department immediately assembled a list of every penny sent to us for all product, consulting, support, or other money related to this failed product. Next, we called every customer and told them our decision (many were disappointed) and that a check was on the way for every cent paid to our company for this product and its supporting services. Further, the test computer they might have purchased from us was theirs to keep. For one big customer, we sent consultants on site free of charge to help convert data to the format our competitor could import to ease the pain of transition.

These customers universally expressed gratitude and thanks for how this was handled. They knew we cared.  They knew we had sacrificed.  They knew they had been loved.  Our company recovered and today is dominant in its market, bigger than ever. At no time did I ever have to apologize or rationalize how our company handled this difficult situation. I’m proud that my rear view mirror on my career is filled with such stories. I sleep well.

But it costs something to do business this way. Loving our customers sacrificed our bottom line that year.  I personally sacrificed my bonus.  Loving others isn’t always cheap and easy.  The model we have for how to relate to others is the death of Christ.

In life we are called to follow our Savior’s example, and so it must be in business.

Kirk Fischer, Associate Dean, McLane College of Business, UMHB

My Top Five List for Success

Social media and lifestyle websites are often aggregations of lists. “Eight things to do before breakfast.”  “Five habits that will kill your career.”  Here is my Top Five List for Success:

  1. A list will not make you successful
  2. A list will not make you successful
  3. A list will not make you successful
  4. A list will not make you successful
  5. A list will not make you successful

These “lists” are mildly entertaining but they offer mostly spiritual and intellectual junk food. It’s “click bait.” This is clear to me in my 60’s, much more than it was in my 40’s. My active business career matured during the 1980’s and 1990’s, a time saturated with popular literature on how to be successful. We went “In Search of Excellence” and tried to go “From Good to Great” while “One Minute Managing” our way in “Pursuit of Wow” through a “Circle of Innovation” and on and on. I was guilty of managing by the last book I read and it was, at times, a disaster.

As a late-in-life doctoral student and professor, I enrolled in “The Foundations of Management Theory” in 2007. The assigned reading was ancient – Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, Douglas MacGregor and others – from the late 1800’s through mid-20th century. I asked the professor why we were not reading more modern texts like the ones I had consumed in my career.  He replied, “Those are unproven. Wait 50 years and see if anyone still cares.” He was right. Today hardly anyone remembers much about most of the bestselling business authors of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

As business people, we can discern between fad and eternal truth. The phrase of the year (remember when everything was “e” – eCommerce, eService, eWhatever?) can have short-term conversational relevance, but is not a secret to success.

Conversely, popular literature can use phrases like “servant leadership” to describe well-tested philosophy:

1 Peter 5:3: “Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.”

Phillippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

As we evaluate the idea-generating popular literature, reflect on the foundational philosophy. If it seems like a fad, it probably is – use it accordingly.

Your success lies in a long-term commitment to truth, not the last list you read over breakfast.

Kirk Fischer, Associate Dean, McLane College of Business, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

The Purpose of Business

Ask most business students, “What is the purpose of business?” and you will likely hear some variation of “To make money!”  We have been exploring this in the McLane College of Business. While a successful business does make money, is that really its purpose?  We think not.

God put us on earth to work. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” More expansively, God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This pre-fall directive, often referred to as the creation or cultural mandate, envisions work and economic exchange that brings glory to God and contributes to human flourishing.

When asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus replied, ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  There is the repeated theme: we are to love God and our neighbor.

In an essay entitled “The Purpose and Practice of Business,” Tim Weinhold writes: “God’s purpose for business (and everything else) is that it foster human flourishing—that it make people’s lives better. In practice, business does so when it fulfills ‘Love your neighbor’ by creating real value for customers, employees, and others. Taken together, these are the essentials of ‘business for blessing’—God’s grand intent for the purpose and practice of business.”

The reformer Martin Luther noted, “Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.” No, the purpose of business is not making money—although profit is an expectation (c.f., Deuteronomy 8:18). Rather, the purpose of business is to glorify God and love our neighbor. To the extent it does so, business is a high calling.

Dr. Ken A. Smith, Dean, McLane College of Business, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Sweat the Small Stuff

One of the mantras sometimes bandied about in business is, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s cracker-barrel wisdom to keep one focused on the big goal. However, in my 29 years in corporate and now eight years in academia, I observe that this is bad advice.  The big stuff is made up of small stuff; dismissing small stuff is unproductive.

For example: A common New Year’s goal is to lose weight; however, success rates hover in the single digits. Why? Because making one big decision is easy… “Let’s lose weight.”  It’s the failure to remain vigilant with a thousand small decisions, “Don’t eat the cookie,” that derail your goal. I earned a master’s and doctoral degrees in my 50’s not because of a big decision, but because of hundreds of small decisions to study or go to class instead of playing golf or watching television.

In business, we face this dilemma all the time. We set big goals… but are we prepared to execute on those goals? Are we prepared to do the small thing, day-in and day-out, to bring that goal to life?

A good secular book on this topic is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy.  A better book is Luke where in chapter 16, verse 10 we learn: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much.”

Success is about the small stuff – the little decisions. Every day.

Dr. Kirk Fischer, Associate Dean, McLane College of Business,  University of Mary Hardin-Baylor