Risk and Reward: Speaking Up

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There comes a point when you just speak up. I was a year or so into my job at InterVarsity Press, an evangelical book publisher, where I was concentrated on proofreading and administrative support for the editorial department. But IVP is a uniquely and profoundly process-oriented place, which means that on fairly regular occasions, if someone’s having a conversation, everyone’s having a conversation—including scrubs like me.

One particular conversation was particularly appropriate for casting the net wide. With a new publisher and a new sales and marketing director, the time had come, it had been decided, for a new catchphrase. Publishing houses, like many companies, are known by their taglines—not quite a vision statement, not quite a mission statement, it nevertheless sits prominently next to or directly underneath the corporate logo for everyone to see. General Electric: “We Bring Good Things to Light.” Nike: “Just Do It.” That sort of thing. For years, bordering on decades, IVP’s tagline had been “For Those Who Take Christianity Seriously.” Not bad: it had gravitas, a mix of big and small words, and it told you who we were for. But this was 1999, people: it was the end of one millennium and the dawn of another, the death of modernity and the birth of postmodernity. The times were changing, and our tagline sounded straight outta the 1950s. We needed a new first impression. So we took to company-wide emails to find it.

At first I just observed. I was new, after all, and I hadn’t been hired for my branding acumen; I’d been hired to open the mail and check the spelling. But I liked the direction we were headed. This was a robust virtual conversation about the identity of the Press. We wandered freely through language and images and concepts; we discussed our location on the landscape of evangelicalism; we reflected on the role of publishing in the history of the church. It was like therapy, seminary and an executive retreat all bundled into one endless group email.

I remember the moment when Sally brought up John Wesley. He had developed a “quadrilateral” that early Methodists use to inform their discernment. “Scripture, tradition, reason, experience”—these were the essential tools of people who took their Christianity seriously. Was there a way, Sally wondered, that we could allude to that?

Too Methodist, some remarked. All the poor Presbyterians would get their feelings hurt.

But I liked it. It had punch. It got to the point. I found myself returning to it repeatedly from my meager workspace. What was there in the culture of the Christian movement, of which we so audaciously declared ourselves a strategic contributor, that might offer a similarly galvanizing, centering, confidence-inspiring introduction to what we as a publisher were trying to do?

I remembered Jesus’ great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.” There it was: the primal quadrilateral of the Christian faith.

Now, how to bring it up. Dare I inject myself into this high-level, high-stakes conversation? Turns out, I did dare.

Moving from Young to Young Professional

I carefully crafted and recrafted my email, acknowledging my debt to Sally for turning the conversation in this direction and sheepishly offering my suggestion—“Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength”—and my rationale for it. Response was immediate: people liked it. One of the executives suggested that the cadence would be better as “Heart, Soul, Strength, Mind”—make the mind a little punchier, basically—but I quickly responded: THAT’S NOT WHAT IT SAYS IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK!!! (It turns out that’s what it says in the Gospel of Luke, but this executive kindly and graciously let me win that one.)

A few stylistic tweaks later and we had our new tagline. Our publisher wrote a letter to our constituencies introducing it, and we put the letter on the inside front cover of the next catalog. On the outside front cover was the sales season, our corporate name, and there, in big bold type, “Heart, Mind, Soul, Strength.”

That’s right. Our first introduction of the new tagline got the sequence wrong. Stupid proofreaders. Oh, wait …

After that I was known around the office as “the words guy.” I took a prominent seat at most book title brainstorming meetings, and eventually I started writing a blog on behalf of the company. All because I spoke up when I had an idea, and because I worked for a company that took ideas so seriously that they included even the new kids, even the low-level employees, in core conversations about our work in the world. It was an important experience of risk and reward in my young professional development. I’d been invited and I accepted. Not every company is like that, and not every new kid would know how to handle the responsibility that attends to such a privilege, but when it happens, it’s really great.


Risk and Reward

Early in every working life, a special transition occurs before you know how to avoid mistakes, yet after you’ve made them. Like when you first rode a bike without training wheels. You knew enough to be confident, yet too little to avoid losing skin from your knee. The transition is special because it marks a movement from novice to know-how, from apprenticeship to autonomy. Or, as we might say, from young to young professional.

The High Calling recognizes that everyone—moms, accountants, geologists—need vocational growth, so we share past experiences and tell lessons from the future. But what about the early days when we simply got out there and did it?

In the series, Risk and Reward, we ask, “How did I learn so much in so little time?” Join us and be inspired all over again.

Image by Machine Project. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.