Love and Marriage

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“Let the young woman to whom I shall say,
‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’
and who shall say,
‘Drink, and I will water your camels’
…let her be the one whom you have
appointed for your servant Isaac.”
(Gen 24:14)

Love and Marriage

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After Iranian New Years in 1982 and after I was able to buy a car later that spring, Maryam and I got together weekly on Sunday afternoons. Although we had initially doubled dated before I was able to buy a car, we later got together on our own primarily just to spend time. At first, I took her to various restaurants around Detroit, as in Greek Town or the revolving restaurant in the Renaissance Center[1]. Later, however, Maryam learned that I was running up my credit card account treating her to dinner and she refused to eat anywhere other than Denny’s restaurant. While Denny’s was certainly not my favorite restaurant, I took Maryam’s concern about expenses as a sign that she was serious about our relationship. I also noticed also that she lost weight after we started going out, although she still denies that was true.

Later in August of that summer, my parents and I traveled to meetings of the American Agricultural Economics Association in Logan, Utah. On the way back, we stopped at Dinosaur National Park[2] and later visited the Denver Art Museum[3], where my dad bought my mother a necklace. Taking a page from my father’s playbook, I bought Maryam a necklace with alternating gold-plated brass and black stone pieces strung together. It was the first jewelry that I had ever purchased for her (or anyone else).

In the fall of that year, I was on the road almost constantly on the road visiting cattle slaughtering plants, meat processors, and innovative retailers—first in Detroit’s Eastern Market, then elsewhere in Michigan, and finally across the Midwest, traveling as far as Colorado. Managers were surprisingly open to have graduate students, like myself, visit and take plant tours. Union representatives for the plants were also eager to share their stories. It was a troubling time for cattle slaughters because vacuum packaged beef coming from huge firms on the high plains had recently started competing with locally slaughtered cattle which drove many smaller operations out of business. These interviews formed the core of my dissertation work which was eventually entitled: Labor Relations, Technological and Structural Change in U.S. Beef Packing and Retailing (May 1985).

Being on the road so much meant that Maryam and I had less time together. At one point, she traveled to East Lansing to attend one of my soccer games and to meet my friends in a gathering afterwards. I also remember visiting her after Thanksgiving and presenting her with a ceramic pheasant stuffed with dried flowers for her birthday.[4] The Internationals took the gold cup that season, but I was frequently unable to play and received my gold cup as manager in absentia.

With my survey work completed by December, the financial support from my department came to an end and I returned home to start the New Year (1983) in Virginia without my degree, without a job, and without much savings. Maryam was still living in Detroit with her brother and sister so it was difficult finding time and money to travel for visits. So when I needed to return to Michigan State University periodically to visit with my doctoral committee, I would also stop in Detroit for a visit.

This was a lean year, in part, because the federal government had a hiring freeze and, in part, because my parents moved in August to West Lafayette, Indiana where my dad joined the faculty of Purdue University. From August on that year, I continued to live my parents’ home in Falls Church with my sister, Karen, but I later rented an apartment in Shirlington.

My old office in the Economic Research Service, USDA was eager in 1983 to bring me on board, but the hiring freeze did let up until late in the year. My official start date was the first day of the last pay period in 1983 which meant that I was eligible to remain in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) which was eliminated on January 1, 1984 with the inauguration of the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). It was a gift to be able to work; because of my eligibility for the old retirement system, I later learned that the gift was much larger than initially aware.

In the spring of 1984, Maryam came to visit. Towards the end of her visit, we stopped by Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, an upscale jeweler in Tyson Corner shopping center, and picked out an engagement ring on credit. I bought a much better ring than I could afford to let her—and all her friends and family—know that I was serious about our relationship. My investment paid off. After she returned home, her brother, Ghasem, announced that he was getting married in June in Detroit. Maryam and I later set our wedding date for November 24, back in Virginia.




[4] Her official birthday is in December on the same day as mine, but we only learned that years later when she had to get an official translation of her birth certificate when she became naturalized.

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Grahl Connects Authors to Fans to Books

tim_grahl_review_09162016Tim Grahl. 2013. Your First 1,000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book.  Lynchburg: Out:Think Group.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The word on the street is that less than 5 percent of self-published authors sell 1,000 books. Most sell none at all which means that the first book sold, even to your mother, is a critical threshold. Thus, when I noticed a book entitled—Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl—it got my attention and I bought a copy.

Grahl[2] writes:

“This short book will solve that problem [knowing how to sell] by providing a clear, actionable and proven system to author platform building…A platform is whatever plan and method you use to connect with your readers and sell books, whether it’s traveling the world to speak, hand-selling to friends or building a popular blog.” (ii)

This is a big promise for a small book so what is the plan? Grahl calls it his “connection system” which he describes as:

“Our journey into online platform building will start with the best way to get Permission to communicate regularly with your fans. Then we will discuss how to engage your readers through Content that you will make freely and widely available. Once you have permission and content, we will examine how to find and connect with new readers through Outreach. Finally, we will talk about how you use Permission, Content, and Outreach to naturally and ethically Sell your books.” (iii)

A couple of very interesting principles are mentioned in Grahl’s system. For example, the idea of permission means that this system is not your traditional marketing framework which assumes that you are selling to people that you do not personally know at any level. Fans know you and you know your fans at least well enough that they have trusted their personal email address to you. In fact, Grahl redefines marketing as two things: ”(1) creating  long-lasting connections with people through (2)…being relentlessly helpful” (8-11) They are willing to trust you in this case because they have read your free content and identified with it helping solve one of their problems.

After a chapter about marketing, Grahl’s book is organized around how to apply these principles in your own connection system. Let me turn to each in turn.

Permission. After reviewing options in social media, Grahl highlights developing an email list as an author’s first priority (27).  Two reasons stand out: (1) you as author control the list and (2) people read their email daily. With other social media, access to your contacts is controlled by a firm which may or may not allow you direct access and people are much less committed to actually reading the content provided.

Grahl suggests using an email service—MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact (28)—and suggests making the signup process both obvious and compelling. He sees the most obvious signup mechanism as a popup box, delayed 20 seconds to assure that your website visitor is actually engaged, not just passing through (36-38). He sees compelling content in your newsletter as the primary way to keep readers engaged and willing to come back (38-39).

Content. Free is everyone’s favorite price, but authors know that free can be costly. Grahl sees 3 reasons why free content is essential:

  1. It allows people to interact with your content before signing up,
  2. It gives other bloggers, journalists, and other publishers something to link to and publicize your work, and
  3. It gives search engines, like Google, something to index so that people can find your work (51-52).

In other words, your free content helps make your work discoverable and gives them a reason to want to. Grahl suggests focusing on content that will not grow stale over time (74) and building on top of other people’s platforms, like blogging on LinkedIn (55).

Outreach. Grahl sees outreach as necessary to growing your platform. How exactly do you find new readers? (80-81) A key component of this outreach is empathy—“the intellectual identification or vicarious experiencing of feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” (82) The reason empathy is key is because it allows you to serve your fans in ways that we keep them coming back for more and your influencers to want to work with you in achieving your goals (87).

Sell. Once you have permission from your fans, you have offered them compelling content, and have demonstrated that you serve their needs, they will be willing and hopefully eager to hear about your products. At this point, Grahl advises authors to be enthusiastic about their own work—be your own fan (113). If this advice sounds easy, try working for a year or two on a writing project and still be as excited about it as you were the first day! If you are not enthusiastic, then who exactly will be? When you are excited, then your fans will pick up on your enthusiasm and asking for them to buy your book will come easier.

Grahl suggests offering the first 10 percent of your book online as a teaser to get readers interesting and asking for more (115). He suggests a “call to action” page with blurbs, a photo of you and a short bio, and hyperlinks to purchasing the book (116). If you are like me, this is not what your call to action page looks like, but Grahl makes the case that a call to action page should ask you to buy the book, give details, and be presented multiple times, although perhaps not all in the same way.

Tim Grahl’s book, Your First 1000 Copies, is a helpful and readable guide to how to market a self-published book. Grahl’s approach is believable because he works as a marketing consultant to authors and cites numerous cases studies taken from his own clients’ experiences.[3] His focus on email marketing also lends credibility to his advice because anyone who has tried to market books knows how hard it is to make online sales. In my own experience, about 10 percent of my books are sold online and the other 90 percent are sold in person—in other words, as a new author you are selling yourself, not your books, to most of your readers. Consequently, I expect to adjust my marketing strategy in view of having read Grahl’s book. I expect that you will too.


[2] If you are unfamiliar with Tim, this podcast with Joanna Penn ( is a great place to learn more about him:

[3] I recently reviewed one of Grahl’s clients: The Heath’s Stick to Communication (

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Prayer for Transcendence

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

We praise you for your glory, that you are holy, set apart, and stand outside of time.

All glory is yours for we are sinful, quick to compromise, and mortally bound to times and places beyond our control.

Do not leave us content to look into the mirror, to grasp at visceral pleasures, or to chase after temporal temptations.

Lift us out of the mire of power politics, the pit of merchants wares, and the icy embrace of superficial inattention.

Remind us that it is not all about us–salvation is your gift, not ours. We need only accept it and live in obedience to you.

Through the power of you Holy Spirit,

remind us of our past;  let your mercy guide our steps; may we live in the hope of the resurrection.

By Jesus’ example, and in his name, Amen.


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Life in Tension Giveaway on

Purchase at:
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Book giveaway on between now and October 10, 2016.

Enter now (click here) to win one of five free copies of Life in Tension: Reflections on the Beatitudes.

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Stress and Stress Modeling

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
(Ps 8:3-4)

Stress and Stress Modeling

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At some point in 1991, the Office of Financial Analysis (OFA) in the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) was re-organized and placed under the Office of Examination (OE). The objective of the economics group shifted from policy research to risk analysis and support for the examination function. To facilitate this transition, OE offered examination training to anyone interested in taking it and I signed up for all the training that I could get. Because I knew nothing about the examination function, I could only support it if I learned what it was. Over the next year, I spent as much as two weeks a month taking training courses offered both internally by examination supervisors and externally, often at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC’s) L. William Seidman [training] Center.

While policy research focused heavily on legislative and regulatory performance, examination focused on the financial performance of Farm Credit System associations and banks. A typical association examination might last 2-3 weeks, depending on the chief examiner’s off-site risk analysis. Because the primary business of the associations was making agricultural production and farm real estate loans, much of this time was devoted to reviewing individual loan files to see if they conformed to association policies and FCA regulations, and rating loans as to their credit status. FCA examiners were typically credit and interest rate experts, knowing the business of agricultural lending almost as well as the lending officers themselves.

By contrast, FCA economists typically focused on market conditions and financial performance in the aggregate, not being nearly so focused on the business side of the associations. Assigning us to support the examination function was hugely educational, but it was also forced us to play by unfamiliar rules with unfamiliar staff. My plunge into examination training, of course, helped alleviate this problem, but the threat of failure was ever-present and my own paranoia was stroked when we were assigned interior offices half the size of the offices we were accustomed to.

One morning in June 1992, a stranger walked into my office and announced that I had been RIFed. RIF stands for reduction in force and usually meant that your position had been eliminated. In the middle of this stressful conversation, he told me that when human resources reviewed my file they discovered that I had more examination training than many of their professional examiners. Consequently, while my economics position was eliminated, I was being offered a position in the McLean examination team at my current salary and I had two years to complete certification as an examiner. If I completed the certification, I would retain my salary and begin a new career as an FCA examiner. So with two kids in diapers and my wife, Maryam, six months pregnant with my son, that morning I began a new career in examination. I ended up traveling about 80 percent of the time.

At the time when this RIF occurred, I was working as an analyst attached to a new Office of Secondary Market Oversight (OSMO), tasked with supervising Farmer Mac. OSMO consisted of a director, an analyst (me), and a secretary. OSMO’s budget was cut roughly in half that year leaving no room for an analyst at a critical time—OSMO was tasked with building a stress model for Farmer Mac which by law had to be made available for public review. While I built a balance sheet and income statement model in Excel for this purpose, public release suggested a more formal approach. Consequently, I proposed to program this stress model in the C programming language built on the Windows operating system. The director liked this proposal and sent me out for training in C and in Windows programming.

My RIF initially slowed progress in developing a Farmer Mac stress model, but after a time on the road it became obvious that van travel consumed a substantial portion of the work week on examination. And what do you do in the evening in a hotel? I proposed to the OSMO director to program the stress model during such down-time and the director arranged for me to get one of the first laptops available in FCA. At the time, even exam managers did not have laptops and my laptop was the envy of my new peers and managers. The first version of the Farmer Mac stress model was completed while riding in the back of a van in rural Virginia.

After several months of examination work in the McLean team, I applied for a licensing position in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in the Department of Treasury. I succeeded in interviewing for the position because the position required working closely with licensing analysts who were typically certified national bank examiners. Ironically, my credit experience working as an FCA examiner helped me land this new position.

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Baehr and Boone Examine Media’s Role in Culture

baehr_boone_review_09132016Ted Baehr and Pat Boone.  2007. The Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christine Values in a Mass Media World. Ventura: Regal.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For anyone who grew up in the period before 1970, the slide of American culture into secularism has been shockingly rapid. What happened to television shows like I love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver during prime time? By 1984 when I got married, I tried but failed to make my home a television free zone. Today, my kids make fun of me as I mute the television during racy ads and leave the room when newscasters broadcast filler. [1] How are we to understand the messages that media routinely pours on us and reasonably communicate standards within the family? In their book, The Culture-Wise Family, Ted Baehr and Pat Boone offer a Christian perspective on these issues.

In her foreword, Janet Parshall writes:

The Culture-Wise Family looks into the abysmal future possibilities of where the current collapse of civilization may lead and also into the hope offered by renewed rededication to biblical wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.  Furthermore, The Culture-Wise Family helps the reader understand what must be done, why it must be done, and how it can be done.” (13)

Ted Baehr is the Chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission[2] which publishes MovieGuides,[3] a Christian movie review service, which makes him a credible commentator on visual media. Meanwhile, Pat Boone[4] is himself a well-known gospel singer from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a film star[5] and television host, The Pat Boone/Chevy Showroom which aired for 3 years nationally on television.

Baehr and Boone clearly have a heart for young people and they offer these 5 pillars of media wisdom:

  1. “Understand the influence of the media on your children.”
  2. “Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development.”
  3. “Teach your children how the media communicates its message.”
  4. “Help your children know the fundamentals of Christian faith.”
  5. “Help your children learn to ask the right questions.” (27-28)

Citing a 2003 report in Movieguide, they note that by the time our children reach the age of 17, they have spent 63,000 hours exposed to media, 11,000 hours in school, 2,000 hours with their parents, and only 800 hours in church (88). The implication is, of course, that media educates our children more than is commonly understand, in part, through repetition—if you repeat something enough times, people tend to believe it.[6] One measure of that influence reported is that in 1950, 70 percent of 12-15 year olds felt that the messages of the Bible applied to their lives while in 2001 that figure was only 4 percent (Movieguide, 2005; 89). How exactly did that immensely important cultural shift occur?

In our household, we experienced this shift first-hand. At one point when my son was in elementary school, he became ill and was having trouble sleeping. Thinking that he was experiencing complications relative to a medical challenge that he faced back then, we took him to see his pediatrician. Alarmed, the pediatrician referred him to several specialists for tests—they must have tried a dozen times to draw blood sample without success and subjected him to scans of this and that. As parents, we were horrified and in great distress over these medical tests that went late into the night. The result? My son was having a reaction to a video game that pictured aliens as attacking rubber chickens and meat cuts, like in bone hams (imagine your dinner coming back to attack you). What was completely innocuous to us as adults terrified our son.

Baehr and Boone provide a lot of historical details that provide insights into some of the cultural changes that we have seen. For example, they report that between 1933 and 1966, every script in Hollywood was reviewed by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church, and Protestant film office. If the film passed the review and adhered to their code, it could be screened; otherwise, not. During this period, “there was no explicit sex, violence, profanity, or blasphemy in movies”. Inexplicably, the churches withdrew from Hollywood in 1966 (48-49). Who in their right mind would trade Leave it to Beaver for Family Guy? In effect, we have made this trade.

Baehr and Boone include a number of essays targeting issues of obvious interest. One that sticks in my mind is William S. Lind’s Who Stole Our Culture? (178-185) The short answer is the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt school, now known as the New School for Social Research in New York City. Particularly important in the strategy for advancing cultural Marxism is known as critical theory. Critical theory advocates subjecting every traditional institution—the family, traditional morality, the church, schools, government, and anyone in authority to unrelenting criticism, making no attempt to offer any real facts or an alternative solution (think of Marx’s own slander of religion as the “opiate of the masses”).[7] Those in authority are characterized as oppressors (and subject to relentless criticism) while everyone else is a victim (automatically good). Cultural Marxism is responsible for the political correctness movement and for mainstreaming homosexuality.[8] By aiding the destruction of the major institutions of Western Civilization, the cultural Marxists have paved the way for Marx’s ideas in ways that communists in the former Soviet Union and other communist countries failed to accomplish.

Ted Baehr and Pat Boone’s book, The Culture-Wise Family, is a difficult book to read and absorb. No matter what your social position is, the question of culture and the culture wars is a hot button topic where few people agree on much of anything. However, basic information is needed to assess what issues are really at stake and which are not. Here Baehr and Boone provide a real resource.  I encourage you to take  a look.

[1] Filler is content used in place of real news.  Examples are animal tidies, around the clock reporting of disasters, or content-free news coverage which leaves out background required to understand what is being presented. The reporting of disasters is particularly pernicious because by exposing the public to repeated video clips of diaster footage, people can develop symptoms known as “secondary trauma” much like actual first responders and other caregivers. For example, see:




[5] For example, Boone was one of the stars in the film, The Cross and the Switchblade, which helped me come to faith as a young person.

[6] This repetition is sometimes referred to as the “broken-record negotiating strategy”.


[8] Key books in this effort include:  Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (1929-1935), Theodor W. Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization.

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Prayer for Today and Every Day

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of all mercy, Loving Son, Healing Spirit:

We praise you for creating the heaven and earth; all that is, was or will ever be; things seen and unseen.

We look upon your creation and marvel at its beauty, seeing not you but merely the work of your hands, and, having seen it, we want to praise you.

We thank you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who in life was a role model for sinners, in death became a ransom for sin, and in new life gave us the hope of salvation.

We look upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and see your love for us and want to praise you.

We thank you for your Holy Spirit; who is ever close, sustains all things, provisions all things, and gives every good gift.

We see your power displayed throughout creation, making all things new, and just want to praise your name.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the giver of life, and the redeemer of men and women, in whom we trust

and have our being. Amen.

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Farmer Mac


“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! O men,
how long shall my honor be turned into shame?”
(Ps 4:1-2)

Farmer Mac

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Once I began to focus on the work of Finance and Tax Branch in Rural Economy Division (RED) in 1986, I was asked to undertake research on the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, commonly known as Farmer Mac. Farmer Mac was new and exotic and largely incomprehensible for researchers focused on retail lending. As the new kid on the block, I enjoyed an interesting assignment with virtually no competition, making Farmer Mac research the ideal project.[1]

Farmer Mac’s authorizing legislation passed in 1987 as part of a broader bill to bail out the Farm Credit System (FCS), which had experienced serious losses during the farm financial crisis of previous year. Farmer Mac was authorized to garner support from community bankers for the FCS bailout under the premise that Farmer Mac would offer improved access to the bond market for the bankers similar to the bond market access enjoyed by FCS through their funding corporation.

As a conduit to the bond market, Farmer Mac had two business functions in its authorizing legislation. It was to securitize commercial farm mortgage loans and federally-guaranteed Farmer’s Home Administration mortgage loans. The commercial loan business was modeled after the home mortgage market securitizations of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, while the guarantee business was modeled after Ginnie Mae securitizations of Federal Home Administration guarantee mortgages. The parallels between Farmer Mac’s proposed business and the existing businesses in the home mortgage markets were incomplete, however, because farm loans are business loans and home mortgages are consumer credits—business loans are much riskier than consumer loans because their performance depends on business prospects while consumer loans rely on more stable salary income.

My initial research on Farmer Mac was a legislative review, Prospects for a Secondary Market in Farm Mortgages (1988), which took three of us about a year to complete. As subject-matter research in an agency more focused on disciplinary research (Hiemstra, 1991), the report got little attention in the building but was picked up by the farm press, the Farmer Mac board, and the board of directors at the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), which was tasked with Farmer Mac oversight. By 1989, when I gave a paper at the American Agricultural Economic Association conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I was well-known enough to be invited to lunch by the FCA Chairman during the August conference and, later, was offered a promotion to join the FCA staff.

By September, however, the reality of my situation started to sink in.

The Friday of the week before I was to start work at FCA, I received a telephone call from my prospective supervisor. He asked: “Would I be willing to meeting him at J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks and Seafood after work that day?” I responded: “No problem, but it would be no problem to swing by the office on the way home from work.” He returned: “No. Let’s get together at Gilbert’s.” Later, at Gilbert’s he proceeded to inform me that the FCA Chairman (who I had lunch with in Baton Rouge) was unhappy that an “aggie” (me) had been selected for that my position and he threatened my supervisor with a bad evaluation if he went ahead and hired me.[2] The punchline was: “Did I really want to work at FCA?” Yes . . . Absolutely . . . I needed the promotion, but the stress of my new position was now obvious even before I began work.

To deal with the stress and to celebrate my promotion, I bought a new Young Chang Studio Upright piano and began playing hymns daily.[3]

On Monday when I started work, I immediately left for Capital Hill. The agriculture committee was holding hearings on Farmer Mac and, as the resident FCA expert, it was a priority to attend. On Tuesday, the hearings were to continue and I planned to attend, but I got an early morning visit from a second-level supervisor who asked about my plans for the day. I replied: “I plan to attend the Farmer Mac hearings.” He responded that I could not attend as an FCA observer, but that I might take annual leave to attend. Dumbfounded, I asked why. Apparently, the FCA Chairman called from a conference in San Francisco to make sure that I did not attend the hearings.

Oh, by the way, welcome to the Farm Credit Administration!


Hiemstra, Stephen W. and Hyunok Lee. 1989. “Implications of Land Transfer Survey Data on Agricultural Mortgages for Farmer Mac,” Presentation at the American Agricultural Economic Association summer meetings in Baton Rouge. August .

Hiemstra, Stephen W., Steven R. Koenig, and David Freshwater. 1988. Prospects for a Secondary Market in Farm Mortgages. U.S. Department of Agricultural. Economic Research Service. Agricultural Economics Report No. 603. December. (Reprinted March 1989).

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 1991. “Production and Use of Subject-Matter Research in the Federal Service: Example of Research on Farmer Mac,” Agricultural Economics: The Journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. July. pp. 237-251.

[1] As a newly authorized financial intermediary, Farmer Mac was a start-up corporation without a staff or clear template for operations and most agricultural finance analysts had no experience with secondary mortgage markets.

[2] The issue was that the 1987 Act converted FCA from the head office of the FCS into an independent federal regulator. Agricultural economists (“aggies”) were considered too sympathetic to the FCS and not schooled in financial regulation. The preferred hires were accordingly bank examination personal from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the U.S. Department of Treasury.

[3] The stress reducing effect of piano playing came to me from a story told to me by a roommate in college. His father was a station chief in the Central Intelligence Agency and could not discuss his work so he played piano to deal with the stress.

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The Heath's Stick to Communication

heath_review_09072016Chip and Dan Heath.[1] 2008. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New York: Random House, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When you write and speak so distinctly that—your words enter the dictionary; children grow up repeating your phrases; songwriters plagiarize your work; competing products leave the market; and everyone knows your name—you know that you have reached the Holy Grail of communication…the few, the chosen, the MarinesI had it my wayhave it your wayjlo…where entertainers and advertisers and politicians and marketing types all come together.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write:

“We wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick. By ‘stick”, we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.” (8)

Catch the action words here—understand, remember, and change. Every therapist, teacher, and pastor holds these objectives, but seldom attains them. If you don’t believe me, pick up a pen and write down the main points of the last sermon that you heard—what? You can’t? The point here is that sticky is good.

Sticky is also hard.

The Heaths cite 6 principles of sticky ideas: they are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, [stimulate] Emotions, and [tell a] Story (14-18) which form acronym: SUCCESs. The core chapters of the Heath’s book concentrate on these 6 principles so let me briefly describe each in turn.

Simple. The Heath’s write:

“Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.” (16)

Simple means that the core idea is obvious. The core idea could be the “commander’s intent”, if you are in the military, (26) or “the lead”, if you are a journalist, (30) or a memorable phrase like “It’s the economy, stupid”, if you are Bill Clinton running for president (33-34). The Heath’s write: “Core messages help people avoid bad choices by reminding them of what’s important.” (37) They expand saying: “Simple messages are core and compact” (46) which implies that simple messages need to remind you of something basic that you can remember—a metaphor (60). Think: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” (Not a metaphor, but a simile but the idea is the same). Simple communicates because it is simple.

Unexpected. The Heath’s write:

“We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive…For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.” (16)

Surprise gets our attention; interest keeps it (65). The Heath’s advice sticky artists: “to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.” (71) Or, alternatively, to “open gaps” in people’s knowledge and then to “close them” (85). Gaps create curiosity, but only in learning new things are we able to close the gap.

Concrete. The Heath’s write:

“How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information…Our brains are wired to remember concrete data.” (17)

They elaborate:

“…concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things…World class customer service is abstract. A Nordie [Nordstrum’s employee] ironing a customer’s shirt is concrete.” (104) The concept of a Nordie doing outrageously good things for customers communicates customer service is a priority in a manner like an urban legend.

Credible. The Heath’s write: “Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.” (17) Think: lots of gritty details.

Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. Still, we tend to believe our “family, personal experience, faith”, authorities with a “wall [which] is covered with framed credentials”, “celebrities and other aspirational figures”, and “anti-authorities” like the common person on the street (133-134). A Nordie is an anti-hero.

Emotions. The Heath’s write: “We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.” (18) They elaborate: “…the goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.” (169)

Story. The Heath’s write:

“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories…mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulation, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.” (18)

They elaborate: “The story’s power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).” (206)

Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick, communicates in mental pictures and stories what communicates—becomes an urban legend—and what only informs is relegated quickly to the circular file. One of my first applications of Made to Stick was borrow the story of tappers and listeners (tap out the beats to a song and have a friend try to guess the song; 19-20) as a warm-up exercise for a high school group. Anyone interested in communicating effectively will want to pay attention to this book. It is also great reading.



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God of All Wonders, Forgiving Lord

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father, Blessed Son, Holy Spirit:

All praise and honor are yours, Lord, God of our youth and times since then.

For you forgive our sins, overlook our transgressions, and set aside our iniquity for the sake of your son, Jesus Christ,

who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, rose from the dead, and reigns in glory.

Forgive our haughty spirit; our passion for power; and our worship of money.

May we learn to forgive our neighbors; those that we do not understand; and those that make war on us, not because they deserve our forgiveness, but because our hearts belong to you and vengeance is yours alone.

Remember the fallen, heal our wounds, comfort the afflicted, and soften bitter hearts.

For our lives hang in the balance day after day, leveraged on your provision, not through any merit of our own–may your Holy Spirit rule our hearts.

In the sunshine of your love, may we replace hate with understanding, delight in the example of your son, and grow more like him day by day.

In the warmth of your grace, grant us ears that listen, eyes that see, and a heart for those that you love.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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