If you’re a software developer and you’ve not come across Dan Benjamin and his awesome 5by5 network of podcasts, then you really ought to check them out. I’ve never really got into the habit of listening to podcasts (save for the occasional episode of the Stack Overflow podcast that particular interested me) – partly it’s the practicalities of how to find an hour or so to listen to people talking, especially since it’s hard to concentrate on anything else whilst also paying attention to what’s being said. But the 5by5 shows are so good that they were enough to push me into figuring out how to get podcasts set up on my iPod Touch so that I can now listen during the odd long tube or train journey, or whilst going for a walk.
So far I’ve tried The Talk Show with John “Daring Fireball” Gruber, although he talks so slowly that I’ll probably just keep to reading him for the sake of efficiency, and Build & Analyze with Marco “Instapaper” Arment, which is probably particularly of interest to other iPhone/iOS developers. But by far and away the best thing I have listened to, which I’ve been subscribing to right from the start, is Back To Work with Merlin Mann. I am a huge fan of Merlin – probably best known for his “Inbox Zero” material. Whilst being an absolute nut case, the guy just talks sense. So much of what he talks about on his show really meshes with a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about lately about genuine productivity and how to actually get on and “ship” stuff.
I’m finding it an interesting experience listening to Back To Work, since it seems like there is real wisdom there – these guys really seem to have an insight into how the world works that is far beyond the superficial understanding you tend to find in a lot of “productivity porn” (as Merlin would call it). I’ve been studying a course recently on Wisdom at the PT Cornhill training course looking particularly at the book of Proverbs, and it seems to me there’s a real tension going on: on the one hand, “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (where ‘LORD’ in capitals refers specifically to the covenant God of Israel), and as far as I can tell Dan & Merlin wouldn’t exactly fit that description; yet on the other hand, the editors of the book of Proverbs seemed to feel quite happy including what is essentially secular wisdom literature into their book – there’s a whole section of Proverbs which is lifted almost verbatim from the Egyptian “Instructions of Amenemopet“. Of course you don’t have to be a Christian to be able to carefully observe how God’s world works and how we as human beings function within that world, so it makes perfect sense that there would be wisdom beyond the people of God. Yet without the fear of the LORD, it seems inevitable that your conclusions are going to diverge from the path of godly thinking at some point. Dan & Merlin really seem to get the fact that we as human beings are deeply flawed – deeply flawed – and that a lot of getting stuff done boils down to recognising that reality and working within the confines of how things really are rather than kidding yourself that you “ought” to be able to be more productive. But I guess that ultimately their motivations for getting stuff done – the whole reason they want to be productive in the first place – is man-centred and not Christ-centred, and that’s where it departs from genuine Wisdom.
I don’t really know – I’m still figuring out what I think about all this. Any thoughts would be welcome – feel free to post them below using the Facebook comments thingy. In the mean time, I’ve been dwelling on this verse from Colossians 3:17 lately:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him.”