anchored thought

anchored in The Word

I talked about this model on Focused #140 on the Relay FM podcast network. At some point I’ll come back here and write about it too.

I love coming up with new and creative ideas. I like thinking through the purpose of a new project and considering who the stakeholders could be. Essential to this is how the new initiative could provide value to those stakeholders. Sometimes, I am the only stakeholder. Other times, there are many stakeholders. Regardless, it’s important to provide value to anyone involved. Value is an interesting topic and I’ll probably do a full post on that at another time. This post is about project proposals, but before we get there, let’s talk about the motivation behind this post.

It’s spring of 2020. Things are moving along. Family is growing. Day job is going well.

But... my never-ending creative itch is telling me I need to do something creative.

🦠… then COVID …🦠

Classes go remote. Family is put on lockdown. Uncertainty is everywhere.

Everyone handled (and is still handling as of Nov. 2021) the impacts of COVID very differently.

One of my methods to handle COVID was to start new creative projects; particularly, projects in the digital media space. * I finished a children’s book about engineering and tried to find an agent/publisher (no luck yet, but if you're me). * I started a podcast called Talking To The Internet. * I partnered with a theology/apologetics ministry (multiple sub-projects): Theologetics. * After a little while, I realized I wanted to try a more solo project, so I started Through The Cruft. * My friends and I started Heard Immunity after wanting and trying to start a podcast many, many times. * I co-developed a workshop to help academics think about values alignment, their personal lives, and their work. It’s called Design Your Academic Life

As you might imagine, and I realize this too, that’s a lot (too much) to do in a short amount of time.

I’m always trying to learn and, boy, did I learn! I learned how to design, edit, and publish podcasts. I learned how much work it takes to make rudimentary YouTube videos. I learned how to work with many different types of people. I learned how hard it is to get people to respond to emails, Twitter DMs, etc. I learned one way to scratch that creative itch. But, most importantly, I learned that I took on too much and this post is meant to discuss a technique I wish I would have done.

Enter the Project Proposal

As the title foreshadows, I wish I would have written myself detailed project proposals before actually starting on these projects. This Babson resource does a great job detailing a project proposal, so I won’t go through the sections in this post. If you don’t care for this resource or it doesn't fit with your project, just search for “project proposal” in your search engine of choice and you’ll find many, many resources. Admittedly, I thought about most of these things before starting, but I didn’t think remotely deep enough about them and I didn’t write them down in any structured fashion.

So, what I want to emphasize in this post is the value that making myself write the proposal would have had on me. Here are five value nuggets I would have gained.

1. It helps you slow down.

I get excited. I want to go, go, go. However, with projects like this and with wearing many hats, excitement and speed can lead you astray. Making myself sit down and write out all of the details would have caused me to slow down and helped me not fall whim to shiny object syndrome.

2. It helps you separate the ideas from the projects.

Not all ideas should come to fruition. It's OK for an idea to stay an idea. However, some ideas should be escalated to actual projects and worked on further. The act of writing the proposal, as well as overcoming the initial inertia most people have to sit down and write, will help you filter the ideas from the projects.

3. It helps you clarify.

If you follow a well-crafted and relevant template, writing a project proposal will make you clarify what the project is, who it’s for, how it will be accomplished, and much more. This clarity is key when you start acting on the project. This clarity is key when the going gets tough and you need to remember why you even started the project. I’ll show one of my favorite images about doing cool things and emotions (credit for this version).

The Emotional Journey of Creating Anything Great

4. It provides a documented set of guidelines.

Writing everything down and thinking about the project thoroughly beforehand not only makes you clarify, but it documents the guidelines you should follow as you make progress. Importantly, you can somewhat trust these guidelines because, well, you wrote them. Be careful here though. Just because you wrote something down at one point, doesn’t mean you have to follow it verbatim.

5. It helps you compare projects more objectively.

I listed six projects earlier. If I would have written a project proposal for each one and then compared, rated, and evaluated them against each other, I definitely wouldn't have tried to take on the burden of recording and editing three podcasts at once. I likely would have overcome the Do-Nothing Alternative, but I now see that this was doomed for not working out.

Key Takeaways

If I could snap back to March of 2020, I'd make myself write project proposals for all of my legitimate ideas. Just telling myself I needed to write six project proposals would have made me think long and hard about which ones were worth writing. It would have been a lot of work and it would have taken me longer to get started, but my projects would have benefited from the process.


ps... here's the current status of all of the projects: * The Children's Book: I took a break getting rejected by agents/editors. I would love to see this book (and the series it's part of) get published. I'll keep writing and refining, and I guess time will tell on this one. * Talking To The Internet: I loved making this show. I'm excited to say more episodes will release soon. * Theologetics: I'm still active on this team and excited for where things are going. I have multiple project ideas that I want to write proposals for and will be doing so soon. COVID has slowed some of this down for the time being though. * Through The Cruft: This project will likely survive, but I need to write a proposal to clarify exactly how it will survive. More to come on this. * Heard Immunity: I think this show produced some really great content and I really enjoyed helping create it with my friends. But, I had to remove myself from this project. With everything going on in life, this project just had to be pruned. * Design You Academic Life: This project is going strong. I'm not sure what the future holds for this project, but I'm interested to see where it goes. (Not surprisingly, this is the only project of the six that had some form of a project proposal before launching.)

OK. You need to make a decision. Maybe it’s a decision with high consequences. Maybe it’s a trivial decision with low consequences. Regardless, you have to make a decision.

As a trained engineer and engineering educator, I immediately start to think about the pros and cons. I will then often write down the pros and cons of the alternatives related to making my decision. If the pros and cons can be quantified, that’s even better! So my piece of scrap paper or napkin looks like the following

If I do 1…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

If I do 2…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

If I do 3…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

Doing Nothing

But there’s a consideration that many people don’t realize is floating around constantly in the back of their head. It’s called the “do-nothing alternative.” I teach this concept in my Engineering Economy course at CCU and I think considering it is important as we make decisions throughout our lives.

As you can likely surmise, the do-nothing alternative is the decision you make, either intentionally or due to apathy or for whatever reason, when you… do nothing. I won’t get into things like MARR (minimum acceptable rate of return) in this post but if you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link.

More formally, if I’m comparing alternatives that are independent (I can choose none, one, or more than one acceptable alternative) or mutual exclusive with revenue (only one alternative can be chosen and both costs and revenues are considered) {1}, then I compare against the do-nothing alternative.

Considering Our Spiritual Growth

Psalm 19:7-11 clearly tell us that there are great returns on our investment in reading scripture, praying, and becoming more like Christ. The image below {2} provides the verses. I’ve underlined in green what we need to learn. We can consider the time spent on learning and growing in these areas the “costs.” I’ve highlighted the benefits in orange. We can consider these the “revenues.”

So here’s where the do-nothing alternative comes into play for our spiritual growth. We only have so much time and attention when it comes to life. In order to glorify God and love our neighbor, we need to learn to imitate Jesus and learn the:

“law” “testimony” “precepts” “commandment” “fear,” and “rules”

of the Lord. There are many ways we can do this. Each of these would be considered an alternative with it’s own unique set of costs and revenues. For example, we can personally study the bible or we can find a group of like-minded people and study the bible together or we can attend church weekly. Each of these alternatives is associated with costs and revenues. So, we can compare these alternatives against each other.

However, there are many time when we choose the do-nothing alternative instead of doing the work to realize the rewards of a closer relationship with God. Sometimes the things pulling our time and attention away from growing closer to God are noble (e.g., parenting, providing for our family, serving, resting, etc.). But I would argue these things are doing nothing to achieve the rewards outlined in Psalm 11. In this context, I think the do-nothing alternative doesn’t manifest as literally doing nothing (although it might). But in the spiritual sense, I think it means doing nothing to grow spiritually. Doing nothing, in addition to the noble things mentioned above, could also look like sleeping in or overly entertaining ourselves with social media, TV, movies, and books. Regardless of the aforementioned alternative, we are choosing to do nothing to grow spiritually and reap the rewards.


So the next time you’re considering how to effectively invest your time and attention, don’t just consider the alternatives that are directly linked to spiritual growth. Consider situations where you're doing something, but unintentionally choosing the “doing-nothing alternative” regarding your spiritual growth.

Even more practically:

  • How can you move some of your time and attention from doing nothing to doing something according to Psalm 11?
  • Can you remove a podcast, TV show, movie, or book and replace it with the Bible or a biblical alternative?
  • What are the small changes you can make in your day, week, month, or year to grow in your knowledge of and relationship with God?


{1}: For more on alternatives see this article



If you haven’t seen it yet, 60 Minutes interviewed Fances Haugen about what’s happening inside the social media giant Facebook. Ms. Haugen has also discuss this in The Wall Street Journal and appeared before congress to testify. I’m going to refer you to the links above for the details related to why she decided to become a whistleblower because I want to focus on evaluating the ethics of whistleblowing and if there was enough justification for her to take this action.

I teach engineering ethics in my day job and whistleblowing is always an interesting topic with the students. Many have no idea what it is until you describe it. Then they immediately say something like “oh, it’s when you rat out someone or tattle on the company.” After discussing it for a little while, most students start to understand that whistleblowing has its place in society and that there are good and bad reasons someone might choose to become a whistleblower.

The engineering ethics text that we use, Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases by Harris, Jr., et al., lays out two primary reasons why someone might become a whistleblower (pg. 86):

  1. to prevent harm

  2. to avoid being complicit

It is clear that Ms. Haugen sought to address #1 above. She’s explicitly states that she’s concerned about Facebook’s practices (e.g., their focus on increasing engagement through enticing anger, hate, and envy) and their knowing neglect to adjust the algorithm against these issues. Her position on #2 is less clear. Based on what I’ve learned, we can at best only make assumptions which we should avoid doing.

Focusing our analysis on preventing harm, Harris, Jr., et al. further detail Richard DeGeorge’s idea that whistleblowing can be morally permissible or obligatory. They provide DeGeorge’s criteria for these categories:

Permissible if:

  • the harm caused is “serious and considerable”
  • the whistleblower first reported things to their immediate supervisor
  • after making no progress with the above, they tried every other internal option to resolve the issue.

Obligatory if:

  • the whistleblower has documented evidence that their view is correct and the organization is in the wrong (note: the evidence must convince a “responsible, impartial observer”)
  • the whistleblower can provide “strong evidence” that the act of whistleblowing will “prevent the threatened serious harm”

So were Ms. Haugen’s action permissible or obligatory according to these criteria?

Permissible Breakdown

Overall, there is just too much grey area here. I haven’t listened to everything Ms. Haugen stated or wrote, but it depends on what she tried to do within Facebook before she left the company. Let me explain.

Harm “serious and considerable”?

  • I think it’s more than reasonable to say, yes. Facebook (and social media in general) has caused and is causing serious and considerable harm. Multiple studies and reports, independent of Haugen’s findings, have demonstrated this.

Reported to immediate supervisor?

  • This is a grey area for me as I have not been able to review all of Ms. Haugen’s writing/speaking. She may have discussed this somewhere or in her congressional hearings, but unless she explicitly stated this we likely won’t know. (If you’re aware of this, please let me know.)

Exhausted all other internal reporting options?

  • Again, this is hard to evaluate as an outsider and I haven’t been able to review everything. (Again, if you’re aware of this, please let me know.)

So were Ms. Haugen’s actions permissible (according to DeGeorge)? > It depends on some unknowns that may or may not have taken place internally at Facebook.

Obligatory Breakdown

Again, my thinking here is mixed. Let’s break things down.

Did she have documented evidence that will convince a “responsible, impartial observer”?

  • I think the answer to this is yes. The internal reports and the amount of material make her case here strong. I think the 60 Minutes piece, despite only discussing a small fraction of Ms. Haugen’s documentation, helped her make a strong case that she has evidence.

Can she provide strong evidence that the whistleblowing will “prevent the threatened serious harm”?

  • Here, however, I’m less convinced. It comes down to the word “prevent.” Ms. Haugen states at the end of her 60 Minutes piece that she’s hoping something more can be done to regulate social media companies like Facebook. She states that she wants to help Facebook not harm them. First, as we’ve witnessed over the last few years, regulating social media companies (or the internet for that matter) is a highly contested issue. Are they platforms? Are the publishers? Who owns the content? Who is responsible for the content? There is clearly a line that can be crossed which causes content to be removed, but where exactly is that line? It’s a difficult issue to discuss and an even more difficult issue to get people to agree on. Second, while I think regulation might be helpful, I don’t think it will prevent the harm that social media imparts on society. This deserves more attention than I’m willing to give it in this post, but the primary issues driving the ills of social media are sin issues. They are not algorithm issues. They are human nature issues. These ills also did not start on social media. They’ve existed well before the internet and social media. Do outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit (and their algorithms) allow this sin to be amplified? Yes, absolutely. Therefore, I would argue that regulation might help the issue, but it’s unlikely to prevent the issue. Moreover, many have discussed whether or not members of congress understand modern technology enough to develop realistic and relevant means of regulation.

So were Ms. Haugen’s actions obligatory (according to DeGeorge)? > At this point, I would say no they were not. Primarily because I don’t think there is a convincing argument that her actions will prevent serious harm.


I’ve discussed that Ms. Haugen’s actions weren’t obligatory and there is too much grey area to determine if they were permissible.

This leads one to ask… Should she have spoken out?

Another question we could ask is… Is DeGeorge’s permissible/obligatory framework missing something important and, in turn, not an appropriate framework to analyze this situation?

I’ll intentionally leave these questions open for discussion and debate.


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