Burn The Bridge

 In Business, Church, Entrepreneurship, Fred's Blog, Friendship, People, Relationships, Transitions, Uncategorized, Vocation

Listen to “Burn the Bridge” by Fred Smith

Shortly before the pilot announced we were making our final descent into Colorado Springs, a young man walked down the aisle to my seat and said, “Anne wants to see you when you get your luggage.”

“Anne?” I said. “I don’t know an Anne in Colorado Springs.”

“You will, and she’ll pick you up when we land. She knows what you look like and will be waiting for you at the curb.”

That was my introduction to Anne Blocker.  

Just as he said, a custom black SUV pulled up to the curb and the door opened. Inside were two women. One was short, compact, expressionless, and completely in black. The other was imposing with a compelling smile, intense eyes, and also outfitted completely in black.

“Jump in, we’re not going far.”

When I look back on it now, that was only partly true. The trip to her office was just a few minutes but the next several years of knowing Anne were to take me further than I could have imagined.

Anne had read about the work Bob Buford and I were doing through Leadership Network with large churches around the country and that intrigued her as she was deeply engaged in working with complex organizations. But it was our work with Peter Drucker, the management thinker and author, that was of the greatest interest to her. We had produced a series of cassette tapes titled “The Non-Profit Drucker” and while the content was extraordinary the effect of Peter’s thick Viennese accent and finely measured (slow) speech was not meant for keeping the listener engaged. Sales were disappointing and while we knew there was genuine value there was no way to make them entertaining.  

Anne had taken the content of the tapes and somehow digitized it while converting it to a format that used graphics and video turning it into a multimedia experience. It was no longer listening to a tape. It was like being with Peter. Today, we would likely call it virtual reality but in 1986 it was new territory. It was my first exposure to what could be done with technology, imagination, and rich content. I left her office at 2:00 a.m. and knew I had stumbled into something special.

A Peculiar Friendship

So began a peculiar friendship lasting in fits and starts for decades. Over the next several years Anne and her assistant would periodically pick me up when I arrived and keep me up until early the next morning filling my head with ideas, wonder, discovery, and the gift of finding two thoroughly and wonderfully odd companions. Both were what we call polymaths. They could switch back and forth from management theory to art, mathematics, science, literature, and technology. Honestly, I felt like an apprentice knowing there was so much to learn and at the same time realizing there was also a tinge of danger in the relationship.  

One of our earliest conversations was about the planning Bob and I were doing in what eventually became Half-Time. I explained we had an idea to serve high achievers and entrepreneurs as a bridge between success and significance. We wanted to help them get from one side of the river (Success) to the other side (Significance).  She listened and then leaned up close and said very deliberately, “My, aren’t we the little social worker who needs to be needed?”

“Let me explain it again,” I said. 

“No, you said what you meant and it’s all wrong,” she returned quickly. “The people who need bridges to get across the river are the wrong customer. Instead, build something so attractive and irresistible on the other side it will make them do whatever necessary to get across. If they really are entrepreneurs they will build their own bridge, dam the river, tunnel under, or helicopter in to get what they see as valuable.  Otherwise, you will just end up as Scouts helping old ladies across the street. It will feel good and maybe get you the badge you want to earn but will be the end of it. You need to burn the bridge.”

I turned a corner that night in thinking about “helping” people. It was not just for our work with Half-Time but later with The Gathering and everything else since. Let other people build bridges and there is good in that. However, the challenge of creating something on the other side drawing people to get there on their own has made all the difference.  

Anne passed away several years ago. Typical of Anne, she had fought her way through a hurricane that destroyed her home and, while she survived, her health was broken by it. But not her spirit. I miss her but will be forever grateful for her speaking the truth when it was needed.

“Burn the bridge.”

Get to the other side and purchase my irresistible book “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Avatar
    tony Morgan

    Anne sounds like an incredible person. I’d like to have met her. Obviously you treasured her friendship and counsel!

  • Avatar
    Mike Landess


    I’ve enjoyed your blogs very much beginning with ‘Buying Happiness’. Each following blog has continued to engage me and find myself looking forward to your Thursday offering.

    Looking forward to meeting in person soon.


    Mike Landess

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Good! I’m looking forward to it as well.

  • Avatar
    Dr. David Galloway

    A powerful story, and image. Thank you. You made me wish I had met her, which is the point to any good story.
    Too bad your crass commercialism and the translated “needs to be needed” broke through. Best seller is just another scout badge, Kemo Sabi.
    I needed this story THIS morning. Thank you.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      It was a learning experience to be sure. We managed to take great book material and turn it into unattractive recorded product. Anne’s version was so much more interesting and viable.

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