About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

25 April 2014

The Answer to How Is Yes

Peter Block, author and consultant, is well known for challenging conventional theories of individual and organizational development.

In his book The Answer to How Is Yes, Peter makes the case that we too often short-circuit ourselves by asking "How?" questions prematurely, instead of first pondering the deeper, more important question, "Why?" Many of us have been trained and rewarded all our lives for asking the penetrating questions about how such-and-such a thing might be accomplished. Asking how can make us feel smarter, Block says, but it won’t make us wiser. It just submerges our most important personal and organizational missions in a quagmire of misdirected analysis.

He proposes a moratorium:
"If we could agree that for six months we would not ask 'How?' something in our lives, our institutions, and our culture might shift for the better. It would force us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as institutions. It would create the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing. It would refocus our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than what is the right answer."
He took on a challenging task in his book, advising us to pursue what matters most not only in our own lives, but also in our organizations and through our societal institutions. And, while he acknowledged that risk, uncertainty, and anxiety will accompany any decision to lift our heads up from the mundane and peer toward the ultimate, he said it’s an action worth taking nonetheless. By doing this successfully, he says:
"We can reclaim our idealism in a materialistic environment, reestablish an intimacy with what surrounds us, and find depth in a world that is happy with a quick makeover."
Peter's advice is more relevant today than ever. And, though it's hard to take up his challenge, it is most certainly worth the effort. For otherwise we’re left with a painful conundrum of the sort described by the novelist Thomas Pynchon:
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."
  • Can you tell a story about a "how" person you have worked for or with, or been married to? Can you do the same for a "why" person?
  • In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of a person whose default approach to life is asking "how" quickly and often? How about the person whose nature is asking "why" first?
  • Would others describe you as a "how" person or a "why" person? Is there a story you can tell to illustrate?
  • How do you respond to Peter's notion of not asking "how" for six months? Can you imagine what might change in your life or work if you did?
"Dear ones: Beware of the tiny gods frightened men create to bring an anesthetic relief to their sad days." - Hafiz

"'Goodbye,' said the fox. 'And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.'" - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

"The theme of the Grail is the bringing of life into what is known as 'the wasteland.' The wasteland is the preliminary theme to which the Grail is the answer. . . It's the world of people living inauthentic lives - doing what they are supposed to do." - Joseph Campbell
"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to fore go the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not." - Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizzly, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." - Edward Abbey

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