‘Yes’ is the right question

 Something in the persistent question, “How?” expresses each person’s struggle between having confidence in their capacity to live a life of purpose and yielding to the daily demands of being practical. It is possible to spend our days engaged in activities that work well for us and achieve our objectives and still wonder whether we are making a difference in the world.

My premise is that this culture, and we as members of it, have yielded too quickly to what is doable, practical, and popular. In the process, we have sacrificed the pursuit of what is in our hearts. We find ourselves giving in to our doubts and settling for what we know how to do or can soon learn to do instead of pursuing what most matters to us and living with the adventure and anxiety that this requires.

We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going straight to the question, How do we do it?” In fact, when we believe that something is definitely not worth doing, we are particularly eager to start asking How? We can look at what is worth doing at many different levels: As an individual, I can wonder whether I can be myself and do what I want and still make a living. For an organization, I can ask for whose sake does this organization exist, and does it exist for any larger purpose than to survive and be economically successful? As a society, have we replaced a sense of community and civic engagement for economic well-being and the pursuit of our private ambition?

Too often, when a discussion is dominated by questions of how we risk overvaluing what is practical and doable and postponing the questions of larger purpose and collective well-being. With the question, we risk aspiring to goals that are defined for us by the culture and by our institutions at the expense of pursuing purposes and intentions that arise from within ourselves.

While there are many positive values to our desire for concrete action and results, it does not ensure that what we are doing serves our own larger purpose or acts to create a world that we can believe in—in other words, a world that matters. Thus, the pursuit of how we can act to avoid more important questions, such as whether what we are doing is important to us, as opposed to being important to them. While we do create value when we pursue what is important to others, it is different from doing what is important to us.

If knowing how offers us the possibility of more control and predictability, then we may have to sacrifice them to pursue what matters. The choice to worry about why we are doing something more than how we do something is risky business. It is risky for us as individuals, for our organizations, and for society.

Choosing to act on “what matters “is the choice to live a passionate existence, which is anything but controlled and predictable. The alternative to asking How? is saying Yes – not literally, but as a symbol of our stance toward the possibility of more meaningful change and change that promises real commitment to what draws us into what matters. 

To commit to the course of acting on what matters, we postpone the how questions and precede them with others that begin to shift us from “what works” to “what matters.” Taken in isolation and asked in the right context, all how. The questions are valid. But, when they become the primary questions, the controlling questions, or the defining questions, they create a world where operational attention drives out the human spirit. 

How Question 1: How do you do it? 

becomes

Yes Question 1: What refusal have I been postponing?

How Question 2: How long will it take? 

becomes

Yes Question 2: What commitment am I willing to make?

How Question 3: How much does it cost? 

becomes

Yes, Question 3: What is the price I am willing to pay?

How Question 4: How do you get others to change? 

becomes

Yes Question 4: What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?

How Question 5: How do we measure it? 

becomes

Yes Question 5: What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my work/life?

How Question 6: How are other people doing it successfully? 

becomes

Yes Question 6: What do we want to create together?

When we look for tools and techniques which are part of the how question, we preempt other kinds of learning. If we want to know what really works, we must carefully decide which are the right questions for this moment. Picking the right question is the beginning of action on what matters, and this is what works. This is how we name the debate, by the questions we pursue, for all these questions are action steps. Good questions work on us; we don’t work on them. They are not a project to be completed but a doorway opening onto a greater depth of understanding and action that will take us into being more fully alive.

Written by Peter Block

Getting Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors

In Flawless Consulting, author Peter Block writes, “Most consulting projects get started because managers feel pain. When the organization feels the pain, managers start to describe for themselves why the pain exists.” It should be no surprise then that projects defined from an initial place of pain may be a lot of “smoke and mirrors” designed to unintentionally draw attention away from what is really happening inside an organization.

In magical illusions, smoke and mirrors are a classic technique designed to obscure or embellish the truth of a situation. And while managers may not intentionally be obscuring or embellishing the truth of a situation, those experienced in the Flawless Consulting model know what is stated initially is rarely what is at the heart of a problem.

To get at the heart of the problem, you need to first discover the underlying dimensions of the situation by analyzing what you’ve heard initially against what still is to be learned. To do so, look first at the top layer which is usually described as the presenting problem – what the manager or client believes is at core of the issue. It may or may not be all smoke and mirrors at this point, but flawless consultants dig deeper by looking at the middle and core layers of the problem to understand how others in the organization are contributing to the problem and how the client may be contributing as well. The process of doing so is called Discovery.

In the Flawless Consulting process, gaining a clear picture of the problem begins only after the initial meeting with the client and contracting around how to best move forward. Once an agreement is reached, the consultant works to discover the underlying dimensions of the situation. They do so by asking the client and others in the organization to restate the problem as they see it and then go further by being direct and asking:

  • How are others’ in the organization contributing to the problem?

  • How are you contributing to the problem?

  • What’s the future you want to see?

The objective of Discovery is to understand the dimensions of the problem and describe it in a way that is enlightening and actionable – something someone can do something about.

This initial inquiry will help direct where you look next to discover how the problem is being managed … or not.

In medicine, it’s easy to understand the difference between treating the symptoms or curing a condition. A broken leg hurts and pain killers may temporarily ease the pain, but you need a completely different treatment plan to heal the leg. In organizations, it’s easy to want to treat the symptoms of a problem for even a momentary respite from the technical or interpersonal issues causing the pain. Experience tells us however; the pain will return.

Flawless consulting provides a roadmap to get a picture of what is really happening inside an organization and then make recommendations on how to address it. By shedding light on all the layers underneath, the mystery is revealed and a clear picture emerges on how to solve the problem so it stays solved.