Hold Hands And Step

Today, I believe the single greatest obstacle we throw in our way, the single greatest disservice we plant in our children, the unfortunate self-imposed exile many seniors adopt, the great source of interruption to all creative dreams and dreamers, is this: the ridiculous notion that one must know “how” to do anything before starting to do it.

Knowing “how” comes second.

The opportunity to look back and see “how” comes (necessarily) at the end of the process, not at the beginning. To learn, one must begin by not knowing “how.” Not-knowing-how is the basic assumption of lively, active, creative beings.

The second assumption: no one does this walk alone. No one knows all things. To successfully not-know-how invites the opportunity to ask questions of others. Hold hands and step.

Peter Block wrote a terrific book with a title that says it all: The Answer to How is Yes.

Ask Why

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a detail of my painting, Know That You Are Waiting.

Marilyn told me that she spent the day with her 3 year-old granddaughter. The little girl, like most children her age, peppered Marilyn with the question, “Why?” In her reenactment, after trying to answer the multitude of “Why?” questions, she laughed and said, “I don’t know! That’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s a perfect loop! Sometimes there is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Many years ago Peter Block wrote a great little book called The Answer To How Is Yes. A lifetime of corporate consulting left him perplexed by the pervasive leading question, “How should we do it?” None of his clients ever asked, “Why should we do it?” “Why” was nowhere in the equation.

Asking “Why?” takes time. It slows things down and often requires some soul searching. It lives on the vertical axis of experience, the axis that reaches into the depths and knows no black and white answer. Also, asking “Why?” sometimes leads to the scary profit-challenging twin question, “Why shouldn’t we do it?” The question, “Why?” moves a business and the people that populate it out of reactionary practices and into intentionality. With intentionality comes ownership of action, responsibility. The legal department is dedicated to keeping the conversation away from “Why?” Responsibility can be costly.

People are no different than the organizations they create. We avoid the same questions for much the same reason.

In my life I’ve sat through countless meetings while boards-of-directors asking, “How do we get more people to buy/attend/support our art/business/cause?” I finally made it a practice to stop asking the troubling questions, “Why should people buy/attend/support you?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Usually those questions invoked embarrassed silence or worse, a regurgitation of the company’s value statement. We are valuable because we say we are.

Skip used to tell me that a company isn’t valuable until it serves the customer’s customer. I liked that sentiment a lot: value is service as expressed through two degrees of separation. It is also an orientation according to what is given, not what is received. Serve. It’s a loop with a natural answer to the question, “Why?”

Artists of all stripes, churches, politicians, etc. might find a different understanding of value if they (we) applied Skip’s rule to their (our) plays/symphonies/paintings/dances/businesses. Why? To Serve.

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a detail from my painting May You

Maybe we all just need to be three-year-olds and ask “why?” more often. Maybe the best questions, the ones that make the most sense, are the ones that can’t be easily answered but require us to slow down and challenge doing what we’ve always done.

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Tap Into It

775. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

What is the original “why?” What is your reason for doing what you do? During a break in the Design for Demand class I eavesdropped on a conversation between Skip and one of his students. The student asked, “Isn’t making money the reason “why.” It can be a reason. It’s not the reason.

Before the break the students were doing business pitches followed by a discussion about their reasons for creating the business. Skip showed them Simon Sinek’s terrific TED talk explaining what distinguishes a great business from a mediocre business. In the talk Simon explains his golden target with the reason “why” occupying the center. A great business operates from why. How and what occupy the middle and outer rings of the target. Mediocre businesses confuse their what and how with why. This might seem obvious but it’s not.

In another class, I recognized that the MBA students think the single reason they are getting a degree is to get a better job. They’ve confused their why with the what. Getting a better job can be a reason. It’s not the reason. K-12 education believes that the purpose of education is to raise test scores. They’ve confused why with how – and it is debatable whether raising test scores is a viable how. In our lives we have an abundance of “how and “what” reinforcement. It is no wonder we sometimes misplace our why.

In the modern age, people without a clear understanding of their “why” will generally buy something to fill the void. It is a temporary hit but delays the recognition that there is nothing substantial driving their life. Or, they’ll numb themselves, distract themselves or sabotage themselves. Either way, the “why” gets lost in the “what.”

Everyone has a why. Sometimes you have to wipe off a layer of dust or muster enough courage to look beyond the purchases. It is there. It’s waiting to be sourced. If your current answer to the question, “What’s the point?” is to raise your test score or to get a better job, stop and ask yourself, “What else is true?” Look beneath the superficial and you will find a spring that will rejuvenate you and keep you nourished for the arc of your life. Tap into it.