Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 36;   September 9, 2009: The Questions Not Asked

The Questions Not Asked

by

Often, the path to forward progress is open and waiting, but we don't recognize it, or we convince ourselves it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.

We spend most of our time dealing with the most insistent issues, with the goals we've accepted, and with the questions already asked. Most of us spend very little time dealing with issues less insistent, goals unstated, or questions not asked. That things are as they are makes sense, until we question this way of setting priorities. Would we find a more important goal, a more pressing issue or a more unsettling question if we actually gave it a little thought?

Six kids on a PlayPump

Six kids on a PlayPump. PlayPumps are patented water pumps powered by children at play. Installed near schools by PlayPumps International, the PlayPump is both a water pump and a merry-go-round for children. More than one billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water, which might explain why water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in the world. On average 6,000 people die of them each day, and they're responsible for 80 percent of worldwide disease. Hauling water takes 40 billion person-hours annually, and the persons involved are mostly women and girls.

In industrialized societies, clean water is so much a part of life that we give it little thought. For many, lack of clean water is unimaginable — it is a less-insistent issue. "How can we fix this?" — until recently — has been a question not asked by many. PlayPumps International has chosen to answer it. They have set a goal of installing 4,000 PlayPumps by 2010, serving 10 million people. Photo courtesy PlayPumps International.

Usually, the answer is 'Yes.' Usually, if we actually looked at where we're putting our energy, we'd put it somewhere else. Here are some reasons why we don't question our priorities more often.

Inheritance
Some goals and ways of doing things are inherited from our predecessors. We might or might not be able to change those goals, but we rarely consider whether we can. Are there any inherited goals or processes that you could change? If you don't have the power to change them, have you sought that power?
Habit
Habit determines much of what we do routinely. We travel to work in the same way, we eat the same lunches, and we socialize with the same people. How would life be different if we made different choices now and then? What new ideas might come our way?
Fear
Sometimes we avoid the issues less insistent, the goals unstated, or the questions not asked because we fear what might happen if we examined them. Taking up a new issue can feel overwhelming. Abandoning a goal of long standing can feel like failure. Asking a new, unsettling question can create chaos. But all this has happened before, and life went on, often in a better direction. Isn't fear a problem in itself?
Helplessness
Either Usually, if we actually looked
at where we're putting our
energy, we'd end up putting
it somewhere else
from past experience, or because of messages from others, or from fatigue, we conclude that the chances of progress are so slim that we don't even look at issues less insistent, or goals unstated, or questions not asked. Usually, there's at least one thing we could do — one thing that we really do have the power to change, if only we would do it. What's your one thing?
Busy-ness
We all have lots to do. Most of us feel we have no time to look for more to do. But the truth is that we don't have time not to, because looking for issues less insistent, or goals unstated, or questions not asked is the only way to be sure our priorities are right.

Some of these patterns affect you more than others. To discover which ones are your favorites, watch for missed opportunities. If you track which patterns kept you from the path to progress, you can learn which patterns affect you most. Or maybe you're just too busy for that. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendCHuVDDLlPqbjeRAner@ChacJfAZEhDttfraHLDgoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Out of the actionThe Shape of the Table
Not only was the meeting running over, but it now seemed that the entire far end of the table was having its own meeting. Why are some meetings like this?
Tugboats workingBecome a Tugboat Captain
If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
A hiker on a pathPaths
Most of us follow paths through our careers, or through life. We get nervous when we're off the path. We feel better when we're doing what everyone else is doing. But is that sensible?
Thumbs downRecalcitrant Collaborators
Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments, other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant, what can we do?
Magic Lantern Slide of a dog jumping through a hoopJust-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenTeKpiESfdTADHbgsner@ChacXLpcZWKHnEKywetOoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.