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 Roundabout Water Solutions, 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 Roundabout Water Solutions.

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: 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? rbrenJsJEuvzWGGnRHBbIner@ChacLjDOiikUrbmVBlIRoCanyon.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:

The Boott Cotton Mills and Eastern CanalThere Is No Rumor Mill
Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: II
Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.
The Stevens Memorial Library in Ashburnham, MassachusettsTake Charge of Your Learning
Many of us let others set our learning agendas — peers, employers, or the mass media. But you can gain much both personally and professionally by setting your own learning agenda.
The business end of a spark plugWacky Words of Wisdom: III
Adages are so elegantly stated that we have difficulty doubting them. Here's Part III of a collection of often-misapplied adages.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Jolly RogerComing August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVVNtvkkmNBnPjxZfner@ChacscISRuxBxARyuDbloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.