Removing “How” from the Future

One of my favorite books focused on organizing ourselves in communities of people focused on future possibilities is "The Answer to How Is Yes" by Peter Block. Peter is a community organizer and one of the experts in the field of organizational development. I stumbled upon "The Answer to How Is Yes"a couple of years ago while working for an organization with strong engineering DNA, an organization that might sometimes be inclined to author its own book, "The Answer to How Is Stored in AutoCAD." Peter's notion is that how is an important way to begin some important questions, but when we start our inquiry with those questions we doom ourselves to recreate the past.

How? is most urgent whenever we look for a change, whenever we pursue a dream, a vision, or determine that the future needs to be different from the past. By invoking a How? question, we define the debate about the changes we have in mind and thereby create a set of boundaries on how we approach a task. This, in turn, influences how we approach the future and determines the kind of institutions we create and inhabit. I want to first identify six questions that are always reasonable, but when asked too soon and taken too literally may actually postpone the future and keep us encased in our present way of thinking.

The six questions that Peter suggests we set aside are: How do you do it? How long will it take? How much does it cost? How do you get those people to change? How do we measure it? How have other people done it successfully? When my former organization -- with its heavy engineering culture -- began to respool its DNA and recreate itself as an organization built around a new set of core values, one of the first stakes it put in the ground was a desire to be "the model of a values-driven enterprise." Not a model. The model. It made the engineers (both the actual engineers, as well as the engineer portions of everyone else's brain) nervous. So, we did what you do when the engineers get nervous. We set up a task force to define how we would know when we were "the model." The group came back and said that it had looked at different ways of measuring what a values-driven organization might be. And it had looked at metrics and scorecards and assessments. And, the group concluded, being the model of a values-based company was hard to measure. But they handed the organization a set of three measurement tools that stood the culture in good stead for more than five years:

  • When we are supporting the success of others.
  • When we are enhancing, repairing or building relationships.
  • When we are using our core values to make business decisions.

All in all, easy stuff. If you're willing to stop asking yourself how you're going to measure your work and start leading with your heart. It begins, as most good work does, in the questions you choose to ask.