For those old enough to have watched Johnny Carson’s “the Great Carnac,” you will recall he held a sealed envelope to his forehead and used his powers to answer the question held within it. He might offer an answer such as “I’ll be back.” Most of us then anticipate some reference to “Ahnold” Schwarzenegger’s character offering his ominous warning in the film Terminator. Yet when Carnac opens the envelope he reads “What did Lindsey Lohan say after she was released from jail?” We laugh because our expectations are met with misdirection and irony. In Carnac’s case he knows the answer because he has already divined the proper questions. Regrettably, in life and business, we may find ourselves failing to ask the right questions which inevitably leads to the wrong answers. We can only hope those wrong answers lead us to nothing more than laughter and a sense of irony. But learning to thrive on the change in life and business requires us to learn to ask the right questions.
It is possible for us to move through life reacting to the opportunities presented to us and still find ourselves stressed, angry, and anxious. In business, we can seize on these apparent opportunities and still find our companies languishing in mediocrity. In many cases, those circumstances are the result of our failure to come to terms with the right, rather than the “urgent,” questions. We take a new job because it is a great “opportunity” only to find ourselves disappointed. We move into a new business venture because we sincerely believe we can profit from move in the market then find it drains our core business of precious resources. These decisions are much like a man driving down a highway and choosing a highway because the road is well paved and brightly lit regardless of having any real knowledge of whether it leads to his destination. (Notice I said “man” driving. As one willing to “argue” with the Garmin GPS in my truck, I know of what I speak.)
To genuinely “thrive on change” we must struggle with and sincerely answer some challenging questions. The answers to those questions will become the foundation for how we make decisions for our life and business. While the results of our decisions are rarely assured, we can begin to live and work with more satisfaction than we otherwise might. In completing strategic plans for our business some refer to the issues related to those questions as defining our “values.” In short, they answer the questions “What is most important?” or “What comes first?”
For the moment, let’s just deal with those questions in the context of our personal lives. While this format doesn’t allow for us to address every conceivable question we need to ask, here are a few that seem to be helpful.
- How do I want to be remembered?
- How will my decision affect that legacy?
- How will this decision affect my health?
- What is the best thing that can happen in making this decision? The worst?
- What are the possible unanticipated consequences of my decision?
Rather than succumb to the temptation of listing dozens of questions we need to ask ourselves, these seem to capture the central issues most of us need to address. The problem isn’t that we don’t know the questions we should be asking. The problem is we don’t invest the time to address them. In a culture that seems to equate “busyness” with achievement, we react rather than respond. Reacting is the unmeasured pursuit of an unconsidered “reward” like a child chasing a ball into a busy street. Responding is a deliberate evaluation of circumstances, people, opportunities, risks and rewards. Yes, there are times when we need to react, like when the car in front of us slams on its brakes or when we are standing in a field and lightning is overhead. But in learning to ask the right questions before facing the decision we can be prepared to respond in ways the help us avoid the pain of reacting.
More on all this later. For now, and as always….
Keep the Faith!