“Getting the question right may be the most important thing we can do,” states Peter Block in the opening to Part One of his book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters. “We define our dialogue and, in a sense, our future through the questions we choose to address. Asking the wrong question puts us in the philosopher’s dilemma: We become the blind man looking in a dark room for a black cat that is not there.” And that’s what Block feels we’re doing every time we ask first “how” to do something rather than exploring whether that ‘something’ is truly worth doing.
Block’s book is about reclaiming our values, putting a soul back into our workplaces, making meaningful change, and helping us express ourselves through the work we do and the lives we live. As far as Block is concerned, it’s not philosophical mumbo-jumbo. He’s nothing if not practical — having built a huge consulting practice and a training company that teaches consulting skills. Block has also written three bestsellers, including what some consider the consultant’s bible,Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. In The Answer to How…, Block challenges the typical get-it-done business approach by exploring and blending three archetypes — the engineer, the architect, and the artist — into the concept of “social architecture,” encouraging us to think about “what we might do to both act on our values and have an impact on how institutions function.”
Recognizing that businesses have sampled umpteen management-of-the-month flavors and meaningful change remains the exception, Block shows us how a particular model doesn’t matter as much as whether or not we live our values in pursuit of it. Not only are values “a deeper statement of what really matters to us…, they are also what most profoundly connect us to one another and to the world we have created.” Our dreams may not come true just because we hold onto them; we must find a very “different way of seeing and acting on the possibilities,” which entails asking the right question first.
“The value of another’s experience,” states Block, “is to give us hope, not to tell us how or whether to proceed.” Although we may work for someone else, he cautions, our responsibility for ourselves and others should not be set aside, expecting that “someone else will lead us to a better tomorrow…. When we lose idealism, intimacy, and depth,” Block continues, “we function at a cosmetic level, pushed along by fashion, out of touch with our center, and we react as if we are the effect of the culture, rather that its cause.”
The upshot is rampant greed of Enron proportions. But by “releasing ourselves from the grip of our ambition and deciding to care for something large enough to give greater purpose to our work and to our experience…,” we become what Block calls social architects, creating the new work: “to enjoy, yet keep in perspective, the benefits of instrumental values, for commerce and barter and practicality are essential elements of a viable economic system. At the same time, we must eventually listen to our desire to find the freedom to sustain enough idealism, intimacy, and depth so that we can act on our vision of what the world might become. Holding each of these values in one container becomes the task.”