The Ultimate Question

hand_water_ring-solo.jpgWhat SEEMS impossible, but if it WERE possible, would transform your job, your team, your company, heck . . . YOUR LIFE . . . for the better?  That is the paradigm-shifting question that I learned many years ago from Joel Barker, a Futurist who made a movie called “The Business of Paradigms” a way back in the last century.  The movie has been updated, and now it is cleverly called “The New Business of Paradigms – 21st Century Edition”.  No matter, it’s timeless.  (It had BETTER be, it is only 18 minutes long and it costs almost a thousand bucks!  But the preview is free. Check it out here if you haven’t seen it.  Tell them I sent you and you might even get a discount.)  This question has the power to unlock possibilities that otherwise would peek out from behind the cloak of consciousness, and I have have frequently used it to achieve what seems impossible, but is merely difficult.   Human beings are animals, and we spend a lot of our time on autopilot.  We live many of the minutes, hours and days of our lives in some kind of trance state, highly functioning, no doubt, but not exactly highly consciously aware.  I mean, really, haven’t we all found ourselves at the end of a busy day wanting to shout out “Has anyone seen where the day went?”  And I have personally been on long drives in the car when I suddenly wondered who had been driving the last 100 miles.  Most of my brain was off scampering around somewhere, but fortunately some part of it was driving the damn car!

“What seems impossible, but if it were possible, would transform your life for the better?” is what’s sometimes called a “hypnotic” question.  It momentarily suspends the critical thinking of our current assumptions and beliefs about reality and transports us to a future possibility free of any practicality.  Usually we’re pretty adept at screening out avenues of thinking that are a complete waste of time.  Practically speaking, the evolution of the species hasn’t necessarily depended on people having flights of fancy about seemingly impossible outcomes.  And the modern world certainly doesn’t give us a lot of encouragement to roam through a jungle of dreams.  The pressure to be “realistic” and avoid doing anything that might result in a mistake, failure or public humiliation is pretty strong.  I just watched a a hilarious YouTube video by Ken Robinson that claims schools are to blame for some of this.  Check out “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” But it doesn’t stop there.  Bit by bit I’ve seen the spirit crushed out of people in the corporate world, what’s left of their souls slinking out the door at the end of a long day, perhaps a few tattered remains of their dignity intact.  It’s a devastating consequence of the wage slavery that is epidemic in this world, and worsening with the current economic crisis.  People need to work at jobs they hate in order to afford the houses they live in to be close to the jobs they hate.  Fascinating!

That’s why I ask this question to people every chance I get.  It frees them from their shackles, if only momentarily, and allows their mind to soar to heights from which they might glimpse their own potential.  As a project leader I want every single person on my team to feel fully alive, appreciated, and in touch with their extraordinary potential.  Oh, sure, there are people who drive me nuts and I’d rather go to the dentist than work with them, but in those few moments when I’m at my best this is my sincere intention.  As project leaders we are more than a means to get the next software release out there, or the next product out into the market.  We’re creating an ecosystem for our people, and I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to create a place where they can grow and thrive.

Once a conversation for possibilities begins it transforms everything in its path, including the project.  When people know each other’s dreams some kind of magic happens that must be experienced to be understood.

Don’t believe anything I say – try it for yourself.  If you have the courage to ask such questions you’ll be rewarded with a few blank stares, but an ocean of opportunities.

– Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management

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