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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review

“The answer to How is Yes – acting on what matters”, by Peter Block (2002).

Block states that in this culture we have too easily yielded to what is doable, practical, and popular thereby sacrificing the pursuit of what is in our hearts. What works (our love of practicality and our attraction to what is concrete and measurable) seems to come before what matters i.e. our capacity to dream, to be idealistic, and to give our lives to those things which are vague, hard to measure, and invisible but that matter. Block asserts that as long as we wish for safety, we will have difficulty pursuing what matters.

The author fervently campaigns against How? questions, which he calls an expression of our wish for control and predictability by finding the right way of doing things. It keeps us away from the question of “Does it matter to us what we are doing?” or the why question. Choosing to act on “what matters” is, according to Block, the choice to live a passionate existence, which is anything but controlled and predictable. It’s the path of risk and adventure. Block labels “getting the question right” as possibly the single most important thing we can do in life, business, and family. What follows is many examples of the wrong questions, the wrong focus, the wrong needs that many of us try and satisfy. It’s a different approach to an increasingly popular theme: values, meaning, and acting on what matters. Many examples, many moments to feel confronted with your own focus and meaning (or lack thereof), including the often present repetition that also characterizes this book. Block appears well read and creative, using Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes and the connection with what drives our behavior in his own way. He argues for philosophy rather than psychology, imagination rather than engineering, exploration rather than installation. I conclude this review with the quote: “What will matter most to us is the quality of experience we create in the world, not the quantity of results”. Not every executive will fully agree, but the point is clear I’m sure.  

Final note: the “Why” question is of course borrowed from many great philosophers and from Kenichi Ohmae in his “The Mind of the Strategist – The Art of Japanese Business”.

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