Travellers is my second book. At its heart is the idea that in a world obsessed with answers, questions should be what we value. Along with Letting Go, both stories were outlined in the space of a couple of weeks whilst taking a writing break in the Algarve. It was to take a further four years before the book was completed.
It still amazes me how long it took to complete, compared to how far the book developed in those first two weeks. Whenever people talk about a man-hour or man-week, I can’t help thinking how ridiculous the idea is. To imagine that one hour is the same as another just seems absurd.
The book follows the format of Letting Go in having space for the reader to take notes, and quotations throughout the book that invite the reader to take their own steps.
The story has two main characters, a businessman and what the businessman takes to be an artist. The characters identify themselves as a collector of answers, in the case of the businessman, and a user of questions. The story takes this seemingly minor difference in the method through which they examine the world and explores how what they see is shaped by their approach and results in dramatically different perspectives.
The businessman’s anxiety to find answers leads him towards assumptions and jumping to conclusions, often with flimsy justification. Along the way he sees the artist as the solution to a problem and the story uses the device of a painting of the businessman’s business as a way of illustrating their different approaches. Much as we might contrast the appreciation of a photograph, with that of a ‘modern art’ painting. The answer seeker wants a picture that captures detail and is measured for its accuracy. The questioner sees the painting, not as a means to capture what the business looks like, but what it is that the successful business is being.
Underlying this divergence of perspectives is the idea that in measuring what we see, the visible face of a business, we may capture measures of current performance, but be blind to the underlying state of the business. This current performance is in fact the product not of what the business is, but of what it was. To assess future performance, it is essential to see beneath the surface of what the business is doing, and glimpse what it is being.
It sounds like a simple and perhaps trivial shift, from a focus on answers to a focus on questions. It isn’t. What perhaps appears as a hairline crack, is in fact a chasm. Increasingly organisations squeeze out the time they allow for questioning. Macho managers are praised for demanding staff bring them solutions not problems, and increasingly see time spent thinking as time spent dithering. Sound bite based discussions and knee jerk reactions infect the business world just as surely as the world of politics. And each justifies their behaviour with a cry that there isn’t time to think.
I think crossing this chasm is absolutely imperative if we are to take control of our lives and the future’s of organisations. Travellers I hope might trigger readers to prepare to take the leap.