Monthly Archives: July 2011

Can We Talk?

Can We Talk?
An Art of the Question Blog


How Effective Is My Communication?

“I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

                                            –  Robert McCloskey

“You talkin’ to me?”

                                           –  Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver

The voyage was near its end. It was the last day of a transatlantic voyage, and the SS Andrea Doria, a passenger ship inbound from Italy, was scheduled to dock in New York the next morning. She carried 1,134 souls.

But trouble was steaming toward them. The MS Stockholm had departed New York, eastbound for Sweden. 

As they entered the heavily traveled shipping corridor of the North Atlantic, fog set in. Monitoring radar, each was aware of other ships in the area, but unaware that they were approaching each other head on within close proximity.  This was due in part to the Stockholm’s navigation officer misreading radar which was set for 5 miles, rather than the 15 mile limit he thought.

Realizing the impending collision, each took what they believed to be evasive action. In reality however, they actually worsened the problem – steering toward each other! In the last moments before impact, the Stockholm reversed her engines and turned hard to starboard. This action resulted in a direct strike into the side of the Doria.

Forty-six people died.

As the ships initially approached one another, there was no radio communications between them.Which brings to mind the question – could a radio call have avoided the collision? Could a simple communication have been the answer?

History will likely never provide the answer to this question. But one thing is sure. Communication is key. Not only in avoiding disaster, but especially to insuring success.

There are several keys to effective communication. One of the most important aspects of communication is to be sure that all parties have the same understanding. How can we do this?

First, explain the idea or thought as simply and thoroughly as possible. Be sensitive to comments and body language of your audience. This will help gauge how your message is being received.

Second, ask probing questions to help insure that your audience understood what you communicated. Repeat back what they tell you, using your own words. This step is called paraphrasing and will help you see how well you are in alignment with your audience. 

Next, ask open ended questions. This is key. Ask questions that invite open comment. For example, don’t ask, “Do you like this idea?” A closed-end question like this can easily be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.  Instead, ask, “How do you feel about this idea and its goal?” This type of question will allow your audience to open up and provide feedback.

Finally, summarize the communication and clarify any discrepancies. We can do this by affirming what our audience told us, using our own words.

Communication is a loop between people. It requires a constant focus on clarity.

What is your biggest communication hurdle?

How can you use the steps above to improve communication?



The Comics or the Career?

The Comics or the Career?
An Art of the Question Blog

Do I Prefer a Comic Book or an Business Book?

“With great power comes great responsibility”       –  Peter Parker (AKA Spiderman)

“It’s not what I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”     —    Batman

It was 1938. The world was on the brink of World War II. The U.S. was in the grip of a recession, with 1 of every 5 people unemployed.  

And on the shelves of magazine racks, a new comic book appeared. A new hero – Superman. Blue tights, red cape – and he could fly! The cover price was 10¢.

Fast forward 72 years. Same comic book. Same cover price. But oh my how things change! One of the rare copies of this comic book sold to an anonymous buyer for…. $1.5 million!

Comic book or Business? Which would you prefer to read?

It was comics for me! I can almost hear my 1st Grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, groaning even now.  I loved comics – especially Batman. I even had my very own BatCape, handmade by the mom of one of my buddies. It was yellow, with a black cut-out bat stitched on it.

Then I went to college. I went into the undergrad program reading comic books and Rolling Stone, and came out reading the Wall Street Journal, business books, technical texts, autobiographies, on and on. It was all about the business.

But I have learned that there is wisdom to be found in my old favorites.

From Superman, I learned that selflessness and integrity are foundational in the life of a leader. From The Hulk, I found that it is best to keep your cool under pressure. From X-Men I learned that there is strength in diversity. And from Batman, I learned how to swear (Holy BatBelt Robin!) without getting in trouble with my mom.

The truth is, there is wisdom to be gained from nearly any book, nearly any person, nearly any situation. The key is to learn what to look for, and how to apply what we learn.

I read an autobiography about Helen Keller, and was moved by one of her quotes. In fact, my entire blog series was originally inspired by this quote. She said, “External conditions are the accidents of life, its outer trappings. The great enduring realities are love of service. Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulty.”

Joy is the holy fire…wow. What a life lesson. So from Superman to SuperHelen, there are lessons everywhere.

People have told me, “I don’t like to read.” Well, may I share a nugget that a friend once told me?  He said, “Terry, as long as I read I will never be completely lonely or completely stupid!”

I read a lot. A lot. I read novels and textbooks and business books and motivational books. I read cereal boxes and magazines. I read. I usually read with pen in hand, underlining and taking notes. Many of my favorite books are filled with notes and notes and sticky notes and highlighter underlines. I refer to them often and try to put their lessons into practice.

Let me encourage you to find something to read. Even a comic book! You and I can grow faster and deeper by drawing on the life lessons that others share.

What book have you selected to read next?

What area of your life would benefit from someone else’s experience? Is there a book that would provide you with the information or insight or motivation that you need?

Fingerprints and DNA

Fingerprints and DNA
An Art of the Question Blog

Do I Understand I am Unique?

Every man and woman is born into the world to do something unique and something distinctive and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done.”                                        –          Benjamin E. Mays

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”      — Warren Buffett

He is married, and has 3 kids. He has lived in the same house in the suburbs since 1958. He is a businessman who brings home a base pay of around $100,000 per year. He plays bridge and loves Nebraska football.

Oh yeah – he is also the richest man on the planet.

Warren Buffett is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $62 Billion. Yes, that would be billion with a “B”. What that means is that assuming he only earns 4% compounded monthly, he is earning around $5,000 in interest income – every minute of every day. So by the time you and I finish this blog, Mr. Buffett will be even richer, depending on how fast we read.

Warren Buffett is no doubt a unique human being.

One of the things about him is that he seems so… ordinary. But clearly there is much about this man that is beyond any definition of ordinary.

And yet – isn’t that true of each of us? Every one of us is unique in our own way. And not just in fingerprints and DNA. We each have very specific gifts, talents and skills. Every person you and I meet is unique – and that includes the two of us!

There is a passion inside you. There is something that you want to do, something you love to do, something you were meant to do. Find it! Find the thing that sets you apart, and do it! No one can do it better than you. No one can even do it as well as you.

What is it?

In his amazing book Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about the Hedgehog Concept. He describes a fox, always moving forward, always aggressive. He also describes a humble hedgehog. In contrast to the fox, the hedgehog is not very aggressive, or sexy. Just consistent. It does one thing very well.

Collins compares that simple hedgehog with companies who find their unique area of effectiveness. They find their “sweet spot” and perform in a consistently excellent manner.

The same concept applies to individuals. Jim poses three questions to help us define our “sweet spot”:


  • What Can You Be The Best In The World At?


  • What Drives Your Economic Engine?


  • What Are You Passionate About? 

Do you know the answers to these questions? If not –

What is your driving passion, your unique-ness?

Who can help you to develop this area into your “sweet spot”?


The Art of the Question

The Art of the Question

An Art of the Question Blog

 What Can I Learn From Asking Myself Questions?


He was born in 1879, and died in 1955.  In the 76 years between those two dates, he literally changed the world.

With questions.

His name is Albert Einstein. He questioned what he had been taught about the science of motion and physics in the universe.  Along the way, his name became synonymous with “genius”.

He published over 300 scientific papers along with 150 non-scientific works; however, it was in 1905 that he upended the world of science and rational thinking.  During a period of blistering productivity he published five papers in six months. Those five papers forever changed the world of science. The world learned of the now-famous equation, E=MC2

Jacob Bronowski once described Einstein as “a man who could ask immensely simple questions”, and from whose answers he could “hear God thinking.”  And it was true. Einstein’s revolutionary theories of special and general relativity each started from simple questions.

One of the management skills I work to master is the Art of the Question.  It is a powerful tool for working with your team.  By asking the right question, a leader is able to guide his or her team to the right answer.  This allows the team member to think through each step of the decision, rather than having the answer provided to them.  The result is that their decision is better thought out and they have ownership in it.

Leading a team this way is a great skill. But recently I began to think about leading myself through the Art of the Question.  What if I asked myself a question, and then wrote my answer? What if I used the Question to generate some real soul-searching? What if my growth on spiritual, intellectual, physical, professional and emotional levels was stimulated, not by to-do lists, but by questions?!  What if the answer was in the question?

Hmmm… maybe I am on to something.

So I am going to ask myself some specific questions over the next few weeks.  And I am going to think about my answer, and write down a response.  I already have the questions.  I have printed them, separated them, and put them into a bowl.  I plan to draw each one out at random, so I won’t let my mood affect the question I pick.

Hey – how about you? Want to come along? Who knows what you might find out about yourself!

So, here goes….



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