These queries tend to break up any goal, however big and intimidating, into manageable pieces. We keep track of our progress in thousands of ways and report our evolution in detail. I’ve often heard industrialist Jack Welch quoted as saying that “The devil is in the details,” but 100 years ago the architect Mies van der Rohe was quoted as saying more less the same thing, “God is in the details.” And 100 years before that it was attributed to the French writer Gustave Flaubert. The notion is probably a lot older.
When things go well, managers take satisfaction in the progress. When they go poorly, we take satisfaction from the process of reorganizing our efforts in new directions.
To any knowledgeable businessperson this approach is axiomatic. We build a vision of the business at its most successful and we articulate a set of questions to guide us toward that vision.
If it works, more or less universally, in business, then why couldn’t we apply it to other large, complex undertakings?
Clearly, if the topic is something as broad as sustaining our habitat the questions must be fairly general. We can’t afford to get bogged down in politics or the present technology. Politics and technology will supply us with tools to help answer our queries, but they don’t belong in the questions themselves.
And if our queries are to harness human imagination they must connect with human aspiration. That means we can’t stick to the nuts and bolts. Practical efficiency is fine and good, but if we are to inspire people then we need beauty and abundance, too.
These queries are in no sense some kind of ultimate formula. They are, after all, the work of only one mind. The task at hand requires billions of minds working together. I propose these queries only as a way of starting a conversation that might lead to better queries and better conversations. These are my best questions, for what they are worth. I apply them to all my efforts at home, at work and elsewhere, as devices that help me break up my aspirations into manageable pieces and help me feel satisfaction that I am at least making some progress towards my ambitions for my planet and my species.
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