Think for a moment of your own life and those occasions when the right questions have unlocked a new solution to an issue that you had just been wrestling with. My central question is: What kinds of conditions (or forces) were in place when that happened, both inside of you as well as around you? Are there certain circumstances that help you frame your best questions—or others that you can sense shutting them down? This book pulls together the collective response of several hundred creatives to these questions. My hope with it is to get you, too, to better appreciate the importance of questions as catalysts for change in general, and to enable you to be more reflective about how you can generate those questions.
Finally, I am writing this book in the first person. If you have read Henry David Thoreau's Walden, you may remember his apology on the first page for doing the same. "In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained...," he informs the reader. "We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well "
Then he turns this mild defense of his own voice into a demand of others: "Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives..." His hope is that any author would give him "some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land "
I have valued that kind of authentic voice in many books I cherish— among them, great books about questions like Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak and A Hidden Wholeness; Twyla Tharp's Creative Habit; Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning; Mary Catherine Bateson's Peripheral Vision; John Steinbeck's East of Eden; and Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (In the last, the fact that a film is being made about the author's life causes him to question the story of his life and then change it for the better.) Picasso once said, "There is only one way to see things, until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes." All these authors have given me new ways to see things—and eyes that remained different as a result.
I don't want to adopt some disembodied "expert voice" as we get into the chapters. I want to be that kindred person who has struggled with serious impasses in various areas of life and worked to overcome them—by asking tough questions that took my head, heart, and hands down entirely new paths.
WHAT'S HARDER THAN FINDING NEW ANSWERS?
The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. — Peter Drucker
When the first group of visitors arrived at a newly opened event space in Shanghai in June 2017, they were promptly immersed in a situation unlike any they had encountered before. First, they sat through a concert combining music and poetry. Then they made their way through a full-scale mockup of some typical features of a town: a park with a pond offering boat rides, an outdoor market with a playground for the kids among them, a café full of chattering patrons. Not so remarkable, you think? Here's the catch: they experienced all this in utter pitch-blackness. They stumbled around. They bumped into things. They laughed but at the same time were deeply bewildered. None could have managed it at all except for the help of their expert and agile guides—who, of course, were blind.
This is "Dialogue in the Dark," the brainchild of Andreas Heinecke, who created the first such installation in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1989. Today, the social enterprise he built operates in dozens of countries, simultaneously creating jobs for blind people and helping sighted people understand how they go through life. Millions of visitors have experienced it, and for many it sparks a life-changing moment.
And it all started with a question—actually, with a reframed question.
Some thirty years ago Heinecke was working for a radio station, when he learned from a manager that a former employee would be rejoining the staff there soon. The man had been in a terrible car accident and left blind by his injuries, but he wanted to work again. Heinecke was asked to help that colleague accomplish his reentry into the workplace. It was a challenging assignment, since Heinecke had no experience in any assistance of this nature, but immediately he started trying to solve the problem of what a person with such a disability could still do at a passable level. It was only as he got to know his colleague well that he realized he had been asking a terribly reductive question. He switched it around to something more positive: In what kind of job setting could a blind man capitalize on his relative strengths? The idea for "Dialogue in the Dark" sprang to mind and showed the way to what would be his life's work.