In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
Among the treasure trove of ideas in Seth Godin’s book, POKE THE BOX, is this one: No one has influence, control, or confidence in their work (or any other area of their life) until they understand how to initiate change and predict how a thing will respond.
The “box” Godin is talking about in his title is any complex bit of your life that you want to understand better with the goal of making your interaction with it more effective.
The “box” might be that brand-new computer program, just sitting there waiting for you to poke at the buttons on your machine and make the new do-dad do things, make it dance.
The “box” might be a market you want to tackle and make sit up and take notice of you. Maybe that “market” is just one special somebody whose attention you crave. It might be a customer or it might be your boss or maybe a somebody you’d like to be significant in your life.
Whatever the “box” is, the thing is a puzzle that can be solved in only one way – by poking.
POKING IS A WAY OF BUILDING A PRACTICE
My brother Michael was an intrepid bug explorer in his youth. He was forever hunkered down, watching lines of ants or other critters, chasing down caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies, studying spiders in their webs, and grabbing up crickets and grasshoppers.
He spent hours watching what the little guys did, poking at them with fingers and sticks, seeing how they moved and what made them do things differently.
When you do THIS, what happens? When you do THAT, what happens? Hey, it ALWAYS does this when I do that! Wow! Now, why did it do that?
Michael sure did learn a lot about bugs. They were his “box.” After a while he got really good at knowing what assorted bugs did and how and why. He turned an initial wonderment into a passion and that passion became a sort of practice for him.
ANOTHER KIND OF OWNERSHIP
In a similar way, if you poke at your own puzzles, your “box” reveals itself. As you get better at questioning and poking, you not only get smarter but you also gain what Godin calls “ownership.”
You step into the box and make it your own.
Godin’s kind of ownership does not have to be equity or even control. Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen. “Ownership” is another name for mastery and influence.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
It all begins with that sense of wonder, and it begins by asking questions and looking for some answers:
How does this work?
Why does it do that?
How can I make it do something else?
Can I do this with it? What about that?
What are its limits?
Can I expand those limits?
What happens when I do?
As you unravel your puzzles and wander around in your mysteries you’ll find your own answers. As you test your conclusions in the real world, seeing whether the things you’ve thunk actually work outside the confines of your own head, you will develop own your way of walking.
GUIDED BY THE ANSWERS
Consistently asking your questions and faithfully following where the answers lead you eventually gets you to a place where nobody else can answer the questions you still have. By then you’ll have built yourself a practice and a method and means for exploring this world you’ve discovered.
The answers you start finding and following are going to be different than the run-of-the-mill, regular ones. You’ve already gone past those everybody-knows-that answers.
If you do it right and don’t fall down some pothole or other and the creek don’t rise, maybe you’ll spark up more questions that other people can use to construct their own paths.
THE QUESTION-BOX HEADS OUT
It all starts with being aware. It all starts with noticing. It all starts with a determination to go where the answers to your questions lead you.
Godin says, “Winners turn initiative into a passion and a practice.” With his book, he shows you a way of doing just that.
The following YouTube video, “Make Your Life Spectacular,” was published by Goalcast and is a tribute to one of my favorite funny guys, the late Robin Williams. What a heartful man!
Here’s a poem, constructed for one who followed his questions:
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that basically us humans are clueless when it comes to answering the Big Questions. [Life-Its-Own-Self is a big Mystery. Wonder and awe are appropriate responses.]
THE QUESTION-BOX KID
I confess: I was that Question-Box Kid who kept asking adults the stumper “why” questions all the time. It is not a good survival trait in a culture where young ones are supposed to watch and listen and learn.
I don’t think I was built for all that big-eyed, bated-breath wonderment stuff – the one where you go, “Oh, wow, Big Person, tell me what I need to know.”
I thought the Big Guys were keeping me from figuring out the all-of-everything. It was all a conspiracy, I figured. I was going to hammer the Big Stuff really fast so I could just go out there and DO stuff, just like them….maybe better than them. Ha-ha!
I was, I think, an annoying piece of work. I survived my childhood mostly because I was surrounded by people who were too slow on their feet to catch and strangle me.
THE BIG SIX – WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW, AND WHY
Later on, I finally did figure out that the WHY questions have no pat answers. You can ask WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHEN and HOW questions from sunrise to sunset and get some pretty solid answers from other people.
The answers you get to those kinds of questions are productive. You can do stuff with them and make things happen.
WHY questions, on the other hand, are always….debatable. They lead to arguments and dissension and lots of disagreements between people. Wars have been started over differing WHY-question answers.
FROM ONE TRUTH TO ANOTHER
The thing is, the answers to WHY questions are not necessarily “right” or “wrong.” Like the answers to the other questions, the answers to WHY questions either work or they don’t work. The problem is the answers to the WHY questions only work for some people and not for others.
The answers to the WHY questions are always one Truth or another. But, each person sees Truth in their own way and sometimes one person’s Truth will absolutely contradict another person’s Truth.
Finding the WHY-question answers that work for you are a lot of work. The deal is, though, those answers are the absolute bottom-rock foundation for adding meaning and mana to your life.
The wise guys say that all the answers to the WHY questions are already inside of you. For some reason, they’re obscured by assorted issues and assumptions and other-people stuff.
It’s the price of admission for coming into this world, that. That’s what you get for coming into the world as this helpless little being that has to depend on all these other people to keep you alive.
(To avoid all that, the wiser guys point out, you would have to come into the world as a fully-realized being, already self-sufficient and smart enough not to say much. That comes with a different set of problems that might end up with you getting burned at the stake or crucified or something. REALLY not a good thing.)
Things being the way they are, it means that you have to develop “creative discovery skills.” Since nobody else actually knows the answers that are going to work for you, you have to go find them your own self. It requires you to ask the right questions.
Here’s a TEDx Tokyo talk by James Curleigh about “Asking the Right Questions.” (At the time the video was made, Curleigh was the president and CEO of Keen Footwear. He has since become Levi’s brand president.) It really sounds like the guy asks a lot of questions too….
CREATIVE DISCOVERY SKILLS
Creative discovery skills are actually just a matter of asking questions that look past previous assumptions. The more forethought you put into the questions you ask, the better answers you get and the more options you uncover.
It’s kind of like turning over rocks and leaves and overturned boxes and such and finding out what’s under them, then taking all the stuff under them (plus maybe some of the stuff you overturned as well) to make a whopping cool new thing.
This is pretty much the definition for how scientists and inventors and artists and craftsmen and business innovators came up with all these fantastic new ideas and products that surround us today.
PLAYING WITH OTHERS
It’s a lot more fun when you can share these skills with other people. To do that, you mostly have to just ask their permission to play in this new way and then invite them to join in.
When you encounter stuck-in-the-mud resistance, the best response is usually asking another question.
Keep asking questions until the other person starts thinking too…even if they’re only thinking of ways to block you.
Remember that they are doing you a favor when they try to block you. You get to think about their objections and propositions and see whether you can find ways around them. Their objections help you refine your own way of dancing and point out your mistakes or missteps.
Eventually, if you both stick with this way of playing, you may find some common place where you can stand together and start making something together.
There is a very useful communication skills article (as well as a very good video by Yashwant Schinde) on the Mind Tools Club website that you might want to check out. You can click HERE to do that.
Mind Tools is an online educational/business training organization that was established in 1996. It works with top global corporations as well as individual entrepreneurs and careerists to help them increase productivity, improve management and leadership skills and all that good stuff.
If you like what you see, you can even join the club for a not-unreasonable price. (The standard membership is $19/month after the first month for $1.) You can also subscribe to their free newsletter.
You do have to watch out and make sure you’re not being a pest when you play this game, but sometimes even being a pest will get the other person off their duff.
If you get really good at it, their getting off their duff is not going to be because they are so mad at you they want to beat you into the dirt. (You know you’re good when you can take off your running shoes and not bother with them any more.)