Book review: The answer to how is yes

The title of Peter Blocks latest book reads a little strange at first: “The answer to how is yes“, but in it he makes a very important point, one that every decision maker, project worker, consultant, change agent or just plain anybody who works for anything that matters should know: That sometimes “how?” isn’t the important question, and that asking “How?” can actually be a defense against getting an effort started, a defense against change.

What every important project needs is less focus on “How?” and more focus on “Yes!”, on the affirmation that this (whatever “this” is) is a worthwhile pursuit. That affirmation strengthens the will to do it, whereas continually asking “how?” saps your strength. Saying yes focuses on the goal you want to achieve, asking how focuses on all the obstacles.

It’s not that asking how is necessarily wrong, it’s just that overfocusing on questions like “How long will it take”, “How much will it cost” and “How will we do it” can foster a state of mind in which no change is possible. Among other things, these questions assume that no project can be started unless we know the answers in advance. But in reality most worthwhile ventures are a leap of faith. You must say “Yes, this is what we want” and get started. We’ll make up the “How?” as we go along.

This is how we work in the “happiness at work” project. We no our goal (making millions of people happy at work) and we’re trying many different ways to get there. Some will work, some won’t. Do we know each and every step that will take us to our goal? No way! But we believe it’s possible and we know it’s worthwhile. We’d rather try it and fail than not try it.

This book is a somewhat challenging read, but most certainly worth it. It shines a light on what is to my mind the most important succes factor in any change initiative, namely commitment. And commitment comes from “Yes” not from “How?”. Read it!

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