When I was young – maybe about eight years old – my father asked me a question that jarred my little brain. He said, “We put a lot of expectations on the world we live in and take them for granted. What if things were different each day? What if, when you turned the water on, one day it was cold, and the next day it was hot, and you were surprised each day? What if the sun came up at 6 am one day, and the next day it didn’t come up until 11 am and you never knew from day to day when the sunrise would happen?”
Up until that point, as most eight-year-olds, I had made a lot of assumptions that things are the way they are. Dad would go to work. I would go to elementary school. I would need to finish my homework and chores before I could play. I would be fed a nice dinner before I went to bed. My father was pointing out to me that we can challenge our assumptions. Through this theoretical exercise, he helped me see life in a completely different way. The purpose of asking me the question was not for me to answer it, but to challenge my thinking. I attribute this question many years ago to the beginning of my fascination and ability to find new, creative solutions to situations where many other people go with the status quo.
This is a tactic that many good salespeople use. “How long does it take you to complete this process?”
She answers, “Five days.”
“If I could show you how to shorten it to two days and save 25% on your costs, is that something you would be interested in?”
Is the salesperson interested in the answer? Of course, because it tells him if he is on the right track. If the potential buyer answers “No,” then he will need to probe more to find out what the real issue is. If the buyer answers, “Yes,” then not only does the salesperson know he has piqued her interest, but for the buyer, it challenges the status quo. She may not have ever realized it could be done and suddenly a whole new world opens up with possibilities.
Here’s another example. After I graduated from high school I served a two-year mission for my church. Each week I would write to my family and tell them about the previous week’s work and how I was doing. In one particular letter it was obvious I was discouraged. The person I was teamed up with was not particularly fond of working hard and he had a poor attitude. Eventually, I let myself fall in that slump as well. In this letter, I complained about how hard my mission was.
My father wrote a letter in response and asked me a few simple questions. Paraphrasing, he wrote, “You feel your situation is difficult. But what is going to happen when you are married with a couple of children and they want your attention, but you are working 50 hours a week, you have responsibilities in the church, you are the person who is responsible to fix things around the house and keep it up, and you feel the pressures of having to provide a good living for a growing family? If you can’t take the pressure of what you are doing now, how will you be able to deal with what most certainly will be your future?”
This completely shattered my status quo. It jarred me out of the funk I was in. It helped me understand that I better buck up because if I think this is hard, I’ve got another thing coming toward me in a few years. If I buckle now, there is no way I will be able to live a normal life later. From that point on, my attitude changed and my work increased. No longer did I droop in a poor attitude and work ethic. Rather, I built up my capacity for working hard and having a good attitude.
His question did not require an answer. In fact, it was more powerful without an answer. It challenged my status quo, broke it, and with that open space I was able to create a new world.