Joseph George on John Scherer’s Five Questions

The following was posted on the 14th July 2011 by Joseph George at
I recently wrote a blog on implications of designing for organizational effectiveness. It was a nascent attempt to know how readers may take to the blog space for such a topic. At least two senior professionals in my field of passion, who’ve spent more years reading organizations than blogs thought it was a decent attempt. One of them, Terrence Seamon wrote that it may also imply if people from the field of Organisation Development ask enough questions. Do we ask enough questions irrespective of field we come from? My thought streams began this way, until I realized that it is after a certain point of quantity that the questions we ask would become questions of pertinence. Questions that are pertinent and persistent are the most powerful ones. I bring you a book review about questions that fall in that sweet spot between pertinence and persistence. The book is “Five Questions That Change Everything – Life Lessons at Work” by John J. Scherer (Bibliocast, 2009).

When evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris contributes a foreword, Mark Victor Hansen of the Chicken Soup Series writes a recommendation, there’s got to be a higher reason that John unites them in, beyond the biology of the birds and the bees. So as Sahtouris claims “science taught as mechanistic reductionism in which all life is seen blindly evolving mechanism”, this book looks at human beings as part of a co-creative force in a cosmic perspective. Many of us who come to this moment from the unquestioned assumption of science serving the guiding post in human affairs, have also seen the transformation of science serving ‘practical’ marketplace economics. That ‘practicality’ consumed India with linen for the cardamom pod in one era, and makes China the global factory today for almost anything in living memory.

So what would such a perspective of life giving or life-affirming dimension be? It could be your GPS. No, not your geo-positioning system; but your Greater Purpose Statement. That comes about in an intuitive joining of dots from the author’s own life. John has bared much to let his thoughts merge into that of the reader’s from a framework of 5 simple Questions. They are as below, and sequenced as such in the book’s plan:
1. What confronts me?
2. What am I bringing?
3. What runs me?
4. What calls me?
5. What will unleash me?

Irrespective of which part of the world we wake up to the sun from, John’s sharing casts light on your shadow too. His premise is surprisingly simple. He considers the workplace as the system that needs to be lived into by inviting us to be our authentic selves in relationship with others there. With a worldly immersion between Kenya’s Merreushi community of the Masai tribe, Poland’s contemporary industry professionals, the US Navy and deep learning from Masters of human processes in the USA (I can’t stop counting how many well-wishers he has there), and countless moments in various ports of call, John carves out a distinct self-perpetuating inquiry code necessary for life. Riveting text comes with portions of autobiographical narration, which however, every reader may not take to as spontaneously.

For me Chapter One on Facing the Tiger (read What Confronts me?) is an appeal to courage and possibility. To quote John “If you are not facing one of your tigers, it is already eating you”. Now for a moment again, we may dismiss the obvious metaphor saying we’ve led the tiger to near extinction in the physical world. In a racy society of materialistic oomph, consciousness may slip such a metaphor too to its extinction. Yet, in a curiously symbiotic way, I wish to see the tiger live and face it before the force of the metaphor itself dwindles out. Chapter Five begins dealing with the Question ‘What runs me?’ Living life on automatic is a very kinesthetic symbol, that John reminds us to be wary of. Whose life is one living with all the inner world perspective we shore inside in the tides of change? John takes us through a conversational trip on how we unwittingly carry themes that we enslave ourselves to – the Positive, Immediate and Concrete (PICs) and the ones we get less often – the Negative Immediate Concrete lessons (NICs). Our default pre-conscious leads us to a selective interpretation in our conscious state, John argues. In that conscious state we act as we choose to, depending on our addictions (PICs) and terrors (NICs). Not a question one will forget or have answered as in ‘forever’.

That is when we begin to be shown to the power of our shadows (our ignored selves). The book’s magic also comes through with the active use of Polarity Management as a discipline in thinking through issues and teasing problems to be solved from polarities to be managed. For readers not hungry enough to visualize who they seem to be becoming, this part of the book can do no more than tickle their curiosity. The constructive part of the book comes from the dealing of the remaining 2 questions. And this becomes the difficult part for the reader who has been used to a human face to such personal growth questions. That is where John’s triple pulls of Self, Others and Cause is a useful framework to our identity. Overexposing oneself to any one pull in the trio could diminish the other two. In Chapter 18, comes a set of deep bone questions. Sample these “What deep need does the world have that you would give anything to see met or addressed? What is something you deeply want to see happening in the world three generations from now because you had been alive..?.” That is how John takes us to his construct of the Greater Purpose Statement that integrates your Charism, Your Shadow Stretches and Your Impossible Possibility- The so That.

His last Question “What will unleash me” is about dealing with Pain and Possibility as parents of Transformation. Eventually chaos is the birth canal through which human evolution is presumed, true to Sahtouris’ preface. John has shown a deeply experienced promise in narrating the movement from living life on an ‘automatic’ to living authentically. Given that leadership is now increasingly seen as a process between members who enjoy the choice; this book is a consistent companion in process. For those who want a self-help manual, this is a tough read. For, as John writes of the workplace, “Your faculty is always there – the ones you like and the ones you can’t stand. ….the ones you don’t particularly like are the most important ones for your development”. Ever thought about that one? 311 pages long, it may take some a lifetime to complete reading. But as those questions change everything by brining one back to oneself, our personal ‘home’; it is one I’d like to have in hard copy than browse on an electronic screen. John’s punch in such contribution comes from sharing how his own statements look like and even baring the purpose of his book from the questions he asks. That is not an ordinary feat to pose as premise of a book! The essential question then is “What am I becoming?”

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23 Responses to Joseph George on John Scherer’s Five Questions

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