Purpose Finding

In organizations I see much emphasis on problem solving and little emphasis on purpose finding. A marvelous book called The Path of Least Resistance influenced my thinking on purpose-finding. The author of that book, Robert Fritz, tells us that in any situation we can ask the question, “What result do I want to create?”

This may seem like an unimportant point until we realize that this question is very different than the question we normally ask ourselves, “How do I get what I want?” The first question–What result do I want to create?–is about purpose. It is the foundation of the creative life stance. It leads us naturally and powerfully to accountability. It causes us to reframe who we are. It leads us to courageous new behavior.

The second question-How do I get what I want?–is about process. It is far more limiting than the first question and tends to keep us at our current level of awareness. It keeps us in our comfort zone, which may not be comfortable at all. Consider an illustration. It appears to be about a high school student. It is actually about all of us.

The summer after his team won the state championship, my youngest son received a letter inviting him to the Five Star Invitational Basketball Camp. This meant he would spend a week with the 100 best players in the region and he would be exposed to coaches from the best colleges.

When he received the letter, the whole family was really excited. The next morning he walked into the kitchen and announced he was not going. Everyone reacted. I asked him what he was going to do instead. His response was a teenage classic, “I am going to stay here and chill.”

He had what seemed like an enticing opportunity. We wanted him to take it. Yet we were not very sensitive to what he might have been feeling. Attending the camp meant going alone to a new place and exposing himself to high competition. As I put myself in that situation now, I can imagine feelings I might have had.

I suspect I would have been a little fearful. Instead of facing that discomfort I might have asked myself the very normal question, the question we all ask ourselves all the time: “How do I get what I want?” What I probably would have wanted most was to avoid the discomfort of being alone and the risk of the potential embarrassment and failure. I would not have wanted to escape such negative emotions. I might have said, “I am just going to stay home and chill.”

Now suppose at that time I had asked him, “What result do you want to create in your basketball life?” He might have answered that he wanted to play at a good school. If that had been his answer, and if he had been clear about it, he might have redefined the opportunity. If he had been clear about his purpose, he may have found the courage to face his fears.

What I can now see is that what he did was natural. It is what many of us might have done. We all go through life asking, “How do I get what I want?” and since we yearn to stay on the path of least resistance, we make decisions that keep us there. We create prisons for ourselves and then choose to live in them. We are incarcerated not by steel bars but by our own fears.

I have thought about creating a bumper sticker: “The most dangerous place on earth – Our comfort zone.”

(This passage is adapted from material in Letters to Garrett by Robert E. Quinn, See Letter 2.)

Reflection

How often do I stay in my comfort zone?

How can I get myself out of my comfort zone?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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