The Answer to How is Yes

October 3rd, 2016 | Leadership
The Answer to How is Yes

Guest Post by Chris Thyberg

Peter Block in his amazing book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters,  argues that “How?” questions, though critical, can often mask a defensive distraction that causes us to postpone – sometimes indefinitely – answering the prior and more important question: What is our Great Purpose? We must address questions concerning what works by first answering questions of what matters. “The goal is to balance a life that works with a life that counts.”

The Answer to How is Yes begins with the premise that “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.” The question ‘How do I do this?’ is often “a defense against action. It is a leap past the question of purpose, past the question of intentions, and past the drama of responsibility.”

Block introduces the powerful tool of Yes questions – questions that need to be asked before specific How questions can be answered in order to position ourselves to choose “freedom, service, and adventure,” Here are Block’s six shifts:

(1) How do we do this?’ becomes ‘What refusal have I been postponing? When we are seeking deep change, knowing what NOT to recreate helps us determine what truly creative innovation we should pursue because it captures what really matters.

(2) ‘How long will this take?’ becomes ‘What commitment am I willing to make?’ Block notes that we will always make time for what we are truly committed to. We need to shift the question of time to the question of importance.

(3) ‘How much will this cost?’ becomes ‘What is the price I am willing to pay?’ We have to determine what this creative, disruptive change is really worth. Why? Because the true value of something that really matters is “emotional, not economic.” The heart precedes the wallet.

(4) ‘How do I get others to change?’ becomes ‘What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?’ This transfer of accountability ensures that the decisions we make begin with ourselves before they are initiated with the people who will be affected by the change.

(5) ‘How do we measure this?’ becomes ‘What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my life and work?’ Here we are making the shift from tracking progress in terms of activities that produce outputs to sounding the depths of outcomes that produce value and give meaning. It’s at the crossroads that we are called to determine what has ultimate significance for us both personally and professionally.

(6) ‘How are other people doing this successfully?’ becomes ‘What do we want to create together?’ Yes, what has already been mapped out is important; benchmarks and best practices matter. But this Yes question redirects our energy toward what is still to be discovered. Exploration drives us to “best next practices” that may not even be on anyone’s radar yet.

Block ends with a bonus Yes question. This query needs to resonate daily in the Servant Leader’s soul. Effective Servant Leaders sow this question into our people, our enterprises, and our communities. The answer to this one question, I would propose, is the primary driver of holistic value creation and flourishing for all our stakeholders.

‘What is the question that, if you had the answer, would set you free?’

Servant Leaders give themselves and all those whose lives they touch the power and permission to choose freedom, service, and adventure. Let it begin with us and spread to everything we steward.




Chris Thyberg


Chris Thyberg has served for over 30 years in senior positions in higher education, the non-profit sector, and corporate leadership development, with experience in strategic planning, needs assessment, team building, and program design and implementation. Chris and his family are deeply committed to urban well-being, and are involved with several community development groups whose purpose is to cultivate flourishing in their neighborhood, across Pittsburgh, and throughout Southwestern PA.  You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn:

You can connect with Peter Block @


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