The Wright Stuff

A Conversation with Kurt and Patricia Wright


By John Milton Fogg

KurtPatcicia

More than 30 years ago, Kurt Wright made a life- and work-changing decision. He stopped asking, "What's wrong?" Today, Kurt, along with his wife Patricia, directs Clear Purpose Management, Inc. (www.clearpurpose.com), an international consulting and leader coaching firm, based in Lone Tree, Colorado. What Kurt and Patricia do for a living is to shift their clients' use of questions 180 degrees from the common corporate (and most all other domains, as well) "find-what's-wrong-and-fix-it" mindset, to one of asking "What's right?" questions. "What's right" questions, the Wrights assert, move our minds from problems to possibilities, from being prisoners of the past to being creative visionaries--discovering and designing our own futures. Radical? Well, Kurt didn't write the paradigm-shifting book, Breaking the Rules, to continue the status quo of a working world wrapped up in what's wrong. If you're interested in doing business with your intuition and your heart, as well as working smart, meet Mr. and Mrs. Wright.

-- JMF

What's the biggest challenge involved in creating a team?

KW: The biggest issue around teamwork is one of developing the relationship between our own head and our own heart. Everything about the way we relate to other people simply mirrors that inner relationship, the inner teamwork--

PW: ... the relationship between head and heart, intuitive and analytical, conscious and unconscious, man-nature spirit-nature. Our ability to work with others grows out of the relationship we have with ourselves.

KW: And here's the paradox: one of the best ways to get that relationship working internally is to work on it externally!

 

Why is that?

KW: The principle inhibitor of teamwork--both internally and externally--is the use of our analytical mind to judge things, ideas, beliefs or people to be right or wrong, good or bad. I create a priceless opportunity to practice being completely free of judging whenever I relate to another person. Judging is a separating, dividing function. It inhibits teamwork. A healthy teamwork relationship is strengthened whenever we use our analytical mind to frame questions in such a way that they can only be processed intuitively. That's the key step required to establish a partnership between the head and the heart. The more we practice asking right questions with others, the more we strengthen that vitally important habit internally.

 

What do you mean by "right questions"?

KW: We mean questions that engage your intuition. The intellect is a divider; its deductive reasoning breaks the whole into parts. The intuition is an assembler, an integrator, a synthesizer; it pulls different parts together into a unified whole. The key issue is learning to ask questions that evoke that integrative functioning.

PW: That's the ultimate in teamwork--when the team is drawn together in pursuit of a specific place or goal.

KW: It's fascinating to watch what happens with a team in response to questions: when you ask integrative questions, team members huddle closer together around the table; they get energized. When you ask deductive questions--
questions that cause people to process analytically--you can actually watch the group divide and separate. The more team members analyze, judge and opinionate, the more you can feel the energy drain right out of the conversation.

PW: When you ask a "what's wrong" question, your intellect will take apart, take apart and take apart until it's left with tiny pieces. The opposite happens if you ask a "what's right?" question.

 

What are other examples of that question?

PW: "What's whole? What's ideal? What's complete?"

KW: "What's working? What's useful? What's helpful?"

PW: The analytical mind has no way to deal with those questions; it must therefore defer to the intuitive. As people learn to respond to those questions, they start getting answers from their intuition--and those insights energize them.

When a group comes together to discuss a problem or an issue, the typical first question is, "What's wrong? How are we going to fix this?" That line of inquiry produces analytical answers, which often go into rationalization, finger-pointing and piecemeal solutions. You can literally watch people lean back in their chairs and move away from the table, it's so uncomfortable to be around those questions. I've seen people actually get up and move their chairs all the way into the corners of the room!

Now, take that same organization into the room and start with the question, "What's already working in this situation?" You get a totally different result--because you're accessing intuition.

 

When you talk about intuition, are you talking about inner self, spiritual self, unconscious...?

KW: We define intuition as "a different way of processing data"--a way that is at least a thousand, if not ten thousand times faster than the analytical mind.

Our rational mind can be virtually duplicated by a computer chip. One of a computer chip's most useful design features is its ability to reflect back precisely what has been put in. That's part of what makes it programmable. But programmable equals deceivable--the two are completely interchangeable concepts.

The clinical medical research that won Dr. Sperry the 1981 Nobel Prize for Medicine concluded that when the human analytical mind is separated surgically from the intuition, it is completely incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction. The human rational mind, just like the computer chip, is completely deceivable by design.

All non-teamwork interaction is caused by the intellect falling into the trap of thinking it can judge right/wrong, good/bad--which it cannot.

 

How is intuition a "different way" of processing data?

KW: The intuition uses three basic process languages: feelings, patterns and pictures. These languages operate at much higher speeds than words or numbers. "A picture is worth a thousand words."

My strongest language, personally--the one that works best for tapping my intuition, for reading, discerning and interpreting what my intuition is trying to tell me--is patterns. Patricia, you see images, don't you?

PW: I see pictures, yes, and I have gut feelings.

KW: In terms of reading feelings, I'm way down on the learning curve; but boy, am I strong on reading patterns.

PW: Let's say we get a feeling, or a picture. To gain access to the intuition, we have to slow it down and put it into words. That's why so few people have really good access to their intuition: they haven't learned how to do that.

We live in a world where the rational, analytical mind is put on a pedestal. "If you can't explain it, then it probably isn't so." Learning to distinguish what those feelings, patterns and pictures are and putting them into words is the real challenge.

 

How does this relate especially to teamwork?

PW: The first issue is to learn to do this for ourselves; then we can help other people learn, too. But paradoxically, as Kurt said, it's hard to do this with ourselves in a vacuum. So the team becomes especially valuable in a number of ways.

As we ask other people these intuition-engaging questions, these what's right, what's whole, what's ideal, what's perfect, what's working kinds of questions, it gets them to begin processing intuitively--and it also gets us to process intuitively, ourselves.

The ultimate teamwork is to have an organization, group or a couple that's asking each other these questions all the time: then we're accessing our own intuition and helping our partner or our team members access their intuition or the group intuition.

 

And that's by asking the "what's right" question?

KW: Actually, there are five levels of "What's right?" questions. The first is "What's working?" We call that an agenda-setting question. We're initiating a discovery process to find out what's worthy of further inquiry. . This is crucial, but most people use this as a dismissal question: if it's working, then we can dismiss it, we don't have to use up energy thinking about it.

The second level question is, "What is it that makes that work?" That question causes the intuition to pull together disparate parts and synthesize them into a perfectly unified whole, which causes a Eureka!, an epiphany.

This jolt of energy and insight simply does not occur unless it's been invited to occur--by asking the right question. That's the child's "Why?," which is why three-year-olds have energy coming out their ears.

 

"Why is the sky blue, daddy?"

KW: Exactly. Their relentless asking of the question is eventually going to cause a Eureka! to happen.

 

Is the parental difficulty with answering that question the fact that we try to do it analytically?

KW: We've been conditioned by our educational system to believe that we're not okay if we don't have the answer, so instead of joining the child in the magnificent wonderment of the question, we penalize the child for asking!

As a result, 19 children out of 20 have stopped asking that question by the age of ten. But every visionary I've ever studied over the course of 30-plus years has had the same questions and the same energy as a three-year-old child.

The third level question is, "What would be ideally right?" That's like shoving a wedge out into space and prying open a vacuum. The most powerful motivating force in the universe is the vacuum of an unanswered question.

A specific feeling develops around the outer edge of this vacuum, which is technically known as "creative tension"; this works as if it's sending an e-mail message out to the universe, inviting the perfect resources to come fill the gap. Those who make the best use of their intuition focus on holding open the vacuum of not knowing. And I repeat: it is the most powerful motivating force in the universe. Unfortunately, this feeling so closely resembles pain that 19 out of 20 people run from it like the plague instead of capitalizing on its creative power and usefulness!

 

Why is that?

KW: Because of all our conditioning that we're not okay if we don't have the answer, most people misinterpret that feeling of not knowing, that wonderful creative tension, and go scrambling to find something to put in the hole, to stop the feeling.

The fourth level of "What's right?" question is, "What's not yet quite right?"

Now, that sounds a lot like "What's wrong?," and in practice, people will often use "what's wrong" language for it. Its operating effectiveness, however, is that it is a way to further define the edges of the not known, to tighten up the
vacuum--which strengthens the vacuum and causes it to more powerfully attract the perfect items to fill the void.

For those who are operating at their best, the fifth level question is actually somewhat redundant. It is, "What resources can I find to fill the gap?"

 

Can you give me a real world example of how these questions operate?

PW: We built a network marketing business some years ago. After working it hard for about three years, we were able to take off two years and live in Hawaii--living quite nicely on our residual income, which is the whole point of network marketing, right?

The reason we were able to do that--which we know, because during this time hardly anybody else in the company was really taking off--was that through our questions, we helped people get to their own inner knowing as to why they were building an organization. That's an intuitive knowing.

We'd start with, "What's working already in your business?" We would have them define what their strengths were: what could they most productively expand upon to build their business? Because we did that with our key people, and taught some of them to do it with their key people, we had an organization where people were building their network marketing businesses for their own reasons--for themselves, not for us.

 

How does a team functioning in this way operate? What's different there?

PW: Through our questions, we were able to get people on our team to see where their greatest strengths were. We had some people who were incredibly good at explaining nutrition and how the body works. If I had someone with a specific physical issue, I knew exactly who in my organization could explain how the product would affect that issue. Others were really good at explaining how the business works. They learned to pair up and work together, whether in the same organization or cross-line.

Through these kinds of what's-right questions, you also build a much stronger person. If I'm comfortable with who I am and what my strengths are, then I'll be much more open to calling you to access your strengths. If I feel insecure about who I am, I'm not going to make myself vulnerable by calling you to get your help--because it makes me feel I'm less by comparison.

When you have stronger people who understand what their own strengths and competencies are, they're more apt to use other people's strengths to build a stronger organization.

 

How do you ascertain people's strengths? Do you come right out and say, "So, what're you good at?"

PW: No, because people don't have a clue! We have several tools for that. One is to ask you to come up with a list of those qualities you respect and admire in other people. Why? Because that's a direct reflection of your own greatest strengths. It's a perfect mirror.

We'd say, bring to mind somebody whom you respect or admire a great deal; it could be Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, or someone you know; then list the five or six greatest strengths you most admire in that person. We'd have them do this with two or three people--and we'd begin to see some real similarities. We'd show them how what they admire in others is a mirror of their own strengths--and they would go, Aha!

Then we'd suggest that they go out and start asking other people, "What do you see as some of my greatest strengths?" And they're floored at the answers they get! They would come back and tell us, "Man, they saw these strengths in me--and I never saw that!"

This raises your self-esteem several notches! When I start looking at what's right about me, at what my strengths are, I start feeling really good about myself. The more that happens, the more I'm able to come to you for help in your particular strength area. If you do that in a group setting, people start seeing what are the strengths in the organization as a whole.

KW: Then it gets to where the person can be honest, where they can say with great comfort, "I'm just not doing a very good job at this part of my work assignment. Can somebody help me here?" We've had situations where people have switched around job responsibilities, because they were able to get honest about their failings. In an environment where everyone's protecting what's wrong, that'll never happen.

PW: Then you have the ultimate teamwork--which is where people are truly honest about what's going on with them.

 

What role does vision play in teamwork?

KW: That's a paradoxical question, in a way, because anybody who is operating in a "what's wrong?" question simply does not have the energy to develop a vision, and it's virtually useless to have them address the question of vision.

PW: When we go into an organization, we have to start with building the energy. Energy is everything. It's wonderful to have a vision guiding the organization, if it's coming from an energizing place, but what you often find in organizations is a trying-to-fix-what's-wrong statement masquerading as a vision.

KW: Which brings us back to the bottom line: the best way to tell that you are processing analytically is that you'll be draining yourself of energy. You can actually feel the ebb, the takeaway, the diminishment of your energy. Conversely, the best way to tell that you're processing intuitively is that you will always be juiced, you'll always feel your energy going up.

The best way to begin testing this is by asking the simple question around the family dinner table at night: "What's the best thing that happened to you today?"

PW: It's such a simple question--but it's powerful. We've been working with corporations for nearly 25 years, and this has been the single most effective question we have asked.

It's also the best way to build people's self-esteem. You can start with your children, when they're really little. I've had people from our corporate work come back and say, "My relationship with my teenager has changed--we're talking now, and we weren't before."

The question, "What's the best thing that happened for you today?" allows people to be honest about what's going well in their day, instead of coming home from their school or their work and complaining about what happened all day long.

KW: Patricia and I have been together for 23-and-a-half years this month--and we do not go a day without asking that question of each other multiple times.

PW: And it's amazing the insights that emerge. After all that time, you think you know your partner--but you don't have a clue! By asking that question, you learn a whole lot more than you could ever imagine.