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The Shortest Distance

Let’s make it as easy as possible. Let’s get there as fast as possible. If you formulate the perfect question, you’ll get precisely the data you need the first time. The reasoning comes from a geometry proof, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”

And yet, the shortest distance reasoning, which can be directly proven, may be contradicted in organizations. In my experience, the shortest distance between where I am and where I want to go in an organization is often a trip through stories. A story has the potential to produce multiple points of connection for listeners.

As we listen to a story, the mind is working to make sense of what is being said. The mind constantly sorts through past experiences, opinions and beliefs, thoughts and ideas, emotions and feelings. It generates a configuration that allows us to access the story being told. It builds a connection between the new information presented and prior information stored . . . a map of the terrain with a “you are here” flag prominently displayed. When multiple people in a group or organization share their stories, it is possible to generate a communal map with a “we are here” flag. While not everyone may agree on the map’s terrain, road layout, or even orientation and scale, a shared understanding can begin.

In groups and organizations, the shortest distance between two points may be a conversation that includes stories. So, let the questions be ones that are generative, that ask for people to share stories out of their experiences in coming to the place they find themselves in today. Let the questions, stories, and conversations begin to discover a shared map and shortest distance between us.

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