Something I realized at the Oregon Country Fair

I went to the Fair the first time with a pretty good guide and interpreter, a person in the middle of a lot of the action, and yet even digging in as deeply as I could, a lot of the machine remained hidden from me. And a great deal of time and effort was wasted because I could not design interfaces or connections - I could not find out how the pieces were supposed to be fitting together until they were all completed, painted and installed. So I came back with an unfinished song, a verse that I still have not figured out what to do with ...

The song is about how people sometimes get the information or direction they seek, and why they often do not. I suppose that it stems from something I half remember from the caterpiller in Alice in Wonderland. The idea is that we all have to ask other people for advice, for help, for guidance. And we rarely have enough of the puzzle in our hands to know which pieces we are really looking for. So we rarely stumble on the magic words to ask the right question the first try.

But when we are the person being asked for help, we have the option of answering the question that was asked, or the question that was underlying the question that was asked - the question that was buried under the quetioner's confusion and their limited vocabulary - the question that was trying to be asked. Most of the time most people do the former, they answer the question that was asked, because it is almost always easier than really getting involved and because there is little or no risk of rebuff for second-guessing the questioner.

The song was a stillborn attempt to provide a procedure for getting people to ask the question under the question.

It goes:
Question Number One is "What's your question?"
Question Number Two is "Who should know?"
But Queston Number Three is "Will they tell you, what they think you REALLY need to know?"

This leads directly to a discussion of how a non-democratic benevelolent despotry based on an inversion of the traditional corporate bureaucracy can perhaps solve some (though not all) of the problems we find in traditional organizations.
©Joe Breskin June 1994 and September 2002
Link to a list of Joe Breskin's other journal entries