The Three Most Important Questions

How a lesson from Tolstoy could change the way we work and play

Leo Tolstoy playing chess
It seems to me that the majority of people don’t like life, or perhaps they don’t like what life ‘does’ to them. It’s difficult, it’s challenging and at worst it is cruel and people suffer. Realistically, there is much that lies beyond our control.

This perceived helplessness can leach into all aspects of our lives, causing dissatisfaction and lack of engagement with the world around us. This can lead to the creation of soul-destroying and miserable places to work.

This all pervading feeling is evident in many businesses, affecting productivity and morale. Since the onset of the 2007–08 financial crisis, labour productivity in the United Kingdom has been exceptionally weak. The shortfall is large and in some parts unexplainable. Perhaps much of this conundrum requires us to examine more closely those who make up the workforce and how they approach their work.

In Autumn 2013, The Washington Post reported a worldwide Gallop poll that indicated that 63 percent of employees are not focused on helping their organisations improve, with 24 percent “actively disengaged” from them. It’s not difficult to see that such levels of disengagement act as a major economic drain with high costs for whole economies and single businesses alike. For the individual it is morale-sapping. This surely has to be both a personal and a business priority.

So what is to be done? Reach for another business or self-improvement book; send for a management consultant or turn to something simple?

To be successful we have to start with ourselves and be the change we wish to see. We need a business philosophy that will guide us through the days, months and years. A philosophy that makes sense and is easy to live by. This is where Leo comes in.

Welcome to the Three Most Important Questions.

Welcome to the Three Most Important Questions.
These were originally found in a book of short stories compiled by Leo Tolstoy. The story was entitled Three Questions.

So simple and yet so powerful a philosophy. One we can apply both in our business and personal life. We only ever have now. We might be planning for the future, but we can only do it in this moment.

Inside of this moment, the most important person is the one we are with. We may be alone but we do owe it to ourselves to be comfortable in our own company. This includes dispensing with the negative chitchat and ‘would’, ‘could’ and ‘should’ dialogue.

If it’s a business customer you are with, think how your relationships and sales will blossom if you are paying full and undivided attention to them. Truly listening.

All you have to do then, is to care and take care of what is happening. Providing the best solution to a customer’s problem, listen fully to a customer complaint or help your child to ride a bike for the first time.

The best thing of all with this simple philosophy is that it doesn’t cost you or your business any additional money, but the advantages it can provide are significant. Who doesn’t respond better when they know they are being heard and taken seriously. It really is that simple.

There is no such thing as multitasking. This is a delusion.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, commit yourself fully to it. There is no such thing as multitasking. This is a delusion. You are diluting the best you can be right now.

If we are fully paying attention and giving of our best, moment to moment, it can completely change how we work and play for the better of everyone; and that includes you.

Why not try it for just one week? I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise… and that will make a nice change.