12 Favorite Questions for 2021

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Rohan Makhecha

In the last 6 months, I've immersed myself in online cohort-based education. I've done weekend immersives (Goal Crafting Intensive (GCI), The Annual Review (TAR) workshop) and longer multi-week programs (Keystone Accelerator Cohort 1, Write of Passage (WoP) Cohort 6, Building a Second Brain (BASB) Cohort 12). One of the most compelling lessons I've learned across all of these courses is to be aware of the power of questions.

"The quality of our lives is defined by the quality of our questions" -TAR participant

Growing up, I was often the annoying kid in class that asked too many questions or, worse still, was too questioning of authority and rules.

Now grown up, I appreciate how well-crafted questions can be valuable tools, focusing lens, and lifelong companions for wonderous inquiry.

Questions > Problems

Richard Feynman, world renowned physicist, has an often cited quote on keeping a list of 12 favorite problems.

"You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while, there will be a hit, and people will say, ‘How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Personally, I don't like using the framing of a "problem". Seen from the vantage point of mathematics or physics, I understand how the word "problem" evokes an unsolved mystery worthy of inquiry, exploration, and hard-earned certainty. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a problem, though I find in common vernacular that word has a negative emotional (and potentially judgemental or shaming) charge. Perhaps more undesirable to me is that a problem presupposes an answer or solution.

I love Feynman's concept and I choose the framing of 12 favorite questions. Questions still inspire diligent inquiry and exploration, but they retain the untainted potential to revel in mystery and the unknown. I may never find a full and complete answer to any given question, and that's a feature, not a bug.

Interestingly, almost every favorite problem across many posts I've read are framed as questions.

My 12 Favorite Questions for 2021

All the Forte Labs courses (TAR, WoP, BASB) invite participants to write down and reflect on their 12 Favorite Problems (instant translation: 12 Favorite Questions). I wrote down a dozen back in January for TAR, and without looking back I wrote up 12 fresh questions for WoP in March. For BASB, I looked back at the last two and synthesized them into the list below for 2021.

1) What systems build a container for and empower human Thriving?

Given my 50-year Master Plan, my first and primary question is about Thriving. I fundamentally believe that the default condition of Life is to thrive. Certainly, internal and external circumstances can hold back thriving. But when the thrive blockers are removed, humans (and other living beings) naturally level up to the ever-expanding borders of their capacity.

A doctor doesn't literally "heal" a broken bone - they set the bone then add constraints so the body can heal itself. By setting up the systems of healing, a doctor and patient together empower a return to the default condition of bone health.

A broken bone is sub-baseline to baseline health. What does it look like if we are going from baseline to above baseline? What are the equivalent physiological, psychological, and relational systems that facilitate and empower thriving? What is the most efficient way to remove thrive blockers? And what is possible when we make a committed practice of identifying and removing such blockers?

As I develop and refine my Unified Theory of Thriving (UTT), I'll be turning and refining this question for the rest of my life.

2) How does one build an institution that lasts for 300+ years?

My Master Plan has two global components: a theoretical and applied approach to Thriving. The theoretical component is covered by the UTT and Question 1. The applied component is putting the UTT into action via the Global Institute for Thriving (GIFT). I have a firm commitment to do everything in my power to create an institution that'll last for 300 years. And that begs the question - what human-made social and physical structures have lasted for 300 years? And why have they survived for so long?

In the modern era of throwaway everything, one way to inspire sustainability is to imagine how today's choices will propagate for the next 300 years. If we design GIFT as a 300 year institution from the ground up, we will naturally gravitate toward more integrated, wholesome decisions that our grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren will have the ability to enjoy.

3) How can I advance the technology of connection to the level of magic?

I've been actively studying human connection in various forms for the better part of my adult life. I'm fascinated by how and when humans connect, and what the impacts of connection (or disconnect) are in the short, medium and long term.

One of my favorite quotes of all times comes from writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke:

"Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic."

In this context, I like Merriam Webster's definition of technology as "the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area". There is definitely an art and a science to human connection, and there is a lot of knowledge that's been gathered around that domain.

How can I curate that knowledge into the experiential quality of connection magic? What are the skills and tools to master, and how can I elevate those technologies to mystical levels of harmonious resonance of being? How do those techniques adapt to various connection dynamics (online vs. offline, asynchronous vs. realtime, professional vs. personal) and channels (in person, written, audio, video)? What would it look like and feel like to achieve a level of mastery worthy of the title "magic"?

4) In the age of "content is king", how does one speak less to say more?

We live in a never-ending delusion of content to consume. I like Tiago's line that we've surpassed "information overload" and are now squarely in "information exhaustion".

Content is being created at astonishing rates in a wide array of domains. In personal domains like this blog, it's useful to create meaningful connections far and wide. Tiago and David call this building a "serendipity engine" in the age of information abundance. In professional domains, content is consistently one of the most cost-effective customer acquisition channels and yields big bucks for companies large and small. Practically, the drive for endless content means more is more (regardless of the redundancy, usefulness, or quality) so online content is a very noisy ecosystem.

While I honor and value the role of online content creation, I cannot shake the perspective that the most compelling humans I've met are the ones that speak volumes in only a few words. Somehow, these individuals decrease the noise and distraction of extraneous words to transmit depth and meaning on multiple channels at once (including, but not limited to, words). How does this phenomenon map to the internet? How can I lean into the practical value and purposes of content creation without adding to the noisy din of the internet communities? How can I maximize the value / insight / meaning to words ratios in everything I create?

5) How can I communicate in one-to-many channels with the intimacy of a living room conversation?

I often find engaged social dynamics in groups of 4-7 individuals because that group size offers lots of space to have intimate, meaningful connections. One of my happy places is gathered around a fire in a living room having great conversations over a cup of tea or a nice meal.

I love the intimacy of those settings, and I'm curious how that scales to online settings and ever larger groups. I suspect that'll change in different contexts and mediums, though I currently believe (because I've seen it modeled in other online communities) that it's possible.

So what can I cultivate within myself and my online presence to show up in 1000+ person settings with a similar quality of genuine humanity as when I'm jamming with friends?

6) What is the most efficient way to connect with someone in their channel of understanding?

Every individual has a distinct lens of understanding, often elucidated by their operating metaphors. In broader strokes, some folks access understanding through their emotions or senses of feeling. Other folks may lean more into their intellectual or rationalize experiential states.

There is tremendous value in facilitating understanding, and one of the fastest ways to get there is to tune into someone's native channel of connection. How can I quickly ascertain the frequency patterns that yield the most meaning, and then hone in to the specific one or more frequencies that are being transmitted right now? How can I harmonize with those frequencies while still being genuine and true to my own core notes of being? How can I channel swap rapidly when in groups of multiple individuals?

7) How do I refine my signal to offer clear & precise notes of being?

Related to 6, what is my native channel of meaning and understanding? When I am transmitting, how can I offer my insight and awareness with enthusiasm and wonder while minimizing attachment and judgment? How can I transmit the notes of my being in a way that others would describe as "clean" and "empowering"?

As I refine and expand my capacities in my native channel, how can I elevate my presence so every channel of connection has the clarity and cleanliness I seek in my native channel? How can I show up in every aspect of my doing and my being with the same clarity and precision?

8) Where is the appropriate counterbalance of complexity with simplicity? How do I create the eye of calm in the center of the storm?

I am detail oriented and excited by levels of minutiae and precision that are not relevant to most people. How do I find the appropriate telescoping levels of complexity so I can be more resonant with others? And also with myself at different times when I have different tolerances for complexity?

How do I use simplicity to empower while offering complexity to inform and inspire?

How can I maintain the calm and clarity in the center of a complex and chaotic reality?

9) What is the ideal portal to welcome new life into our home?

In just over a year, my wife and I will begin focusing on the next chapter of our life and family. I sense that welcoming a child into our home is a deep invocation of Life's majesty. I seek to open the portal, support the liminal space, and create the best landing that I possibly can for our first born.

This preparation includes 4 distinct dimensions:

  • Creating a worthy vessel in myself by focusing on my physiological, psychological, and relational health. This includes honoring and dispelling limiting narratives to walk through my own shadow valley.
  • Enriching relations with my wife so we can have ever deeper love, care, respect, and admiration for one another. New life is invariably stressful and trying, and the deeper our reserves of resiliency, the more we can support and celebrate each other.
  • Curating the practical necessities so we do not introduce preventable stress
  • Reflecting on the traditions and rituals that can elevate our song of welcome to resonate through both threads of our intertwining lineages

I couldn't be more honored and excited to walk this path of parenthood with my stunning wife, and we will open a portal worthy of our children to come.

10) What is the peak expression of relational harmony?

The Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan once said that "we study music so we may study ourselves."

The more I learn about music theory and the subtle ways instruments play us, the more curious and in awe I become of the very concept of harmony. To find harmony, one must first hear the key that unlocks all other relational awareness, then understand the root note (or set of notes in more complex chordal structures), then find the space where additional notes add beauty of color and texture. Often, silence is its own note to add.

This maps stunningly well to think about being in relation to myself, to others, and to the non-human natural world. How can I listen for the key that grounds the current moment? How can I effortlessly adapt to the ever-changing melodic progression of Life? Where do I add the notes of my own essence, and where do I quietly sit back and offer my silence?

And perhaps most pressing of all, what untold grandeur and beauty is possible when I find a moment of mastery in relational harmony?

11) When is "not good enough" empowering? And when does it flare into self-destructive?

For a long time, I've been plagued by the siren of ambition relentlessly screeching "your words / actions / outputs are not good enough". In many ways, I am deeply grateful for the drive and striving this has historically inspired in me. I am keen to hold on to the inspiration and tireless push forward while releasing the toxicity of negative self-talk.

My exploration here focuses on the distinction between judgement and evaluation. How can I cultivate a keen eye to accurately assess the quality of my creations? How can I use that discernment to propel me on the Sisyphean path of mastery? How can I maintain into a beginner's mind while cultivating a master's hand? And what steps must I take to ensure that my assessments do not splash toxicity toward myself or others?

12) How can I share the ineffable?

I have touched within me untold ephemeral beauty that, almost by definition, I struggle to put into words. For those who seek to bask in the same light, I seek a way to share what can only be felt and experienced.

The yearning to express what can never be said is the primary drive in my study of music. For the better part of a decade, I sought a similar (but different) connection in while studying and dancing Argentine tango.

Still, I know that there are many more channels in which I can transmit the ineffable than just sounds or movement. There are those who exude the ineffable with every blink and breathe. How do they do it? How do they walk both planes so gracefully and completely? How can I open windows and doors for those seeking a similar path to the divine?


As I look back over my site entries and newsletters, almost every one of them relates in one way or another to one of my 12 favorite questions. Prompted by BASB, one of my priorities for the next few weeks is to figure out how I can organize and tag any notes that relate to my 12 favorite questions so I can begin to systemically synthesize my exploration of these questions.

I welcome any thoughts or reflections you care to share (email: henry at this url) with regard to my favorite questions for this year.

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