Cartesian questions explained

von Bill Crombie

The origins of modern day Cartesian questions can be traced back to the French philosopher Descartes – indeed they are named after him. In the world of Coaching, Cartesian questions are used to probe behind the ecology of a client's objectives or decisions, looking past the conscious into the subconscious mind to explore the thoughts and beliefs that lie there. Cartesian questions are also sometimes used in Sales ...

Two coaches walk into a bar…

Two coaches walk into a New York bar. They each order a beer and the barman says
‘Anything to go with that, guys?’
‘Oh, I’m not sure,’ says the first coach, ‘some fries maybe?’
‘Hmm,’ says the second coach, tapping his bulging midriff, ‘what’s going to happen if we order fries?
‘I guess we’ll put on even more weight,’ says the first coach, looking at his own substantial waistline.
‘Guys,’ says the barman, placing their beers on the bar, ‘you might want to ask yourselves what will happen if you don’t order the fries?
‘Well,’ says the first coach, ‘I’ll be hungry!’
‘Right,’ says the barman, ‘and what won’t happen if you order fries?

‘Ah!’ exclaims the second coach, ‘I get it, you’re using Cartesian logic on us! I guess the answer is that we won’t be losing any weight this week.’
‘Cartesian logic?’ says the first coach, ‘what’s that – isn’t it to do with Star Trek?’
‘No,’ says the second coach, ‘you’re thinking of the Cardassians.’
‘Oh, right,’ says the first coach, ‘I’ve heard about the Cardassians – Kim, Khloe, Kourtney…right?’
‘No,’ says the barman, ‘that’s the Kardashians, they’re something different entirely.’
‘Gosh,’ says the first coach, ‘I’m totally confused now. So you’re telling me that Kim Kardashian has a logic system named after her?’

The barman and the second coach sigh simultaneously and look to the heavens.
What won’t happen if you don’t order the fries?’ asks the barman, patiently.
‘Well,’ says the first coach, deep in thought, ‘I won’t have no chance of getting a date with one of the Kardashian sisters – because I won’t be as fat as I would have been if I’d ordered the fries! But wait a minute, now that I think about it, realistically, I’ve got no chance of a date with one of the Kardashian sisters, have I?’
‘So, are you having the fries, guys?’ asks the barman.
‘Yeah, says the first coach, ‘we may as well enjoy the fries, because your questions have shown us that we’ve no chance of a date with a Kardashian sister anyway.’
‘There you go,’ says the barman, ‘that’ll be 12 dollars for the beers and the fries.’

What won’t happen if we don’t pay?’ asks the first coach.
The barman reaches below the bar, pulls out a baseball bat and places it on the bar.
‘We won’t be playing baseball,’ he says.

Bill Crombie is a qualified Master Business Coach and one of the Managing Partners of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. He is also Managing Director of Leadership Choices UK. He is used to working in challenging multi-cultural environments and he has carried out assignments in most European countries, the USA, the Middle East and the Far East.