A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Thirty-Six—How Do You Want the World to Look Different

Consider the last time you were genuinely upset.  For me, it was yesterday, when a key political figure proclaimed cancer had been cured.  Without acknowledging his mistake, he simply had his staff rewrite the speech the way it should have been and moved on.  As someone wrestling the cancer issue personally, this cut me deeply. He could have at least acknowledged that he misspoke.  But I took pause.  I asked the question: How do I want the world to look different?  (A quick acknowledgment to Roger A., who e-mailed me and told me that I should do a whole segment on the Mister Rogers’ premise, as it was Mister Rogers who brought this into my life).  How do you want the world to look different?

That question has been engrained in my psyche since I first heard it while prepping for an interview with Fred (MisterRogers) Rogers back in the 1980’s.  He was trying to ensure the interview went well, and he asked the question: When we’re done here, 45 minutes from now, how do you want the world to look different?  It has become a very simple question that has literally changed my life.  You can use the question in a variety of different situations, and in each situation, it’s for the better.  The three primary reasons for using the question are:

  • Clarification,
  • Objective realization, and
  • Self-improvement.


Some communications are limited (or even shut down) by our inability to grasp what the other party is saying.  I’ve watched videos, read articles, studied books and heard my inner voice screaming “GET TO THE POINT”. When we’re in an active, live conversation, a mandate like that might be perceived as abusive or rude.  But we can achieve the same goal using Fred Rogers’ much softer line of questioning:

When we’re done here, how would you like the world to look different?

When we ask that of our children, we’re taking them out of the present and moving them into a future state.  And that future state may be wildly different from the world we believe will evolve, even if we’re only looking 24 hours down the road. All the way back in Segment One, I talked about my first oncologist, Dr. F. I realize now that I could have avoided a lot of my ill feelings about him with the Mr. Rogers’ question.  And I would have understood why he was doing what he was doing.  (This all should help you understand why Fred Rogers was always imbued with that amazing sense of calm).  For situations in our lives from surgery to help desks to adolescent encounters, we need a sense of serenity. And when the current situation is too much to handle, rather than retreating, we can go forward into a future state.  That knowledge about where someone wants to go is a big deal. 

Objective Realization

Most of us have extensive experience with phone calls from telemarketers.  But we also get calls from those we want to talk with. No matter the instance, we also have extensive experience wondering if we can end the phone call sooner, rather than later.  A telemarketer explains that she has an amazing opportunity to provide an improved credit score.  A close friend talks about their grown child’s latest challenges at work. In the back of our heads, we wonder, what do they want? Asking that question point blank normally just drags out the conversation or insults the other party.  But setting a time limit with the Mister Rogers’ question ensures they have a sense that you don’t just want but need to get to the goal of their call.  I’m sorry, I only have about five minutes.  When we’re done here, how would you like the world to look different?  If they just called for an amiable chat you haven’t insulted them, but you have let them know that the clock is ticking.  If they called to sell you something, they’re on notice that it’s time to go for the close.

Lesson Learned: A good friend called during the height of my worst days of cancer treatment, when I could barely hold a conversation for five minutes in total.  After about 15 minutes of chat, I asked the question.  His response was respectful and insightful.  “Carl, I had no idea we were talking that long.  I can only imagine how taxed you are these days.  I promise that I’ll keep my calls down to ten minutes or less.  And if you need to shut me up, just tell me.  We’ve known each other long enough that I’ll completely understand.” Not only does the question drive better behaviors, it allows others the opportunity to be the ‘time hero’ and close out a conversation with grace.


There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow! That’s a lyric from the Carousel of Progress ride at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom. I first saw the Carousel of Progress in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. I last saw it about ten or fifteen years ago at Disneyworld Orlando. It highlighted a futuristic world where everyone in the family sat in the same house and stared at their individual computer screens. It’s a wee bit amazing that things we thought were futuristic (and even futuristically silly) have become reality.  We all carry communications devices (like Jim Kirk in Star Trek), and doctors have their portable diagnostic devices. 

It’s intriguing that visions of the future become the improvements of the present. 

Many glimpses into the future are downright dystopian. People envision a future of wars, conflict and strife. Very few of us become our own “imagineers” (as Disney calls them), and envision a future of good fortune, comfort, and camaraderie. This is a mistake.

In every endeavor, we can benefit from answering How do you want the world to look different? with a Disney-esque vision. For our projects, we need to transport our teams and our end users to a future state that holds out hope and promise.  For our lives, friends, and families, we gain traction (and attraction) by looking at a hopeful tomorrow as a promise to be kept. And when we’re doing it for our work and our allies around us, we catch ourselves becoming more hopeful as well.  It’s a powerful way to improve ourselves.

Lesson Learned: We need to be the ones carrying the message forward in a positive and hopeful fashion. When naysayers find their way into our circle, we can still ask them the question: How do you want the world to look different? In many instances, they’ll see the folly of constantly viewing the world through a negative prism. A friend of mine, Jake, couldn’t pull this off. Despite my best efforts to encourage him to hop onto the Carousel of Progress (metaphorically), he wouldn’t go along for the ride. I mourn the loss of his time and his friendship, but I also now know that I am better off with those friends who, despite their serious challenges in life, try to find the silver lining. They don’t have to find it, but they do have to try. 

Theodore Roosevelt understood the value of trying (unlike Yoda in Star Wars). 

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

  • Strenuous Life speech, 1899

Dare to envision a “different world” where things are going your way.  It’s worth the trip.

Up next?   Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht (man plans and God laughs).

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.