Inspiration vs. Development

December 20, 2012 7 Comments

|Photo by Joe Hardy||

“Are you a sophist?”  I’ve been wrestling with that question for several weeks, at the invitation of Carol Sanford.  Carol points out how many of us in the helping professions have fallen into the habit of trying to provide well-intended inspiration and advice to others at the expense of diminishing their capability.  She likes to tell the story of Socrates’ awakening to what would often happen to those who listened to the Sophists preach in ancient Greece – people would leave inspired, and keep coming back for more.  At a certain point, many of these “followers,” after seeing increasingly diminished returns, would become demoralized and convinced that they would never be able to reach the heights that were suggested in the speeches and sermons they heard.  So Socrates took a different tack.  He sought to help others grow by asking questions that helped them to move and take control of their own development.

Sophistry would appear to be an embedded expectation in the consulting field, as we expect these “experts” for hire to provide answers, certainly not more questions.  The problem, however, is that when we move beyond the realm of simple and complicated problems, technical expertise alone is not so useful, and exhortations from the mountain top without a pathway to development fall flat in helping us deal with complexity.  So the challenge to those of us who may feel the pull to be appreciated for our inspirational words is to ask, “What good are they, really?”  If our intent is to help bring about real change, how might we shift from being the sage on a stage to a re-source (a word Carol uses to describe herself) who helps return people to themselves, their own deep yearnings, motivations, and willingness to evolve and do what they deem must be done?


  • Charlie Jones says:

    great post, Curtis!

  • Gibran says:

    Very powerful Curtis, and really inviting me into self-reflection about my own practice. I am a “PK,” a preacher’s kid, and I have that preacher’s spirit, and I often get good feedback for being inspiring. But you are right, while I do believe that there are times when uplifting inspiration is what’s needed, I do think my work moves best when I’m leading through persistent and focused inquiry.

    Almost 7 years ago I made a move from electoral politics to what I call the “biopolitical,” which looks a lot more like facilitation than like agitation. It was a first move in the direction that you are pointing to. I think your post is inviting me to go farther.

    Thank you!

  • Curtis says:


    Thanks for your “confession,” and I’m right there with you. It’s a fine line to walk, I think. I don’t think inspiration is a bad thing, the question being when does it get in the way of what we are trying to support.

  • Linda says:

    I love this Curtis! I’ve been noticing the increasing preacher-ness of much facilitation in the world and really love the call to questions.

  • Bill says:

    Very inspiring, Curtis! (sorry, couldn’t resist)
    Thanks for the useful summary and reminder. This cannot be said enough. — and yes, inspiration is necessary and most effective when people are inspired to ask themselves their own ‘right’ questions.

  • Thanks Curtis. I will have an Kindle book on this in the Spring. I think it is a big deal. Any one who wants to be notified of its release can sign up for my newsletter at . It will help with how to move to more Socratic Development Process and how inspiration really works rather than what we think.
    PS. I would have been a preacher if my church has allowed women to be ordained.

  • Curtis says:

    LOL, Carol, on your preacher comment. You would have been a formidable one! Appreciate your ongoing mentoring and to checking out the Kindle book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *