Unraveling Client Yarns (Issue 694)

In which we are reminded to manage our discovery questioning patiently.

Chinchero is a small Andean village, about 9,000 feet above sea level (and, yes, I was still gasping for breath when we reached it). The town is surrounded by broad farm fields, offering beautiful views overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas with the snow-capped peak of Salkantay visible to the West. Its major claim to fame, other than possible importance in Inca times, is its colorful Sunday market to which individual weavers and groups of weavers, almost all women, dressed in traditional dress, bring their wares. (Pictures here.)

Arriving mid-Sunday afternoon, urgently eager to mingle in the market and browse the scarves, hats, blanks, bags, and other woven goods in the Sunday stalls, we reined ourselves in to sit for a fascinating demonstration of traditional washing, spinning, dying, and weaving techniques offered by a small group of weavers. (Click here for more.)

When they finished their demonstration, they urged us (gently and persistently) to browse their wares and to buy. Wishing to honor this group of weavers and also dash to the larger market, my wife purchased several loose skeins of yarn (here for an example) for a friend and, in her hurry, dropped them into a plastic shopping bag.

All good except, bouncing around in the bag, the yarn became tangled…enmeshed…a mess. (Picture here, if you’re not familiar.)

Discovering this the next day, she proposed that we untangle the yarn and roll it into balls that we could give to our friend. Peremptorily rejecting her family members’ suggestions that we just throw out the jumbles and buy more yarn at the next market, she pulled two skeins from the bag and, in pairs, we began.

The trick to this is… finding one end of the yarn (which is roughly 150 feet long), then gently shaking or stretching the tangled clump of yarn to open it up, so you can see the threads more clearly, then carefully and intentionally following the main thread wherever it leads through the tangle, balling the yarn as you go – over and around, moving the ball through loops, unraveling knots, diving to the bottom of the tangle and then back to the top, then shaking and stretching the tangle again, and following the thread down, around, and through, then again… then again… for several hours.

In addition to keen vision, the process requires patience… to sit still… to concentrate… to carefully distinguish the main thread from the distracting tangles, thoughtfully opening and twisting the skein to follow the main thread. Losing track of the main thread and pulling on others tightens the tangle, creating knots and loops that one later has to unravel, adding hours to the task.

The thought occurred to me, many times during this process (which continued peacefully to completion over several days’ time), that this is our task when we’re engaging with clients, asking questions to unravel their stories: Patient concentration, controlled pace, thoughtfully following main threads of discussion through the tangles rather than jumping haphazardly from one fiber to the next, unraveling knots as we come to them, stretching conversation open when it becomes too tight, so we can gradually wind insights and information into a “ball” from which we knit together recommendations that will enable our clients to be more successful.

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