Never Turn Down a Breath Mint; Thoughts on QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, by John Miller.

Some small lessons stick with you, and I can distinctly remember my parents telling me as a boy to never turn down a breath mint.  If you're offered one, it's likely that you need it, and even if you don't, accepting an offered kindness is its own kindness.  It's even possible that your breath didn't stink, but now instead of neutral, it's pleasant.  I thought about this as I read this book I was offered on personal accountability.  I don't think that there was anything insidious in the offeror's suggestion that I read it, but appreciate that if he thought it was helpful to him, it would be to me as well.

This is a short book, but unlike a lot of short books, there were no fish, or cheese, or cows.  It's an easy evening read, but one of the few that I've thought would be good to read again in a few months or years.  In QBQ, Miller tells of visiting organizations and asking the individuals what one thing could be done to improve the organization.  In his telling, he says no one ever starts with themselves.  It's in our human nature, I suppose, that we are prone to starting with the external.  Surely it's our managers, our co-workers, our employees, suppliers, regulations, etc. that bog us down as we go through our day.  How rare it truly is that I start with myself, and think, first, about what I can do to impact the situation. 

It's easy to get stuck in the "if only" trap- "if only" this person would change their actions, or "if only" that problem wouldn't have presented itself.  I appreciate the book's unrelenting focus on taking personal responsibility for where we find ourselves each day.  The general idea of starting each problem with an "I" statement is appealing.  The notion that "I" can direct the outcome is more powerful than constantly asking "who" made this mess or "why" does it have to be this way, is a powerful notion.


  • Short, concise read
  • Actionable ideas without too much emotional appeal
  • Applicable to anyone
  • The exact formation of an "I" statement is too exacting and not likely to be carried forward
  • A vague sense that the author is selling himself as a speaker doesn't add value to the book, itself.
Recommendation:  I'd read this book again and suggest that it's worthy of other's time, too.  There are cheap second hand copies on Amazon and our library network shows availability as well.  I plan to read his book on applying the same principles to parenting later this year.