We have made conversations inside the organization (only?) purely transactional. There must be a utility. What’s the goal? What’s the outcome? What are we trying to achieve? What would be the result? Anything else would be seen as waste, unfocused, bad management.
Exaggerating? Not quite. Many people do not dare to launch ‘a conversation’ without an agenda. Well, they may launch this in the corridor, in the canteen or the toilets. Maybe over dinner.
But a true conversation is not (necessarily) transactional. It has gaps, detours, and does not need a final destination and a GPS. It also has silence, or bits of it. It allows for the discovery of what has been called ‘the space between us’.
A true conversation is not a slot machine. Put some coins at the top, stuff is delivered (or not) at the bottom.
We’ve lost the ability to give ourselves permission to converse without a utility in mind.
You may say that is not true, that we have a vehicle for that, it’s called brainstorming. In my century old of professional life I can’t recall one single brainstorming session that was not a straightjacket. Nice ones as well, but with a pre-determined flow, flipcharts to write on, and boxes to fill in. All ended by the proverbial prioritization that penalizes anything than is complex. I always missed the conversation.
Yet, we say, a company is a conversation; markets are conversations; political activism is a conversation. We use the language, but we don’t do it.
The digitalization of life does not help. We talk to screens more than we talk to people. Sherry Turkle, the great mind at MIT, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology, has done it again with a new book in her series of awareness, Reclaiming Conversations’. Here is a piece in the New York Times: Talk to Each Other, Not Your Phone
But I want to bring the conversation about conversations back to our mundane territory of ‘the organization’. Conversations are the oxygen. We need to allow the space and place for them. There is little doubt that companies that have adapted the physical architecture to conversations have a tremendous advantage: cafeteria style meeting rooms, sofa areas, etc. Yes, you can do this as a fashion and trying to google-ize the place, and get nowhere, or seriously ask yourself the question, how can I foster ‘the conversation’.
Place or not, space or not, it’s human, not digital.
A trip without a GPS may take you nowhere. A conversation with a GPS may just fail to reach ‘the destination’ that you did not know existed.