About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

17 October 2009

Pattern Recognition Rules!

In an earlier post, I featured the questionnaire that James Lipton uses on his television program Inside the Actor's Studio. I said I was intrigued by it because it allowed me to view his 200+ guests through a single lens. And, by holding the lens constant, I was able to see the differences between and among them.

I actually ran into this idea many years ago. I was introduced to it by one of my early mentors in the leadership development game, Dr. David W. Merrill, co-founder of what is now known as The TRACOM Group, and a true genius in the fields of individual, management, and organizational behavior.

Dave showed me a series of questions companies might use in the first step in the hiring process; he called it a patterned interview. The idea behind it was simple: hold the interviewer constant by asking the same questions - in the same order - to a group of candidates, thus making it possible to see the variety in both their answers and their behavior. This is important because if the approach of the interviewer varies, it becomes much more difficult to get a true reading on the differences between and among the candidates. In other words, the candidates' responses become the constant. Dave's simple explanation of this was, "Put 'em on stage. Ask a question. Be stoic and listen." In my view, Dave's questions can also be used as the basis for a conversation in which you and another take turns answering them. The end result is that you will know each other much better than before.

  • Will you please tell me what you'd like about such things as your educational accomplishments, work experience, personal interests and career goals?
  • What is your greatest success in life?
  • What is your greatest failure?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • If I asked your friends what five adjectives describe you best, what would they say?
  • What is your philosophy of life?
  • What is the most important thing we can do to help you succeed with us?
  • If we were to have any difficulty helping you succeed here, what would it be?
"People don't change much. As a result, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you were to pin me down, though, and ask me to give you the reasons why people change when they do, I would give you three: traumatic life experience, religious conversion, and prefrontal lobotomy." - Dave Merrill
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
- William Stafford

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