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.

07 March 2014

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

Robert Fulghum, best known for writing a short essay titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, is one of the very best storytellers in the world.

One of his finest tales involves his distaste of using business cards to introduce ourselves to one another. He thinks they have some utility - title, company, email address, phone number - but don't convey anything important about who we are. Further, he thinks they limit us to talking with each other about our occupations - as if they matter. For example, he doesn't like saying he's a writer. Writing - to him - is merely the product of what he does. What he does is something broader, and it doesn't fit on a 3x2 card.

Robert has butted his head against the wall of this conundrum on more than one occasion. Once on a plane, he decided to keep his business card in his pocket and lie; he told a man in a turban - whom he was certain he didn't want to talk to - that he was a neurosurgeon. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that the man in the turban really was a neurosurgeon. But, the man understood Robert's plight. He, too, was chagrined when - upon introducing himself - people began spouting off about their various neural malfunctions, as if that were all he was.

Another time - on another plane - Fulghum sought out a fellow liar, and without properly introducing themselves to each other, they agreed to lie to one another for the entire flight. The other player introduced himself as a spy. Fulghum said he was a nun. Robert said it was one of the damnedest conversations he ever had: imaginative, informative, and never true for an instant. And, to top it off, an elderly man stood behind Fulghum as they were deplaning, and said, "Have a nice day, sister."

It's easy to see how role-playing ala Sister Robert and Secret Agent Man is an interesting way to pass time in a pressurized cabin at 35,000 feet, but you only have to move a couple of clicks away from center to also see it as a way to ramp up the energy level and get the creative juices flowing in small groups looking to add variety to their meetings.

If your group likes this idea and wants to play with it, here are some things to think about.
  • Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Ask: What result do we want to create? This gets you centered on where you want to end up, and not on the particulars of how to get there. A useful analogy is sailing. Good sailors lock into their destination, and then set their course. And, if they get blown off course, they don't try to get back on the original course; they keep their eye on their destination and chart a new course from where they currently are instead.
  • Make sure a wide variety of roles are selected. For example, you don't want to end up with two nuns, a priest, three spies, and an FBI agent. Also, avoid typical business roles like accountant, sales rep, etc.
  • Stay in character. For example, if a person from marketing is playing a trauma surgeon, she shouldn't simply take her knowledge of marketing and spit it out using doctor-speak. She should assume the knowledge base of a trauma surgeon and deploy it as best she can.
  • Assess the results. You can talk about what happened and decide if and when you want to do it again by holding the following conversation at the end of the meeting.
  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What went well, and why?
  • What can be improved, and how?
"I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane." - Waylon Jennings, from the song I've Always Been Crazy
"You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans." - Tom Robbins
"Behavioral traits such as curiosity about the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually rapidly lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans. Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature." - Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker
"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." - Apple Computer, advertisement