Thursday, February 23, 2017

Problem Solving Through Conversation


I bet you've tried to talk about a problem with someone and come away more confused and unhappy than you started. It's happened to all of us. We know that other people's ideas hold some kind of key to finding what we need. Yet talking about our problems often leads to new problems.

Here's a better way. Understand what kind of help you want and behave in ways that make it more likely you'll get it. Consider these three possibilities:

  1. Have a conversation to learn how someone else solved a similar problem. This means listening to their story and being curious about it. It doesn't mean leaping to conclusions or trying to apply it to your own situation before you've heard the whole story.
  2. Have a conversation to learn how someone was able to persist until they found a solution. This doesn't require that the problem they solved was like the problem you want to solve. Instead, as you listen to the story, ask questions about what was true in their attitude, their surroundings, and their connections with other people that allowed them to keep going when a solution seemed out of reach. Again, you have to be curious about the whole of the story instead of running away with your first insight.
  3. Have a conversation about useful limits. Find out how other people have put constraints on their problems, projects or businesses. Listen with curiosity to the way people generate ideas when they accept or choose limits. And yes, be curious about the whole of the story before you start to apply it to your own situation.
Did you notice a common thread running though all three conversations? You have to suspend your own stuff long enough to be curious about the whole of a story. You have to engage with someone else's experience even after you have the first insight into how it might be useful to you. By maintaining your curiosity a little longer, you'll get to better ideas. And you'll find that other people are willing to share more of their best with you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Work or Play: Focus on What You Want


Some people say I work too hard. They're the people who know the difference between work and play. Play is supposed to be easy and light and fun and work is supposed to be serious and require an effort.

But it's easier to work too hard if you think you're playing. Imagine that someone at work told you to get down on the floor next to the closet and make art on a paper bag. You'd think the demand was preposterous.

I don't work too hard. It's possible I don't work hard enough. But I sometimes play on the floor until I get stiff and sore. It happens when I am playing with fascinating people making real a vision I can almost bring into focus. Like the best learners I know, I play until my eyes won't stay open.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Begin with the end in mind: choose a state and work toward it

This is how I would like every day to wind down. It's a late afternoon on a beautiful summer day in PEI. It's one of my favourite times in one of my favourite places. I like the curve of the rocks, the movement of the water, and the peaceful fall of the light on the water.

To be able to experience this at the end of the day takes more than the drive to PEI or the wait for mid-summer. It takes showing up for the rest of the day knowing that whatever bumps I hit or waves I make will wind down by the end of the day. It takes remembering this as I am clobbered by an unusually big wave or turning my ankle on rocky ground.

The same movement around you can be unsettling or calming. The same light can be failing or falling as gently as a blanket. On a beautiful late summer afternoon it's easy to see the beauty in rocks and waves and fading light. It's not easy on a grey February day as yet more snow clogs the roads and tax time looms.

If you want your day to end peacefully, you have to spend it preparing for peace. Every bump, every wave, every shadow that flits across your day can blend into something calm and lovely. You don't have to figure out how it happens to clear space to notice it.

As you count your rocks tonight, arrange them like this and you'll find that the movements of your thought come in gentler waves.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Leadership begins with a shared direction

Photo Credit: fishhawk
There are two kinds of people: the ones who want to be the leader and the ones who don't want to be the leader. Sadly, there's not always a correlation between the ones who want to lead and the ones who are the best fit to lead.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a leader, think about this. Leadership requires that the person leading and the people following all want to move in the same direction. Often, this will mean that they share a goal or purpose. Sometimes it will mean that they share a problem or a belief. But they have to want to move and they have to want to move in the same direction before conditions are right for someone to become a leader.

If you're trying to take the lead, begin by checking what you know about where people want to go and what makes them want to move.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to grow through conversation

When was the last time you sat down for a really great conversation with someone you didn't know well?

We know that conversations help people find the ideas that lead to innovation. There are examples in every field of people coming together to talk about ideas and information and then going away to make change happen. While you might spend lots of time locked away alone to develop an idea, ideas are generated in connections and conversations.

Here are three things I think are critical if you want to have the kind of conversations that grow new and useful ideas:

  1. Listen more than you talk. The value is not in hearing your own ideas, but in allowing ideas to form as you connect with new ideas and new people. 
  2. Engage difference. This means finding people you can't predict because you don't already know what and how they think. 
  3. Follow your curiosity. Most people want to get to the point too quickly: if you want to have new thoughts, you won't recognize the "point" until later. Your curiosity is your best guide to generating something through conversation that you wouldn't find sitting alone at your computer.
I love good conversation and I love that my work includes developing events and structures which allow good conversations to happen.