Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Engaging the monkeys in a conference room


Carole Luft opens Leading Words

On Saturday, we held an unusual conference. Although it began much as every conference begins (with a welcome from a podium), there had been an unusual amount of hugging as people found their seats. Scattered around the tables were monkeys–monkey cutouts, monkey stickers, monkeys sitting in the fancy chair at the front. Everywhere were reminders of what the Buddhists call Monkey Mind. And our goal for the day was to get the monkeys to focus, engage, and show their most loving, cooperative, and ingenious selves.

What do you think of when you think about monkeys? Do you imagine playing, shrieking, mischief or cuddles? Do you think of mindless activity or of a sudden, focused interest in a puzzle to be solved? All of these are typical of monkeys. All of these are typical of the monkeys in your mind–the troop of ideas, emotions, biases, memories, and hopes that are in perpetual motion as you try to focus, to think, to make decisions.

What would you do to control a troop of monkeys? Do you imagine that threats would be effective? Probably not.  Instead of force, you would want to engage the monkeys, to make them want to play nicely together. I have never been alone in a room full of monkeys. But I have been in a room full of dozens of small children. And I watched them gather, and still, and focus and cooperate because I had something they wanted. I had a story.

The next time you stand at a podium, ask yourself: what will engage the monkeys in the minds here? If you feed only the logical monkeys, what will the other monkeys do? You've seen experiments where only some of the monkeys get fed. That never leads to focus: it is more likely to lead to chaos. It's important to feed all the monkeys: the ones that feast on numbers and logic and the ones that feast on social connection, on purpose and on play.

1 comment:

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