conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Search Results

Let’s Get Liminal: How to be a Co–Laborer/Co-Thinker/Co-Contributor

with 6 comments

Show up to explore the space between

My friend helps researchers at his Midwestern university organize their thoughts for publication. He also helps them apply for grants to fund their research—a function many universities are increasingly focused on.

To do this work, my friend has found ways to walk alongside new professors as they form their research interests. By staying beside them over time (years, even), he is able to help identify places where the work can go forward and also begin to locate potential funding sources. That’s when the hard work begins of explaining the research to a funding committee.

Approaches to Minneapolis

Approaches to Minneapolis

This space between—where the research shows particular promise but is still unformed—this is where a conversation can bear fruit. Maybe even the goal itself is starting to take shape, along with possible routes to that desired end. Sometimes it is the conversations surrounding the goal and routes to the goal that open it for exploration.

Michael Banning is an observer and painter of liminal spaces—those spaces and places that we typically don’t even see:

I am interested in the liminal spaces found at the edges of the inner city. Amid the trucks, weeds and railroad tracks of those often post-industrial surroundings, one can find compelling views of the distant skyline as well as a sense of peace and quiet uncommon in the urban experience.

–“Parking Lot near Train Tracks,” by Michael Banning, label from James J. Hill House Gallery

Parking Lot near Train Tracks (Photo courtesy Michael Banning)

Parking Lot near Train Tracks (Photo courtesy Michael Banning)

See Michael Banning’s work here.

When we are lucky enough to find ourselves talking about these liminal spaces with each other, we might be collaborating in a particularly effective way. Typically we don’t have a clue when we’ve entered such a verbal space. Years later we might identify a conversation that was a turning point. Perhaps the best we can do is to remain open to entertaining each other’s unformed thoughts.

Who knows what might result?

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Stop On The Way

leave a comment »

Ask: “What do you see from there?”

Mostly we hurry from this to that.

In this season we move from party to party. At work we move from meeting to meeting, hardly stopping to breathe, let alone reflect or appreciate the unique spot we’re in.

We do this because we are crazy-busy (always the right response in our culture). And sometimes reflection is uncomfortable, especially between things. No one really wants to dwell in the space between. But the space between has things to say as well. Things you would never hear otherwise.

Always "crazy-busy."

Always “crazy-busy.”

We all know someone stepping between things. Maybe our friend has left a job or school or some relationship. Maybe we ourselves own some piece of life that has less than secure footing. All of us caught in between want the solid ground of the other side.

But we gain perspective by asking what we see from this liminal space. What does life look like from this uncomfortable, slippery place? What is important here—and should that thing be important when our footing is more secure?

Perhaps we do our friend a favor by asking what they see from that uncomfortable place—could it even be bit of mercy to ask that question?

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Year Without Pants: What’s Your Conversation Prompt?

leave a comment »

Must Hierarchy Always Trump Collaboration?

In the excellent Year Without Pants (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), Scott Berkun detailed his efforts to direct a team of programmers working for Automattic/Wordpress. This team was distributed around the world and gathered only occasionally. Most of their collaboration was mediated through computer screens and telephone lines. Curiously, email was not a major player. Instead, in-house blogs contained most of the collaborative communication (~75%), along with IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Skype and then e-mail (~1%). Blogs had the advantage of being entirely public (to the other players) and displaying the entire conversation. So potential collaborators could get up to speed as needed by simply reading/re-reading what had been said. And others could ignore the whole thing (which is the way of blogs).

Does your conversation prompt work?

Does your conversation prompt work?

Berkun found the prompt at the top of the collaborative blog was largely ignored—so common it was invisible (much like Twitter’s “What’s happening?”). It started with,

What’s on your mind?

and then

How can Team Social help you?

migrating eventually to:

Hi Scott: Do you know where your pants are?

That changing prompt became a way to wake up the conversation. It also demonstrated the playful nature of the team—a key factor in all Automattic/Wordpress collaborations. The prompt also turned into a good book title.09112014-YWP-COVER-FINAL

Berkun’s conversation prompt gives me hope that hierarchy need not trump collaboration. In my most collaborative projects, there was always a sense of fun/playful/silly/ridiculous that settled like a bubble over team meetings. In contrast, my more onerous jobs and projects carried a sense of duty and chain-gang attention to a boss hammering out a beat.

Creating that collaborative environment requires a light touch, a willingness to explore liminal spaces, record results and allow others access to the longer conversation. Creating collaboration also involves attention to conversation that results in replies, rather than monologue that begets numb pseudo-attention.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

What Did You Forget Today?

leave a comment »

Welcome to Monday—what brings you here?

On your way to work—whether by train, plane or automobile (or stairs)—your mind raced ahead to anticipate the tasks needing attention. You passed by and through spaces not dedicated to the work you do: the incidental scenery along the way. Liminal spaces. Preoccupied with your onerous task (the meeting to conduct, the performance review, the estimate/report/files due by 11am), you may not have noticed those places. Anyway: aren’t they just the ugly, industrial infrastructure or detritus required to make the big commerce machine run?

Mpls-3-09082014

Not really worth attention.

But those spaces have a way of releasing you and possibly preparing you for the very work you are doing just now. Those spaces—so regularly ignored as to become invisible—help your mind and body make the leap to the world of productivity. Moving forward through those spaces you shed thoughts and instincts from the weekend so you can adhere to hierarchy and care again about what your company cares about. Maybe those quickly-passing-spaces even erase the resolve and wonder built up over the weekend.

And welcome to Monday.

But it’s not good to forget lessons learned from the quiet of the weekend. Even hard-partying readers—I hope—found margin for reflection. Don’t leave those reflections and fresh understandings at home on the kitchen table. Bring them with you.

For me, a long conversation with this poet/psalmist has created a specific resolve that I hope will flow through this week. A boat-ride in the September sun and a story about a daughter in a far-away land cooking a Minnesota meal for the nationals—all these have a sort of sustaining power.

I’m eager to bring these with me into the week, right through the liminal spaces of my transit. In fact, now I wonder if the liminal spaces of experience are the very stuff of a full life.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

 

Written by kirkistan

September 8, 2014 at 10:09 am

Tokyo: Industrial Landscape Tourism

leave a comment »

“Factory infatuation” maybe a thing?

Yesterday’s post drew a comparison between liminal spaces and the work that happens in a good conversation: how we help each other explore a topic, which often opens a route to a conclusion and even action.

Along the way I confessed that I am drawn to those more industrial parts of the city. Artist Michael Banning said that particular bent is starting to look like a thing people do. At least in Tokyo. He pointed me toward this:

08262014-FactoryInfatuation

Click to play.

###

Via BBC World News

 

Written by kirkistan

August 26, 2014 at 8:46 am

When you lose your job you step into the space between

leave a comment »

Movement toward “What next?”09272013-tumblr_mtmo8g5xrB1rijwyno2_500

A batch of colleagues lost their jobs in a fit of corporate downsizing. Smart, talented, loyal people who invested years are now asking “What next?”

Same old story for my generation. Happens all the time. Rarely pleasant.

I believe standing on the corner scratching your head and saying “Now what?” is a great place to be. Granted: few of us ever choose to go there. Most of us prefer what we’ve been doing. Even if we hate what we had been doing, it beats not knowing what’s next.

Over at Coracle Journeys, Judith Hougen has a lovely, timeless essay on liminal space—that place we move through when we leave the concrete and known and venture forward. Her entire essay is exceptional, short and worth the read:

Catholic priest and author Richard Rohr explains liminal space: “It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer….These thresholds of waiting and not knowing our ‘next’ are everywhere in life and they are inevitable. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Job loss is one step toward liminal space. It turns out there are many, many routes to the corner and “What now?” Graduating, moving to a new city, loss of relationship, aging. It’s a long list that parallels anyone’s list of top ten most stressful life events.

This “terrible cloud of unknowing” is only a distant, rumored threat when you are 19 and invincible. But each decade is a corner that provides more and closer glimpses of the cloud. It’s all part of the package deal that is the human condition.

Read the full essay at Coracle Journeys.

It will encourage you.

###

Image credit: Alex Prager via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

September 27, 2013 at 8:45 am

%d bloggers like this: