conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘consulting’ Category

What to toss to drive forward?

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It’s 2014, we have license and the tools to look at new models without
having to wear the straight jacket of models past, or buzzwords of the
moment. Narrow-casting can be done without narrow-mindedness.

–Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent, in comments after her “Why have a blog” article



Written by kirkistan

March 15, 2014 at 9:26 am

Taking Direction from Clem Fandango

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A Year of Great Clients

I’m counting my blessings these days because I’ve had a year of clients who have been a joy to work with. Which is to say: they let me alone to do the work we’ve agreed on. And then we come together, talk parts through and make the work better.

All in all, there’s been very little Clem-Fandangoing.

And for that I am grateful.


Via Sell!Sell!Blog

Written by kirkistan

December 5, 2013 at 8:47 am

Talk as an Economic Tool

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Flesh out your own opportunity11182013-tumblr_mwchl2aTIs1qe6mn3o1_500

Grandad was a salesman. Talk was his tool. Talk and presence. He showed up with people to help them locate a house they could own. I doubt he talked many people into buying because he was careful about the economics of the deal. He dealt in houses long before our recent mortgage troubles. He sold houses back when mortgage interest rates were well over 10%. He depended on people keeping current with payments, and they did, mostly. At Grandad’s funeral more than one person told me how the opportunity to own a home had been out of their reach except for his help (which was cool).

Grandad talked his way through a house with a client, through a friendship, through a cribbage game, through dinner. Talk was his tool for getting stuff done, to the occasional exasperation of his wife and daughters. Talk made stuff happen for Grandad.

I’m gearing up for a couple classes that help college students take their writing out of the classroom and into the workplace and Grandad’s example comes to mind. What had been a rather solitary passion for these students—working out stories, poems and arguments for themselves or some instructor—can be made to have broader use in the world they’ll graduate into. This is my argument: enterprising writers use their writing/thinking/talking skills to serve others and actually find it satisfying. Even illuminating: it turns out that looking out for ways to serve others is also as much a knowledge-producing endeavor as the scouring of personal experience and/or feelings that become grist for a poem or story.

Moving writing from an inward to an outward focus begins with a firm grasp on what they can offer—a sort of inventory of one’s communication skills. And then comes some thinking about how those skills may help push forward an organization’s marketing objectives. And just like Grandad’s conversations, writing itself is the route in and the outcome. But it starts with hearing about a need, and that takes a different kind of dedicated listening.


Image credit: un-gif-dans-ta-guele via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

November 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

70 Sheets. 700 Signals.

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My $1.25 Grist Mill

For years I’ve kept notes on conversations with clients.


Anyone in business (or anyone in the business of getting something done) knows the value of accurate notes from a conversation. These quick jottings record promises made, delivery dates, special circumstances and conditions.

As a copywriter, I’m also poised to record quotes from my client or team: small summary statements, overview quips, self-proclaimed “dumb” analogies and tangential jokes. These little asides often prove valuable to solving the communication or marketing problem we’re gathered to work on. It’s curious how often the seed for the solution is in the conversation we had that defined the work we would do to solve the problem.

I know this because I often look back through my notes. I go back using a red pen and highlight notes that are proving critical (that’s right: reviewing notes in real-time is productive. Reviewing notes after the work is done is even more illuminating.).

Just today I found myself paging back through my notes looking for a particular conversation and stumbled on another conversation I had forgotten. And that forgotten conversation announced in red ink the precise answer to a communication question I’ve been asking for the last six days.

What good fortune!


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 30, 2013 at 10:00 am

Do a Dumb Sketch Today

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Magnetize Eyeballs with Your Dumb Sketch

As a copywriter, I’ve always prefaced my art or design-related comments with, “I’m no designer, but….” I read a number of design blogs because the discipline fascinates me and I hope for a happy marriage between my words and their graphical setting as they set off into the world.

But artists and designers don’t own art. And I’m starting to wonder why I accede such authority to experts. Mind you, I’m no expert, but just like in the best, most engaged conversations, something sorta magical happens in a dumb sketch. Sometimes words shivering alone on a white page just don’t cut it. Especially when they gang up in dozens and scores and crowd onto a PowerPoint slide in an attempt to muscle their way into a client’s or colleague’s consciousness. Sometimes my words lack immediacy. Sometimes they don’t punch people in the gut like I want them to.

A dumb sketch can do what words cannot.

I’ve come to enjoy sketching lately. Not because I’m a good artist (I’m not). Not because I have a knack for capturing things on paper. I don’t. I like sketching for two reasons:

  1. Drawing a sketch uses an entirely different part of my brain. Or so it seems. The blank page with a pencil and an idea of a drawing is very different from a blank page and an idea soon to be fitted with a set of words. Sketching seems inherently more fun than writing (remember, I write for a living, so I’m completely in love with words, too). Sketching feels like playing. That sense of play has a way of working itself out—even for as bad an artist as I am. It’s that sense of play that brings along the second reason to sketch.
  2. Sketches are unparalleled communication tools. It’s true. Talking about a picture with someone is far more interesting than sitting and watching someone read a sentence. Which is boring. Even a very bad sketch, presented to a table of colleagues or clients, can make people laugh and so serve to lighten the mood. Even the worst sketches carry an emotional tinge. People love to see sketches. Even obstinate, ornery colleagues are drawn into the intent of the sketch, so much so that their minds begin filling in the blanks (without them realizing!) and so are drawn into what was supposed to happen with the drawing. The mind cannot help but fill in the blanks.

The best part of a dumb sketch is what happens when it is shown to a group. In a recent client meeting I pulled out my dumb sketches to make a particular point about how this product should be positioned in the market. I could not quite hear it, but I had the sense of a collective sigh around the conference table as they saw pictures rather than yet another wordy PowerPoint slide. In fact, contrary to the forced attention a wordy PowerPoint slide demands, my sketch pulled people in with a magnetism. Even though ugly, it still pulled. Amazing.


Quiet Leadership by David Rock. How to Help Someone Have an “Aha!” (Review)

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Talk your friend into the answer she already knows

How do you help people connect the dots in their work lives…and in the rest of their lives?  Turns out there is a lot we can do. And our primary tool is conversation. In Quiet Leadership, David Rock gives an overview of (relatively) recent neurological findings to show how our brains remain plastic, that is, moldable and changeable, long after childhood. It was once thought that at some point in late childhood our brains stopped—well, it’s not that they stopped growing, but seemed to create new neural pathways with less frequency. That thinking was all wrong. The truth is our brains are capable of growing new neural pathways all the time—new mental “wiring.” And by calling it “wiring,” Rock hints at the mechanics of how we help each other connect previously unconnected thoughts and motivations. He works at changing our mental wiring using questions about our thinking. Helping people find their own answers is light years more effective than telling someone what to do.

Like most books written for the business market, Rock presents a tidy set of steps to follow. Quiet Leadership has six steps. Each step has a chapter or section attached, so there is a lot of very practical, very interesting information for each. I outline these steps below because after reading the book and getting a sense of the potential, I’m curious to remember and try them:

  1. Think about thinking (focusing on how your conversation partner is thinking about the issue troubling them)
  2. Listen for potential (listening with a belief your conversation partner already has the tools for success)
  3. Speak with intent (Be succinct. Be specific. Be generous.)
  4. Dance toward insight (Conversation really is a kind of dance)
    1. Permission
    2. Placement
    3. Questioning
    4. Clarifying
  5. CREATE new thinking by exploring:
    1. Current Reality
    2. Explore Alternatives
    3. Tap Energy
  6. Follow up (Renewing and restoring the motivational connections by checking in later)

You may be skeptical of tidy steps. You may think “dance toward insight” is too over-the-top. I agree. And yet there is something in what Rock says that speaks to the reality of any conversation. Conversations routinely take off in crazy directions. Conversations often start with a need and we immediately feel helpless to meet the need: we don’t know all the details. Even if we did, we don’t know how our conversation partner is really thinking about the issue.

Rock provides a way to probe thinking (I like how he asks permission to probe) to not only help a person find solutions, but also to help a person be motivated to act on the solution.

I’ll use this book as I teach, with clients, and in general conversation. I highly recommend it.


Written by kirkistan

August 22, 2013 at 5:00 am

Don’t Bother Me, I’m Busy Talking to Myself

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Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about

tumblr_mebmutKd421rw1uawo1_1280-01042013I just finished with a client who refused to take direction.

What’s that? You think a consultant should not give direction to a client? You could not be more wrong. That’s exactly what a good consultant does. It’s just that a consultant’s direction doesn’t look like orders or demands. A consultant’s direction looks like alternatives to the usual and invisible way of doing things.

Sometimes we need help seeing what is right before us. We are soaked in teams that are steeped in detail that is loaded with the talk that just circulates between people in the know. This adds up to a set of increasingly narrow word choices that are interesting only to the team. Those words sound like gibberish to anyone on the outside.

My client continued to talk in the insider terms only they understood. And they would not be dissuaded. In the end, they approved copy that ensured no one outside their little circle would understand.

Which feels like failure to me.

This doesn’t happen often, but it’s a bummer when it does. And it makes me think again about how complicated communication is, and why it is so important to start talking earlier rather than later. And why it is critically important that we pull our head out of the huddle from time to time.


Image credit: killythirsk via 2headedsnake

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