conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Please Write This Book’ Category

Would you read this book?

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The Tale of the Naked Copywriter


Written by kirkistan

September 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

“Writer without permission.”

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Write On Your Own Dime

A new LinkedIn friend in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area has a job title “Writer without permission.” The genius of her title is to say out loud what most every writer is thinking—nobody asked for this, nobody gave me permission, and frankly, no one is waiting for me to finish it. The whole thing is entirely self-motivated.

Let there be more of her tribe.

Writers without permission may encamp here as needed--not that you need permission.

Writers without permission may encamp here as needed–not that you need permission.

Writers often stop mid-sentence and think,

I am entirely unqualified to write this. When will someone knock on my door and say, ‘Hey—Stop it: You got no business writing that.’?

When those Philip Glass moments occur, whether real or imagined, the writer without permission pauses and then continues the sentence. And the next sentence. And so on—breezing past the “No Trespassing” signs posted around the perimeter of the topic.

If you are waiting for someone to say, “You should write about X.” You have a long wait. If you are waiting for a fat check to cover expenses while you draft your manuscript, well that isn’t likely. Although I did chat with someone two weeks ago who received a sabbatical from her job to write a book. So, miracles do happen… and all that.

New stuff happens when we start writing without permission. But the alternative is also true: maybe nothing will happen. Maybe it will fail. Given all the books and writing and words floating around today, failure is likely. Then again, what is success or failure? If just getting your story out is success (I happen to think it is), then start writing. If success is getting famous, well…miracles do happen (and all that).

But there is something more to the kudos and the paycheck—it is a kind of validation that you are doing a good thing, a worthwhile thing, an important thing. It’s as if we need someone else’s validation to gather gumption and move forward. But what if someone won’t even understand what you are doing until you are done—because you yourself are working out the details? And you don’t fully understand it. Not yet.

We celebrate the creative genius of long-dead writers. But how many knew they were writing some landmark story until much later—or ever? Most had to battle the “No Trespassing” signs and the missing fat paychecks. And they created anyway.JustThickHeadedEnough-06032013-tight

Do you need permission to create the thing you cannot stop thinking about? You have my permission, for whatever it is worth.

Don’t put off creating.

Start today.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

Working Together: A Final Frontier

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Talk Inc. Buries the BS Meter01172014-tumblr_inline_mvvm6xmVFy1qj79oe

Collaboration is hard for a lot of reasons. One reason is the power distance between people in a company. How can I say what I really think when I know my boss disagrees? Can I have a real conversation with an automaton who spouts corporate messaging and controls my salary?

Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organizations by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind starts with good intentions: to lay out this new challenge of interacting with employees as if they had something worthwhile to say.

But I should back up: old styles of management were about command and control: I’m boss so I’ll tell you what to do. And you’ll do it. New ways of thinking about the work of leadership and managing tout a more generous and collaborative approach to personal relationships. But these collaborative ways still have a hard time sifting down through the ranks of gatekeeping managers who intuitively see their mission as that of controlling others.

Talk, Inc. has a terrific vision, but the first section (three chapters on intimacy) is off-putting in that it quotes CEOs and VPs and various bosses at length, each talking about all they are doing to encourage collaboration. 01172014-bs-meter-1But Groysberg and Slind may have done better to start at the other end: giving voice to employees who have been given a voice. As it stands, the first three chapters are a difficult slog because anyone who has spent time in a corporation will recognize the smarmy PR tone of the program-of-the-quarter. My corporate BS meter kept pinging into the red.

The book gets better, but all the way through I struggled with the “trusted leaders” part of the subtitle. For a book that intends to talk about the power of conversation, there is still an awful lot of command and control monologue. Whether it was the suits from Cisco or Hindustan Oil talking, it was hard to take their comments seriously.

01172014-Talk-9781422173336_p0_v1_s260x420Talk, Inc. is, however, smartly organized into four sections (Intimacy, Interactivity, Inclusion and Intentionality). Each section has a chapter that plays out the vision, followed by a chapter that shows a company trying to carry out that particular part of the vision, followed by a “Talking Points” summary that helps the reader play it forward. The Inclusion and Intentionality sections offer more thoughtful reasoning and vision-casting for changing corporate culture so real conversation can happen. Groysberg and Slind offer solid examples of organizations that work hard at listening. But this is a story that really needs to be told from the “newly-voiced” perspective.


Image credit: Bill Domonkos via 2headedsnake

Ahh: Back To Work

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ListenTalk: The Promise. The Mission. The Chapters.

Dear Reader: A word, please.

Speakers' Corner, London, mid-1960s

Speakers’ Corner, London, mid-1960s

Over the next few months I’ll be writing in response to a couple classes I’m teaching at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. That means I’ll be dealing with questions and ideas that pop up in class. The classes tend to be quite collaborative and the students have interesting contributions that I may work out in this forum.

I’m also trying to work out how the notion of ListenTalk applies to the different audiences I work with as a copywriter. ListenTalk: Conversation is an Engine is built on a theological basis and is first a meditation on a new (or—I maintain—a very old) way of looking at how we spend time with each other. Over the course of the year I hope to enlarge the argument to help workers talk with bosses (for instance) and vice versa. I’d like to enlarge the argument so conservatives and liberals can put down their label (and libel) machines to engage in productive talk. I hope to work out the notion of commercial conversation so companies can begin to talk with customers in a way that treats people as rational collaborators versus emotive flesh-encased ATMs.

But first, and to bring a bit more focus on this initial argument, I present the promise and mission of ListenTalk, as well as the chapter synopses:

ListenTalk Promise:

Read ListenTalk and you will be stimulated to reconsider how even your smallest, most ordinary conversations are part of a much larger story.

ListenTalk Mission:

ListenTalk was designed to help individuals in faith communities see how God works through the most ordinary and common conversations—and to see how those conversations transform everything from personal calendars to cultural mandates.

ListenTalk Chapter Synopses:

  1. The Preacher, Farmer and Everybody Else. What do you expect from a conversation? Preachers preach and hope for the best. But farmers work the soil in a studied way that collaborates for growth. Meet five thinkers who have studied the ways and means and opportunities hidden under the surface of ordinary conversations. These five show that ordinary conversation is full of collaborative potential and regularly turns into some of the most important, creative and lasting work we can do together.
  2. Intent Changes How We Act Together. If we enter a conversation itching for a fight, that’s just what we’ll find. But we can change our intent. And one thinker shows a better way to engage in persuasion, while the apostle Paul shows God’s intent to pull us toward Him without a fight.
  3. How To Be with a God Bent on Reunion. The first thing to know is that conversation with God is not limited to a lifetime. Second: talking with God over a lifetime tends to change a person. Third: what does it look like to befriend, follow and serve a God whose full energy is spent on connecting with people?
  4. Your Church as a Conversation Factory. Peter found a way to incorporate God’s old words into a very new situation. Conversations among believers do the same, person to person, with world-changing results. How conversations emerging from within a church change everything outside the church.
  5. Extreme Listening. Extreme listening opens us to live in a larger story: Just ask Hannah. Five misconceptions about listening. Become an extreme listener by adopting three attitudes, four motivations and three strategies.
  6. A Guide to Honest Talk. How to walk your talk in three steps: 1. Show up. 2. Know this about people. 3. Join in and move out.
  7. Prayer Changes Our Listening and Talking. What really happens when we engage in conversation with God? Conversation with God as our model for talking with each other.
  8. Go ListenTalk. We are most alive when helping others see the true thing inside us. Marching orders and opportunities.


Image credit: Moyra Peralta via Spitalfields Life

The “Aha” Outta Nowhere

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ListenTalk: Conversation is an Engine [One Page Summary of the Book]

Every once in a while you have a conversation that makes you say “Aha!”

I have those conversations too.


These are the conversations you did not see coming: The offhand comment from the guy in the next cubicle stuck in your brain. You turned it over and over and an hour later the phrase surprised you by unlocking some long-term vexation. The funny thing about these conversations is how they pop up at the most unexpected times—even from clear strangers—and how they can go on to solve pretty big problems. Even funnier: The person we are talking with can be entirely unaware of the importance of the thing they just said.

ListenTalk: Conversation is an Engine is all about where those “Aha” conversations come from and how to have more of them. In ListenTalk we grab conversation and hold it to the light and look at it from a few different angles. We look at what happens when we try to persuade each other of something (which we do constantly) and what happens when we listen deeply. In fact, three smart thinkers offer a refreshing take on what it means to really listen. These three show how the practice of listening gives back far more than it consumes. ListenTalk asks about what happens when our words get launched into a conversation. The answer is another surprise, because words tumble out more often as invitations than commands (even commands are really invitations because of how words bump against human agency). Words have the power to make permanent solid bonds in our physical world. They also have great destructive power.

ListenTalk spins a few ancient stories about how words worked when God talked with people and people talked with God. These old stories begin to make clear just how much is at stake in our ordinary conversations, not just for us but for generations to come. These old stories also hint at deep thick ways of forming insoluble communities that can withstand lots of pressure and still remain collaborative while becoming ever more hopeful. ListenTalk finally links ordinary conversation with the satisfying sorts of conversations humans were meant to have with God—and offers those conversations as a path forward.

[This is a draft summary of my book, which I’ll be shopping around to a few publishers shortly. Comments? Questions? Issues? Angry retorts?]


Image credit: imgur

Written by kirkistan

January 9, 2014 at 9:11 am

Please Write This Book: Seminarians in the Salt Mines

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Why I left seminary and why I came back12022013-tumblr_mwvjf1w1eh1sj66fco1_1280

Short Answer: Seminary trains people to be pastors (no surprise to anyone but me) and while I was interested in God and theology and life’s big questions, I had no intention of being a pastor. My calling was in the world of work and getting stuff done (after a fashion: I still prefer thinking about doing to actual doing). But life’s big questions kept popping up.

Long Answer: one may run but one cannot forever hide from one’s life purpose. For me the big questions reasserted in the regular world most of us live in (versus a churchy, holy world where magical thinking sometimes takes precedent).

One of the big questions had to do with what encouragement looks like when stripped of official roles and titles and authority. To encourage—especially to encourage others to seek after God—floats as calling alongside any and all professions, roles, work and lifestyles. Which is why I finished the theology degree: because I want to encourage people in my profession (communicators, copywriters, art directors, marketers) and concomitant professions (all the folks I interact with every week: engineering, leadership, professors, photographers, pastors, scientists, all manner of physician, nurses, entrepreneurs, students, writers, editors, publishers…it’s a long list for any of us).

There’s a new emphasis out these days among pastors and theological educators. Well, not so much new as renewed: pastors have suddenly realized the world of work has not/does not/will not respond to churchy topics. Tim Keller’s work is pointing people that way and new organizations are springing up all the time, like the Bethel Work with Purpose initiative and Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. I’ve written optimistically and pessimistically about the attempts because I wonder at the intentions behind them:

  1. Are theological leaders focused on the workplace to enlarge their borders and so pull more people into the orbit of their particular organization?
    • Is the workplace viewed as a missional last-frontier where all should be trained to verbalize dogmatic jiu jitsu?
  2. Or is the emphasis truly on encouraging regular folks (like me) to understand how God works in and through our work—and setting us free to go & do guilt-free?
    • Can insular institutions release people to sort out what’s redemptive about their work—even if their ultimate answer has little to do with growing their local institution?

Perhaps I’m asking for too much nuance: is this an institution that focuses in or out? And if it focuses out, what does that mean for sending people and what does it mean for those authorities whose income depends on tethering people to the institutional focus?

Seminarians in the Salt Mines

Please write “Seminarians in the Salt Mines.”

  • Start by showing how the God of the Bible was a God who attended to physical work and how work is no less a ministry than caring for souls.
  • Help seminarians understand that calling is as much about dealing with the issues of work as it is people’s souls and in fact, people’s souls are laid bare in and through their toil. Or at least it can be that way.
  • Have a chapter or section about the horizons of work: how looking out at a lifetime of work forms one’s perspective about what is important and how to spend time.
  • Include stories of people who have preached the gospel with the work of their hands, people like Wendell Berry and Frank Laubach. Every chapter could have a story that showed a Wendell Berry-like faithfulness to a community and to substantive faith-giving practices in the world.
  • Include stories from people actively pulling faith into their work: not the superstars seeking national attention—just the folks right around you.

I’d read that book. I’d buy that book.


Image credit: National Archives of Scotland via Salvage

Written by kirkistan

December 2, 2013 at 5:00 am

Mrs. Wheeler’s Back. And She’s Gone Existential.

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Fan the Wonder

Your 2nd grade teacher showed up. The one who always said “Listen to your neighbor.” She just dropped in—several decades later—but now she’s wearing a black beret, smoking unfiltered Gauloises and sipping espresso.

MrsWheeler-05212013Mrs. Wheeler is no longer concerned with making things simple for you. In the training for everyday life that was part of 2nd grade, listening was a critical skill. She thinks you’ve forgotten it today, based on how you treat people.

Mrs. Wheeler wants you to start seeing the people around you. And then she wants you to assign value to these others that surround you. Not just your gang. You already value them and you listen to them (more or less). It’s those others—those not in your group. The ones you barely acknowledge, let alone listen to. Mrs. Wheeler says a true interest in others means allowing those others to be themselves.

“Of course, Mrs. Wheeler,” you say. “How could it be otherwise?”

“Ah,” she says, smoke slowly drifting up.

And when people show up with words different than yours? Different language entirely? Or just a different set of words that are not the key words you watch for? What if these others wear clothes that are provocative? Or not at all stylish? What assumptions do you automatically process? And how do those assumptions affect how you listen?

“No,” says Mrs. Wheeler. “Pay attention. These others are saying something you need to hear. Fan whatever wonder you find.”

She slowly stubs her cigarette on the saucer.

“This is the way,” she says as she steps out your front door.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston, All Rights Reserved.

Written by kirkistan

August 28, 2013 at 5:00 am

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