conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Ertel

Can You Engineer a Conversation? (How to Talk #2)

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Depends: Are you looking for control or insight?

In Moments of Impact: How to design conversations that accelerate change (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2014), Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon argue that some of our most productive conversations come from deciding ahead what we want from the interchange. Their book presents a system of on-ramps that will be particularly useful for anyone charged with gathering a group with the intent of going further than the old, fallow brainstorming sessions allowed.


Conversation, as everyone knows, can be far from benign. For those looking to control a conversation, unless highly skilled, the better (and far less productive) option may be to continue with monologue.

Because a strategic conversation consists of live interactions between people with different perspectives and passions, you can never predict exactly where it will lead. (41)

That is the beauty of conversation: the whimsy factor can drop participants in places they never expected to arrive. That is also the danger—especially in corporate settings where a particular outcome has been strongly hinted at, if not guaranteed.

For those daring souls willing to let go, but who still retain a preferred outcome, Ertel and Solomon’s notion of a “strategic conversation” may just fit the bill. Start by sorting what you are trying to accomplish: build understanding, shape choices or make decisions. And then employ divergent and convergent thinking and other group exercises as necessary.


What I appreciate about Ertel and Solomon’s work is they have built a framework around the basic serendipity of conversation and brought it as a tool into even very hierarchical structures.MomentsOfImpact-10272014

I am convinced we’ll find strategic conversations a formidable tool indeed, especially as we create brand new stuff out in the world.


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Moments of Impact: Making Work Conversations [actually] Work

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This third kind of work conversation involves divergent thinking

In Moments of Impact: How to design conversations that accelerate change (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2014), Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon make the case that we need a third kind of conversation at work. Here’s how Solomon and Ertel categorize most work meetings:

  1. Typical meeting where someone stands at the front blathering on with slides while attendees multitask with Facebook, Twitter and occasionally, actual work.
  2. Brainstorming meeting where people attend to think brand new thoughts (and to eat donuts). But brainstorming meetings are routinely dismissed today as producing far fewer ideas than if the attendees sat in isolation producing ideas before coming together.
  3. Strategic Conversations. This is Ertel and Solomon’s new kind of conversation. Rather than engaging in the typical presentation/multi-tasking meeting, they want attendees to deeply and viscerally engage in a compelling question.
Mindful like a hungry hawk.

Mindful like a hungry hawk.

Moments of Impact is all about how to make this third kind of conversation happen. The book develops five points to help make strategic conversation an experience versus another bout of human downloadment:

  1. Declare objectives/define the purposeMomentsOfImpact-10272014
  2. Identify participants/engage multiple perspectives
  3. Assemble content/frame the issues
  4. Find a venue/set the scene
  5. Set the agenda/make it an experience

Nothing earth-shattering so far, right?

And yet, as it is so often, our connections provide the earth-shattering stuff, rather than any consultant’s formula. Where we connect—with 100% attention—that’s where the magic happens. In connection there something mystical that lies beyond engineering technique and management principles. Moments of Impact is about setting the stage for that connection.

One thing is becoming clearer very day: when we employ mindfulness rather than pursuing mindlessness, we find ourselves deeply engaged rather than seeking more distractions.

Mindfulness in the service of creating an experience also seems to honor humans as human (versus as corporately-owned human capital to be rejiggered at will).

That old attitude may have worked for an assembly line (doubtful), but for our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we need the best each of us can bring.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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