Conversation – re-newed skill or the lazy man's solution?

I’ve just noticed that the think tank Demos has launched a project on conversation called Talk us into it. You can download a pdf of their first pamphlet on the theme here. It proposes that

by combining what we know about conversations with what we know about the changing nature of community, we have the opportunity to reinvigorate the public realm to engage a wider range of people and give voice to the wider range of opinion on which our society is now built.

Curiously enough this throws me back to a conversation I had a good three years ago with a man called Grahame Broadbelt. At the time we were both working for the education charity Common Purpose – he as a staffer, me as a freelance. After years with CP Graeme had reached a stunningly simple conlusion – that ultimately it is the quality of the conversation which counts. It certainly struck a chord with me.

Almost all the work I have ever done has been improved and enriched by people willing to make the effort to have open, honest and challenging conversations. It is the route to that mental zing which in turn spawns the ideas and the energy to get things done. Of course this is a statement of the obvious, but oddly important in a world which seeks to measure every moment we spend against a tangible outcome.

I recently finished some work with R4R Europe – a vibrant network of active citizens from different European cities. 350 of us had spent three days in Birmingham listening to each other’s experiences, learning from each and building support networks. Everyone there had had a number of those ideal conversations – the ones with zing.

At the end someone stood up and asked where the outcomes of the different work groups would be posted. The R4R organisers replied that this is not the plan, but under pressure they agreed to sort out some bullet points for the different sessions. I absolutely sympathised with their position. To not agree to this almost looked like they couldn’t be bothered to write up the feedback. Yet what counted about this group was not the written feedback. It was the new things churning around in our minds. For each of us this meant an entirely different set of bullet points. This was the real outcome and it was all a product of nothing more complex than good conversation.

With my podcasting I have tried to create situations where conversation can both happen and be recorded. It’s tricky but sometimes works. A great example is when Sir Albert Bore met Natalie Brade. Have a listen, after all most us love to eavesdrop.

One last thing; Grahame Broadbelt isn’t at Common Purpose any more. He is now the Managing Director of Demos.