Flash Conversations

Here’s a little experiment in conversation about culture – a flashmob of sorts except I don’t expect a *mob*

On Thursday 19th November, I will be spending all day in the Great Court at the British Museum facilitating conversations between small groups of people as described earlier.

You’re welcome to come along and join in at any point between 10.30 and 17.00 – so if you happen to be in Central London and have a spare hour or so, come and see us, learn and contribute something, rather than whiling your time away surfing the web in Starbucks.

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Setting Conversations Free

060720091694We’re trying here to get conversations going around culture, cultural difference and cultural relations, but we’re mightily aware that while online conversations are all very well (in particular they help us to talk to people all over the world), we get just as much (and probably more) from talking to a small number of people, face to face.

So we’re proposing an exercise:

We’d like you to invite 6-8 people to meet with you for a short time to have an informal chat. Yes, that’s it, just have a chat. Well, perhaps it’s a bit more.

We’re interested in what people think about cultures and relations between people from different cultures. Our definition of culture is very broad. It may be that you’re most interested in cultures defined by geography: regional, national, continental or even hemispherical cultures or perhaps you get more excited by culture as defined by religion or organisation or political orientation – whatever you like.

You might find it easiest to do this around a meal or drinks but it doesn’t have to be a dinner party in your home, it could be a picnic lunch in the park or over tea and cakes…. or cocktails … or breakfast! But steady on, we’re also going to be asking you to make a record of the event either using video or taking some photos and writing something for our blog. It can be something simple, you don’t have to create a comprehensive documentary, and we don’t want it to interfere with the conversation, but we’d like to have something at the end that captures the spirit of what happened.

Our hope is that you’ll enjoy doing this and perhaps as a result you might choose to continue to get together and talk to each other – it’s nice isn’t it? Furthermore we’re hoping that members of the first round will become hosts of their own groups for another next round – a bit like Tupperware parties…

Here’s the first draft set of instructions for group hosts:

1. Find six people who are willing to take part and choose a time and place to do it. If you are booking a space make sure you have a little time there before and after.
2. Think about your experience of culture: cultural difference, unity, conflict, etc that you wish to share. Be ready to tell a (short) story of your own that illustrates what you’re interested in.
3. Start the meeting at the agreed time. Build in time beforehand for mingling, introductions and smalltalk, depending on how well the participants already know each other.
4. Read together the principles and guidelines for participants (to follow).
5. Tell your story and then let go until you’ve reached the end. Make notes only to capture who said something you’d like to talk to them about.
6. Thank everyone. Give out instruction packs (to follow) to those who’ve taken part and have a discussion, if necessary and if there’s time about what they might do and how you can support them.
7. Ask those whose contributions strike you as interesting to either write a paragraph about it on the blog or speak for a minute on camera. Make this facility open to anyone who wishes to contribute, not just those that you find interesting – and make it clear that they’re free to blog about it wherever they like.

This reminds me is what’s missing:
Some guidelines for participants to read at the beginning of the meeting
Some instructions for submitting written, audio or video content to the blog
An instruction pack to give out, although that might be a link to this post and the guidelines & instructions.

But don’t let that stand in the way of you choosing some people and a place to get together – if you’re interested in doing it, you could get on with 1 and 2 without anything more from me.

Also don’t assume that I’ve got everything covered, if you think you need something more from me to be able to do this, let me know!

Piloting Human-scale Conversations

How do conversations begin in real life and can they migrate online?

That’s one of the questions I’m interested in exploring as part of the work a group of Tuttle consultants are doing with the British Council.  And we are trying to learn from the first of a series of conversations.

Lloyd Davis made an Audioboo which describes the first meeting as “a small beginning” and explores the dimensions of the conversation in terms of time, place (both the location itself and the influence of the place on the conversation) and whether conversation over food is advisable or not.  His boo reflects thoughts on the process:

Download mp3

Unthemed and undirected?

Does the conversation need a purpose or is it open-ended?  Should the conversation have a purpose?  And there are issues about how the conversation can be managed.  Listen to the boo and you will hear the ‘letting it happen’ and open principle emerge!

The impact of the venue

poppiesFor me, the place had a massive impact.  I got there early and had a wander round.  Went to the ‘Trench Experience’ and looked at photographs.  Felt the vibe.

My learnings include how we deal with awkwardness in conversation and how we break through that and get into the realconversation.  The other thing is the extent of the ‘knowing’; how well you know one another and the way this drives the conversation.

If you click on the link you can hear the Audio Boo I made immediately after the conversation.

Download mp3

Place drives all

Meeting in the Imperial War Museum was deeply odd.  I’ve been there only once before a long time ago.  It affected the conversation – how could it not?

What was also striking for me was the single slab of Berlin Wall outside the Museum.  It impacted the conversation.  Especially as one of the lunch particpants lived on the Eastern side, 200m from the Wall, and was one of those brave and excited people hammering away at it 20 years ago.

And at some level, I did recall there was the Tibetan Peace Garden which has been there since 1999.  It was opened by HH the Dalai Lama.  I went to see it after the lunch.  It seems odd, but once you think about it, putting a Peace Garden in the grounds of a War Museum has a certain correctness.

We have a useful juxtaposition  – a chunk of wall whose destruction signalled the end of the Cold War 20 years ago and the inauguration of a Peace Garden 10 years ago.  The Wall stands between the Museum and the Peace Garden.

Ten years from now, what else will be there?  A fragment of steel from the Twin Towers, a desert Land Rover from the Iraq Wars, a pilot-less Predator from Afghanistan?  It’s non-trivial going to have a conversation . . .