Over the last couple of months I have found myself back in a place that I managed to avoid quite effectively for the last several years — windowless meeting rooms (granted the Simon Fraser University hosted Fraser Sockeye salmon summit was in the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver with lots of windows), conference centres, strictly adhered to agendas, task master meeting chairs or panel chairs or facilitators, and imposed limits for questions (Sir, you are only allowed one question… so make it good), and so on and so on…
The irony with the root of the word conference is that it comes from medieval Latin and means to “bring together” . And, I suppose, Yes… conferences do bring people together. People sit in the same rows as other attendees, breathing the same recirculated air, watching PowerPoint presentation after presentation, swilling mediocre conference centre coffee during breaks to try and stay alert, then wiggling in place not wanting to be rude by walking out on a speaker to drain a diuretic filled bladder.
(i’ve determined — through intensive scientific rigor — that the wiggling is far more effective for alertness then the caffeine kick…)
Or, as I observed in Portland last week at the State of the Salmon conference on Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon… almost everyone left in the third period (my hockey analogy).
At the start of the conference, the Hilton Hotel staff were running around bringing more chairs into the stuffed Ballroom with well over 300 people in attendance.
By the last day, a scheduled half day, and the day when things actually became a bit more interesting; when some emotion entered the equation; where people actually talked about how they felt about salmon; when there was some feeling; when some folks actually talked about “action” as opposed to talking for the sake of talking… or graphing for the sense of graphing… or charting for the sense of charting…
…there were only about 50 people left in the room at the end of the conference.
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Seth Godin — marketing guru and mr. change agent — has a great post from the other day:
Do you often find ideas that change everything in a windowless conference room, with bottled water on the side table and a circle of critics and skeptics wearing suits looking at you as the clock ticks down to the 60 minutes allocated for this meeting?
If not, then why do you keep looking for them there?
The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught. And yet we waste billions of dollars in time looking for them where they’re not.
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And this is pretty much what I continually observe at various meetings and conferences… ghad forbid we take a side road, a side trail that we didn’t even see on the map, or didn’t show up on our dashboard GPS, or Google Maps. Or… maybe even leave PowerPoint off, or maybe host a conference in a big field… rent a big tent, or just tell everyone to bring an umbrella… or hire actors to act out our talks… or sing a presentation…
No… this is crazy talk.
Consultation, conferences, “dialogue” (as a noun, or verb — as in “dialoguing”), discussion must be run by tight agendas, task master Chairs or facilitators that limit questions or real conversation because the next panel is ready to begin…
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Preventing good ideas? Three attitudes that prevent us from receiving continual flow of blessings… the three “pots”: a full pot, a pot with poison in it, and a pot with a hole in the bottom.
The pot that’s filled to the brim is like a mind full opinions and preconceptions. We already know it all. We have so many fixed ideas that nothing new can affect us or cause us to question our assumptions.
The pot containing poison is like a mind that’s so cynical, critical and judgemental that everything is poisoned by this harshness. It allows for no openness and no willingness to explore the teachings or anything else that challenges our righteous stance.
The pot with a hole is like a distracted mind: our body is present but we’re lost in thought. We’re so busy thinking about our dream vacation or what’s for dinner that we’re completely deaf to what’s being said.
… Nothing will improve, unless we become more intelligent about cause and effect.
— from Pema Chödrön’s book “No Time to Lose“. (from the Buddhist tradition).
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I certainly observed all of these “pots” at this last conference… and maybe even had one or two of those pots on my head myself.
How do we go about finding better ideas?
How do we become a lot more intelligent about cause and effect?
How do we forge some new “pots” that aren’t so limiting?