I often work in a coffee shop. More often than not a Starbucks. For some tasks, I need peace and quiet, in which case I switch my phone off, drop my internet connection and focus on the job in hand. But for many tasks I find the background noise and the coming and going of a coffee shop or hotel lobby more conducive to say creative thinking. The distractions paradoxically help my thinking process.
And in public places I also get the opportunity to meet people; occasional people I know but more often complete strangers. I like to talk and have developed a few techniques to start conversations with strangers. Asking a parent about a child is always a great conversation starter or something as mundane as commenting on the weather. And its always easy talking with service people such as receptionists, waiters or maids.
But it always strikes me how hard it is for many people (including myself at times) to talk with strangers at conferences or lectures especially when the organisers have given no thought to helping facilitate networking and conversations.
I have spoken about this topic many times in the past, see my comments on name badges, stammtisch tables and Theodore Zeldin's recent Feast of Strangers .
In this article on Starbucks: Whats true cost of a Starbucks latte, Bryant Simon laments about the lack of conversation and community. If he owned a coffee shop it would have a big, round table strewn with newspapers to stimulate discussion.
The article concludes with Bryant saying "People want these conversations, people want to feel connected," he said. "I'm pretty sure about that." I am pretty sure about it too! What do you think?