Blog Post

On Cafe Conversations; Connections and Collaboration

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 17 July 2011



On Cafe Conversations; Connections and Collaboration
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 133
Posted DateSunday 17 July 2011 11:41 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://andrewarmour.com/2011/06/30/on-cafe-conversations-con ... 
CategoriesKnowledge Cafe
PeopleAndrew Armour 

Earlier this month I ran one of my London Knowledge Cafes that was mainly aimed at people who had not experienced one before. EC Harris were the host and 40 people participated. I have posted the photos to Facebook

The Cafes always go well, people love free flowing conversation but occasionally one or two people in the group really do not "get it" -- they want the session to be more controlled with agendas and summarisation and outcomes. But this is just what the Cafe is not about!

On the other hand, every so often one person really "gets it" and sees through the simplicity of the process and recognises its power. In this Cafe, Andrew Armour was one of those people, this is an excerpt of a blog post he wrote after the event.
Fortunately, the session lacked squeaky marker pens and there were thankfully no mind maps, lumps of blu-tak and the divvying up of tasks.

Gurteen's Knowledge Cafe concept is a smarter, quicker and potentially far more productive way to encourage creative discussion. Like other good things, from espresso to the first Porsche -- its success is based on functional simplicity and speed.

Take a question, divide into groups, discuss the question, then move into a new group and keep the conversation going -- sharing and discussing as you go. Unlike the traditionally tortured brainstorming (notoriously ineffective, see my blog post on this) -- and the dreaded 'group planning away day' workshops -- the aim of the Cafe is not to appoint group leaders, debate and create instant solutions.

But rather to promote a conversation, explore the ideas and share the knowledge. It's not a pitch, debate, negotiation or a challenge. Neither a platform, seminar or lecture from senior management. Nor a soap box or stage for show offs.

After 60 minutes of speedy, varied conversation across groups and tables everyone stands in a circle to quickly share the new insights and thoughts they've gained.

With business life often dominated by jargon, complexity and often jumbled communication the direct and focused approach of the Cafe is a refreshing change.

It's a short, sharp Arabica compared to a tepid mug of Nescafe. It blends the human art of conversation with the science of business thinking.

And it works. How so?

Firstly, it's very hard for one person to dominate because the group composition continually changes. The lack of agenda and pressure to develop a unified solution prevents closed thinking.

And as a bonus, it raises a few laughs as well -- which cannot be a bad thing. The cafe technique highlighted to me the importance of a collaborative dialogue in partnership development and marketing innovation.

We know that connections and relationships are at the heart of creative thinking and commercial innovation (see my previous blogs discussing Matt Ridley and Stephen Johnson etc.)

But a smart business connection will not evolve into a true collaboration without a conversation and dialogue.

Unfortunately, many brands and organisations are often dominated by strong individuals driven by their own agendas, an over confidence and need to shine and win in the spotlight.

The "not invented here" thinking is symptomatic of this -- its more monologue, than dialogue. A conversational approach is different.

Thank you Andrew, I could not have put that any better myself. This is the heart of what my Cafe process is all about.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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