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Story One

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Have more background conversations


The current model for organizations was developed at the beginning of the industrial revolution. We took the most creative, innovative human beings – farmers (whose everyday job required them to deal with the most unpredictable set of circumstances: weather, animals, crops) – placed them in a factory and told them to only do as they were instructed. These infinitely creative human beings were left to spend their days performing mind-numbing tasks over and over again. That was then. Today, the world has changed.

Right now, someone is sitting with a laptop in a remote location, focused on creating a solution which will completely change your business model — Uber, AirBnB, Zillo. That person on their laptop is on the brink of inventing a new way to contribute to the world — Patagonia, Toms, Method.
Does the old model of telling people what to do, and requiring them to perform repetitive, mind-numbing tasks have a chance?

I say, no.

We need a model for the full expression of human beings. Where will we find this? Right where it has always been: with the human beings themselves (aka: the rocket ships that are waiting for their fuses to be lit). So how can we create an environment that encourages people to step into the fullness of their creativity? Here’s one way:
We are always having two conversations: the one that we are comfortable having (the foreground conversation) and the one that we are uncomfortable having (the background conversation). Which conversation has more influence? Which conversation shapes our actions?

Yes, the background conversation.

To have a chance for our current companies “being the guy or gal with the laptop”, we can ask the people we work with to share their background conversations. This is a start. It’s nowhere close to what it takes, but it is a powerful start. Over 30 years, I have seen background conversations infuse themselves throughout traditional organizations and begin to pry people loose from the old ideas, behaviours and business models that had them stuck.
What else have we got in us?


Reflect for a moment about a commitment that you or your team are working on.

What is your foreground conversation about it?

What is your background conversation about it?

From zero (not at all) to ten (all the time), how often would you say your team or the people around you let you in on their background conversations?

Now reflect, when they tell you their background conversations, what happens for you? What thoughts do you have? How does it feel? What is your response?

When your team or the people around you are disclosing their background conversations, place something in your mouth that is large enough that it prevents you from speaking, and nod your head yes.

Write down the most terrible background conversations you have about the people you work with. (Don’t worry, you can tear this up into little pieces afterwards.) Go ahead, write them down.

Okay, thank you. Now consider that the people you work with just did the same thing.

What do you think are their background conversations about you? About the project they are working on?

You are a human being; you have background conversations.

They are human beings (I think); they have background conversations.

Listen, and have the person speaking experience being heard. I know you may want to respond, but put something in your mouth and listen. You will give the person (and yourself) room to be!


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