In 2001, three Seattle friends ran an experiment. Susan Partnow, Habib Rose and Vicki Robin believed that spontaneous dialogue would serve democracy, critical thinking, and neighbourliness. And they wanted to test it.
So, each sat in a different café once a week and invited whoever was there to dialogue about things that really mattered.
The results paved the way for a new type of radical thinking.
At a Conversation Café there is nothing to join, no homework, no agenda, no desired outcomes, just a simple process that helps to shift us from small talk to BIG talk, inciting conversations with meaning.
Recently, I created my own version of the Conversation Café when hosting a private leadership networking lunch in a ritzy London restaurant. Setting the scene of open expression, I invited my 14 guests to explore how we create change.
How do we BE the change we want to see?
How do we BE the leader our future needs?
And how we act from a place of BEing?
Seated within relaxed surrounds, we created an environment where everyone was inspired to speak and listen, accepting the diverse perspectives that would undoubtedly emerge. Which they did.
Before commencing conversation, we all agreed to suspend judgement, demonstrate respect through thoughtful response, and seek to understand rather than persuade. We committed to encourage different opinions, speak with heart and meaning, and embrace honesty and depth.
The room was electric.
Dialogue bubbled, with energy darting around the table as experiences sparked ideas and thoughts gathered pace.
We parked the typical work stuff and reached into souls, exploring how our leadership was impacting not just us as individuals, but our wider network, our friends, and our family.
Is our leadership style different, post-pandemic? How have we changed if we have? What have learned if anything?
Most attested to being more empathetic. Where previously life got in the way of seeing, now we are being. Being more aware. Being more present. Being more considerate.
Around 2020 there was a period of unrecognisable calm, a moment to ponder, time to slow it all right now. Have we learned to lead at appropriate speeds, or has the juggernaut replaced its wheels? There were varying views on this from my guests, as some openly admitted to reverting to hell-for-leather.
BEing, rather than doing, allows us to make decisions and choose paths we would overlook or miss entirely in a state of constant mayhem.
Are we enabling conciliatory behaviours, being kind to ourselves? Taking time to work on us, ensuring we are okay. The concept of early morning journaling was met with rounded approval, its power to encourage introspection, reflection, and reaction resonating. This is true Being.
When we choose to BE the change, we BEcome the change. We become the leader we want to be. We become the leader our future needs.
My belief is that our journeys are taken from a place of what we are being, rather than what we are doing (Simon Sinek’s ‘Why’, or the Ikigai principle). The how and the what comes later.
Live a life of Being, and extraordinary things will happen.