Monday, November 09, 2009

November Systems Thinking Conference in Seattle

Another wonderful systems thinking conference produced by Pegasus Communications. This is my third year attending the systems thinking conference and it is a time to connect in conversation with friends and associates that I do not have a chance to see face to face during the year. The key note presentations this year were not only insightful but inspiring. In particular I enjoyed Peter Senge's presentation and that of David Whyte, an author and poet whose message was heartfelt and transformative. Another presentation that I really enjoyed was from Linda Booth Sweeney as she wove her conversation into participation with the audience. The last key note was presented by John Seely Brown and he provided extraordinary insights into the transformation of our communities and the role of technology, gaming, and social networking. He really opened my eyes to the talents and capabilities of the generation that have these technologies as native to them. Graphic recording was excellent during the conference and weaving was provided by Gary Malkin between sessions. His beautiful voice certainly helped set the tone for the conference.

The conference theme was courageous conversations and as we progressed through the several days together, each speaker wove this theme into their conversation and by the end of the conference I began to fully appreciate the need for courageous conversations to not only set the tone for the future but to create the future that we envision.

As well this conference gave me a chance to delve deeper into the conversation community and meetings with The World Cafe team were powerful. What a committed, talented, and passionate team of people. I was disappointed to miss the national SoL meeting as I was involved in The World Cafe meetings. There simply is not enough time to do it all.

I left the conference with a new sense of connection to the greater conversation field and new friends and partners who all are dedicated to this wonderful work that we do.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

A conversational "ahha"

Every once in a while I realize that I am sliding out of line with my primary conversational practice. I suppose that I could blame my lapse on being a guy or any other excuse but the reality is I discovered a blind spot in my practice of conversation.

Now that I have started my doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University in Human and Organization Systems, our larger cohort is organized into small anchor groups for ongoing support and collaboration. It is a wonderful concept. In a very short period of time, we have shared more than is probable given that we still are learning who we are as a group and who we are as friends, associates, mentors, and confidants. Herein lies the discovery of my blind spot.

Given the stress of starting a rigorous doctoral program and given that we all have lives, work, families, and responsibilities outside of the doctoral program, it is natural that each of us experiences some uncertainty, fear, and doubts. I pride myself on listening, a critical aspect of conversation. What I found myself doing to my dismay was offering solutions to people right out of the shoot rather that just being there to listen and support. I remembered in this setting that offering critique and analysis is pivotal to this level of doctoral work, however I also remembered that I do not need to solve everyone's problems. Each of us is a professional, intelligent, competent, and accomplished, who am I to try to solve problems for everyone else.

I am now more aware of this blind spot in my practice and will doll out advice more sparingly or when I am asked rather than immediately offering solutions when someone voices frustrations. I will be a better listener and in the end, I will be a better conversational practitioner.

Keep those conversations going.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Conversations framing my doctoral research

I recently started my doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University in Human and Organization Development. Preceding the start of the program and now after I have started, conversation has been at the core of my activities. I am having extraordinary conversations around my work, my research, and my future as a practitioner in my field.

I am reminded that learning does not happen in isolation. In fact as I approach my research and field of interest and work to narrow my interests, I am quite sure that defining my research interest would not have happened without the conversations that I am having. Juanita Brown of The World Café reached out and assembled an initial research group to help me frame my research. Out of that initial group which was formed in July, I have developed several strong friendships. Group and individual conversations have gone deeper and began to focus in on where I can make a difference in this world.

The more conversations that I have, the more clear my research becomes. All of us are in a system of service focused on helping heal our world. My work will focus on The World Café and how we can heal through intergenerational dialogues. A partnership with the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University will be critical as I frame this field of inquiry. I expect that I will use The World Café as a research methodology at the very least and probably as a focus for my research as well. Intergenerational dialogues will be an important piece of this work.

As the general manager that I support says of a large issue, it is bigger than a bread box, and honing in on my research question certainly as an effort goes, is bigger than a bread box. I am blessed to have such wonderful people to talk with as these conversations are going to be at the core of my learning and growth as a scholar practitioner.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Telling stories is the key to behavioral interviewing

Not only are stories the foundation of helping people with new insights that drive behaviors that create improvement in life and work, that are as well the foundation of great conversations. Any time two people get together in conversation around a question that matters, stories enrich and expand the learning in that intimate interaction. An interview is no different.

I am an internal consultant and coach for 850 team members, about 100 of which are leaders on our site. My primary clients are the leadership team members but I am blessed to work with many front line team members when they need help to promote. I am amazed with how many team members I coach on behavioral interviewing, the interviewing style that we use in our company. I have personally coached at least 50 team members in the last 12 months from front line up through the manager level on behavioral interviewing helping them learn how to tell stories as well as conduct internal classes on behavioral interviewing. It is a part of my work as a leadership development manager that I love. My conversations are not dry "how to interview conversations" but a full conversation on leadership, coaching, feedback, and balancing relationships with performance improvement and of course, how to tell your story in a behavioral interview. One of the reasons that this work is so gratifying is the extraordinary expressions of gratefulness that I receive from those that I help. As an INFP, I really do not need lots of public recognition, but a personal thank you, now that is something that really means allot to me. One of the more meaningful notes to me is below. This is what makes my job so fun.

"I am career pathing towards being a SR. After my first interview I took the feedback given to me to John to see how I could interview stronger my next time around. John gave me a lot of useful information both verbally and with handouts. I was very impressed that he would take the time out of his busy schedule to meet with me and even prepare stuff that I could later take with me and read.
He was knowledgeable about the content we discussed, and very passionate about (our company) in times through our conversation I wondered why he was not actually a General Manager. Personally he made me feel like he was interested in my goals and truly wanted me to reach them.
No matter what I do with my career and even in life I will remember the conversation that I had with John, I will take interest in others as he did for me, and have the same passion and beliefs for my job. John definitely lives the (Our company) Values."

As we use a proprietary process for interviewing and feedback, I can not mention the exact acronym without probably getting sued by the vendor, so I will simply state that the process for telling a story is simple. Regardless of whether or not the question is behavioral based (tell me about a time when...) one answers with a behavioral answer (here is a specific time when...).
  1. Define the situation or task that you were involved in.
  2. Tell about what you did i.e. your behavior or actions
  3. Then describe the impact of your actions or the results.

The stronger your stories, the better you will shine. There is far more too a successful behavioral based interview, but the above is the basic outline.

So why use a behavioral based interview process? Two reasons as far as I am concerned. First past performance is a good predictor of future performance. Second, if you ask blue sky questions, (what would you do if) those people who are good at BS'ing can do well and those who are more reflective do not do well. Why screen out the more reflective people. Not a bright thing to do if you want the best and the brightest. A prepared person (they know their stories at least) regardless of personal communication style will do well in a behavioral based interview and the employer will have the information they need to make an informed decision. The best way to go from my point of view.

I often coach others on the process and if you would like, drop me a line and let me give you a hand. We will need at least an hour and depending on your comfort level, assignments and followups. I use PayPal for ease of transaction. I would be glad to help any time. And I wish you success in your quest for a new place in this amazing and complex world.

Good luck on your story telling.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Cup of Tea and Conversation...Ahhhh

Over the years one of the great pleasures for me is conversation over a wonderful pot of Darjeeling Tea made in my Tetsubin tea pot. I switched from coffee to tea exclusively about four years ago and I have never regretted it. I buy my tea in bulk and even go to the effort to weigh out just the right amount of tea leaves for every cup of tea making sure that every time a brew a pot of tea it is the perfect pot of tea. I simply love tea and am happy to brew up a pot any time someone comes over for conversation. I cannot imagine a better way to have a conversation with someone that I care about.

And of course reading a book with a cup of tea is a wonderful way to unwind and enjoy life. It is for this reason that I decided to start my own online business, a tea business for fine Indian teas and gifts for friends, family, and clients. As I do work full time and love my job, and am about to start my PhD in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University, I simply do not have time to take orders and do fulfillment and bookkeeping, so I joined an established company as an affiliate. I hope that this works for me and I hope that all of my friends and family visit Tea Reading Room to try some of my fine Indian teas and gifts. Just maybe I can encourage people to sit down with a beautiful cup of tea and have conversations that can change our world or just a little slice of it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Conversations are healing

My best friend in our company is seeking a new position. During his transition, he kept to himself embarrassed, angry, and humiliated. He finally came to Central Oregon to talk and we talked for eight hours. It was wonderful for both of us. Only through conversation with others that care can we start the healing process. Pulling inward, even though a natural reaction, is no solution. It only creates pain and suffering. We absolutely must connect with others.

I too in the past have pulled inwards feeling hurt, embarrassed, and angry during a transition. I have even sacrificed my families well being by not applying for unemployment because I was too embarrassed to have my prior employer know that I had "failed" in my new position. I wonder if others have done the same thing, pulling back and not talking with those that care. We are a conversational species and are supposed to be in conversation with others. That is what makes us human. That is how we learn. That is how we connect and heal. And that is how we love. So what drives us to abandon what is our most foundational characteristic? I know for myself that when I have reacted this way, I did not trust those that I loved and who loved me to embrace me and my circumstance without judgement.

Considering all that is going on in our world it is easy to reach out without judgement when someone looses a position. Yet do we always open up our hearts and our souls and let others come into conversation with us without judgement? Do we ask ourselves if the person could have done more, something differently, or better? Do these thoughts prevent us from fully embracing those who we love? A simple "What can I do to help?" is sufficient. "I am here to talk with you, listen to you, and bring you into a healing conversation" is what we can do to show love and caring for others.

I just found out that the son of a very dear friend died by suicide. My heart was broken. I can not even imagine the pain that she is going through. It would be easy to ask why others didn't see the warning signs. But this is not a loving question. We humans are complex and messy. We have messy emotions, messy relationships, and messy lives. There is no way that we can or should judge, we can only reach out and love others and embrace them in conversation. We hold the cards to helping others heal through our willingness to talk.

Go forth my friends and help heal this world of ours. Embrace others and draw them into conversation. Do not let others withdraw in fear, anger, or humiliation. The power is ours. We now need each other more than ever. Thank you for being willing to carry on the work of conversation. You are healing the world.

Your friend John