Do your ideas matter?


March 12th, 2010

Leif Hansen writes this in a newsletter: “Are you like me in feeling that life is just too precious to waste time going to events where we’re talked at as if we’re merely disembodied information-processing machines?  I think most of us would rather just download those experiences and listen to them while driving, thank you very much!”

Johnnie Moore writes of  his “frustration with rooms of smart people listening politely to long winded keynotes and dire panels, as if they’re not actually capable of intelligent thought or dissent.”

He’s referring to a post by Jeff Jarvis which starts like this: “This is bullshit. Why should you be sitting there listening to me? To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, you know more than I do…But right now, you’re the audience and I’m lecturing. That’s bullshit.”

Are you seeing a theme here?

I think it’s time we recognised speeches, key note presentations, Q & A sessions for what they are – an anachronism from a past era. An era where the verb google didn’t exist, and where the media determined who and what we listened to. We are living in a different era – one that isn’t served by one-to-many ‘expert’ presentations, no matter how they are dressed up.

We need engagement, interaction, curiosity and as Seth Godin writes in Linchpin, to “solve interesting problems”, where ‘interesting’ is the key word.” These are the questions that google can’t answer.

Or as Tim Brown says in Change by Design – let’s ask questions that begin with ‘How might we…?’

Why make a big deal out of speeches, presentations, Q & A sessions? Surely if people want to listen, they can? Problem is, when captured, in person, at an event there’s no choice. Someone else has decided that everyone in the room should hear what so-and-so has to say. And maybe what they have to say is indeed interesting and relevant. The issue is around the paternalistic notion of someone else knowing what’s so important that everyone in the room should be held captive. If it’s a TED talk, that will only last about 20 minutes. However, I can download every TED talk and listen while I’m exercising, driving or sitting under a tree.

I’ve never been to a TED event but I can bet that the room would be buzzing after listening to a number of presentations – buzzing with people interacting with each other. I’m also betting many people would find the interaction stimulating.

So, how might we make best use of the amazing brain power of a group of people together in the same room?

And why does it matter? Let’s explore this question first. It matters because if we can’t engage a captive audience and encourage them to share their knowledge and ideas, how are we going to engage them in many of the wicked problems that beset us? We might be losing valuable opportunities to tap into the broader intelligence.

I’d like to further explore the notion of ‘keynote listeners’ and encourage greater use of processes like Open Space and World Cafe that enable conversations on which to springboard ideas. That means everyone in the room has to take some responsibility, and maybe that’s the real issue.

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