We all talk: sometimes to particular persons; sometimes to anyone who will listen; and sometimes to ourselves when we can’t find anyone to listen. In this blog, however, we’re only interested in a certain kind of talk: conversation--and just conversation within the business context. Indeed, we believe business conversation, whether face-to-face, or in texts and emails, is a unique technology made necessary by the knowledge economy. So the old saw, “stop talking and go to work,” is now outdated and obsolete.
I've read Vanity Fair, complements of my eldest daughter, for years. When I pick it up at the apartment PO box, I usually turn the cover against my body, fearful that someone might see I'm reading a girly magazine. But she continues to send it, and I continue to skim it, looking for the three or four brilliant ideas that make it worth the 15 minutes it takes for my quick-eyed research. Besides, Michael Lewis writes five or six fascinating, vibrant commentaries per year, making it well worth my time. Historically, some of the great writers used to pen articles, including Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and E.E. Cummings. Great stuff! How do you assess political insanity? The latest issue of Vanity Fair had the most intriguing and hilarious notion of political insanity, quoted by the publisher, Graydon Carter, I've ever seen. And I've got at least two semesters of abnormal psychology behind me, as well as consulting and pastoral interactions with some psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and paranoids. But first, a bit about the context...
Two young salmon are swimming upstream. From a distance they see an older salmon swimming towards them, downstream. As the young salmon cross paths with the older salmon, the elder says “The water’s nice today, huh boys?” The young salmon say nothing. Then one of the younger salmon looks to the other and says, “What the fuck is water?”
Based on more than 40 years of experience and a great deal of communication and behavioral research, we’ve concluded that in the knowledge economy, conversation is the real business of business. This is a reflection of how the skills of the economy have changed in historic ways. And it’s also a fact hidden in plain sight. Years ago, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, obsessed with the difficulties of language, pointed out that because of their simplicity and familiarity, the things that are most important for us are hidden. In other words, you don’t see something if it’s always in front of your nose. That’s why we don’t easily recognize what’s most striking and most powerful—that business first and foremost is about conversations.
Conversation is the foundation of all other abilities that increasingly make people valuable as technology advances. This conclusion leaves a lot of people out. Some of them went into their jobs hoping they wouldn’t have to talk much. Most have no humanities courses to support conversational skills. If, like many, they’ve had a communication course or two, conversation won’t have been in the mix. Furthermore, most grew up in families that were conversationally challenged. The consequence is
Inevitably, as we face the losses of Republicans and Democrats to Trump, we're trying to make sense of the situation. Making sense of Trump is relatively easy: very little in the toolkit which makes for a great deal of unpredictability. This presidency is unique in that it's the only successful response of American populism. Historically, populists have failed to elect a president.
For years, however, both Republicans and Democrats have failed or were unable to understand how to deal with the social and political discontent of many Americans. In spite of years of denial, it's...
There's no doubt that history books will look at 2016 with. . . well, astonishment. Hoping to gain some marketing insight for 2017, here are the most read blog posts written last year. The most read posts are golden oldies from as far back as 2010. But I was especially intrigued by what I could learn from last year's top posts.
How to sabotage your own conversation.A significant group of generally smart professionals periodically shoot themselves in the foot with its use. They can resolve a problem, break it down into bits and pieces for a solid resolution--and even explain their rationale. But along the way their input loses its credibility for a simple reason. . . . Action on this issue will help you build your credibility.
A stupidity-based theory of organizations. This is one of those studies which tell you more than you want to know about how organizations actually work. The researchers don’t screw around. They nail organizational BS to the wall. What’s unique about the research are...
Nahhhh! That makes no sense. In those very few areas where I’ve done a lot of homework and some listening to conversations about the news, it’s very clear that very, very few (say 20%?) can spot fake news (enough adverbial uses of “very?”). The newscasters and opinion writers can’t or don’t, and neither can John Q Public.
Though not the same thing, we know, based on hundreds of studies, that people can spot a liar 54 percent of the time — a ratio that is perilously close to pure chance. Spotting lies from people suggests that
Now, mostly dead is slightly alive. In “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.
Sometimes it’s just a verbal tic. But a significant group of generally smart professionals periodically shoot themselves in the foot with its use. They can resolve a problem, break it down into bits and pieces for a solid resolution--and even explain their rationale. But along the way their input loses its credibility for a simple reason: they don’t understand that hedges limit their credibility.
It’s not just the Upper Midwesterners who hedge, but New Yorkers, Virginians and even Californians. Furthermore, it’s not just women who do it: a surprising share of men do the same thing. This small behavior happens too frequently—and inevitably means...
Words are slippery items. We now know that the smart conversationalist listens to see whether the important word in a sentence is “dictionary-use” or “situational.” This is not an academic game. Understanding the distinction can be a matter of career life or death. The fact of the matter is that words mean what we want them to mean. For example, what did Obama mean when he commented that Trump is not ideological. “I think ultimately he’s pragmatic…”
Words are dynamic In most conversations, words are tweaked. Their meaning is about what one person is trying to get across. We know that tweaking may emphasize values, emotions, priorities or even a specific insight. Dictionary-speak , where the person is talking literally, is fairly rare in conversations. Instead, like Humpty-Dumpty, words mean what we want them to mean. Talkers often use words sarcastically and ironically. Sarcasm is pretty obvious.
If you've read the shock and surprise of the past two weeks, you'd be certain no one could have predicted the Trump and populist win. But you'd be wrong. Some commentators were alert to the electoral change. Both before and after the election, a passage from Richard Rorty's 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, circulated on the web.
I often refer to my wife’s early death from Alzheimer’s complications as a "good death." If you have experience with Alzheimer’s you’ll understand that comment. But what made death easier for her and us was our love of music. An NYT opinion article by Mark Vanhoenacker, described some basic end-of-life planning and focused on his deathbed playlist. It rang a lot of bells because of my wife’s death from Alzheimer’s nearly five years ago.
Vanhoenacker’s very human insights resonate: the music that gives our lives meaning can bring comfort at the end. Lest you think I’m describing sad, gloomy funeral music, let me disabuse you of that thought. Paul Simon once said that music should continue “right on up until you die.” And Simon’s music was never funereal...