Conversation Café

The concept of conversation cafés has been around for a long time and over the past decade I have participated in many.  They come and go with different initiatives, events and with the ebb and flow of people within organizations.  One of the Leadership Wood Buffalo action learning groups is looking to make conversation cafés an ongoing opportunity to connect, learn and explore here in Fort McMurray.

I was asked to participate in a test run of a conversation café as part of their action learning team presentation at The Redpoll Centre yesterday.  My job was to graphically capture what I heard at each of the three tables that convened around a central question.  Participants in the 9-month community leadership development program (run by FuseSocial) and several invited guests explored three different questions, each for twenty minutes.

What did I learn or observe?

Conversation allows for assumptions to be questioned.

We all have a perspective of the world, and its many issues, based on our particular vantage point.  Engaging in open conversation with random groups of people exposes us to fresh views and new information.  The result is that long-held beliefs or assumptions get called into question.  I saw that several times yesterday as people responded to each others' comments.

Taking the next step immediately is important.

One participant expressed a passion for greenhouses and the idea of growing food locally year round to reduce our dependency on products that have to be shipped to the region.  I was able to let her know about a pilot project that is happening around this idea and took it one step further by connecting her with the CEO of the company leading the project.

You know what life is like.  If we leave things until after the event, we get caught up in our regular lives, and possibilities die on the vine.  Take action in the moment if you can.

Listen more than talk, but make sure your voice is heard.

When you exercise mindfulness and fully listen to the person who is speaking, remarkable things happen.  Try to avoid following the conversation while 60-percent of your brain is thinking of the next brilliant thing you want to say.  Be present.  At the same time, make sure to share your thoughts, too.  Some information or perspective that you have could be exactly what someone needs to hear.

In looking forward, we tend to look back.

The first question was a reflective exercise imaging ourselves at the end of our lives and looking back on what legacy we left or change we made.  It was fascinating how everyone around the table longed for the "good ole days", before Internet, cell phones, social media and technology.  I couldn't help but point out that our parents said the same things about television, Walkmans, and VHS videos.

There seemed to be a universal sense that we are victims of our stuff dysfunction and that if we could declutter and simplify by our end days; that would be an accomplishment.

The biggest thing holding us back is ourselves.

Whew!  What a thought.  We had quite a conversation about the things that keep us from creating more positive impact in the world.  Time, money, and fear all were factors.  But Keith succinctly categorized all these things (and many more) into one bucket called "Self-Limiting Beliefs":  I'm not rich enough, smart enough, strong enough, nor do I have enough time or money.

Unfortunately, we all create, whether consciously or unconsciously, an "inventory of barriers" that we maintain with rigour.  Imagine if we could debunk all of those self-fabricated barriers.  Imagine the impact we could make in the world then.  Wow!  It's fun to think about.

I saw some wonderful community leaders in the Conference Room of The Redpoll Centre yesterday.  Smart, engaged, excited, these men and women are doing great things within the program and are destined to do great things in the years to come.  The conversation cafe is a great format to bring people together and generate great ideas and new connections. I'm glad to hear that the conversation café will be opening on a regular basis.


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