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Active Conversations

“What did you say
I know I saw you saying it
My ears won’t stop ringing
Long enough to hear
Those sweet words
What did you say”

Norah Jones

Nose jammed deep into a bowl of salty sweet udon, and listening to Norah Jones on my iPhone, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of conversations.  What makes talk into a conversation?  Does a conversation continue after the talking?  If so, what do you call the piece that continues?  If the conversation requires preparation, organization, or facilitation beforehand to make it valuable, is that also part of the conversation?

With my friends Bill Ryan and Andy Abramson we’ve been tossing around a concept which we’ve collectively dubbed Active Conversations which describe these ideas.  The key idea is simply this: a conversation is more than just talking.  It’s an iterative process of organization, preparation, facilitation, agreement, conclusions, actions, and follow up.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s easy to see how this applies in a business context.  So often a business conversation finishes with not just a conclusion, but a series of action items leading to the organization of another meeting or conference call.  It’s incredibly rare to see a business conversation not result in follow on actions.  After all, that’s the engine that runs business.

But what about in the context of a podcast?  This week I’ve had the opportunity to chat with both Steve Gillmor and Sean Ammirati about their podcasts. Both are users of Calliflower, and I was interested in previewing some features we’re working on with them, as well as hearing feedback on how to improve Calliflower.  Needless to say, the idea of Active Conversations was at the forefront of my thinking as we were talking.  Podcasts, especially the way that Steve and Sean run Gillmor Gang / Newsgang and ReadWriteTalk respectively, are very much Active Conversations.  With a guest, multiple participants, chat walls, a follow up posting, comments, and a follow-on conversation these are quite definitely Active Conversations.

What other kinds of conversations are Active Conversations? Stay tuned… I’ll have more thoughts on this in the coming days.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • S.Meinardi November 9, 2008, 10:05 am

    Oh, parbleu, what a coincidence. A couple of months ago I was introduced to Compendium; it’s a software aimed at mapping dialogues and modelling conversation (http://compendium.open.ac.uk/institute/about.htm).
    To be true, I use Squawk Box conferences also to practice on dialogue mapping.
    I knew the world is small, but I didn’t think the universe of thinking was also “so small”!

  • Todd Spraggins November 10, 2008, 10:34 am

    So where does presence fit in with this idea of “Active Conversations”? I was disappointed to see that Talk Now has disappeared of the face of the web. I had always thought that it was one of the more innovative applications that actually understood that the fragments before and after the call were sometime the more important pieces of the “conversation”. I think it will be very interesting when you get around to mixing your peanut butter with the chocolate 😉

  • MGU November 10, 2008, 8:02 pm

    Yes, it is an interesting subject, Alec. Here is something similar, ‘when does a particular play begin or end’? For example here is a bit of dialogue:

    M: My dearest love, Duncan comes here to-night.
    LM: And when goes hence?
    M: Tomorrow, as he purposes.

    They never talk about killing, but the Macbeths know the plan. When did they decide upoon it?

    I once put on a fine one-cter in which a character scratches an old vinyl record. In the final performance which was also part of a competitive festival, the actor ‘lost it’ and broke the record in half. He lost consideration for best actor prize because the adjudicator said he should have grasped the notion that the play had to go on after it was over. That is, every time he put on the record and heard the scratch clicking, he would remember the aweful events of the last couple of days.


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