Conversation is action… because… we learn when we talk.

20140504-213510.jpgIt always pleases my wife when I quote Elvis, so here goes….. “A little less conversation, a little more action please”. No hidden meaning there, so lets move on, swiftly.

Well, as it turns out Conversation is ActionPam Luckock told me at a Working With Not To event recently.

This comes as a huge relief, as I seem to spend most of my time having conversations. Justifying that I am actually achieving something in these conversations has been nagging away at me for ages.

Here are two things that help me keep on track, and remember that I am doing something useful; ‘We learn when we talk’ and Nemawashi. So, who fancies some Japanese?

Nemawashi – ‘digging around the roots’.  Thanks to Stewart Greenwell for sharing this.  Nemawashi, is a Japanese word that means ‘an informal process of quietly laying the foundations for change or new project. It involves talking to the people concerned, listening and gathering feedback’. In other words, a lot of conversations.

Nemawashi - digging around the roots ready for transplanting
Nemawashi – digging around the roots ready for transplanting

The origin of Nemawashi comes from the activity of digging around a tree roots to prepare it for replanting elsewhere. I’ve transplanted many trees over the years, and the importance of ‘nemawashi’, and really digging around the roots to make the job easier (for me) and successful (for the tree to survive) is very relevant.

By contrast, I’ve also done some ‘grubbing’, digging out tree stumps. This can be a brutal process with broken roots and no prospect of the tree ever surviving. As a metaphor for some imposed changes I’ve seen over the years, that fits quite well.

I very much like the idea of conversations being the process of Nemawashi in an organisational change or the delivery of a project. Building the foundations, laying the groundwork or ‘digging around the roots’ is definitely action in my books.

We learn (when we listen) when we talk. This a post by Nancy Dixon on Conversation Matters, which is well worth looking at if you are interesting in knowledge management, complexity or the power of conversations.

The post talks about the idea that, by describing something to another person, your own understanding of the subject is improved. Research at the University of Michigan looked at conversations between people and concluded that although the receiver of information received benefits, there was evidence that the speaker of the information made the greatest cognitive gain. The idea that you learn from speaking is linked to how we store information. If it is for our own use (thinking about it), it is arranged differently to how we would speak it. The change in how we organise the information for presentation, leads to us considering it in different ways, and we end up learning more about it.

Dr Dixon writes, “If I read a great article I will incorporate the ideas more fully into my own cognitive map if I tell a colleague what I have just read (or write a blog about it)”.

The idea that through speaking, I better understanding what I already know, and learn more, is another positive reason for having conversations.

Not all conversations are good or useful. I had to mention this, sorry.  In this post about Knowledge Management and Real Conversations David Gurteen talks about the need to have effective conversations. David makes the point that generally we are not good at conversations and we need to learn how to have effective conversations, as a skill, practice it and encourage it. More on this in a future post.

It is well worth reading David’s post and reflecting on some of the questions he asks about, ‘are you listening’ in conversations and ‘are you speaking/telling the truth?’.

The implications for social media. Unfortunately I missed the #socialconvo with Shirley Ayres, Paul Taylor and Mark Brown this week, I did however catch up via the Storify summary from Mike Clark.

What struck me from that conversation, was the idea that if you apply the principles I’ve just mentioned to social media conversations, it extends them hugely. The ability to do some Nemawashi with dozens more people now exists. You can still ‘quietly lay the foundations’, but it can be done on a much larger scale.

Likewise, the opportunities to ‘learn through talking’ (conversations) are amplified hugely. I know from my own experience that reading a post, commenting on it,sharing it through social media and talking with people about it helps me to learn, ‘an addition to my cognitive map’, in the words of Dr Dixon.

Paul Taylor quoting Shirley Ayres at #socialconvo
Paul Taylor quoting Shirley Ayres at #socialconvo

As an example from #socialconvo have a look at the Tweet from Paul Taylor. The cognitive effort to distil a complicated idea down into 140 characters, that can be shared, must have helped Paul better understand what he was saying (writing).

Finally, a chance to re-write some Elvis lyrics: “a little more conversation, it’s the action that we need”…… That feels better!

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Conversations are action. Think Nemawashi, what is more positive, digging around the roots or grubbing up dead tree stumps?
  2. Conversations provide the opportunity to better understand what you know by ‘learning as you talk’.
  3. Listening in a conversation is just as important as speaking.

Here’s Elvis vs JXL:  A little less conversation….




About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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