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Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's
Hope Is Where You Find It
by Peter Block
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The Power of
We just finished reading Peter Block’s column,
“Conversation for a Change” which appeared in
the January, 1999 News for a Change. We want to applaud
him for his thoughts around conversation and dialogue.
Dialogue is a very powerful tool that should not have to
follow a specific process for the magic to happen. We
would push his ideas further than just in the conference
room—into the work setting and into the classroom.
As consultants and educators, we ask ourselves, how are
we creating environments that encourage dialogue and
The process of sitting in a circle goes back many years.
Native Americans and other cultures used this process for
their storytelling. So why should we encourage this magic
only in the conference room or classroom? People who
micromanage would tell us that “chatting” is
a waste of time and that we must control this
non-productiveness! Our experience in both a business and
an educational setting have been just the opposite.
Information and new ideas are produced when people can
get together and casually discuss issues. Persons who
feel an environment of trust and safety are capable of a
higher level of learning and productivity.
The environment not only affects dialogue and
conversation, employees or students working in the kind
of environment we discuss are also more creative.
According to Robinson and Stem (1997), there are six
essential elements for creativity. Consider how three of
these elements might also encourage dialogue in the
training of staff and/or the education of students:
self-initiated activity, serendipity and within-company
communication would all support the type of conversation
you describe in your ten steps?
As far as our feelings about the future, we suggest the
- Re-arrange work stations to promote conversation and
storytelling amongst individuals.
- Create space in every cubicle to allow for natural
conversation to emerge.
- Allow more small group discussion on a guided topic to
occur in the conference room/classroom.
- Promote faculty and professional development
opportunities that encourage natural dialogue.
In our opinion, these strategies will enrich
“conversation for a change.”
Ginny Birky, Jennifer Webster
Oregon State University
I look forward to Peter Block’s column every month.
He offers some great insights. Regarding his February
‘99 column, “Y2K Calling,” I think that
there is still another word to learn—humility.
Without humility we won’t be able to listen to
either our customers or the call to purpose. Without
humility can there be learning? Over 13 years of
consulting, I don’t know of one U.S. company that
includes humility as one of their values. Do
Systems for World Class Comp.
Try It, You Might Like
I tried Peter Block’s suggestion for evoking a new
conversation at our last leadership team meeting. It was
very well received and did seem to focus and energize the
group, as well as serve as a reminder that we CAN
transform, that we don’t have to stay in the same
rut. I tied this into the old Will Rogers saying,
“If I find myself in a hole, the first thing I do
is stop digging.”
The group was a little resistant and uncomfortable at
first (especially when they saw that I had taken away
their tables!), but once they got rolling, two of the
three small groups didn’t want to stop. The third
group claimed they had indeed had a new conversation, but
were done early. I just said, “Well, have another
new conversation then.”
Anyhow—thanks for the suggestion. I think it has
raised our awareness and moved us forward.
City of Portsmouth