I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Specifically about how to strengthen the “creative muscles” in order to be more innovative in all aspects of life. In this process of research, introspection, and exploration, I recently realized that a primary source of my creative energy is conversation. Not meaningless chit chat or idle banter but real meaningful conversation. I feed on it. It sustains me. I’m less effective when I don’t get it. It’s the primary reason that I enjoy traveling and attending conferences or other events where I can meet and talk to like minded folks. And while it may not be your primary creative fuel, I have to assume that it can at least help spur your creative juices a little bit, so let’s explore the art of creative conversation and see…
First, what do I mean by “real meaningful conversation?” For me that’s pretty basic, if two or more people are talking about something that they have some passion for or interest in; they are having a real, meaningful, conversation. Simple as that. They don’t have to be experts and the topic needn’t be overly complex or philosophical (although those things can help). As long as your discussing a common and genuine interest, you’re having a real, meaningful, conversation.
OK, but what’s the big deal? For me, a few things happen in every great conversation: I get energized by the person I’m talking to, I learn something (or a few things), and I question myself.
When you’re speaking with someone about one of their passions, you can feel their excitement and it’s contagious. Great public speakers do this on command, for an audience, but everyone does it to some degree whenever they speak about something they are truly passionate about – especially after a cocktail or two. When people find a common passion in conversation it’s like opening a door to a fire within each of them, allowing them to feed off each other and grow the flames ever higher and hotter. For me, this excitement fuels my own passions for days or even weeks afterward.
In addition to sharing passion and excitement, a great conversation also spreads (and spurs) ideas. Everyone has at least slightly different experiences, knowledge, and opinions. Sharing these with others creates an environment ripe for innovation. Yes you can learn directly from each other – I might provide a handy fact or statistic previously unknown to the person I’m conversing with – but even better is the co-learning that often happens. One idea leads to the next, and builds on the last. Great conversation spawns ideas that any one individual would be very unlikely to produce, even after hours or days of thought.
Many of the best conversations I’ve ever had are with folks who I don’t fully agree with. Having your assumptions challenged in real-time forces you to examine them in a way that not many other experiences can. Others often ask you “why” when you have failed to ask yourself – and the resulting answers can be fantastic surprises.
So, how can we have more real, meaningful, conversations? Here’s ten ideas to help get you started:
- Ask someone what their biggest challenges in life are
- Ask someone what their greatest successes in life have been
- Ask people what problems they face daily
- Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
- Host a dinner party – invite people who don’t know each other
- Reach out to someone you’ve wanted to meet
- Attend a face-to-face networking event – talk to people!
- Interview someone
- Join a book club
- Talk to children
How do you start great conversations?