Thursday, February 18, 2010

We need more conversations, fewer performances

I recently got back from a trip to Ireland. One of our tremendous experiences was a traditional Irish music pub crawl.

Traditional Irish music isn't a performance; it's a conversation - Des, one of the musicians that gave us our tour.

When you go into pubs around Dublin, many of them have some kind of live music going on. But as Des explained, most of these performances aren't traditional. These non-traditional performances are played with amplification first of all, making it something that's intended for an audience. But a traditional Irish music session is a conversation amongst a group of musicians in a corner of a pub. Often, at some point, anyone who wants to can share a song whether they can sing well or not. And any audience that does form plays more the part of an eavesdropper.

As wikiepedia further explains:

The objective in a session is not to provide music for an audience of passive listeners; although the punters (non-playing attendees) often come for the express purpose of listening, the music is most of all for the musicians themselves. "Audience" requests for a particular song or tune of the players can be considered rude. The session is an experience that's shared, not a performance that's bought and sold.

What really stands out here, is how great the traditional music is versus a performance. It's a bit apples and oranges. But it's a shame there aren't more apples in life.

I look at the parallels this might have for me in my life of running a company, building products, and making software.

There's not enough people that are allowed to come together in a conversation and not perform. I'm sick of bringing up the examples of 3M and Google allowing their employees to work on their own projects. I can't believe there aren't more of these efforts to allow people in corporations to create things more spontaneously with each other in a way that's not associated with a performance.

Of course it can't be all the time, but it needs to happen more often than it does.

I look at working at the places I've worked before Inkling. It's crazy that people work on the same project or the same client or the same technology for many many years, and too few of them get the chance to come together just to converse about creating something great that's not directly associated with day to day "performance".

If you're at a major consulting company, wouldn't it be great, if Bob working on the United Airlines SAP project could stop in for a couple weeks at the Best Buy CRM project to lend a hand or work on a quick project with some folks there? Maybe he'd bring a beginner's mind. Maybe he'd bring a new skill. He'd certainly round his skills and learn new things.

Of course not everyone wants to do this. Fine. But please, let more folks do this in your organizations who want to and encourage people to try. Give them the freedom to be creative, and not just create what you as a manager or owner dictate to them.

Some examples of these non-performance conversations might be things like Startup Weekend and Layer Tennis, whose 3rd season gets started tomorrow.

Startup Weekend is a weekend where anyone who wants to can come together and spontaneously create a startup. Sometimes the projects go nowhere but at least some talented people get to meet and jam together and maybe form a relationship for another project. And other times, some serious startups get started like Skribit.

Layer Tennis is a competition where 2 designers volley designs back and forth and see what they come up with. Layer Tennis you might argue is a performance, but when I watch these, I get the impression that these designers are just doing this to converse with each other about design, and they really don't give a shit what the people moderating it or watching it think. We are just there to eavesdrop.

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