Reflections 20th Feb

On My Mind

Conversational Compost

I spend several hours every week in conversation with people for the joy of it.

Sometimes in small groups, sometimes one to one, with people all over the world, and generally on Zoom. They are the sort of conversations that would drive any manager to distraction. They have no agenda, rarely start off focused, and go where they will. They defy labels – they are not “coaching” or “creative” or “therapeutic,” although they often have aspects of those about them. They are simply about connection, understanding the world through another, and treading new paths. Without fail, I come away from them with ideas and perspectives that affect what I do, how I see a current issue, or how to plant a seed of inquiry.

I always make notes – not to record the discussion, but to capture snippets, ideas, or references as later prompts. I have cupboards full of notebooks over the years and go back to them and flick through them in a quiet moment. Sometimes something useful pops up, either from the text or from the recall of the conversation, but most times not. It feels like a strange form of meditation, with the notes as a mantra.

Interestingly, I find bits of conversation, fragments of ideas, that at the time didn’t make it into the mainstream of the discussion later triggered a connection, and joined some dots.

I think of them as conversational compost. Scraps from the conversation which, if put in a container of some sort, decompose and mix to form a substrate that supports new conversations. Recycled conversation.

The challenge of course, is that creating compost is an art and needs a container…

There is something about the act of writing, forming letters and little sketches by hand rather than the keyboard that is much more intimate, a way of thinking through movement. The disadvantage, of course, is that they end up disconnected. So there is a paradox – if I organise the notes for recall, they lack spontaneity, and when spontaneous, organising them is like herding cats.

Now, however, I have found a way through. In one of the conversations, John Morley showed me an e-paper device, and out of interest, I bought one. Not cheap, but for me has turned out to be a revelation. Technology has come on enormously. The sensation of writing on the tablet is very close to writing on paper, and for me, enough to allow the spontaneity of writing and sketching directly onto a surface. The thing now of course, is that it’s digital and is open to really useful things, from handwriting recognition (and mine is a severe test) to tagging.

So what I now have is a digital compost bin…

To make compost of course, we need waste and scraps, which brings me back to the nature of conversation. When properly crafted and facilitated, conversations are a rich source of leftovers, but it seems so few conversations are treated like this. In the interest of efficiency, SMART goals, and time, they are often hermetically sealed and sterilised. Safe. Wandering off track is a mortal sin, and bringing controversial ideas into a time-limited meeting is a form of heresy, even though we know, really, that it is there the value and the engagement lies.


Image: The Atlantic – and a great article

We map our conversation as we used to map the world, with unknown areas marked with warning signs ; “Hic sunt dracones”- “Here be dragons.”

Those of us who coach will recognise that a good deal of what we end up helping clients work through are things that would have probably denied us a client had they been permissible content in a meeting. We end up doing the listening that could have been done inside the business.

I wonder why we spend a fortune on innovation consultants and courses when we could often achieve far more by encouraging better, more energetic conversations and making sure we recycle and compost what, at the time, seems like waste material.

I have learned a lot about conversations that generate “waste” over the last two years from those in Originize, and from people like Johnnie MooreSue Heatherington and Ian Berry, who have taught me much about the nature of the slow, productive, joyous conversation.

As we head into a new week, I hope we can all pay attention to our conversations and what we do with the scraps. When regeneration is ever more critical, we will do well to think in the same way about our creativity. It doesn’t come neatly wrapped; it arrives in bits, some of which can quickly and unnecessarily go to waste unless we take action to recycle them.

We would do better to learn how to tame our dragons.

Inspiring me this week

Bartleby on Management Gurus

The Economist’s Bartleby column is always a favourite. I loved his take on Management Gurus.

Indigenous AI

Tyson Yunkaporta’s book Sand Talk is one of my favourites from last year. Here he speculates on what we might learn if AI treated us in the same way as we have treated indigenous communities. A provocative read.

Making Things Matters.

From the Conversation. Making stuff, real things, matters. Here’s some thoughts on why. This video is what my Grandfather used to do. I can’t help feeling that losing touch with making things we can hold diminishes us.

The Limits of Logic .


As we work out our relationship to a world undergoing change, I suspect our success will be as much about what we let go and stop doing, as what we start. Sue Heatherington shared these lines with me earlier this week, and I have found them remarkably “sticky.”

Stopping is often harder than stopping.

“… I think when we cross a new threshold, that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing, then, we cross onto new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were.”

John O’Donohue, The Inner Landscape of Beauty ~ On Being Podcast

Have a great week everbody…….

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