Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Good conversation

A version of this post has been published on LinkedIn.

I love to engage in and facilitate good conversation. Here is a small sample of both personal and professional relevance.

Some of the best conversations I have are impromptu conversations with people I just happen to meet, such as:

  • the conversation I had Friday morning just prior to Creative Mornings with a young Australian woman who recently moved to San Francisco from Hong Kong about cultural differences between San Francisco and Hong Kong and the challenges she was having living here so far and about the tragedy and nuances of gender and age discrimination in the workplace,
  • the conversation I had last week just prior to a Consumer Biotech & Digital Health Showcase at Indie Bio with four other attendees about how safe it is to live in Beijing relative to San Francisco, what safety means in both cities, and what one needs to do or not do to remain safe,
  • another recent conversation I had standing in line to get into an After Hours event at the Mill Valley Library with a couple married for 59 years, most of them spent in Mill Valley, about how Mill Valley and the Mill Valley Film Festival have changed over the years and the roles they played in some of those changes and why and about their favorite novels and what they thought of each other’s favorites and of the 100 semifinalists in the Great American Read competition,
  • a conversation I had earlier this year in a CapMetro Bus in Austin (as I described in The Benefits of Riding the Bus) with a homeless fellow about the unsold suitcase, duffle bag, jacket, and novelty cane he had just happily found in a trash bin, about the kind of person his mother had been, about the difficulties he was having getting food stamps, and about the recent stormy day when the homeless shelter refused him and others entrance because of a worse than usual bed bug infestation,
  • and a conversation I had last year during lunch at a Silicon Valley forum on the future of robotics in Japan and the U.S. with a female investor about (as I described in a tweet thread) our very different perspectives on the shortage of women speaking at the forum and working in tech and about whether business and robotic products should be of benefit to society.
Others occur during planned, informal gatherings, such as:

  • the dinner party I attended Saturday evening during which we had in depth conversations about how to properly make risotto (an activity in which we were engaged), about the wine industry and how to best taste different wines to assess their quality (an activity in which we were engaged), about the compositions of Handel and Mozart and the role improvisation — musical conversation — is supposed to play in performances of Mozart’s music (you can guess what we were listening to), and about different reactions to and ways of dealing with the loss of loved ones,
  • dinner parties I’ve planned over the years bringing together a mix of professional associates who had never before met, as when I brought together Don Norman and Sara Little Turnbull and watched and listened in awe (and occasionally spoke) as the master — Sara — educated the fellow — Don — who many consider to be the master,
  • and the many meetings for coffee or some other beverage that I have with professional associates; recent topics of such conversations have included the challenges of addressing homelessness, using trauma informed care techniques in design research, shortcomings in design education, working in India, designing for confrontation, reframing design as activism, the concept of shared value, the challenges of running a social impact design agency, dealing with book publishers, and why we do the work we do.
Some occur during workshops I facilitate, classes I teach, and talks I give, such as:

  • the design studio I facilitated remotely for groups of data scientists in a University of Michigan social research lab focused on advancing intervention data science via design; the structure of the design studio enabled them to generate ideas and conversations about ideas which they had not had before, resulting in a breakthrough one particular group badly needed,
  • the “Designing More Effectively for Social Impact” (aka “Moving Beyond Standard Human-Centered Design”) workshop I teach during which participants experiment with and discuss the meaning and relevance of approaches new to them so they can determine whether or how to begin to experiment with modifying their existing design practice,
  • the advanced “Theory of Interaction Design & Social Entrepreneurship” course I teach at the Austin Center for Design which is comprised, in part, of a series of intense conversations I facilitate about the meaning of various theories — old and new, their strengths and weaknesses, and their relevance to design and social entrepreneurial practice today,
  • and (hopefully) in association with an upcoming talk I’ll be giving in a San Francisco residential living room about how important it is or might be to be or to have been or to not be or to not have been a member of the (marginalized) community for or with which you are designing.
Some occur on stage, such as:

  • the somewhat contentious conversation I facilitated during San Francisco Design Week between five terrific designers on whether designers are becoming the new activists, a conversation that has led to so many more and to proposals about how design as conventionally practiced needs to change,
  • the wonderful conversation I had on stage at San Francisco’s de Young Museum with Meghan Schofield (see top photo) about the unconventional path she had taken into and through the design profession, helping the audience of mostly new and prospective designers see and consider what might be possible for them,
  • and the many other special conversations I’ve had or facilitated on stage over the years, some at CHI (e.g., with Bill Buxton & Cliff Nass about the human limits to HCI & design) and DUX (e.g., with Sara Little Turnbull about her amazing, pioneering design career) conferences, many at BayCHI events (e.g., with Paul Saffo & Jaron Lanier about looking back & looking forward), …
Some occur via text message, such as the wonderful witty conversation I’ve been having off-and-on for months with a UT Austin ESL faculty member about, among many other things, concepts which her students have difficulty learning, Texans and Texas culture, goats, yoga, happiness, diversity, and word meaning, use, and origins. And did I say goats? And goats?

Others that occur in writing are in considerably longer form, such as:

The depth and nuance, the emotion, the uncertainty and the certainty, and the insight accessed and generated via good conversation are to be savored, often prompt or influence numerous important followup conversations, and are critical to our individual and collective growth.

Wanna engage in a good conversation? Give me a holler.