Create a local confab to get a sense of the zeitgeist

I just returned from Colorado. I was there for an annual small gathering of colleagues I’ve been going to for 25 years. It’s around 30 designers, writers, architects and academics who come together to share their latest ideas, projects and self reflections.

Each person gets 7 minutes to share. Most use something written to make efficient use of the precious few minutes. After each talk, we discuss for 7 to 10 minutes teasing apart the ideas and their implications.

This gathering always reminds me what a gift it is to be with people who care deeply about the world, the quality education of the next generation and doing interesting & meaningful projects.

But it also reminds me of the value of listening and synthesizing themes with each other.

It’s great that everyone only gets 7 minutes. No one can do too much damage. 🙂 But it also means each person gets to hear 29 other points of view. From the micro presentations and all the discussion, a current zeitgeist or “defining mood of a point in history,” for this privileged group at least, reveals itself.

Here’s a few that I took away:

AI, machine learning and the loss of privacy weaved its way through many talks and resulting discussion. There was an optimistic view of their value and exploration of possibilities. But this was contrasted with the problem of personal data being used to identify citizens in violation of regressive and punitive state laws. One colleague reminded us that in 2012, Target used customer data to accurately predict which customers might be pregnant and sent them coupons for baby items and maternity wear.

The importance of equity, anti-racism and LBGTQIA rights is endemic in this group. It is also clear that the next generation knows how to hold us accountable to behaviors, support and action — not just awareness. It is such an important fight as its cuts to the core of what America is supposed to be about – life, liberty and happiness for all.

We have a lot of work to do!

I hope you’ll join me in ensuring a portion of your professional status and skills are used to identify and dismantle structural systems that perpetuate harm throughout our organizations and communities.

Finally, there was a clear feeling of disorientation resulting in reflections on professional identity and purpose. It may just be a perfect storm for this group – many are in the second half of their accomplished careers; an ongoing pandemic has disrupted society and the workplace; extreme political division reduces civil discourse and yet another profession, design, is disrupted by technology at a speed that outstrips individuals’ ability to adapt.

These are all heavy, but important topics.

I speculate that they may be present in every workplace. But learning about them, discussing them and exploring productive actions with a group of valued colleagues energizes the spirit.

It may be especially important, in these times, to get a group of people together to share points-of-view and discuss them. Not yelling them into social media, but being with each other in-person or virtually.

Listening, being curious, making sense and aligning actions.

So, this week, consider planning a 1-hour local confab of your own.

Here’s a quick roadmap:
⁃ Keep it to 90 minutes and 5 or so valued colleagues/friends
⁃ Don’t choose a topic or theme — let people share whatever is moving them currently
⁃ Each person prepares a 7-minute piece
⁃ 7 minutes of discussion and exploration afterwards
⁃ Reconvene for 30-45 minutes after you have a chance to sleep on it to share themes and make meaning together

The beauty of this experience is its raw and honest communication. Your relationship will deepen. You may even plant some seeds of future collective action.

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