I’ve really enjoyed Keith de la Rue’s article: The art of conversation. He weaves together several studies and theories to suggest that the apparently simple process of good conversation has a great deal to offer organisations. The pressure to meet targets means that time spent in “idle” talk is frowned upon but might actually be a truer source of effectiveness.
He cites research (blogged by me here) that says group intellience is determined primarily by turn taking and social sensitivity more than by the individual talents in the space. In other words, how the group works is key. Keith argues that this poses a big challenge to organisations where hierarchy is likely to frustrate turn taking.
He then brings in Steven Johnson‘s argument about the adjacent possible: this suggest innovations do not come in Eureka moments but in the sharing and recombination of ideas. Cafe societies around the time of the enlightenment thus engendered a lot of innovation.
Next, Keith draws on research by Oscar Ybarra on the value of certain kinds of social interaction for individual mental function. If two people engage in a friendly 10 minute conversation with each other, they are subsequently more mentally agile. This doesn’t work if the conversation is competitive.
He goes on to reflect on how organisations might make use of these insights in how they engage their people.