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Life is a Conversation

“Life is a Conversation.” Kenneth Burke philosophized.  “When we enter, it’s already going on; we try to catch the drift of it’;  we exit before it’s over. The first lesson any pragmatist learns is that at the hour of our death we are rewriting our biography for the last time. And then, the first hour into our death someone else rewrites the biography for us – our children, our spouses, our friends. Do you remember what he was like, what he said, what he did? In that sense, life is a conversation…..that continuously goes on…No one has the last word; there are no final thoughts. There is no end to the conversation.”

I led a recent workshop based upon the work of Juanita Brown and David Isaacs called World Cafe. It is a conversation process that centers around cafe tables and art. The visual recording of the conversation is a powerful component of this work. The abridged overview is; Bring a team or organization together in a cafe setting; small tables covered in white drawing paper with colored pens, perhaps a vase of flowers to elicit the cafe’ feel.

A powerful question is posed in the center of of the paper, one that goes to the heart of what matters for the group participating. A question we used in a program about change was: “What would you like to see and what are you willing to commit to?”

Dividing the group, four people sit around the cafe table and each person shares their thoughts on the question posed.  Organically everyone makes notes, draws, or doodles. It’s human nature. The group then changes tables, leaving behind a host who will greet the next arrivals. It’s a bit like musical chairs. No one may sit with the same people they were just with. Round two continues the same as round one. Conversation continues on the topic and the artwork spreads across the paper, expanding and overlaying on the previous chat. Round three looks like the other two and the conversation usually has ignited animation both vocally and visually.

When the rounds are complete the papers from each table can be hung on the wall, creating a gallery of artful conversation; colorful, abstract, bold, powerful, creative, insightful. From this a group can deepen the conversation by seeing where the next question lies and return to the cafe for another conversation or create action steps.

As Kenneth Burke said; “There are no final thoughts, no end to the conversation.”

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