The World Café model originated by Juanita Brown. Brown notes that
… human conversation had always been the crucible for social invention — the birthing place of new ideas, new ways of being and new ways of doing… From circles of elders around ancient campfires, to the sewing circles and ‘committees of correspondence’ that birthed the American Republic, to the conversations in the Cafes and salons that spawned the French Revolution, people have always gathered for real conversation about questions that matter. From the ‘study circles’ which contributed to the economic and social renaissance in Sweden in the early 1900’s to the ‘quality circles’ that revitalized Japanese business and industry nearly half a century later, we can see the same deep pattern and core processes of human organizing at play.
Small groups exploring common questions and learning that others are doing the same, has always been the locus for large scale transformative change. Margaret Mead, who studied social systems and cultural change all over the globe, remarked, ‘Never doubt that small groups of committed people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
Through conversation we gather together and talk about things that matter. The wisdom circle experience slows down the conversation and allows our collective wisdom to bubble up. The key to meaningful conversation is to begin by asking questions.
The World Café asks what if…?
* The future is born in webs of human conversation?
* Compelling questions encourage collective learning?
* Networks are the underlying pattern of living systems?
* Human systems–organizations, families, communities–are living systems?
* Intelligence emerges as the system connects to itself in diverse and creative ways?
* Collectively, we have access to all the wisdom and resources we need?
The Principles of the World Café
* Create Hospitable Space
* Explore Questions That Matter
* Connect Diverse People and Ideas
* Encourage Each Person’s Contribution
* Listen Together for Patterns, Insights and Deeper Questions
* Make Collective Knowledge Visible
Conversation and the Development of Social Capital
In Good Company
, Cohen and Prusak, argue that social capital—the value inherent in human connections such as trust, personal networks, and community—plays an important role in successful organizations.
“More than anything else, companies need to provide opportunities (places and times) for people with related interests to meet and talk so they can begin to trust and understand each other and develop new or wider communities. Some pharmaceutical companies engaged in recent mergers have set up informal meetings so that, say, European and American researchers doing similar work can get to know one another. Some face-to-face meeting seems to be absolutely essential to create these new ties; just providing e-mail access and a list of people won’t do it.”
— Don Cohen and Laurence Prusak.
Margaret Wheatley, author of Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, uses the Solidarity movement in Poland to illustrate Mead’s point: “Solidarity began as a group of 10 committed people who came together in a conversation around a common need. A month later, their membership had grown to 9 million.”
When I work with organizations, I often use the arts as a catalyst for conversation that draws out the inherent genius of a group. In my experience, conversations that enter the realm of the wisdom circle, stimulate new ways of seeing the world, inspire creativity and enhance intuition. As we engage in conversation, and share information, patterns coalesce revealing knowledge and wisdom that were previously hidden. It is as if every participant has a piece to the puzzle, and even if we don’t find answers, each piece offers a clue or insight that takes us to our next level of awareness.
The Culture of Conversation in Canada and the USA.
In Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Culture of Conversation, English professor Peter Gibian looks at the vital role Holmes played in a dynamic era at the advent of America’s literary Renaissance. “Some of the period’s American talk groups, such as Boston’s Saturday Club of which Holmes was a member, brought together the best and brightest – bankers sat next to writers and philosophers. “The rule was to not speak in conventions, but to push the envelope, engage in witty repartee, accept disruptions and disagreement.”
Today salon-style gatherings take place in private homes as well as in public venues such as unconferences, and meetups.
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