Conversation is king

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 4, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

Cory Doctorow made the observation,

Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

I was reminded of this insight, which I gleaned from Clay Shirky’s new book, on this morning’s conference call with my CPSquare pals. We were talking about the Web2.0 and Communities workshop we just delivered and towards the end of the conversation I suggested we should pose the question, “What would our workshop be like if we didn’t use teleconferences?” with the thought that a provocative question might generate conversation. It did. Bev Trayner jumped in straight away making it clear that asking a question like that was old thinking. Bev had previously made the excellent point that the tools we use to design the workshop would be most likely be the tools we would get the participants to use but somehow this segued into thinking I was being overly focussed on getting the design right rather than jumping in and just doing it (I didn’t think I was being prescriptive). Hopefully Bev will see this post and eleborate on her perspective because I’m sure I didn’t understand fully and I sense Bev was making a tremendously important point.

I agree with Cory and Clay, content such as questions, video, pictures, opinions, stories are both triggers for conversation and part of the conversation and it’s the conversations that create value. That’s where the new ideas emerge, the improvements are made and relationships are forged. Conversations create capacities. So that’s why I get frustrated when companies latch on to the idea of capturing content but are unwilling to foster conversations around it. It’s not like we don’t know how to do it. There are some terrific models on the web such as Channel 9.

Last year I posted about Channel 9, which is a site for Microsoft technologist to watch videos featuring Microsoft employees talking about their products and then thousands of community members conversing online about the videos. Just having a look this morning this site has grown and now offers other community tools such as a wiki, forums and places for members to try things out.

And of course, we can even have conversations without technology.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

2 Responses to “Conversation is king”

  1. Bev Trayner Says:

    Shawn, how do conversations create capacities?
    I’m wondering if this concern for conversation comes from people in countries with a Protestant work ethic.
    Are them some social contexts where there has been more conversation than productivity and capacity building?
    I’m taking it outside the country context and into a social-cultural one. And I don’t know the answer. I do know that I live in a country where there is a lot of conversation. There is something about creating a dynamic between conversation and content.

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Conversations are where we learn, innovate, create and maintain relationships, but it’s not always rosy because conversations can also mislead, obfuscate, group think, and destroy relationships. But without conversations we don’t even have a chance. And whenever we converse we are building our ability to act, which I see as a capability.
    The link between conversation and productivity is fraught because who can really tell. A seemingly unproductive conversation might provide a spark weeks later in a different context.
    From your experience Bev, what helps conversations and what hinders them?

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