I returned recently from giving the keynote speech at the World Innovation Convention (WIC) in Cannes. What a thrill to be in the midst of such inspired conversation. Its focus was pretty profound -- forging a frontal assault on the status quo, turning over every proposal, theory and instigating agent to challenge our way of thinking and enter the realm of innovation.
It caused me to look deeply at our daily business conversations. How can we consistently provoke inspired conversation in all our business meetings? What would instigate a different level of engagement? What would produce a different level of solutions so that we actually spend less time in meetings?
I'd like to bring a few simple ideas to the table that may be beneficial in opening us up to truly effective conversations, both as meetings and as the dialogues we have in our heads. The three principles that follow may sound too easy to be as highly effective as they are.
Breathing deeply has a physiological effect -- it allows us to think clearly. Long, deep breaths bring our physical system to its parasympathetic state of restoration.
Recall a moment when your emotions were heightened and someone said to you, "Take a breath." You did, and it helped you center yourself and focus. Now imagine that your meetings and important conversations start this way, as a setup for success and a method for establishing the conversation's tone.
2. Leave your agenda at the door.
How, you may ask, are we supposed to have really effective meetings without an agenda? We're talking about any meeting that has been called to instigate true, transformative change -- be it personal or professional. For this type of meeting, we need to allow innovative thinking to show up. And for innovative thinking to show up, we need to let go of our personal agendas.
Most of us attend meetings with a goal -- some kind of personal gain -- already in our sights. If we reach the goal we have in mind, the meeting is, for us, successful. If we don't, it isn't. Once we realize that everyone in the room has that same mind-set, we can see we're not really having meetings; we're just navigating each other's agendas.
So what would happen in a place and space where all that was left at the door? Where we all started with one big, long, deep breath, and instead of following an agenda, we used a context, such as how to achieve a higher level of engagement or how to create a better design, to guide us? What might surface?
As a leader, it's your job to keep the conversation aligned with the context -- and to remain open to whatever surfaces. Here's your other job: Invite only those people who are essential to the context and don't invite those who are not. Things change rapidly when you do this, and there might be advances as a result. During the meeting, if the context shifts, recognizing this and freeing people up to continue along these lines will be greatly appreciated by all.
And for those of us who are called to meetings, that same awareness of context will be appreciated as well. It's easy to let our egos influence us, depending on who called the meeting. A question I like to ask myself is: Am I essential to this meeting?
Let's lay some groundwork. We have been trained not to admit vulnerability professionally. But without admitting to ourselves where we are vulnerable, we are not coming from a power position.
When we can admit our vulnerabilities to ourselves, we can fully show up. Because we have nothing to hide. When this happens, people respond differently than with someone who's promoting an agenda. Our animal instincts pick up on deceit. If we are to show up as a fully engaged participant in a meeting, it's best if we feel connected to our colleagues there and are willing to trust them. It's a waste of everyone's time if we are spending part of our energy and focus vying for position because we are unsure of our relevancy.
When you are real and honest with yourself, you gain the confidence to leave behind the old way of simply relying on what was. You'll realize that you are essential because you consistently show up fully and contribute without an agenda. When you do this, you'll be the first to be invited to meetings time and again.
3. Really listen.
Listen without agenda. Notice whether you are already formulating an answer in your head before someone has finished speaking. A true innovator is highly receptive to new information. Can you stay engaged and focused until all the information has been presented? If not, taking one long, deep breath will focus you again so you can hear everything that's being presented. You'll also be able to pick up on subtle nuances of body language.
You may want to experiment -- a key trait of great innovators -- and take things one step farther. Assume that any kind of gathering or conversation is a meeting. Meetings these days are no longer relegated to the office or to business. If you apply the three simple principles above, you'll discern the agendas around you, including your own, and you'll have the opportunity to eventually free yourselves of them and create more effective conversations and meetings. An easy way to let go of agenda is to ask yourself: Am I looking for something new or a sure thing? Am I looking for real solutions or different versions of the same strategies? What am I willing to let go of to instigate innovation in this conversation?
Letting go of your agendas will transform you. It will free you from the past. Please begin now with a big, deep breath and see where it takes you.