Making Organizations Awesome

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How to talk to interesting people – UPDATED w/ videos!

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UPDATE: This week I knew I had calls with some interesting people coming up.  So I wrote this blog post Tuesday on three questions that make the most first conversations.

Then Wednesday I saw a tweet that grabbed my attention. I discovered there was a Twitter conference happening 15 miles from me that afternoon! I got to field-test the Three Questions and you can see some video evidence of the first trial runs at the end of the post.

What’s the first conversation you should have with someone interesting? How do you make the most of lunches with the cool people at the conferences you attend? Should you find out if you like the same music or movies, talk about your last vacation, or even thrill each other with a quick verbal resume? No.

Instead tell each other:

  • What you’re passionately working on (not your job title or something broad like “pets”  – the specific project, problem or idea that fascinates you)
  • The kind of help that would make the biggest difference to your passion project
  • The kind of help you most enjoy giving others (again, not your job title, the skills or expertise you can’t NOT give away)

If you can cover all that succinctly, you’ll feel more connected and may get ideas for how to move each other’s passion projects forward.

If you want to try this experiment on Twitter, you can use the hashtags #3qs [for anything to do with these three awesome questions], and #passionproject, #helpineed, #helpigive.

Here’s the longer version – with some video from the first field-tests of the Three Questions!

If you’re like me, you don’t want to waste first conversations talking about garage door-openers or debating cloth versus disposable diapers. (My daughter is now 8, we’ve moved on to Hannah Montana and tiaras.) Nor do you want to exchange verbal resumes. You want a conversation that’s fun, passionate, and practical. A conversation that isn’t fake but might “go somewhere” if you can genuinely help each other.

Whether it’s just two of you on the phone, or a group around a table, discuss:

  1. What’s your current passion project – the thing you’re pursuing that you’re most excited about?  It could be a result you’re working on, a big problem you want to solve, a breakthrough in your field. Note: this is not the same as your job title. Your passion project might be part of your current job, or not.  But it has to be something specific that lights you up.Don’t just say “helping kids,” say “starting an after school group for 9-11 yr olds in my neighborhood” or, if you don’t know that much detail, “finding a way to help pre-teens who live in Redondo Beach.” Specificity is power! You may be already working on it or on the verge of beginning, but tell each other why you’re passionate.
    For me, [newsflash!] I’m starting a book called “Massive Institutional Failure: How big organizations screw up everything and what we can do about it.” The reason I’m passionate about this is I think it’s the big unsolved bottleneck behind climate change, crappy government, lame products, and a workplace that expects my daughter to take less pay than a man in the same job.If you’re building a cabin, tell people why you love solitude or shared family time in nature. If you’re starting a company, talk about how it will change the world so people are more motivated to help you find office space or a bookkeeper.
  2. Talk about the specific help that would make the biggest difference for you right now. Do you need a key hire for your team, a quiet place to write, a workout partner to keep you on your new exercise routine? Obviously the answer here is never “I need a million dollars.” What are the skills, connections, or expertise that others might be able to help you with?
  3. What kind of help do you love to give? My passion is making leaders and team events awesome. Last week I helped a team from a global bank learn how to exchange honest feedback. It was for an old client, I didn’t charge him, because feedback is something I’m passionate about. When I met the team from Amazon Watch at a movie premiere last week I offered to facilitate their staff retreat pro bono.  What skills or connections do you most love using to help others with their passion projects?

If you can both address these questions in 5-10 minutes each, you can have a powerful, pragmatic, quick first phone call that may give you both some key help you need and the chance to help someone else.

Note: if you want to have this kind of conversation at a group meal at a conference, you’ll have to ask for it gently but clearly. You can’t force it, but if people agree to cover the three simple points, you might need to remind them mid-meal — we’re used to letting the conversation digress to garage door-openers and diapers. And if someone’s passion project sounds like a list of their job activities, ask them to pick one thing they have the most excitement about. You might feel like a process nerd, but if you’re heartfelt and not rigid they will usually thank you for guiding the conversation. It’s about passion, connecting, and helping each other, which is what most of us really want.

UPDATE & Videos: At the The Twitter Conference I taped Passion Project interviews with Jerry Michalski [to come] & Cianna Stewart [first video below].

Here’s seven seconds of dark grainy enthusiasm from the post-conference dinner with @Pistachio and friends. Laura is a beneficent Goddess of the Twitterverse who totally charmed me with her warmth and genuineness as a panelist and the whole dinner crowd was warm and inspiring. Their twitter links are below the little vid of us whooping after an evening of talking about our passions!

Revelers and Passion Question field testers:

And me.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Keldie

    AJ what a great way to get to meaningful conversation. I remember when I first spoke with you. You through me off guard by engaging me in conversation this way. Your ability to get people to open up (even with themselves) is amazing.

    This type of communication is needed in the world. I will try this today when I go out to my networking luncheon. ( I will also need to make sure I know the answer for myself).

    Thanks for the tip. More companies/teams need to hire you to help them come together.

  • Ed Batista

    I really love this framework, A.J., and it was great to experience it in action in our first-ever conversation today. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens as a result of the uniquely fruitful way you got us started, and I’ll be using these questions with students, clients and colleagues. Great stuff.

  • ajpape

    Keldie & Ed –

    Thank you both. Have really enjoyed our connections, let’s keep experimenting!


  • charles kingsley

    Just seeing your blog for the first time, it feels like you which is a compliment. I smile at the three questions as it causes me to think back on how naturally you and I had these sorts of conversations when we first met 15 plus years ago. The thing I would want to add is the richness that comes from also making space for the shadows, what’s wanting to emerge that isn’t fully perceived yet. And yes, a bit trickier to get at with one more question…. CK

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