I recently read The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Mattersby Priya Parker (2018).
In this book PP takes a dual look at the gatherings we host; both “balcony” view and the “back-in-the-kitchen” view. She leads us in a conversation about how we can assemble folks more effectively, with clearly articulated purposes for our gatherings. Leadership requires us to convene “gatherings” of all sorts, so this book is directly relevant to the work of moving and influencing others.
My top takeaways:
· PRIME time for a gathering is the first few minutes; we are wise not to squander it on logistics and administrivia.
· Another PRIME window of time for a gathering is the ending; we are wise to think carefully about how we want to punctuate it and to what end. Again, mundane logistics need not go here.
· Be very selective about who is invited to the gathering. Get comfortable not inviting those who can’t or won’t bring value to the event.
· Avoid the trap of self-aggrandizing introductions. Make intros relevant to the purpose of the meeting, NOT about the resumes of the participants.
· Level the playing field for all participants; avoid hierarchies and power ranking. Everyone at the gathering should feel as an equal to all the others.
· PURPOSE is supreme in a gathering, and should be communicated by the host ahead of time, as well as throughout the event.
· The chosen venue has absolute influence over the way the gathering unfolds.
· Numbers of 8-12 participants provide the richest environments for productive thought. Even fewer is better if we are seeking to nail down an important decision.
· Using “pop-up” rules unique to a meeting, rather than relying on traditional etiquette, can bring an engergizing component to the gathering.
· Pose discussion prompts that call for example “stories” of attendees, not abstract positional statements.
My favorite quotes:
“Most gatherings benefit from guests leaving their titles and degrees at the door.” (p. 87)
“A colleague in the conflict-resolution field taught me a principle I have never forgotten: 90 percent of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand.” (p. 149)
“Studies show that audiences disproportionately remember the first 5 percent, the last 5 percent, and a climactic moment of a talk.” (p. 173)
“The importance of a group “seeing” one another may sound trivial, but it can be deadly serious… A 2001 Johns Hopkins study found that when [surgical team] members introduced themselves and shared concerns ahead of time, the likelihood of complications and deaths fell by 35 percent. Surgeons, like many of us, assumed that they shouldn’t waste time going through the silly formalities of seeing and being seen for something as important as saving lives. Yet it was these silly formalities that directly affected the outcomes of surgeries. Even with such complex and intricate work, it was when the nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists practiced good gathering principles that they felt more comfortable speaking up during surgery and offering solutions.” (p. 187)
PP does an excellent job of helping us think through both the intellectual nuts-n-bolts and the big picture outcomes we wish to result from our gatherings. Her ideas were both affirming to some of the strategies I have intuitively adopted over the years, and challenging to my thinking.
In short, PP made me THINK, and RETHINK. Exactly what I like in a book.
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