The work is in the doing

GOING THROUGH THE EMAIL. Doing the work. ‘N’ work, that is. I have got a new list of invitees to reach out to, an old one to follow up with, and the rest.

Got to talk to more than 100 people if I can find 16 to say ‘yes’ to ‘N’. (Learned this from ‘N’ Phnom Penh and ‘N’ Bangkok last year, phew.)

MAKING ’16N’. This is the biggest project DK has taken on so far: gather strangers in one moment of a conversation, in a space designed and hosted by one of us. In a city that starts with an ‘N’. It’s kinda nuts.

But why? Why even bother?

People do ask this. A lot. Why does this work matter to you guys? Why does it mean anything to get people who don’t know each other to meet, and talk, offline, in real life?

Long story, this. I’ll cut to the chase. Without discovering people and their ideas—of new ways, new to a person, that is—that person can’t grow. Adapt based on new inputs. Learn.

Part of maturing is, sure, about being open-minded.

But you can be as open-minded as you want and sit alone in an armchair reading books and not really having active knowledge of what it’s like to look directly at the eyes and straight through them, into the heart, of the Other.

Other doesn’t have to be Scary.

Other can reveal something to us about… ourselves.

(Enter Jung. Exit Jung).

Othering.

This is a term that just walked into my world one day in recent conversation with DM. It’s weird. I never thought… But then, of course…. And so….

My Western colleagues and I have been programmed to fear or disdain or isolate ourselves from Others.

Others who think about a different kind of clothing to wear (this as teens).

Others who are not like us in physical appearance.

Beliefs, dogmas (dangerous, this last one, but I’ve said why in 30K words in a book you can find here).

Others who may, just maybe, judge us. Fear.

Fear is put into us because we don’t know.

But physics! Physics at the very small scales is ALL ABOUT not knowing!

‘We have no idea where that bit got off to,’ et al.

The mystery of the universe becomes a fun thing to think about, to conjecture. I talked about this with a particle physicist, SW, who had been touring about in Asia with some kind of software. It was a random encounter and an unlikely conversation, but taht was the upshot. ‘Where did it all start? Where soup did we all come from, anyway?’ More just me marvelling into the cloudy nothing, awed about the whole of the every. (Kind of gets metaphysical, huh.)

No one has to be right. Contrary to all the stuff that we’re taught to believe (getting famous is good, the great genius and his remarkable breakthrough is to be sought, etc), it’s not like anyone can ‘figure it all out’ without any sort of input. And the richness of that input is what invites fertile ground for sowing the sorts of seeds that lead to brilliant blooms.

Getting poetic, now. Sometimes that just happens.

Anyway, the point: No one human being alone can know.

But what if we could know, at least a little, the feeling of Other and the Unknown? Through bit by bit engagement? As in, a little bit at a time of learning what another way is like? You don’t have to take a college course to experience a little bit of, ‘Huh, that’s new.’ You can just have a conversation salon.

NEW DIRECTIONS. Starting things up. In the staged spaces of Designful Meetups. More than anything, the work is about the invitation. Which is why there are so many of these going out, this week and through the weekend. Why?

The invitation is THE most important part.

Of quality spacemaking, that is. Subject for another day.

Unless you feel like you’re personally invited to something, unless you feel like the sender is someone who actually cares if you’re part of the story they’re making, then it’s going to fall on deaf ears. You know what else? Everyone says they’re so busy and stuff, but what are people so busy with? That kind of intentional decisionmaking of where to spend time on what and with whom is kinda important. Because before we know it, our time’s gonna be up.

When people get together for ‘N,’ for example, when they meet to talk together—16 people per city—and talk on topics that start with an ‘N,’ it starts to be clear.

The arbitrary nature of constraints like ‘Has to have an N in it (the city, the venue)’ and ‘You have to get a ticket ahead of time, since I want to really make sure this is going to happen and not just let’s just talk about it)’, these.

These are frames.

To design a space.

To hinge a great dialogue—but maybe that’s too heavy a word—a great conversation jam upon.

The secret? It doesn’t matter WHO comes or WHAT happens in the box. The point is that it HAPPENS. Which means all the work of designing ‘N’ is, quite honestly, in the drudge work of slogging through email and making tons and TONS and EVEN MORE invitations. Because I’m looking for the magic set of 16. Sixteen in each of 16 cities, eventually (2 have happened so far), who will say, ‘Yes.’

If you’re a new invitee, I get it. You don’t know me from Adam. Don’t know what’s involved. And I’m asking you to just trust the process. Walk into the unknown.

When it works, it’s cool. I love it.

A wide mix opts in, I’m noticing. (Gotta start with 100, though.)

But…

That means no cliques, clubs, or preaching-to-the-choirs. It’s hard, this, because everyone is programmed to think, ‘Wait. Is this about ME? Or is this something ELSE? Is this OTHER?’ Which makes it kinda tricky.

Hm.

Okay, yeah.

The box.

You get enough framing up (date, place, time, people) and you have a bounded box.

A safe space.

You step into that space and meet.

We meet.

Guests and me. Their hos for ‘N,’ for example, and other conversation salons, workshops, commissioned facilitation thingies, and so on.

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE LEARNING for DK has been to discover that whatever happens IN the box isn’t the point.

All salons and events—for commission or for fun—are about gathering people in spaces where they might feel a little out of their usual routine, meeting people they might not have otherwise have met. Most consistent feedback is, ‘I had so many great conversations. We talked about __, but I never thought about  it that way before.’

You get a lot of molecules together and they start heating up and guess what, they get ‘excited.’ That’s what we called them, in science class, in seventh grade, didn’t we? Molecules are getting excited. Excited states are fantastic. You get amped. Wait, no. That’s voltage…

So what am I doing today? Making the invitations.

Emailing like mad.

The new invites.

For ‘N’.

London, Copenhagen, Ha Noi, Bologna. The work is in the doing… We have to get 16 per city… That means 100×4… 400 invitations…

It’s gonna be a little busy, hunkering down over the internet these next few days.

Making my way around the world, looking for people to play 16N.