It’s best over the kitchen table…

…in the conservatory or even round the barbecue! Have you noticed that the conversations we have in these places are very different to the conversations we have at work; they are much more from the heart, they are free from inhibition and fear of offending. We tend not to use words like facilitate, synergise and optimisation when we are in these places…jargon is rare, and when used it is ridiculed and quickly exiled; after all, passing the salt seems so much easier than facilitating its safe passage optimally. We use the kind of language that we feel comfortable with when we are around the people that we’re most comfortable with and that we trust. We sit, we stand, we talk with our mouths full, we use our hands to gesture freely and express our emotions, along with fervent nodding or shaking of the head to reflect our views and the strength of our feelings. People feel free to move in and out of these conversations, adding another dimension to them and then walking away from them at will, sometimes in triumph and sometimes in disbelief. And occasionally, just now and then, we might even use colourful language.

I like these conversations, kitchen conversations are those free flowing conversations we have with the people we know and love in a place in which it is safe to share something of ourselves and our thoughts. Kitchen conversations are the conversations in which we understand and feel understood, we validate ourselves and provide validation for others. They are the conversations in which we get a chance to look in the rear view mirror of the day, the week, the month, the year or the era and ask, what was that all about, and most importantly of all, was it worthy of our commitment?

I don’t think we have enough of these conversations at work. People, especially in the Public Sector, are generally intimidated by hierarchy, they are often silenced by the fear of how they will be perceived if they disagree or offer an alternative view, and more often than not they are strapped tightly to mortgages, commitments and a social status that demands compliance to their immediate paymaster. The weight of these commitments should not be underestimated when it comes to understanding the inertia that we all associate with our Public Sector, the need to support such personal commitments is one of the major reasons why the conventional wisdom is often so soundly supported in both the Public and Private Sectors; lets face it, it’s the “yes” men and women who often rise in the Public Sector and in the event that such people might be tempted to challenge, the voice on their shoulder will be whispering, “you can’t say that, how will you pay for the horse-feed, the Public School and the BMW if they sack you”…it’s not realistic to expect that people in such a position would offer any challenge to the status quo.

When I worked for Carlsberg my colleagues and I had many conversations accompanied by alcohol, it was for the corporate good and we took no pleasure in it of course. During the course of these conversations we discovered a technique for creativity which we called the Alcohol Consumption Creativity Continuum…it seemed to us that there was a point during the consumption of alcohol at which you lose just the right amount of inhibitions to become more creative in your problem solving before tipping inevitably over the edge into talking utter drivel.

Maybe that’s what we need for better decision making in the Public Sector, let’s get rid of the board meeting desks and get some kitchen tables and a nice bottle of red in…it couldn’t make Public Sector meetings or the decisions that emerge from them any worse could it?



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