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Elevate the Conversation

Elevate the Conversation

I was recently introduced to a proverb:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

It’s amazing how succinctly this quote (usually misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt) describes the way most of our daily interactions work. Look at the media. Find yourself reading People magazine? Maybe you’d learn more by watching the Events on CNN. And you would learn even more if you cracked open the Economist and read about the great Ideas in there.

When you are having a conversation, the first question you should ask is, are we talking about People, Events, or Ideas? And if it’s People or Events, see if you can elevate the conversation.

This is harder than it seems. We all are tempted to talk about people that we know. We are natural gossips. These are conversations we all have had:

  • He just got a new job
  • They just got married
  • I really don’t like her
  • Did you hear what happened to him?
  • Brad Pitt got engaged

Could it be because these are such easy topics? After all, it requires no intellectual engagement to discuss the petty lives of others. But people much wiser than I have said that such meddling makes the meddler even more petty in turn. So when you find yourself trapped in a conversation about People, what’s the solution?

Elevate the conversation. Talk about Events.

Conversations about Events are probably the most frequent. The litmus test for a conversation about Events is, “Could I be having this same conversation with someone else without changing it?” If so, you may be talking about Events, which again, are conversations we have all had:

  • The current election
  • The weather in Chicago
  • Something awesome that happened last night
  • A great movie you’ve seen

Events conversation require some engagement. They require both parties to understand the events in question and formulate their own opinions. But they do not demand that the parties interact with each other. Events conversations are safe, perhaps, which is why they appear to be so frequent. Have you noticed that all Small Talk is Events Talk, unless both parties have a mutual friend, in which case the conversation immediately devolves into People, the path of least resistance?

Next time you are having a conversation about People or Events, see if you can elevate the conversation. Talk about Ideas instead:

  • Is it in America’s best interest to be in Afghanistan?
  • Can capitalism cure poverty?
  • Do employees perform better when they can work from home?
  • What should Europe do to curb the debt crisis?
  • What is the role of religion in modern life?

It requires effort to turn People into Events and Events into Ideas, but it’s totally doable. For example, turn People into Events by asking and inquiring what People do for a living, then turn Events into Ideas by deconstructing the problem they are trying to solve and learning the foundational concepts that make that problem worth solving.

Most people like talking about Ideas. After all, everyone has them. But they may not be comfortable openly discussing them with casual acquaintances. Or perhaps it’s just easier to stick to well trodden ground, where the risk of confrontation is low and the social rewards may be high.

But I’ll tell you one thing: the people I remember the best are the people who want to talk about Ideas from the get-go, and who don’t care about the petty formulations of People and Events. If I meet an Ideas person, that’s someone I want to get to know better.

April 24, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More
Staying Excited About Your Idea

Staying Excited About Your Idea

It is often said that ideas are a dime a dozen, and after many attempts to turn seemingly marketable ideas into fluid businesses, many entrepreneurs realize that their brilliant business idea was only good on paper, or maybe was never attractive in the first place.

However, even good ideas are a dime a dozen: if you, or someone you know, runs a successful venture, more likely than not the idea that started the venture was not the only one to come out of their entrepreneurial mind. Anybody can come up with a great idea, and most people come up with several good ideas in their lifetime. What makes a good business is more than an idea. It is working through the idea’s flaws, pursuing the idea’s strengths and seeing the concept through to the end.

If you are sure that your idea is good, then there is no reason not to pursue it. But if you are going to try to turn your business idea into an actual business, it is important that you stay excited about your idea. It is very easy, after working for a couple months, running up credit card debt and sinking to your knees under the weight of a budding enterprise that you can lose the big picture. When your dream job becomes a day-to-day grind, it is more important than ever to stay on top of your game, so your idea can come through to fruition. After all, working for a business that you start is the same as working for any other business. You need discipline, hard work and motivation. Hopefully, the fact that you are working for your own venture will provide some motivation. The rest should come from your confidence in your business plan and grander vision for your company.

Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself motivated and excited about your idea, when the hard work you are putting in doesn’t seem to be worth it:

1. Step back and look at the original notes, plan or picture in which you sketched out your concept. You have it somewhere, maybe on the back of a napkin or in a Word document. Looking at the document which your inspiration created should be an inspiration now, too. It will remind you of the excitement you felt when you first came up with the idea. You can compare the current reality of the company to the vision you first sketched out, and feel confident in your ability to make your idea come as far as it has.

2. Think about how successful your company will be in a couple years from now, rather than how it is doing right now. Sometimes it is hard to look past the next bill payment, but looking at the big picture is very important to keep confidence.

3. Make a chart of major benchmarks and achievements your company has made in the time it has existed. You can mark when you thought up the idea, when it was incorporated, when you posted your first profit, when you gained clients or customers, and when each member of your team joined in. Looking at your company’s growth will help you look forward to growth in the future.

4. Ask your friends if they think your idea is still a good one. This is something that you should be doing consistently throughout the process; if your idea wasn’t good in the beginning, you shouldn’t have started a business. But it’s good to check base with your friends, family, or other advisers as your company grows, to make sure that your goals are still realistic. Don’t look for yes-men on this one; you should be seeking constructive criticism and ways to make your business better.

5. Make a list of your company’s assets. List your computers, your printers, your desks, your kitchen cabinets and most of all your income. Sometimes, listing out the valuable components of your company will help you realize you how valuable your company is.

6. Have confidence! You are the hip manager of a hot new start-up! You have hard work to do but you know it will be worth it in the end.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you will feel a bit better about the long, tedious, boring months. We all want that corner office on the 30th floor, but no one gets there without those months. After all, if it was easy, everybody would do it.

August 2, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More