“The state of mind of the photographer creating is a blank. I might add that this condition exists only at special times, namely when looking for pictures. (Something keeps him from falling off curbs, down open manholes, into bumpers of skidding trucks while in this condition but goes off duty at other times.) ... This is a very special kind of blank. A very active state of mind really, it is a very receptive state ...”
Minor White

Face to Face

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Fred Wilson recently wrote about Face to Face Board Meetings. This prompted me to write about something I experienced about two years ago. It was a meeting in which I learned a lot about meetings – and after it I remember thinking, I wish I could share this experience with business people.

The meeting was a preparation for a performance – an improvised performance. you may be asking yourself why there is a preparation for an improvised performance? An improvised performance is built around an idea of an “agreement”. This agreement reflects the wishes of the performers and provides a containing energy. It can contain ideas like props to be used, metaphors, sequencing, timing… anything that supports that performers. It can be “tight” – everyone agrees to stick to the agreement (no matter what!), it can be loose – everyone agrees that the ideas of the agreement are there, but anything goes. An agreement can be as creative as the performance itself. But there has to be an agreement that everyone embraces – passionately.

This particular meeting went on for 4 or 5 hours. At the end of it we were pretty exhausted and the only thing that was nailed down was that everyone wanted to partake in this upcoming performance. By business standards this would have been a complete waste of time. 4 or 5 hours with nothing to show for it? Let me tell you what did happen during this meeting

  • We had not seen each other for some time and this meeting gave us a chance to spend time together, get a sense of where everyone was in their life, see each other and touch each other.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We all had different ideas about what we wanted to do in this performance, we all got ample opportunity to share our ideas and let other connect with them (or not).
  • The performance was part of a larger event which already had a theme. We talked about this and let it connect with and affect our own thoughts, ideas and wishes.
  • We had an opportunity to feel excitement when other people connected to something we wanted to do, and we had an opportunity to feel disappointment when an idea did not resonate.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We had time to let ideas (our own and others) penetrate us and then later resurface and make new connections.
  • We had time to let personal conversations mingle with the group conversation.
  • We made a list of props and tools we needed to execute some of our ideas so that we each had some followup work to do.
  • We grew tired and lapsed out of the conversation, rested, collected our energy and then moved back in.
  • We grew impatient and enjoyed being in the presence of people who can contain that impatience.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We walked away feeling more together then when we started.

We were sitting in a coffee -shop, because we didn’t have a studio available to us. Had we been in a studio there would have been much more physical movement, we all think better when we have freedom to move our bodies. Mind has an amazing capacity to move quickly – sometimes so quick that it becomes erratic and disengaged from the present. Body tempers the mind. Body takes time to settle, to find it’s place in a chair. Body is a seat for mind, senses are instruments available to it. Body has a different rhythm then mind, it moves slower and stays longer. Most business meetings are not long enough to let the body arrive.

Board meetings are a unique and (purposefully) infrequent opportunity for a unique group of people who are not involved and caught up in the day-to-day realities of the business to provide a wider, perspective and hopefully useful guidance to people who navigate the business on a daily basis. Fred gave an example in his post of a board-meeting that began with a dinner – I believe this is the kind of space required for people to come together. I love the idea of Board Retreats. Fred also wrote a while back a nice post about building successful long term relationships – I believe that building the long term takes time in the short term, there are no shortcuts.

Improvisation is the closest form of art & expression I know to real-life. When you come as an audience to an improvised performance, you are actually walking in on the last part, for the performers the performance begins way before you got there. Almost everything we do in life is improvised – board meetings included.

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