Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner is a big fan of "better." He has built his own career out of helping people invest better, of course, but he's also always on the lookout for people offering us ways to improve our lives in areas beyond the financial. And when a person has ideas in that vein, they frequently choose to share them with the world in the form of a book. Hence his decision to inaugurate an "Authors in August" theme for the Rule Breaker Investing podcast.
For this episode, he's interviewing Priya Parker, founder of Thrive Labs, which specializes in teaching leaders how to transform the way they gather people together. Her book is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. In this segment, they discuss the chapter she colorfully titled "Never Start a Funeral with Logistics." As she notes, too many gatherings start with people saying, "Before we begin..." -- well, sorry folks, but now, that is how you began. You just spent the brief period of time when you had everyone's fullest attention on minor details instead of something captivating. There's a better way.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Aug. 8, 2018.
David Gardner: Let me briefly see where we've been and then where we're going. We started with decide why you're really gathering, and then close doors. Don't be a chill host. Create a temporary alternative world. And now we next get to logistics and you've entitled this chapter "Never Start a Funeral with Logistics."
Now this chapter, having fully read your book, I know it's not actually about logistics. It's about beginnings and the power, the potential power of doing beginnings right every time. And I have to say that in my own experience [both personally], I now reflect that I've been blowing this. I think maybe our company has been blowing this one. But I now see this blown all the time with your lens -- that the power of beginning is always being destroyed when we start with logistics.
Priya Parker: You're at a conference and people step onto the stage and say, "Now before we begin, I just wanted to let you know that there's two cars illegally parked." Before we start, I just want to let you know the bathroom is in the back. Before we start, I just want to let you know that we will be recording live.
I mean, maybe you need to communicate that information, but the first opening moment of any experience are the moments where you have people's highest attention, and you want to grip them, in part because those are the moments they remember. And to start with purpose. And to start with stories. You can start in a thousand different ways, but to not start with logistics.
And part of the problem is you think of this as time that doesn't count, and you do need to convey information, but do logistics second, or do them visually, or find a creative way to convey the information, but don't outsource your opening to the most boring part of your gathering. Hold it, because it's the moment where people are wondering what is this? Do I want to be here? Is this cool? Do I want to belong? How do you captivate them to understand that this is why we're here and what side do I want to show of myself?
I interviewed a number of teachers in the book because I think the classroom is such a simple example of a daily gathering over and over again. One of the examples I used is a professor I had. I went to MIT Sloan's business school. He was an accounting professor. He was starting attendance. It was as banal as it can get.
And the way he did the attendance the first moment -- the first day we'd ever met him -- was he looked up. 90 students in a U [the way the classroom was set up] and he took attendance by memory. He's never met any of us and he had no scroll in front of him and he'd clearly spent time memorizing all of us. Staring at our photos and memorizing our names. And in that moment, it was very moving. Many of us were almost in tears because he honored us, he showed that he cared, and he also showed us that he was brilliant and that we better pay attention because we could learn something from this guy.
Gardner: And in the book you say a colleague in the conflict-resolution field taught me a principle that you say I've never forgotten. You say, "90% of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand." That 90% rule that you're talking about. There's a professor who was putting in a lot of effort beforehand -- before things even started -- and then used the beginning brilliantly.
Parker: Yes. And the 90% rule means every gathering is a social contract, and I mean that in the political theory sense of that word. That you are for a temporary moment of time saying, "This is what I'm offering you. This is what I'm asking of you. These are the rules of the road." But a huge amount of that should happen ahead of time.
So an invitation shouldn't just be a conveyor or purveyor of logistics. It shouldn't just be date, time, and place. You should give your gathering a name. Like rather than a dinner party, we used Jancee Dunn as the writer. She hosted a dinner party called "The Worn-out Moms Hootenanny." That's a very different thing than like "A Dinner Party for Mom." Think about what you are asking people to do. If you're asking them to show up on time. Whatever it is to get them to understand what this is ahead of time.
Or having them bring something. So Michel Laprise in the book is the choreographer of Cirque du Soleil. He hosted a holiday party and he asked all of his friends in an email [a simple invitation] to send two moments of happiness from their life over the previous year before they arrived. Michel took them. He printed them out. He made those his ornaments on the tree. He hung them on the tree and the 12 guests who didn't know each other walked in and saw each other's moments of happiness and their own moments of happiness on the tree and the rest of the night took off because of it.
Gardner: Spectacular. What a brilliant, creative idea. Not surprising coming from Cirque du Soleil.