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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Conversation Questions

A couple days ago I posted Reduce Searching Start Talking and I just saw a very interesting post by Nancy Dixon - What Do We Get From Conversation That We Can't Get Any Other Way? The list of what you can get through conversation:
  • Answers
  • Meta Knowledge
  • Problem Reformulation
  • Validation
  • Legitimizing
Then she tells us ...

The greatest benefit of conversation is that it produces five categories of responses, not just the answer. We get so much more from conversation, e.g. an unexpected insight, a sense of affirmation that inspires us to new heights or, equally useful, having to confront a realization that we've been trying to avoid; deepening the relationship with a colleague or the introduction to a collaborator we would never have discovered on our own; and on and on.

The multiplicity of benefits addresses the very real problem of not knowing what we don’t know. A problem that is so frequent when the issues we are addressing are ambiguous and complex.

Ambiguous and complex - pretty much defines concept work.

Search's Limit

The limit of search and need for conversation is a common topic here and as part of Work Literacy. In Value from Social Media, I looked at a scenario where I'm evaluating a particular solution for my company / organization. Through Google, I find a lot of information. But in many cases, I will still be left feeling uncomfortable ...
  • What’s really going to happen?
  • Did I miss something important?
  • How important are the various issues?
  • Is my answer reasonable?
These are the questions that represent search's limit. It's difficult to use search to address:
  • Experience - What have been the experiences of other organizations (not the canned case studies) when they’ve used this solution.
  • Boundaries / Existence - I’ve got a particular issue and I’m not sure if answers to that issue exist out there, I’ve not found it in my searching.
  • Confirmation - I’m beginning to have an answer, but I’d like to get confirmation of the answer based on my particular situation based on experience.
  • Importance - Some of the issues I see, I’m not sure how important they are in practice, should I be concerned.
However, each of these can be directly addressed through conversation.

Conversation Questions

With Nancy's categories and looking the the limit of search, it suggests to me that there is opportunity to better define the conversation questions that are important for concept work. I'm not quite sure that I quite know what these are, but it feels like there are a set of questions that we should commonly ask as part of these conversations that are central to our work.

In other words, I believe there are likely patterns for good questions to be asking to help address the limits of search and ensure that we surface each of the categories that Nancy defines:
  • Answers
  • Meta Knowledge
  • Problem Reformulation
  • Validation
  • Legitimizing
This is a topic that I intend to revisit. I certainly would welcome any thoughts or pointers around it.


john said...

Great thoughts. I think we need to consider conversation as a multi-way on-going (at least for a little while) event. With that in mind, one benefit of conversation is the ability to form and re-form one's thoughts. This is along the lines of Nancy Dixon's thoughts, but somewhat different.

For instance, when I want to use a particular game or simulation in a training event, through conversation with another trainer or trainers I often find ways to improve the basic game and tailor it to my situation. The back and forth provides for a collection of incremental (or not!) thought changes that hopefully leads to a better experience for the learners. This could not be accomplished by search alone.

So for me one important queston is "and what do you think about...?".

Bernie Clark said...


Do forums constitute conversations?

I do a lot of broadband pre-purchase research based on forum discussions in the independent broadband choice forum

Similarly the help forums for Google blogger and Google sites.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony

The conversation also has potential to bring more through the initiation of thought in others who may never have considered the question asked of them.

In essence, starting a conversation has the potential to initiate a whole new series of ideas.

There are many examples of this prominent in history, one being when Enrico Fermi asked his now famous question, "Where are they?"

His question became the celebrated Fermi Paradox which has been the subject of debate for over half a century and sparked the SETI Project. That project ran its course and its findings would probably have confirmed Fermi's suspicions if he were alive today.

What relevance it may be to you in concept work is the initiation of innovation - of new thinking, not necessarily directly linked to the original question asked in conversation, and that lead to thinking along novel and uncharted pathways.

Catchya later

Tony Karrer said...

John - very well said. And I like your question template / pattern.

Bernie - certainly forums, chat, LinkedIn Q&A, Twitter (sometimes) can be conversations as well.

I'll admit my bias ... I've struggled to have good conversations in different forums (sidetracked immediately, not helpful to my actual needs). But there have been some notable exceptions and many people would say that they are good venues for it.

Ken - Your comment is an example of what you are saying. I had not really thought about it quite like that (which is what you often bring to conversations we've had).

And thus to Bernie's question - the properties that we are looking for in conversation can be achieved (to some degree) through many different forms.

Paul Angileri said...

This is a wonderful insight by Nancy, and something I hadn't ever thought about in detail. I would say if someone posed the question "what does interpersonal conversation around a problem or topic provide that other forms of communication do not?", I would answer something approximating the prototypical answer that Nancy dissected into categorical form.

Obviously search, with a system like the internet, can "pull and pool" information from various types of sources - some of them conversational - and help find answers for you in a variety of dimensions. It's simply up to the user to be information literate. I think that search and how it functions in its present form causes the searcher to have to think about the search terms multi-dimensionally. When I am trying to find something that is quite abstract, I think about how someone might verbalize a question about it; I think about the words that would convey what the asker seeks from the askee. I think searching can also spark what Ken said: As a searcher is locating information and possibly analyzing discussion threads on forums and blogs, the searcher may come across new ideas or extensions of questions.

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