Based on the rules of David Bohm’s philosophy of dialogue, a moderator is appointed to lead the dialogue but take on a passive role at the same time. Chairs are arranged in a circle and an object to be passed around is chosen. We do not recommend the use of a ball because it is too often thrown back and forth. The task should be communicated to everyone from the very beginning. You may choose a topic or a concrete question. Bear in mind: less is more.
The check-in round. The moderator hands over the object of choosing to a participant who briefly introduces himself to the topic and then passes it on to the next participant. The only person allowed to speak is the person holding the item. The check-in round ensures that each participant is able to speak at least once.
Following the check-in round, the item is placed in the centre of the circle of participants and the dialogue may thus begin. From now on the item will always be taken from the centre and placed back. As in the check-in round, only the person holding the item is allowed to speak. The moderator may only intervene if, for example, someone is holding a monologue, or the dialogue only takes place between two people.
Once the topic is exhausted, it’s time for the check-out round. The check-out round is quite similar to the check-in round. All participants make their contribution: they mention what they noticed, they summarise the dialogue from their own perspective, describe their new findings etc., etc., etc…
The most difficult role is not that of the moderator but that of the participants. We often find it difficult to do seemingly profane things, such as listening. But before we are capable of listening to others, we need to listen to ourselves first. What thoughts, evaluations and ideas arise within us? It often takes only a few words from someone before we silently start judging, arguing, weighing, rejecting or agreeing. Only once we are aware of this phenomenon can we begin to push these automatic reactions aside. To genuinely listen means to listen to others without prejudice or judgement.
Keep thoughts floating
A central task is to keep the thoughts floating. By that we mean that one neither acts, nor does he doubt his thoughts, nor does he suppress them. This implies that thoughts are neither considered true nor untrue, neither wrong nor right, and that they are not to be judged in any manner.
Granted, that’s difficult. So, try the following technique: Picture a cloud in the blue sky and store your thoughts in that cloud. By doing so, you now rid yourself of your thoughts. Then, choose to either move on with the cloud, to dissipate or to remain where you are.
Curiosity makes it possible to ask questions that really move us, to explore these together and develop something that did not exist before and would not have been possible had we tried alone. This is how innovation and growth emerge from dialogue.
Thinking vs. thoughts
In our everyday life we do a lot without giving it much thought. We rely on assumptions and attitudes that we do not question. In most cases we function well and efficiently by adopting such an attitude. However, by doing so, we stick to pre-determined thinking strategies, which might lead to a discussion, but certainly not to an innovation dialogue.
Dialogues require a proactive attitude, meaning less passive thinking and more active thinking. Thinking drives us forward, provides fresh answers to existing problems and creates new perspectives.
By the way: Anticipate a little more time if you decide to launch an innovation dialogue instead of a 10-minute brainstorming session. This highly depends on your initial position as well as your questions. For a first test run, it would be reasonable to count half an hour.