Priya Parker on Gathering: Have Some Good Controversy and End With Intention

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Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner is a big fan of "better." He's built his career based on helping people invest better, of course, but he's also always on the lookout for people offering 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 and build purpose-driven communities. Her book is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.

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In this segment, they cover a pair of topics. First, that transformative gatherings need to have some element of risk -- so figure out what your group has been avoiding and find a way to bring it into the light. Second, recognize that every gathering has an end, and the finale can be just as important in setting the tone as the opening -- so don't waste it.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Aug. 8, 2018.

David Gardner: There are two last chapters to talk about, and let's just take them at the same time. The first is Chapter VII, "Cause Good Controversy." Obviously, I would like you to define what "good controversy" is and then Chapter VIII [and this will also be true of this interview except that there is an end], and so thinking in the same way that you get us to be better about beginnings, you also want us to think hard about endings and maybe not exiting with logistics.

Priya Parker: "Good controversy" is the idea that transformative gatherings have some element of risk. I'm a conflict resolution facilitator, so a lot of the things I work with tend to be "heat." And what I mean by heat is it could be conflict. It can be taboo. It can be about power. It can be about basically the things, to put in the words of Ida Benedetto, an experience designer I interviewed, the things a group is avoiding.

And she asks this question. You can read about her in The Art of Gathering in more detail. She's a fascinating experience designer. She calls herself a transgression consultant. She helps groups transgress boundaries. Navigate boundaries -- physical, psychological boundaries -- with safety.

And before she designs any experience, she asks four questions and this can help you and me, and your listeners. [1] What is this group avoiding? [2] What is the gift in facing it?

[3] What is the risk in facing it? [4] Is the gift worth the risk?

Gardner: As you've pointed out, what's underneath so many gatherings is a lot of additional subtext and things happening deep under the ocean. That the more that we can get those things out -- especially, obviously in the field of conflict resolution, your professional calling. But at events, at conferences often we're talking around the things that we really are feeling inside and the more that we can cause that good controversy [maybe have a professional facilitator; somebody who knowingly puts us in those places], so much good can come from that.

Parker: And it might not be through conversation. Conversation is a very elevated form of generous controversy. It could be through design choices. I knew of a group that was an immigrant group in India. The context is if you're a vegetarian or not a vegetarian is a very controversial issue. Riots are started because of it. It often divides along caste lines, religious lines. It's a minefield.

And this is an Indian-American, a kind of second-generation group that was doing a large gathering and it was a very big decision. The conference and the gathering have always been vegetarian. And the young 'uns -- the next generation -- was taking over and they had to make a decision of whether or not they wanted to introduce meat. And for them, that alone [forget what you talked about over three days] that alone, if they decided to do that, would signal that "we are changing." It doesn't mean that we are no longer Indian or whatever the context is.

But heat exists in a lot of different ways. In an interracial or inter-religious couple, you're getting together at Thanksgiving. One side is Jewish and one side is Christian. The Christian side always begins with prayer. Do you begin with prayer or not?

Gardner: And since we probably do need to draw this to an end, although Priya has been gracious enough to accept my invitation to do an extra, so we're going to have some fun. Coming up this weekend I'm going to ask her advice for panels, because a lot of us have to do panels or have experience with panels. I'm also going to ask her take on Martha Stewart, how to do a family reunion, and a few other things, Priya. We're going to cover that there.

But for now, I think we should probably start to pull toward an end. Chapter VIII is "Accept That There is an End." And I have to admit. I'm one of those people who doesn't really want things to end, so sometimes I overstay my welcome at your party, and other times I don't want you to leave my party and I can't really sometimes accept that there's an end. And maybe it's that I can't accept that mortality is mortality but help us end well. Not just this podcast but our gathering.

Parker: Most gatherings stop. They don't end. And in the same way that you're bringing people in -- you're ushering them into a world -- you also need to help them leave it. That can be as simple as giving a closing toast. That can mean walking them to the door rather than letting themselves out. That can be inviting them to join you in the living room for after-dinner drinks, signaling that the night is winding down.

But again, conferences that I've been to where the end is a five-minute set of thank you-s, thank you-s when not done well are also a form of logistics. You can do thank you-s in a beautiful, meaningful, honoring-specific way.

First of all, don't end on a thank you. Do it second to last and do it in a way that is specific and gives people information about how and what that person did to help your gathering.

But the final is end on purpose. End with the things you want people to remember. Give them something to walk out the door with. I have a three-year-old son and he's part of a music class. His teacher is called Jesse Goldman. He's a singer/ songwriter. And at the end of every class, he strums the final note of the first song. He then pauses and makes announcements [bring me your check, no class next week, wear Halloween costumes the third week of October] and then he continues the song, so the logistics are literally within the song. He sings a goodbye song where everyone says their name, and then he says, "Who wants a stamp?"

And all of the kids run toward him and he gives them a Moozika! stamp. It's branded. They walk back out into the light of day. All of these other kids say, "Whoa! What was that temporary alternative world they were a part of?" My language, not theirs. But he knows how to exit them. And so similarly, accept that there is an end first. Don't ghost sit as a host. And then think about what you want this group to remember.

Gardner: Priya, to close well, then, what do you want my Rule Breaker Investing listeners most of all to remember from this gathering together?

Parker: That gathering is a form of power and that gathering is a form of love. And that in this day and age, when so many things are changing, what is not changing is that our gatherings can be powerful and that we need them. What is changing is that you can make up the rules on how you want to do it and do it in a way that reflects you organically and that it takes courage to do so. But that courage and that risk-taking is the deepest form of generosity.

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