The wonder of World Cafe

Over the weekend I had the privilege of attending one of the most engaging, inspiring and thought provoking events I have been involved in for some time. Gathering11 bought together over 120 global change makers passionate about co-creating better futures. Wow, what a buzz.

I also had the opportunity to do what I feel is truly my work for the world – break open new and deeper ways of thinking, feeling and connecting. And what made it especially amazing this time was that I was given the chance to create this experience for others who also trailblazers for a better world.

The medium I used was World Cafe a way of being and working with others centred around having conversations that matter. How infrequently do we do this, have conversations from the heart about things that truly matter to all those involved? Just imagine the possibilities. In connecting with each other in new, deeper and different ways what latent gifts, talents, skills and resources can be unleashed. Well, this is exactly what happened at Gathering11.

And in the World Café conversations I have experienced, there are a few benefits that also flow from coming together in this way. First, World Café can generate a lot of new ideas, perspectives and questions. And when exploring co-creating better futures, we do need new, novel and profound ideas to inspire our journey. Second, World Café builds a sense of community. When we connect with others in whole-hearted ways through sharing what is important us, and we listen to the different perspectives offered with a sense of openness, compassion and curiosity, we create new stories of fresh possibilities.

The World Café is based on a few simple premises:

  • the knowledge and wisdom we need to address any challenge is present and accessible to us – in fact, we have more than we need;
  • collective knowledge evolves from honouring contributions and connecting; and
  • ideas, listening into the middle for what wants to emerge, and noticing deeper themes and questions; and
  • the intelligence emerges as the system connects itself in diverse and creative ways.

At the core of an effective World Café are the questions explored. In our World Café at Gathering11 we explored the following three questions:

  1. What questions about co-creating a Thrivable World do we enter into this ‘space’ with?
  2. What questions about co-creating a Thrivable World have we not yet asked ourselves, but should?
  3. In asking these questions, in what different, powerful and ‘juicy’ ways can we engage together in their exploration?

Fellow Gatherers, David Hood (Convener of Gathering11) and Michelle James, co-crafted these questions with me. Sitting underneath these three questions was a flow that aimed to connect at a deeper level what was essentially ‘a group of strangers’.

Those attending had only just gathered, so learning together about why we had come to Gathering11 was important. The first question explored this focus – Why are you here, and why are we here together in this place in history? We also wanted to create a sense of spaciousness (hence the use of the word ‘space’ in the question) where everyone could be together in ways that sparked new and exciting ways of thinking.

In getting my thoughts together for this question and the ‘field’ we were opening at Gathering11, I posed myself the following question:

What is the most potent, productive and fruitful field we can create to do our work at this gathering?

In response to this question, I jotted the following notes:

  • Sunyata – a space ‘pregnant with possibilities’
  • A space of ‘in-between’ – a space of improvisatation
  • A space of self interest AND a space of connecting, sharing and contributing to the greater whole
  • A space of both Me and We
  • A space of high energy and deep reflection
  • A space of ‘honouring the old’ and ‘generating the new’
  • A space out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing (an idea I took from a quote from mystic, Rumi)

Upon reflection now, my sense is that we created this space at Gathering11 and as a result the seeds for co-creating better futures that germinate from our time together will be generous, inviting and sustainable.

The second question invited a deeper exploration of what was really going on in the world and why we had gathered together. It also invited us to take ownership for ourselves as a community – what questions have we not yet asked ourselves, but should? In the end, Gandhi was on to something when he said, ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ Until we own our role in co-creating our present reality we cannot hope to co-create a better one.

Finally, the third question asked us to consider how we wanted to work together – as a community – in co-creating better futures through Gathering11. In my own experience, collaboration is hard and being in community can be frustrating at times. Sometimes it’s just seems easier to just do it myself. But I know that this is an old pattern, a pattern that ultimately seeks to reinforce the status-quo. For me, it reinforces separateness.

So, in posing this question we sought to learn how we might break the habitual patterns of engaging with others and step into something new and ‘really juicy’. Actually, I think we were exploring how we engage with our ‘new found strangers’ in ways we do with ‘old found friends’. By the end of Gathering11, we did leave as friends with many a hope for an amazing, thrivable and connected future.

In the words of singer/songwriter Timbuk3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.