Among other things, I find myself right now helping the wonderful people at Pizza Express to launch their new restaurants in a project called Think Big.
Why would I be doing that? (Apart from the fact that I love American with extra tuna.)
Well, believe it or not, Pizza Express have decided to put great conversation at the heart of their restaurants.We started in Richmond and now we're spreading the love of conversation to Fulham, Balham, Newbury, Bournemouth and St Ives with Sheffield, Brighton and Brent Cross to come.
What Pizza Express have realised is that what people want when they go out to eat is a chance to talk - to really talk and to really be with friends, families, lovers and partners. To embrace conversation; to listen to each other, to celebrate the experience of actually being together.
Not virtually. Real-ly.
They've engaged an incredible team of people including Abe Rogers to totally redesign the physical spaces and make them acoustically conducive to conversation.
And they've asked me to help every single member of staff to understand the essential ingredients of conversation. (They even let me help them develop a new process for deciding who to bring into the team, in one of the most enlightened series of talent assessments I've ever come across.)
And... (which is for me the most important thing and my barometer for working with any commercial organisation) they actually believe in what they're doing.
Will it help them make money? I hope so - they're an ethical business.
Will it catch the media's attention? Maybe - it's a good story.
Since first writing this post the media attention has well and truly been captured and I am now fully versed in the wicked ways of sloppy journalism and certain people's predilection for fiction reported as fact. Oh well, I'm a big boy, I can take it. Here's a slightly less absurd piece by Reuters:
So never mind the hype. Does it matter? Well actually yes, in a small way I believe it does.
I can honestly say that this is a business that looks after its people. That values its people. That believes in its people. (The Head of HR started as a waitress.)
So - a company of integrity that creates great food, that believes good conversation is an important thing and a business that's putting its money where its customer's mouths are...
Why would I say no?
So - for the new teams - this is your chance to make your mark; to be exceptional; to express yourselves and to be part of something genuinely fresh and imaginative. Grasp it with both your floury hands.
And here, in the new language we've created are the podcasts I told you about, to help you get those dialogue skills running through your bodies like oxygen:
First, here's an introduction to great conversation. A big download for a small but lovely animation or you can watch it right here:
Then there's Time and Space - what we need to create in the beautiful surroundings of the Pizza Express in Richmond.
The first big skill we talked about was Step In Step Out or the way we navigate our way through a conversation..Making sure we start and stay together on the journey.
We talked about using our Eyes and Ears in the ways we listen.
There's the skill we called Take Me There - the ways we can describe things to people and enjoy the richness and variety of language.
We talked about how to Stay Close, checking that we understand exactly what it is that people are trying to express.
And then there's how to Dig Deeper, probing gently to open doors and find out more.
There's the skill of asking the question: Who Knows? which is all about keeping an open mind, resisting the temptation to assume we know who someone is and what they're going to say. Suspending that deep instinct to make quick judgements.
Don't forget how important it is to Make It Together; to build ideas and allowing even the most fragile of suggestions to grow and blossom before our eyes.
We talked about how Everyone Counts and how important it is to keep a conversation balanced by making sure we gently ask those smaller voices to take part too.
Dare to Share is the name we gave to honestly saying what's on your mind (and sharing it). Disclosing what you're thinking to everyone else.
And finally, we reminded ourselves that sometimes the most important thing we can give to anyone (including ourselves) in a conversation is Time to Think
Enjoy listening to them. And use them.