What does ‘doing something’ really mean?

21 September 2010 1 By Viv McWaters

Last night I saw Stephen Fry at Royal Albert Hall in London. To the nearly capacity crowd of 7000 people, he talked for two hours about, well, nothing in particular, but nonetheless entertainingly about his early school days, addictions, collaborations, accidental fame, sexuality and creating humour.

He didn’t do anything except talk. He held the stage and built rapport with the vast audience. He had few props, walked and gesticulated, but mostly it was all talk. Very entertaining talk. There was no tangible product, no ‘output’, yet thousands of people paid good money to listen to one man talk. Is there something for the rest of us to learn from this?

Earlier in the same day I was at an open space meeting for an organisation coming to grips with a recent merger. It was the first time they had come together in their new form and so had much to talk about. Which they did. They had rich and varied conversations, if albeit somewhat predictable (which is often the case in a one-day open space event).

Still, some people complained at the end that nothing happened except talk. “Without tangible actions the day would be a waste.” Since when did engaging in conversations about what’s important to a business classify as nothing? Since when did building relationships with new colleagues and strengthening existing ones be seen as a waste of time?

By this measure, Stephen Fry did nothing. Was a waste of time.

That’s not how I see it. I see people so busy proving how busy they are that they forget the substance of human connection – conversations and relationships. Organisations and businesses often talk about being resilient and responsive. If that’s what they really want, they should take better care to value the time and energy it actually takes to build and nurture relationships, both within and outside of the business, that will weather the good and bad times.

Having a conversation is doing something – something important, necessary and nourishing.