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Personal Insights

Gathering With Purpose

We all gather in multiple ways; professionally, personally, in small intimate settings and in large conferences. Today we gather virtually more than ever before. This topic is fascinating to me.

As part of The CR Connect (a conference for community management professions) I had the honor of having a fireside chat with Priya Parker, the author of “The Art of Gathering” which is completely dedicated to this topic. Priya’s background is one of mediation and facilitation so perhaps it does not come as a surprise that she believes we need to make our gatherings more meaningful. From work meetings to small dinner invites, she raised the need to ask prior ‘what is the true purpose of this gathering?’ and if there is an easy obvious answer – keep digging – try to ascertain the real purpose. She believes the biggest mistake we make today when we gather is not understanding the true purpose of the gathering and aiming to fulfill that goal.

At heart, gatherings are all about the people and the reason they choose to gather or the purpose they aim to achieve. Helping those who gather achieve that true purpose is the role of the host. When was the last time you gathered? As a host, did you give thought prior to the invitation, as to the purpose and hoped-for outcome? How you could help to achieve the outcome? I’ve given this much thought lately and will likely continue to do so. In today’s time we gather differently. How can we make it more meaningful to our audience?

Using an example from my private life: This year, family birthday parties for kids are being held via Zoom. I have family around the world, so on one hand a big benefit is, all can attend. However, while they can attend, it is not a classic meal or even sharing of cake with all. Logistically what should be done? Do I ask them also to make a cake or prepare snacks? And more importantly, how can I make this more meaningful for all?

To follow Priya’s recommendation, I need to determine the true purpose. Fun? Celebrating a new age/milestone? Celebrating the child? An opportunity to shower him with love?  My personal question was actually an example raised by Priya (with no prompting from me ?). Her example was of a teenage girl wanted to celebrate her birthday with friends, but how to do so.  Actively asking about the girl, Priya learned that she was a total bookwom. This led to the decision to invite her closest friends to mark her birthday by reading aloud together one of her favorite books in a two-hour online celebration. The only commitment for each friend who accepted was to attend the entire time and read portions aloud.  For the young lady, this met her purpose of having a meaningful birthday celebration with close friends. To me, it sounds like it was a memorable event for both the teenager and her friends.

If you’re interested to learn more about Priya and her thoughts, I recommend reading the book, viewing her TED Talks or signing up for her newsletter via the website.

There are multiple examples in our private lives, our work, and certainly in our communities (including the SAP Community) for gathering and opportunities to make them more meaningful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share in the comments below about gatherings you’ve attended/hosted or your thoughts on the topic.







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  • Can I agree to disagree?  I think we work too hard at some things.

    Yes, I have a purpose for each and every one of my professional meetings.  That makes sense to me.  If I can guide people back on task it can be a successful meeting.  The words "We can table that until after..." come to mind.

    However, in my personal life I just want to enjoy.  I don't think their should be a purpose to a birthday party.  Let the kids enjoy being kids.  Now you can argue that is the purpose, and maybe your right.  But I don't want to think about it prior to the birthday party.  I just want to exists in the moment and have some fun while doing it.

    Let's take me walking my dogs out on a lovely day.  I didn't think about the purpose.   It could have been the dogs happiness, my happiness, exercise...  Or any number of other things.  I didn't want to determine that prior or after the walk.

    I think we fixate on things like purpose, schedules, approval way too much.   There is a time and a place for that.  Work and/or school.   However after all that don't you just want to shake it all off, and be.  Be in the moment.  Live and enjoy it.  Have no purpose.  If you don't you won't wonder - did that walk go well?  What should I have done?  What will I do in the future to make it better?  No - I sure don't want to think like that in my life ---  I do enough of it at work.

    Live and let live!  Live for fun!  Live for adventure!  Live for Love and happiness!  Live to make the world a little better!  But don't live your outside life always thinking that you need a purpose.  I would be a nervous wreck.  And honestly I think I like the song from Alabama.  My favorite lyrics "We rush and rush until life's no fun."

    Plus a very smart man told me a long time ago that people worry about too many things, and they should needed to learn to live in the "now".  The noise in my mind is did I do XYZ correctly?  Did XYZ help me achieve my goal?  And round and round it can go.  That's no fun.

    I admit I don't always turn it off.  I do some things outside of work with purpose.  But really not that many anymore.  I used to ride horses in competitions.  I had to be ride (most days) with the goal of being ready for that next competition.

    • We can always agree to disagree Michelle! However I'm not certain that is the case here 🙂

      Since I completely agree with you that there should be times of no purpose and times just for fun! I meet a friend and the purpose is simply to connect and enjoy ourselves in the moment.

      And even in your horseback riding example (lucky you!!) I assume both aspects were fun, the time you rode for pure pleasure and also the preparation and certainly the competitions you took part in.

      There are however multiple gatherings (which Priya defines as 3 or more people btw) when I believe if the organizers had given more thought in advance, more meaningful engagements could have been achieved. Many conferences for example follow a similar format and yet they are not all the same. Or meetings... how many have you attended and felt that your time was wasted and could have better been spent.

      Not every gathering must be meaningful but it seems to me, when one is - that is the one that stands out in you mind long after the event passed. That gives you food for thought, possibly personal  growth opportunity and many times enjoyment too.


      • Oh boy!  Now I agree that we agree....

        Yes, I can't tell you how many meetings have been a total waste of time.  My secret - not so secret - way of dealing with some of them, is to listen for something interesting while doing working on another screen.  I really like virtual meetings.  The mute button is a wonderful thing.

        Yes, I had a ton of fun training and doing it with a purpose.  In that case it crossed over.  Some days I would give both me and my horse the day - week off.   In the winter when there weren't a lot of events, we had a lot of free time.

        Three or more people.  OK - there are times when I plan something.  Rarely when it is outside of work.  But there are times.  I guess I'm just thinking of the poor children who have to have everything just right.   I guess moderation is key here.  I also worry about the undue pressure we put on ourselves when we meet outside of work.  I honestly remember those times more when I go to something without a purpose (defined).  I think of the times when we had Christmas, Birthdays, Easter, and even Halloween.  I remember the time my Dad dressed up as a vampire and hid in a coffin to give out candy to older kids.  When younger ones came up my mom handed out candy.  I remember the joyous things.   When I've gone to something with a purpose (weight watchers comes to mind) I really don't remember those.

        My sister plans every vacation with an hour or two unplanned time.  When my son was little, and we went with her and her family, he wasn't very happy.  We would always have to split up and just enjoy.  We had not purpose.  We didn't want a schedule.  We just enjoyed the time.  I know many people that plan their vacations like that.  They figure since they spend a lot on a vacation it should be planned to get the most enjoyment.  (Purpose = most enjoyment)  Me, I rarely plan anything.  My family and I went to Disney World when Nate was around ten.  We honestly didn't even plan which park to be in on which day.  We had no purpose.  No plans nothing to compare or wonder if we didn't see anything. Or do something.  So you could argue that the purpose was enjoyment.  HA!  And around we go, back to the beginning where I agree with you but not.  I planned to go to Disney World, and I planned to have fun.  Wasted time isn't always wasted.  Sometimes you learn something new.

        Sigh - so I guess we'll agree to agree most of the time....  😉

        • I love that I'm getting to know you better Michelle!

          Boy did we approach Disney differently 🙂 I was there the summer of 2018 and knew which days I would be where as well as key milestones to hit. However I always leave room for 'going with the flow' and so changes were made to both days and attractions as needed.

          In any case I like you're summary of agree to agree most of the time 🙂

        • With our kids my wife and I are planners. We even plan the "wasted" or "unplanned" time. It's because how our kids respond to boredom and how we respond to our kids being bored. But we are flexible and change plans on the fly too. My wife and I work really well together.

          As for Disney and the FastPass program we have to plan because I detest standing in long lines. I start doing the math of: ticket prices / minutes standing line = $$$ wasted. We also go just about every year (Thanks Sapphire!) so we've become experts on timesavers.

  • Outside the professional setting I can't remember the last time I met. February? Ugh! I definitely miss my friends and extended family but my immediate family is keeping me busy (young kids & virtual schooling). I have a lot of professional meetings as well. By the end of the day I want to get far away from my computer so I am less inclined...

    I do wonder what kind of person I am going to be when all of this is over...

    • I think most of us are meeting less Peter. To some it creates a larger need and for others, like you stated, less inclination. In today's times, its all understandable. For me it would depend on the day...  🙂

      But it is interesting to think, especially if we gather less, when we do, to make it 'count' as they say. Unless the goal is pure fun, to gather with more purpose or at least take the time to think about it before it happens.