"When I started working on the book in earnest this year, I thought it would be about how we lost our way in dialogue, but eventually I learned that using creativity and commitment, we could indeed have the hardest conversation. And the world needed to see that. People needed to know it was still possible." —Fred Dust
Fred Dust, Esalen faculty and Former Senior Partner of IDEO, was not immune to adjusting personally and professionally this year as the pandemic captured the global spotlight. In fact, it inspired him to write a new book, Making Conversation: Seven Essential Elements of Meaningful Communication, which will be released Dec. 1.
In it, Fred culls from his lifelong experiences and has given birth to a remarkable resource for people to become more deliberate and purposeful in making conversations work.
“It’s easy with this pandemic to be always on,” Fred says. “But there’s a lot that makes this especially dangerous for our emotional health. Pause, mourn, celebrate even, but don’t hand yourself over to the machine, any machine. We can still make creative conversations, even when we're far from one another.”
Fred used 2020’s shelter-in-place measures as a springboard for deep creation and wrote several of the principles found in his book in just an hour. “We’ve been using them now [predominantly online] to guide our way for the last eight months,” he says, “and the conversation has been amazing, just, inclusive, even exuberant.”
Fred admits that the genesis of the book actually began when his mother had a stroke several years ago. The stoke left her aphasic and Fred began to realize that listening—truly listening to someone—is real work.
“Then came the last election and the increased divide in America,” he adds. “Back when I started working on it in earnest this year, I thought it would be about how we lost our way in dialogue, but eventually I learned that using creativity and commitment, we could indeed have the hardest conversation. And the world needed to see that. People needed to know it was still possible.”
Fred spent many years brokering communication between colleagues and clients, particularly at IDEO. He believed there had to be a way to design the art of conversation itself with intention and purpose, but also invite it to be artful and playful.
One of the more memorable sections in the book highlights five principles for making conversations online, which are outlined below:
When asked if there was one main principle that typically goes overlooked when it comes to making conversations in the virtual world, Fred points to No. 5: Design Humans In.
“Too often nowadays, we forget to make way for humanity in our conversations,” he explains. “But course-correction can sometimes come from the smallest gestures. For instance, sometimes I’ll pretend I’m a little more forgetful than I am, so I can call on an individual who isn’t being ‘seen’ in a Zoom call and ask them to help me out. At the Rockefeller Foundation we’ll often design in these randomized two-people coffee chats as little breaks. I was just in one with a global leader and a Nigerian entrepreneur that was so gracious, supportive and humanizing.”
In a year where a pandemic and racial injustice took center stage, Fred sees one thing as being most vital now, in terms of people making real connection: “Go hardest first,” he shares. “Start with love!”
But he is quick to add that this is the perfect time ask ourselves: "Where can I help and where am I not helpful?"
“If you know you're not going to be helpful, remove yourself from those conversations,” Fred says. “There's real power in not participating, bowing out, stepping back. You’ll make the conversations you're not in better and you’ll make time in life for the conversations that matter most to you.”
To lean more about Fred Dust’s work or to order his book, click here.