The Art of Convening

genentechEver since meeting Craig Neal years ago at a Social Ventures Network meeting, I have been interested in his life work, or “the art of convening.” So often the meetings I participate in — especially phone conferences — seem to fall short of realizing their potential. It’s always been a big question for me: how do we make our shared interests and passions come to fruition in the most meaningful and effective ways?

I got my chance to examine this question more fully when I participated in a Thought Leaders gathering last Friday at Genentech, a company located south of San Francisco. More than 80 people had assembled to celebrate the completion of the book Craig and his wife Patricia have been working on for many years: The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings, and Conversations.

Heading into the corporate headquarters of one of the largest bio-tech firms in the country, past security and into a vast, neon lit meeting room was somewhat intimidating. However, the warmth of those in attendance completely outshone any institutional qualities, making the gathering feel downright cozy. From the moment I walked into the room, I felt a deep sense of authenticity; not surprising, as this is a key element to Craig and Patricia’s work.

We sat in a circle around an altar adorned with flowers. (Ancients knew that wisdom emerges when people sit in circle.) Early remarks reminded us of the observations in the Socratic dialogues that all learning is recollection. By listening to each other and expressing ourselves we rediscover what we already know. I was fascinated to learn that this group has been gathering since 1998, right there in the heart of the Silicon Valley, to form a nexus of leadership and personal development. The attendees were from the largest financial, business and educational institutions in the Bay Area, and included many strategic planners.

Basically these meetings have been about the technology of relationship – for the sake of a world that works for everyone. Simply put, convening is authentic engagement that connects to inner wisdom. Every personal encounter has the potential to be transformative, to expand the sense of the sacred. There is trust in the magic of the collective.

Throughout the morning we alternated between meeting in small groups of four to participate in highly engaging, interactive conversations, and returning to the larger group to share insights. We reminded ourselves of the centrality of loving in our lives. We explored the concept that quality of action does not match the complexity of our problems; rather, our actions are a reflection of the quality of our conversations. Convening is The Source of direction. Convening is about connecting, and about creating a construct where everyone contributes. To convene well is to anticipate, welcome, engage, extend, and culminate.

It was an exhilarating morning as the wisdom of those assembled unfolded, and we shared the gift of Craig and Patricia’s new book.