True passion requires depth

August 1, 2014

The keynotes here in Medellin fell into three board categories.   Firstly we have the really famous namely Steve” Wozniak who will be appearing tomorrow, I'll thus miss my chance to meet the bug guy as I will be starting the trek back to Australia.  Secondly those of us providing serious content and or advise but not without passion or entertainment.  Thirdly the motivational speakers who shall we say performed.   Now to make it clear the role of a keynote is to make their material accessible and humour is a part of that.  Most (especially the Welsh and Italians) make extensive use of their hands. Self deprecation, deadpan delivery, irony and use of tone are all part of the speakers art. Moving around on the stage, demonstrating feeling (as long as its genuine) should all be part of what is and will always be a performance.  At this event, with one exception, no one took it too far.

However any use of those techniques should be subject to a degree of restraint.  Aristotle's golden mean comes into play here: any human virtue is the mean of the quality not present and the quality taken to excess.  One of the speakers today fell over the edge, almost literally at one point. A highly rehearsed presentation had him on his knees under a slide so that a thought bubble came out of his head, he kangaroo jumped backwards, fell to his knees and generally held the microphone closer and closer to his mouth as the performance continued.  We went from normal voice levels to shouting to high pitched screaming at times.  In effect it was a style of presentation that inherits from the worst excesses of the bible belt and not from deep thought or true passion.  The regular pause and checks for effect proved that.  I was at a low angle on the front row so it was pretty obvious from that angle.  if you are really passionate about something you don't do that, its too calculating.  And if that was not enough the self-satisfied smirk when the audience reacted proved it.

Aside from the style the content was plain wrong, a policy of rigid structure and control focused on the leader being a hero determining everything is hardly the way to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs, especially social entrepreneurs.  But the essence of this bible belt style is simple messages, driven home without room for dissent and it can carry an audience; demagogy always finds a home.   The growth of this style of speaking is a worry, as it is in serious religion, where cult type performances are the opposite of serious belief and reflection.   Organisations often like motivational speakers as they don't challenge orthodoxy, the essence of their message is the rah-rah handclap that their ego's seek.  Thought requires passion, it requires performance, it requires commitment but not at this level of trivialisation. 

Now to be clear there were some really powerful speakers at what was a great event and a lot of material to think about and then post here.  The good news was that no one was paying attention to what was minimal content as the performance was the only thing there that showed evidence of forethought and planning. 

PS: My twitter stream for the period will give you examples.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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