Thinking Out Loud

Conversation: An Exercise in Creativity

Typically, we don’t think of conversation as a creative activity, but it is. Consider these dictionary definitions:

Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people. Typically it occurs in spoken communication.

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work or a painting).

On average, most of us spend about sixty percent of our day in conversation. This is a relatively ordinary activity regardless of the time spent, so we don’t necessarily think too much about it. Creativity, on the other hand, isn’t something we see as ordinary, so linking the two might seem a stretch. But when we revisit the definitions, it’s easy to link conversation and creativity. We do not plan each word in a mechanical process when we talk with another person—there is both thought and spontaneous interaction going on. Even if our contributions aren’t built of brilliantly new ideas, the conversation we are having is one-of-a-kind and will never be duplicated. It is co-created and takes shape over time based on the unique associations in each person’s experience (brain).

What conversations offer to the individuals involved is of value, even if the result seems mundane; for example, making plans to meet later for coffee. The participants are establishing connection by the words, tone of voice, imagery, anticipation of a future event. They are making sense together in the back and forth of words—ideas and concepts are creating a future desired by both people.

Consider another example: two parents talking about their kids. They share stories that prompt memories for them both, unique memories that take the conversation in a direction neither had anticipated. They connect emotionally, understanding something about each other in a new light. Was the conversation a creative activity? I think it fits the definition.

If we think of conversation as a creative activity, how does that change our mindset? Will we pay attention differently, feel more responsible for the outcome, ask more thoughtful questions, offer more insight and ideas? Try challenging yourself to approach conversations this way. See what you learn, and let me know what you think.

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