How Twitter is like a Native American Talking Circle

What if you were to approach Twitter as if it were a Native American Talking Circle? In the Talking Circle format, you value every voice equally. You listen respectfully. Everyone can contribute. You share your soul, learn from others, and make decisions. You build ideas and relationships in a collaborative environment.

Twitter Talking Circle

The Talking Circle uses a simple format that loosely models the synapse and spark of your brain. Ideas bounce from one part of the circle to another. The Talking Circle is often leaderless, but may deploy the use of a talking stick or talking feather (or hashtag!) to help facilitate respect for those who are speaking. Modern teams may toss balls or Frisbees as fun, concrete tools to help keep order while inspiring ideas.

And because Talking Circles and Twitter encourage talk with no apparent purpose other than the act of talking and sharing, they are often dismissed as a valuable business format. But discussions in Talking Circles and Twitter can be oddly transforming. Open discussions can generate new ideas. They release creativity. Open dialogs using a Talking Circle format can foster community, trust, and respect.

And I have to admit, tossing around ideas on Twitter and in Talking Circles can be fun. I also enjoy the element of play — when we toss about a brightly colored Koosh ball, we not only keep order and focus, but we add a bit of levity to a creative meeting. When we banter on Twitter, we not only generate more ideas, but we simultaneously build relationships.

In modern business, new-fangled concepts like open innovation and crowdsourcing are gaining momentum and respect. However, these new buzzwords seem to be based on old-fashioned notions like Talking Circles and Coffee Klatches. (Note the growing popularity of ‘doing business’ in wireless coffee houses.)

What if we ran more meetings and presentations in this time-honored format? Open and leaderless, allowing meaningful ideas to emerge organically? Would we improve collaboration, trust, and creativity? Or would meetings degenerate into endless meetings for the sake of meetings?

How are you using old-school open collaboration formats like Talking Circles in modern environments? How is it working for you?