The owner of a local cafe where I get coffee and breakfast on the weekend decided to have different themes in the cafe every weekend. Last weekend it was the 50’s, this weekend the 60’s, next will be the 70’s and etc. Staff were required to dress for the theme and music of the time period was played. Specials on the menu reflected the times and small gifts of the times were given to customers. This weekend for the 60’s beads were given out to customers. Staff were also dancing from the time period.
What I noticed was people including myself were talking about the times related to the theme. It seemed to bring out memories with many talking about issues and how they handled or even survived them. I also noted a lot of smiles and laughing as stories were told with most enjoying the whole experience. Of course there were those that continued to do their own thing. Cafe employees who were 40 and younger told me that they had to do a lot of research for the time period in order to know how to dress. Most of this knowledge came from either parents or elders of that time.
This reminded me of a knowledge cafe I attended some years ago at a KMWorld Conference. The difference is that in the situation at the cafe some research was done up front and an overall theme was created for the environment. I also got to thinking how this idea might work in different cultures or professions by creating an appropriate environment both visually and verbally to prompt the conversations.
So when you’re having difficulty getting people to share their knowledge or lessons learned, try moving out of “meeting” mode and into “play” or “acting” mode. More than just telling a story, re-create the scene and act it out as best you can. Have others participate. Even if they weren’t involved in the original event, have them research what transpired.
If you can create the right environment, the conversation develops naturally rather than being more controlled, and there is less chance of getting way off topic.