Why Ideo’s Fred Dust Thinks We Must Relearn The Art Of Dialogue
By Eillie Anzilotti
The Fast Company
24 October 2017
Photo courtesy of IDEO
Turn on any cable news program or scroll through Twitter, and it’s painfully clear that we’re often talking at each other, rather than with each other. Just ask Fred Dust, a former College of Environmental Design attendee and partner and global managing director at the design firm IDEO, who recently gave a talk at the Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. During the talk, Dust urged the audience to refamiliarize themselves with the lost art of conversation.
“I’m going to posit that we are getting dialogue wrong …We’ve actually done it well for thousands of years, and it’s only now that we’re not doing it well,” he said during his talk.
Dust, who is in the business of analyzing the ways in which we communicate, credits our excessive use of screen-based technology as the cause of our inability to interact with one another. He states that this low devolution began in 1953 when TV dinners were invented.
“That was the moment we invited technology to our dining room table,” Dust said. “That’s when we gave up ‘us’ as the host of our dinner time.”
Dust also stated that televised political debates have left us critiquing candidates solely on appearances, rather than platforms. Furthermore, television commentaries have popularized an “almost bullying conversation style, in which the more aggressive speaker emerged victorious.”
Dust believes we have entered a unique space in which we feel more comfortable being talked at through a screen rather than conversing face-to-face with each other. So how can we remedy this situation? He suggests that we need to reinvigorate the tradition of designing designated time for talking.
In light of recent tragedies, from the Las Vegas mass shooting to the Northern California firestorms, Dust says that our lack of conversation causes our emotions regarding these events to fester. “We continue to live in what we at IDEO call the denial phase, where we think we can’t do anything about these tragedies,” he said.
“The times when people learn the most and are most open to change are when they are coming out of a crisis,” Dust said. “If we’re not designing for how we have dialogue in those critical—potentially curable—moments, we won’t be able to get to radical change.”
But these conversations, he adds, cannot take on the form of a polarized debate. IDEO, where Dust is the global managing director, has designed a new, interactive way of discussing divisive topics known as Creative Tensions. The Creative Tensions method works by gathering a group of people into a room and asking them to place themselves spatially in accordance with a certain perspective. For example, a group might be asked to arrange themselves according to the following statements: “I feel nervous when police are around” and “I feel safe when police are around.”
With this method, “people move like life-size chess pieces” and are able to conceptualize others differently along a fluid dialogue structure. This allows people to make bridges and find common ground, rather than simply focusing on the differences between them. Dust states that the most important goal of this method is reminding ourselves how to empathetically listen to one another.
In addition to the Creative Tensions method, IDEO has also launched a website called Designing Dialogue. The website aims to crowdsource ideas for creative conversation structures. Dust hopes that the Creative Tensions method and the Designing Dialogue website will allow “conversation to slow down and, unlike a polarized debate, unfold in a way that enables a spectrum of viewpoints to emerge.”