Is it conversations that matter?

During the past week I have been a part of the team that have hosted a conference called Scandinavian Leadership Seminar (ScaLDS). This is an annual conference that has for the last few years been set up by AIESEC in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland. Together with them we ran this conference bringing together about 100 leaders from all over the Scandinavian countries and abroad.

At these occasions one of the main parts of the content and reason why people are there is the connections, dialogues and reflections that all participants have with each other, and after the conference these are often the things that had the most impact / are remembered the most.  


This, however, has always previously left me slightly frustrated. I am a very action-oriented person and because of this my view of conferences has often been: yes they’re critical for our performance – but at the end of the day they’re also a distraction from the things we “should be doing”.

Lately, my perspective has been changing. I read somewhere that at the end of the day, our core deliverable as knowledge workers is new knowledge. A major way to generate new knowledge is through dialogue. So, spending time in dialogue isn’t in fact a distraction, it’s rather one a big part of “work”. Furthermore, conversations, as I have seen throughout this week, can be used not only to connect people, but also to move them into doing completely new or different things. They can be used not only to generate ideas and understanding – but also to focus direction and activity.

With that perspective in mind I have found it much easier to approach these conferences. I no longer feel the anxiousness of getting back to “real work” and can instead 100% focus on interacting with the dialogues and conversations that happen in them.

Believing in people’s ability to contribute

I just came back from the AIESEC conference Sunday evening, tired but really enthusiastic about the experience. There are a lot of things to share, but I think I’d begin by sharing one of the first things that got me really thinking during these days.

There was an entrepreneur joining the first day holding a session where he started telling about his numerous businesses and how one of them had an especially rocky time now during the financial crises. As they started facing challenges the two other co-founders decided to quit the business, putting the entrepreneur in quite a difficult situation. He had to decide wether to close the business, sell it to a potential buyer that had emerged, or continue running it. He shared very openly (probably even more openly than he even himself expected to!) and asked the audience (the AIESEC members) what they felt he should do?


He got a lot of input, overall identifying that he himself sounded passionate about the business and didn’t seem at all inclined to close or sell it.

The interesting part of this experience is not in the specific input he got – but in the fact that he generated both a strong experience for the participants and for himself by displaying his own challenges openly and honestly asking for input. I’ve participated in a similar session in an AIESEC context before, then hosted by the multinational Bridgestone, and both these times I think the value of the meeting was very high both for participants & host.

Often, we don’t recognize that we’re surrounded by intelligence, ideas, strategies & help all around us. We tend to automatically devalue the input we can get from others with pretext such as that they lack information, knowledge or experience. If we instead open up, share the information we have, and set the expectation that we’ll receive something valuable back, then we’ll be able to extend the knowledge & creativity we can apply to our decisions and actions.

He came back to the conference a couple of days later, and shared that he’d come to a decision. Just as the AIESECers said, his passion was there and he wanted to take this business forward… and that’s what he will do.