Chief Conversation Officer

Over at Duct Tape Marketing John Jantsch Is exploring the idea of having a Chief Conversation Officer. This brought back memories.

Many moons ago when I was still at the BBC I was asked by my boss to come up with a one-liner to describe my job. I came up with the phrase:

To increase the frequency and quality of the conversations that help you get the job done.

I was told that the word conversation wasn't businesslike enough and would cause problems if used in a work context. This was shortly before both the government and the BBC launched major communications initiatives with the word conversation in their titles!

Part of my job at the time was running a thing called DigiLab. This was a small unit charged with keeping across the latest technologies that might be applicable to the broadcast world, working out which were the most interesting, and introducing them to as many people as appropriate within the BBC. The way we did this was through networks. Networks of people who shared interests or issues and who we took responsibility for identifying and pulling together when appropriate. We would run events to bring people together as much as to demonstrate technology and tried to create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere so that people would not only want to come in the first place but would hang around and have a chat and build relationships once the events were over. I guess nowadays these would be called communities of interest although we didn't use that sort of language. Our events were deliberately low key and determined to avoid any hint of hard sell either from us or from manufacturers. The idea was to engage people and get them investing some of their time with each other. It was very much about conversations.

I guess it's a bit like I imagine the best party organisers of the Thirties being - highly connected, arranging the best parties and knowing the best people. Contrary to other people's expectations, including my boss's, it is actually hard work. You have to have your ear to the ground and spot things that really matter before people realise it, manage networks who don't owe you anything or over whom you don't have any power and then keep attracting them and keep them interested. I used to imagine applying the way we worked to all sorts of other aspects of the BBC's business. Why not manage everything through networks, sticky events and common interests?

All I can say is if you ever get offered the opportunity to be a chief conversation officer grab it with both hands. I had a blast!