You’re Invited to Provocative Lunch…

How can brown bag lunches in your office help generate internal participation around big, public initiatives?

Brown bag -- or, tin lunchbox -- lunches are a good way to get all of your team members at the table to talk about provocative ideas.
Brown bag — or, tin lunchbox — lunches are a good way to get all of your team members at the table to talk about provocative ideas.

The common wisdom about social media is that it’s about sparking personal connections into action. In my recent interview with activist and media theorist Cayden Mak, we talked about how, in the end, digital initiatives aren’t all about the bells and whistles but about using our intuition to create empowering (and not coercive) implementations of technology-driven initiatives. My hope is that this framing is helpful in generating public participation, but what about generating participation internally?

I think the success of these initiatives depends just as much on the creative input and buy-in within an organization, particularly with initiatives aimed to address adaptive challenges. How could we build energy, momentum, and buy-in internally for ‘big idea’ initiatives that don’t necessarily relate to the day-to-day responsibilities of staff? And, how could we work to make talking about ‘big ideas’ a less intimidating and more regular part of our work, especially for those staff who are not constantly engaged with the technology-based work of the organization?

Something I’ve wanted to try in my organization is a series of brown bag lunches around brief, provocative readings or videos about technology and innovation.

The brown bag lunch format shakes up our routines in a few ways: these lunches are outside our traditional outcome-driven meeting schedule, they’re cross-departmental and open-invitation, and they’re a way for staff to interact outside of the regular conference room setting. Most importantly, they are opportunities to meet face to face to chat about a big idea. All of these small shake-ups add up to an environment in which creative thinking is more likely, and perhaps buy-in is more likely when we’re all creatively invested in a project or idea.

A lunch & an “aha”

Our provocative readings or media should be so short that they could be read at the start of lunch, and the videos so short that they could we watched at the start of lunch. They shouldn’t be technical – the idea is that anyone in the organization, regardless of level of expertise in technology, social media, or innovation could participate. Informal conversation about the reading or video and then about possible connections to our work would follow.

Here are a few readings and videos that have sparked “aha” moments for me (I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas contained within, but I do think these are provocative and accessible). These ideas and thinkers are fairly known to insiders, but what would happen if a cross-organizational group came to discuss these?

Provocative discussion topics for four lunches

1. Seth Godin’s recent “You don’t have to pander” post, which opens with: “Merely giving the people what they want is a shortcut to banality, mediocrity and invisibility.”

2. Jane McGonigal’s “Gaming can make a better world” TED talk, which asks: “What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems?”

3. “What I’m Telling Congress on Wednesday: Teach Kids Code” by Douglas Rushkoff (author of Program or be Programmed and, more recently, Present Shock).

4. For the final lunch, crowd source an idea from the group; select the winner by popular vote.

How would in-person provocative lunches benefit your “big idea” initiatives? Won’t you join me in giving them a go? I’d love to hear the readings or videos that have sparked “aha” moments for you. Tweet them to me @anyavp or comment below.

Anna Prushinskaya explores the possibilities of technology for the performing arts at UMS (University Musical Society) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She first became interested in technology and the arts through the world of publishing, where she's still involved as Midwest editor at Joyland Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @anyavp.