29 July 2012

Passion at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

There is so much to like about Gurteen Knowledge Cafes and that includes the different locations that it takes you to.

Our hosts for this evening was Regent's College which is a private university occupying a cosy corned of Regents Park. We were there to take advantage of their wooden floor in the main hall.

After some very welcome refreshments and the usual introductions, including the traditional speed-networking, we were set on our way by Alida Acosta.

In quite a long talk without notes or a presentation, Alida explored the role of emotion and intellect in decision making. The emotional part includes our accumulated experience to date and that is always with us and is always changing.

The tango was used as a metaphor, hence the need for a wooden floor. The Tango was invented in Argentina as a way for people to communicate when they had no common language. To dance the Tango properly you need the intellect to learn the mechanics of the steps and also the passion and confidence to let the music take you.

Given the question of passion in our working lives we formed in to groups of around six to have the conversations that define what these events are about.

As usual, with an open question to answer our conversations went all over the place and I tried to make sense of this in my notes when I was not too busy listening and talking.


We questioned whether the split between intellect and emotion was real or artificial. I once heard that we make major decisions, like buying a house, with our hearts and then try to justify it with our heads, e.g. it is close to good schools.

We are generally reluctant to show, or share, emotion at work and when we do we seem to find it easier to share a gripe (e.g. bad weather) than success. The later seems a little too much like boasting.

Success is not a zero-sum gain, if we win then several other people lose.


Some people have real passion in their work, e.g. the teacher in our first group. I would stop (paid) work tomorrow if I could afford it whereas my father, also a teacher, worked for as long as he could and on in to his seventies.

After three rounds of group discussion we reformed in to a large circle for a final Tango demonstration and some closing comments.

This took us in to the use of passion as a corporate imperative. Someone mentioned a job advertisement that asked for people who were passionate about clean streets. This use of the word risks devaluing it, in much the same way that "team" is now meaningless.

It struck me then that we are asked by corporates to be passionate but they do not feed that passion, if we do well they give us money which has no passion in it at all. I said that it annoyed me that theatres do the same, they keep asking me to join their supporters groups and the first thing they offer is cheaper theatre tickets when my passion is for theatre, not cheap tickets, and that way to feed that passion is to give me access to the creatives.

Then we went to the pub.

The passions were in full flow and I had some more fantastic conversations across a range of topics and with a range of people, none of whom I knew particularly well beforehand.

I headed for home around 11pm, some five hours after the event started, still buzzing and totally invigorated.

And that's the magic of a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and why passion was such an appropriate topic.

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