It was the Blackberries and the casual clothes that gave the game away. That, and the gravel drive past the Porsche and the Landrover to the country manor.
It was our time for our Awayday experience.
Company Awaydays have become the target of fun and ridicule in advertising and elsewhere. How pointless, the petty ambition, the power games ... the image of David Brent stalks the syndicate rooms with their flip charts and tea and coffee pots and square glass bottles with suspiciously bright contents (what IS that stuff?).
Instead we did Aikido moves. It's not as Brent-esque as it might sound. We did this partly as a warm-up, but there is a fascinating application. First you need to know something about Aikido.
Aikido is a martial art developed in the 1920s which emphasises spirituality. The name “aikido” comes from three Japanese characters that stand for “matching,” “spirit,” and “way.” Aikido fighters are thus demonstrating an effective but merciful response. Morihei Ueshiba (the Great Teacher of Aikido) declared “To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.” (source)
The most fundamental concept of Aikido is that of ‘harmonising’ with an attacker. (source)
We had a coach, of course. Unless your name is Roger Federer, you will gain from having a coach. Ours was Mark McGuinness, coach and poet. And Aikido devotee - doh.
Maybe the principles and practices of Aikido can be applied to conversations. To us, the Art of Conversation is also about deflecting aggression and 'harmonising' mercifully with participants, going with the flow.
However, many conversational tactics employed by people - including some researchers - actually exacerbate aggression, ignorance and stubborn-ness. Some forms of questioning, may sound polite but in fact hide an aggressive intent. The commonest example is 'why?'
Asking 'why?' in certain contexts is the conversational equivalent of thrusting towards the face with a long wooden pole.
Turning this around, here are three Aikido moves and their conversational equivalents. We might see if AQR want to adapt the approach for training purposes.
ushiro-ryokata: 'in what sector should Brand X extend with what relevant key messages?'
kubishime: 'what is the order of importance of these decision-making factors, for you?'
kakaedori: 'if Brand Y were a Brazilian tropical flower, what shape and colour would its stamens be?'
Suitably warmed up and harmonised, we went on to discuss meaning and purpose and the Wardle McLean Way. Very interesting outputs, some of which are becoming blog posts, even now.
The higher purpose question is very worthwhile - and quite a challenge. Mark Earls and others have written about it. We have blogged about this before - brands with a higher purpose. What is it you really believe in? What do you want your work to be about?
We came back happier, more harmonised and with more flip charts pages than we could fit into a bag.