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Connecting Communities with Creative Conversation | SXSW 2021

Fred Dust
Founder, Designer, Speaker, Consultant, Writer at Making Conversation, LLC
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SXSW 2021
March 16, 2021, Online, Austin, USA
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Connecting Communities with Creative Conversation | SXSW 2021
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About speakers

Fred Dust
Founder, Designer, Speaker, Consultant, Writer at Making Conversation, LLC
Vivek Murthy
21st Surgeon General of the United States at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Fred Dust is the founder of Making Conversation, LLC and works at the intersection of business, society and creativity. As a designer, author, educator, consultant, trustee, and advisor to social and business leaders, he is one of the world’s most original thinkers, applying the craft and optimism of human-centered design to the intractable challenges we face today. Using the methodology in his forthcoming book Making Conversation, he has been working as the Senior Dialogue Designer with The Rockefeller Foundation to explore the future of pressing global needs; and with The Einhorn Collaborative and other foundations to host constructive dialogue with leaders ranging from David Brooks, Reverend Jenn Bailey, and Vivek Murthy to rebuild human connection in a climate of widespread polarization, cynicism and disruption. He is also proud to be faculty at the Esalen Institute.

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Fred Dust is the founder of Making Conversation, LLC and works at the intersection of business, society and creativity. As a designer, author, educator, consultant, trustee, and advisor to social and business leaders, he is one of the world’s most original thinkers, applying the craft and optimism of human-centered design to the intractable challenges we face today. Using the methodology in his forthcoming book Making Conversation, he has been working as the Senior Dialogue Designer with The Rockefeller Foundation to explore the future of pressing global needs; and with The Einhorn Collaborative and other foundations to host constructive dialogue with leaders ranging from David Brooks, Reverend Jenn Bailey, and Vivek Murthy to rebuild human connection in a climate of widespread polarization, cynicism and disruption. He is also proud to be faculty at the Esalen Institute.

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About the talk

n the face of rising polarization and isolation, conversation has the power to move us forward and build community. But unless we design conversations intentionally, they can erupt with misunderstanding. As a former designer and senior partner at IDEO, Fred Dust designed conversations that matter for everyone from the elite of the Aspen Institute to the victims of gun violence in Brooklyn, and has now written Making Conversation. He is joined by Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General and author of Together. In this talk, Dust and Murthy discuss elements of designing successful exchanges of ideas based on their joint mission to sound an alarm about the perils of isolation and the promise of conversation to forge human connection across differences.

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SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. An essential destination for global professionals, this year’s online event features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, professional development and a variety of networking opportunities. For more information, please visit sxsw.com.

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This is Fred dust and I'm here with them. Your friend, dr. Vivek Murthy, how you doing? I'm doing well Fred All Things Considered I'm healthy. I'm actually living with extended family at the moment during this pandemic. And so, all things considered, I consider myself lucky. We are all definitely quite lucky. As to say I end up together to have a conversation about what I think is maybe the most important thing we can be discussing how to have great conversations and make him human connections which I think

is both of our missions. So it's I left for you to speak for me Friday, because you're very eloquent, still probably do a better job, calling up, trying to strengthen human connection and craving better. Dialogue is a. Yeah. And it's funny cuz I was we were just reading for the description of this talk in one of things. I want us to do. I want to call out a little bit. Is that? No, just from my perspective. Historically, this was first piece ran like the Wall Street Journal. Basic. It was like oh my God this is the most futuristic thing I've ever heard this book making conversation. But I'm

working on it and I was like there's nothing to turistic of this. This is that just goes back Millennia like humans have been in conversation with each other for thousands and thousands of years. We became apex predators an agrarian so it's like I just feel like we just have to ReDiscover it before. It's dark it's our oldest. Our oldest non-lethal tool Russian very, very important point because I feel like a connected world and 2 to create healthy dialogue, it's not an effort to

transform us into something new, a g or something that we're not. It's actually an effort to return to something that we knew much more instincts. Really still do knowing I to this day, but to some extent we've forgotten, I had a dialogue. Maybe we've never truly learned in some cases, maybe we know deep inside but it's been layered over with what Society expects of us are. What we've come to expect of ourselves by consuming, you know, sort of didn't use your media or other examples of dialog. For the bottom line is, we were designed to connect with one another. We were

meant to be coming back to that. I feel really important at a time where we are more divided and then Separated. And we really need to be or should be saying, I do want to talk about the divided because one of the things that it in the book in life, that there's a thing called frequency, do you know what? Maybe you can explain it more. So since it seems to me that I can, but I don't know that I can, but I think it just gentle the notion that when we are alerted to something, we tend to see it more often around us. And we tend to think it's more common and it actually maybe just because our mind is

a team to it. Yeah. It's 11:11 on the you know where yeah. That was exactly the example to give which is like it that people there's a 1111 Angels you know I really pay attention to it. I do notice that like remarkable moments happen when it's during, it's it's it's like we're we're we're trained to see things like that things like the cop or we divide and and to be honest, like my perspective is that like the Divide is more sexy for the new socks? Like, the Press wants,

it wants to talk about that and I think we need to be talked about things that are more relentlessly positive and where people make really amazing conversation Poppin. Why? I think you're right. I think we focus so often on the deficit and there are there more than enough reasons to be concerned about the future but I think I missed all of that. Like, it's our connections with each other. At our ability to have full feeling moments of conversation that stand out is this extraordinary source of joy and energy at a time where a lot of things

still draining. So, I think you're right that, you know, it's her and they were talking about for filling moment Connection in conversation. It's not just the one hour or two hours, he's been in the phone. Catching up with a friend. It's it's about all the big and small ways that we connect with people that can be sources of light, in our life. It's that momentary interaction with a security guard or Barista. It's the moment we may have, you know, a few seconds interact with the neighbor and we're driving by their house where I sent. Myla simple gesture and

acknowledgement that you see somebody that you you know, his value them can be so powerful in a world where so many people who invisible, but it's funny. Like I want to be something like never hire somebody who hasn't worked in the service industry and work my way through college or so, if I really believed you. So whether they're your nurses and doctors or whether there is the local gas station or the local Bodega around the corner, it's like that. Those are really important conversations to have. Well, they are and you know, I think the pandemic has made that even more apparent.

I too many people because I think most of us, perhaps in our day-to-day life pre-pandemic with her relationships really matter for us. Are those who'll be happy with our close family and friends, and I think it does matter, absolutely. But I need for many of us like the power of those small interaction with neighbors, with co-workers, with strangers are even much more of an impact on us realize, but they play a role in helping us feel connected to someone else. It healing scene to experiencing some joy, to having a moment of

authenticity, which frankly feels good in a world where sometimes it can feel like you're always trying to be somebody else for live up to someone else's standards are powerful. And you're so powerful again is because we're hardwired to connect and we'll meet little bit of authentic. And it stays with us for awhile. Yeah, I think I think that's right. But we we lost our dog, our dog died three weeks ago. I was sick. He who is lovely like giant creature is 13 years old and I

will tell you, she, she taught us the right way to die. I mean, she was the day before she died. She was walking around carrying a little stuffed animal by its neck, gingerly in a way that you would never do before. And I was like, David, she's wanting to die and she wants us to see what she wants us to going to adopt another puppy and David like, you're crazy. And then the day before inauguration, and which is a really hard day in general, and I got in the house and she was paralyzed and I would, and I

lay down after, and I was like, I know you're planning on dying. It's like, it's like, and I just need you this week, can you just stick with us? And somehow we weren't looking He got up, even though she's paralyzed turned it back to us. She died, which was like, genius. I mean sense, because she was such a, she was such a present. The people, we just walk up to it on the street, I want to talk to her. As soon as how we made friends with all of our neighbors. Honestly, I think putting puppies on the floor of Congress would be like a fix a

whole bunch of problems that we have it. So it's like, anyway. But that was called a bird walk. I live in a rural rural communities that didn't vote the same way. My husband, I voted and yet was so connected to our neighbors and families and friends. And, and really have kind of leaned in to help everybody time during death and the during this this time last year and there's such a good feeling in this community. Wilfred I'm so sorry to hear about your dog and about me nuts with a lot of people. But I

don't mean to laugh but it's just like it's like we we we we came into a good side for what day was January, the real rough. When I'm sure you had a rough January or at least interesting one. Well, I think it was tumultuous year for a lot of people individually and just versus the country. It was hard but I love is a fact that you have found a sense of community and you you frame. It is that you living in a place where a lot of people didn't vote the way you and

and, and your husband is so beautiful. Cuz I think this is where I think our relationships can be a gift, right? Because they can remind us of what is possible of the beauty and that we have inside of a sign of our ability to see that beauty and to connect with that cuz there's so much of what is emphasized it. When you watch the news or when you read the papers is all the stuff that's different between us and how we are the friction that exists between us and how we are so divided. But sometimes it's just a single

conversation with a neighbor or somebody will you feel connection to remind you? That there is something So much deeper in the positions, we may hold on issues, or something more ingrained in our humanity and our common concern, for one another, Our concern, for our kids are desired and want to leave them a better place, a desire to want to be a service child 36 and to give you no kindness and love like those are common human needs and to see those written on a piece of paper, is a whole other thing to experience them. And that's the gift of relationships. They give us a

chance to experience love and kindness in ways that can be really transformative going out in talking, in the last can of 6-9 months. People do my service fuming that I'm kind of really down on digital means of communication. And to be honest, like, I've been like it's that's not what I think, eroded conversation. I think interesting me, like, our neighbor who's a hunter property cuz hear you want somebody who hunt your property? Who knows you so that they know your routine. He he was deployed as an EMT in to the Bronx during the height of the

first wave of him. We texted him every night and when he came back we came over and sat on our lawn with us. And he just cried. And I realized he was telling us stuff that he couldn't tell his wife and child because he couldn't couldn't make them feel space if he did. But he felt comfortable telling us and using us and in a good way to kind of go to unburden and and places like New York that New York City. It feels like they need it. You know, it's like they

made it with the help of like a lot of other people. It's an absolutely the case I'm so glad that you were able to be there for your neighbor. And I'm so grateful that he was a service in New York for the time of great need is so much about what's beautiful about humanity is a, we can push comes to shove, we do step up for one another like in our better moments and we can be there to support one another. And you know that I don't know how long these conversations

were that your neighbor had with you were in when you know he came back and you are the front lawn but I would imagine that even if those were brief conversation that they would have been really meaningful, just to know that I can be there for you and our dog Sookie a year ago, two years ago, when she got lost for 24 hours and it's because she likes his house and scratched his door in like Emma and do whatever and it was taken care of So it's like we've

all been kind of helping each other. I think any different ways can instead of spiritually and over over the last thing over the last about a practice that you had when you were the Surgeon General anxiety and quite a bit and you used to do something that was about talking as a way to going to start your conversation, can you? Give me the meditation practice that we said this is really you. Important price. It was in a sense a way for us to get out of our own way to let the stress and the worry that exhaust and I'll settle that

allow ourselves. You know, as we originally were beings, who were passionate, we're excited. Who were you? No, compassion supportive. Allow that part, really come out until this meditation practice with something that, you know, many of us took. I wasn't the name is requiring anything in the office, but, you know, it's just a tool that we provided some people. If they want to get some instruction in it, I didn't know their own, many people meditated and some people ended up wanting to meditate together from time to time and so they did that. But what it will

help us to do was to reconnect with with who we wanted to be and it helped us to re-center ourselves since we have in life in general. And that I really struggle with in my own life is figuring out at like It's take that fast pace, craziness of the world, in which we live at. How do we anchor ourselves? How do we send ourselves? It's like, being in a hurricane where the hurricane every day when we get up and wander out into the world. But how do we make sure our feet stay firmly planted on the ground? And maybe everyone has may have a different technique

for doing this. That works for that medication was one that works for us, but other people are exercise can be really grounding for others. It's time in nature that can be deeply grounding and for many, if not, all of us is moments have true. Authentic connection can also be really grounded because when we connect deeply with somebody, if it's almost sent it in a way that in some cases we hold a mirror up to us and letting us would have seen experience ourselves as we truly are and awesome it to reminder, a toss of a we can be. And you know,

sometimes when I've had a really good conversation with that, an old friend, after a long time, I'm reminded, you know, that, you know, I can be a good listener, I can be compassionate empathic, and I can be vulnerable enough to allow somebody to share their love and compassion with me. And there are times where I go throughout life, and I forget that because I'm so stuck in operating, in a world. It doesn't always support this kind of values. So you know, we approach the highways medication was a tool that work for us, but I think all of us need some anchor that helps to stay rooted in. We

are the former prime minister George papandreou. Lisa is a good friend of mine and we said after he was left government and I had dinner at M Lincoln What would have happened if you could have slowed down and, and like, and can taking a breath before while you in there crisis, and he's like, if we'd stayed down, there wouldn't have been a crisis. And he's, he talked about the fact that basically, he would say something and it in a press conference in. Somebody would mistranslated in the

back and around the world. It was here that they were basically something like Greece is bankrupt. When that's when he was saying, we are not bankrupt, you know? It's like so it's, I think his reminder and in your own. So I think it was very short, you would out of 45 seconds of of those things are really helpful and that's helpful both in terms of Crisis decisions, like not making bad decisions. It's also helpful. In reminding you that there are other things that they need to be taught of them

in the world. And I also feel like, one of things I've noticed I went for a long walk in the snow is very smelly ear. My husband died for two hours and then I realized, even in silence, you hear their voices. Like you could hear the snow falling, you could hear the birds calling. You can hear something howling, it said, and even in our own lives, like when we are silent in a meeting for a moment, we hear people. We wouldn't hear otherwise into a good conversation. That's a really, really

yeah, absolutely end interesting. Because we do we have a very clear preference culturally speaking in the modern world for volume. Four loudness for a TV. Just think about how do we what's our picture of a of a good leader physically thing. Somebody who's speaking up a lot is taking up all the space you got below. Right? Answer is just taking charge of meetings. It's not always necessary the case though and a lot of times we lose something. When we speaking too loudly, And I'm reminded of them.

Nothing. But silence is a room for other voices, to be heard, but it also allows us to slow down so that we can see things more clearly when I was turning General in the beginning, I remember I had some trouble with my shoulder and I was going to see a physical therapist and he was teaching me some exercises to do. And he said, Just remember when you do these exercises that slow is smooth and smooth as fast as it's reminding me to stay that don't focus on just quickly like doing it a wrap surgery. Like your exercises, your stretches, and slowly. So you

didn't sleep either smoothly over all you'll get it done more quickly but the results will be better. When I try to remember that at times, where I feel like the urge to adjust speed on to go fast enough. It's slowing down. Sometimes Kennedy. What helps it to see more clearly and react more effectively. Because I think about the idea is like a little bit. They're like, I basically had a situation where in my twenties, I broke every ligament except for one in my ankle and they were going to do. Like I

was like, I don't want to do surgery and I really don't and it took me a year to go to therapy and whatever, but it's my ankle is perfect. And I really like, I didn't have to go into surgery and there's something by phone if it's also really about healing and selecting and all those things while I have you, I do have to ask you like so you were surgeon-general if something were to happen and you were General again, what would you do if it would have changed since last time I worked together,

he was about to do. I think would make a nice voice and loneliness in America. I was trying to help him with some of those conversations and then I got to go, I got to bounce back, email Monday at 11 to get them fired, but I also work at then it kind of like a call and response back and forth between it, but I love knowing that that's where you were. Where would you go? If you if if something were to happen and you were soulmates, Another one of the things that was really impressed on me during my last time, it's tributing government wasn't even in the years since then. And

speaking with communities is just how important relationship is is a foundation for everything else will be billed. You can see that even right now during the response to Cove it, where the fact that we don't have a strong connection between one another, as we could have, makes it harder to to have a unified response, makes it easier for us to be a divided at times or to make a response politicized and in that suit that has profound implications for how we respond to the pandemic endemic. If we want to take on big challenges, this is how I feel when

I dress economic inequalities. If you want to dress the disparities, we haven't held you want address climate change or any other major prices to make on our way. It takes us being able to work together to come together. Actually agree on everything, but respecting the value one, another enough to be able to recognize her, we'd need to look out for each other's, welfare and wood. That is so, you know who come together to mean for me? Is it be fun if we don't have the ability to dialogue with one another? And we can create that kind of unity? And ultimately

relationship is the foundation for dialogue. You can't just throw a bunch of people who have different views together in a room and say, okay, find some, you've got to find ways to build relationships. First, help them connect and dialogue. As they can see themselves more clearly as human beings who have common concerns. And that hard work of building relationships is the work of building community of strengthening attend a country in the world, so that to me is the important work that we have to do. Now is where I would tend to focus. You know, if I was in a serving and

government again and even if I'm not swear, I'll continue to flow. Cuz I can I want my kids to inherit a world that is full of opportunity to still a possibility or people will embrace them where people support one another. That can only happen if we recognized relationships for what they are, which is a building blocks for successful healthy fulfilled Society. One of the reasons why I talked about making conversation as I think that the reality is that we need to be thinking as as as the most creative act. We do

get through these hard conversations is by making a plan for them is by and it's like setting setting the right kinds of rules but it's but the reality is that making conversation is like we're all may, we all can do that. You've made your bed this morning. Hopefully like it's like you can you can you can you can figure out a plan to make the conversations have been, you need to make. So I'm just glad that I get to be in conversation with you. Can I find barbecue in Cincinnati to talk to you? And I'll say that this is a great note and on because it's a profoundly

empowering note, writing means that in order to be a Healer in order to help us, prepare the world to draw the best of the world. You'll need to have a special degree or a medical license or anything of that. You just need to be human beings as humans. We have the ability to to build relationships and make conversation to create dialogue. We just have to be willing to understand how to do that. To remember what we've known for thousands of years and to make that a priority now.

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Fred Dust
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