Unleashing Knowledge: The Potency of Genuine Dialogue

Uday Dandavate
5 min readFeb 22, 2024

Summary:

The article delves into the significance of ‘dialogue’ as a powerful tool in generative research and ethnography. Drawing from three decades of experience, the author emphasizes the profound impact of genuine, open-minded conversations in fostering collective synthesis of knowledge, wisdom, and ideas. Through insights from cultural activist Dr. Ganesh Devy, the importance of spoken languages in preserving implicit wisdom is highlighted. The article explores the nuanced role of a dialogue facilitator in creating an atmosphere of comfort, curiosity, and trust. It proposes that dialogue is a synthesis of insight and energy, tapping into both explicit and implicit knowledge. The transformative power of dialogue lies in unleashing creative energy and allowing beliefs to morph into new possibilities. The distinction between information and knowledge is discussed, emphasizing the author’s focus on the evolving state of human consciousness. The piece concludes by underlining the art of dialogue as a fine practice, essential for inspiring generative thinking.

“Language is the roadmap of a culture, telling you where its people come from and where they are going.” — Rita Mae Brown

Background

In this article, I discuss the importance of ‘dialogue’ as a time-tested method for problem-solving and ideation.

I have been practicing generative and ethnographic research for the past 30 years. During this period, I have used numerous methods to prompt people to reflect, express, and project their thoughts, feelings, and imaginations. My curiosity as an ethnographer of imagination has been to learn how to remove barriers to imagination. Reflecting on the studies I have conducted and informal conversations I have had, I arrived at a conclusion: a genuinely curious and open-minded conversation between people has immense power to enable collective synthesis of knowledge, wisdom, insights, and ideas. Let me elaborate.

Sharing implicit wisdom

A recent conversation with Dr. Ganesh Devy, an Indian cultural activist, literary critic, and former English professor known for the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, revealed to me the importance of spoken languages. Immense knowledge embedded in spoken languages is carried forward through generations.

“The most intimate temper of a people, its deepest soul, is above all in its language.” — Jules Michelet

When we speak in the language we inherited or attempt to understand someone who speaks the language they grew up in, we access not only their thoughts in the moment but also the understanding of the world they have inherited. This is one reason I never consider ethnographic research a way to interview people. I approach it as a way to have a conversation for understanding each other’s worlds. I often tell the participants of my studies, “I get paid to gossip,” and that “I enjoy doing research because I am naturally curious about why people live, think, feel, and do whatever they do.” I also encourage them to speak in their native language, even if they can speak English. I always ask for an interpreter who can do cultural translation of what people say and what they mean. I have also noticed that people reflect in the moment when they speak to someone in their own language and explain nuances of what they are trying to convey.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others — our parents, for instance — and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live” Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism

Therefore, a good facilitator of a dialogue is one who can create an atmosphere of comfort, curiosity, openness, and trust. Much has been written about the art of listening. In addition to being a good listener, a good conversationalist must learn how to get people to open up to reveal themselves in a manner they feel at ease feeling vulnerable in that conversation

Synthesis of insight and energy

I propose that a dialogue is a synthesis of insight and energy. A dialogue taps into both explicit and implicit knowledge the participants have. The intent of a dialogue is akin to the intent of cooking — to mindfully combine ingredients to create a more meaningful and delightful flavor. The cooking process releases the inherent qualities of its individual ingredients. When these secret qualities meet each other through the process of chopping, blending, grinding, mixing, stirring, frying, etc., they lead to magical outcomes.

The purpose of a dialogue is not just to find answers to a set of questions, validation of a hypothesis, or even arriving at an agreement. The most potent power of dialogue is to release the creative energy dormant in the participants’ individual life experiences and belief systems. Allowing such a transformation of separately held beliefs to morph into a new space of possibilities can help find solutions to lingering problems and for new ideas to emerge.

Information versus knowledge

It is important to understand the difference between information and knowledge.

Google, for example, has set its mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Within the context of this mission, information can be defined as “facts embodied as text, image, sound, sensations, etc. Information can live on a server and can be transported across the internet.

On the other hand, knowledge refers to knowing. I define it as an evolving state of human consciousness (individual or collective).

As a designer, I am more interested in knowledge because understanding knowledge generation and dissemination helps me understand human intent, behaviors, and interactions. Knowledge exchange shapes collective consciousness and social imagination. Therefore, dialogue helps people in self-making and sense-making pursuits.

For the purpose of this article, I have focused only on dialogue as opposed to other modes of communication (such as visual communication) because I believe it is a fine art that needs several years of practice, refinement, and innovation. I hope that the readers of this article will recognize that facilitating dialogue to inspire generative thinking requires highly skilled individuals with an understanding of the nuances of this practice.

Compare a good catalyst of dialogue to the conductor of an orchestra, who serves as a mentor/teacher (bringing out the best in the team), a timekeeper (ensuring synchronicity between the various instruments even in moments of improvised deviation from the script), and an artistic leader (paying attention to the magic of the collective performance). I suggest that anyone seeking to serve as a conductor of dialogue must treat it like conducting an orchestra and refine their listening, caring, mentoring, and creative skills along the way.

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Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.