I met Richard Saul Wurman in 2011 at a conference in which he was supposed to speak. One of the reasons I went to the conference was to see him speak yet for some reason I arrived late to his keynote. Luckily earlier in the day, I and some friends managed to grab him during a lunch break.
We asked him if he was enjoying the conference and he said that he was not. He did not say that in a mean way, he said it because the conference was not being run the way he would have run it. He mentioned that because when he ran conferences he used to think about all the details, and pointed out, among other things, how the setting of our lunch did not allow for serendipitous conversation between attendees. Then he went on to mention how he felt that TED – which he founded – is not as interesting as it used to be since nowadays talks are mostly staged and rehearsed to the second. He told us that he was so honest with all the things that he did not like about today’s TED that he is not even allowed to go to one anymore. Even though I found him an interesting person at the time – it is always fun to listen to people with contrarian ideas – I did not fully understand what he meant until later.
For me the most remarkable about that moment was when he mentioned how he loved conversation. How he believed that it was the one of the most important things about shared human existence. How he valued the importance of all the key components of the conversation: silence, listening, serendipity, curiosity, the back and forth of questions and answers. He indicated that he organises conferences as a way to ignite interesting conversations. During that time he was organising a conference – the WWW conference – aimed at celebrating improvised conversations. I never had heard anybody talk about conversation in such a high esteem. And that encounter changed the way I talk to people: I make an additional effort to listen more, talk less, ask better questions and I’m usually looking for occasions to have interesting conversations with people.
Conversation is like tango. It is violent, it is filled with rules and
anti rules. It is dance. The partners are love and hate, terror and
confidence, ignorance and understanding, they are complexity and are
Richard Saul Wurman in The Conversation
I wanted to write this for quite a while. Right after seeing this post, this post and this video, I thought that it would be interesting to capture the memories of my RSW story as well. This podcast interview with him is also really nice and you get to hear most of what he believes, told by himself.