The journalist Starlee Kine once said that small talk is way more exhausting than connecting with someone.
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a physicist at a bar. (It seems like the set-up for a joke but — thanks to Stanford — this is a thing I do now.) Conversation was hard because he was quiet, but mostly because I took my last science class years ago.
The best I could come up with: “What’s the most science fiction, out-there thing you’re working on right now?”
It turned out to be pretty cool. This physicist, he told me there’s a very well-respected theory that the entire universe is a hologram, and that everything we see and feel is actually just information projected into three dimensions.
I won’t pretend I fully understood what he was talking about. But this tiny fragment of knowledge, this little insight into his world, fascinated me. The coolest, most unexpected thing I found out is that great conversation breeds great conversation. I watched a few videos on the hologram thing, and now I throw it out there when there’s nothing else on the table. It never fails to spark something.
And this is just one factoid. Imagine if I walked out of every one of my dozens of daily interactions with a similar fragment. So, I propose, for all of us, a ban on boring conversations. We have collectively wasted decades asking each other about the weather and drilling down into baseball stats.
Here’s my working list of banned questions:
● Where a person grew up
● What they did before school
● What they did last summer
● Where they live (in Palo Alto, maybe Redwood City)
● What they did last weekend or earlier this week
I hate answering these questions as much as I hate hearing the answers. So, I’m trying out a new set of questions. One quick example: There are some things our grandparents’ generation believed and did that we think are stupid/horrible/backward. What’s something commonplace that we do/think/believe today, but that our grandkids will find completely barbaric?
People have fantastically diverse perspectives on this question. Factory farming. College football. Tech addiction. And it tells you so, so much about them.
James Rathmell is a member of the JD / MBA Class of 2019.