Priya Parker discusses the big ideas behind her most recent book and Next Big Idea Club Spring Finalist, The Art of Gathering.
Priya Parker is the founder of Thrive Labs, where she helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings. She works with teams and leaders everywhere from the Museum of Modern Art to the World Economic Forum to clarify their vision for the future and build meaningful, purpose-driven communities.
Her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, is a journey and a guide into how we gather, exploring what works, what doesn’t, and why. She investigates a wide array of gatherings—conferences, meetings, a courtroom, a flash-mob party, an Arab-Israeli summer camp—and explains how simple, specific changes can invigorate any group experience. The Art of Gathering is an official Next Big Idea Club Spring Finalist. We asked Priya to delve into the big ideas behind her recent work, the surprising things she learned during her writing process, and how she hopes people will gather better as a result.
NBIC: In two sentences or less, can you sum up the “big idea” of your book?
Priya: Every gathering—whether board meeting, birthday party, or back-to-school night—has the potential to be transformative for the people involved. Most gatherings fail to connect people as profoundly as they could, not because of a lack of effort, but because we have been placing our attention on the wrong things.
What surprised you the most in your research?
I was surprised (and delighted) to learn that there is a job called a “transgression consultant.” Ida Benedetto and N.D. Austen, both characters in the book, are experience designers who create gatherings for people where the purpose of the gathering is to help people cross boundaries and face their fears in a safe, well-thought-through way. I had no idea such a thing existed.
Did an event from your personal life inspire or affect the book?
I went to gathering after gathering where there was plenty of care taken to prepare beautiful things, and yet the people convened—and all their complexities and stories and beauty—remained undiscovered. I wanted to write a book that helped people gather, not just get together. I wanted to write a book that helped people truly meet each other—in lots of different ways—rather than just attend an event.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides your life?
“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” —Maggie Kuhn
What is one book that you wish everyone in the world would read?
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (forthcoming August 28, 2018)
What was your most humbling moment?
Weirdly, watching the royal wedding and seeing how Meghan Markle embedded her identity and her roots into one of the most traditional ceremonies in the world. I was moved because she found a way to both honor the traditions of one of the world’s most-watched public and ritualistic ceremonies, while also honoring and acknowledging her black, American, and Episcopalian roots into the core of the ceremony. She didn’t disappear. She transformed what she was entering into. It was humbling to me because I thought, if they can change that ritual to refresh it for new realities, what are the rest of us waiting for?
What trivial trick, talent, or feat can you do to impress people?
What’s something that is really easy for most people that you find really challenging?
Finding socks that match.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
Gathering well is not based on a personality trait. It’s also not dependent on cooking well, being an extrovert, or having a beautiful house. Rather, gathering well is based on understanding what creates transformative group experiences. It’s a lens and a skill that you can learn and practice. And it matters because the ability to gather well—at work and at home—will transform your relationships and create possibilities you didn’t think existed within your own community.
To read about the rest of the Next Big Idea Club‘s Spring Finalists, click their Q&As below: