A Little “Pecha Kucha”

pechakucha - A Little "Pecha Kucha"

The phrase pecha kucha means “chit-chat” in Japanese.

In 2003, two European architects created a new type of presentation that they christened Pecha Kucha and the format of this presentation stays true to its name. A Pecha Kucha is a community session where individuals present an idea in a structured PowerPoint presentation of 20 slides with a timing of 20 seconds per slide. The total running time for a presentation is six minutes and 40 seconds.

Presenting your ideas in a seamless six minutes and 40 seconds may sound challenging, but is it fantastic to see when done well. It sounds contrived but it is not. It energizes you and opens your mind at the same time.

I had never heard of a Pecha Kucha presentation until I attended the 2011 Systems Thinking in Action conference in Seattle last week. The Pecha Kucha I attended hosted seven presentations with topics ranging from leadership to the development of communities in the Philippines. The experience was poetic.

The premise of a Pecha Kucha is to share, enjoy, and build community. We had an intermission where we—as you could imagine—talked with the people at our small table of four about our experience. We did this at the end as well. The organizers received excellent feedback.

In hindsight, I made a mistake in preparing the room for the presentation that Dr. Nancy Southern and I held at the Systems Thinking in Action conference. Because this was my first Systems Thinking in Action conference, I didn’t realize that small tables of four as the norm for any session, including keynotes, to promote interaction and discussion among attendants as a way to really experience what is being said. Presenters pause during their exposition to ask the audience to engage with the people at their tables.

During the planning and preparation phase on a subject dear to my heart—the overlay of immunity to change analysis to systemic analysis with the purpose of discovering “why” organizations do what they do to get themselves into systemic patterns—I had requested classroom style seating for our session, Action Learning Teams: A Strategy for Transforming Immunity to Change. When we arrived, the room looked so “corporate” compared to the small-table arrangement, that Dr. Southern and I felt compelled to apologize to our audience of about 100 people on how the room was setup.

This conference was my favorite among the many professional conferences I’ve attended over the years, which were associated with high tech products where different companies hype their capabilities and put down their competitors. I have also attended conferences organized by analysts where nitpicking was the norm.

Systems Thinking in Action was different. It aimed to unify and elevate everyone’s thinking.

Each session offered unique perspectives and leveraged the ideas of the attendees to enrich the subjects. There were no talking heads or people looking at their watches. Even the longer sessions, which ran a little more than two hours long, went extremely fast. I was left wanting more.

The keynotes were shows onto themselves—from Charlotte Roberts speaking on organizational consciousness to Peter Senge’s collaboration with Ben Packard from Starbucks on how the world consumes an average of two billion Starbucks’ paper cups per year.

My favorite session was hosted by the Decurion Corporation, which made its first public appearance at a conference to tell the world how wonderful they are. The company’s stated purpose is: “We are committed to creating places for people to flourish. Our purpose is our reason for existing, made every day through our practices.” The company believes that work is meant to be meaningful and should be designed for people to find meaning. It believes that people are not only means but ends in themselves. Decurion also believes that individuals and communities naturally develop. They practice the fine balance of profitability and people development, and they are very open about this.

During the session, Decurion CEO Chris Foreman said, “We believe in the full potential of human development and are committed in all of our actions.”

The company uses Wilber’s AQAL framework to analyze and solve problems. They use Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s immunity to change process to help people break through barriers. How cool is that?

As in all of the other sessions, we divided up into our small groups during the Decurion session for discussions. Chris Foreman sat at our table. His first questions to my group was, “What do you think?” I immediately replied, “Can I please give you a hug?” I was very moved by the sincerity of this company and its message of putting human development at equal level with profit-making.

Later in the session, Chris shared his quandary of how much profit is enough. Decurion consists of 1,200 employees and earns $200 million in annual revenue. We could not decisively answer his question. Some of us stated that the economic system we have was all messed up and that money is the root of all evil. Others thought that capitalism was the only way to go even though has its problems. One man in the back of the room asked Chris if he could work for him. 

Chris had an interesting reply for this man.

Three years ago, Chris said, he gave a presentation to 80 MBA students at Stanford University. At the end of his presentation, the moderator asked the students to raise their hands if they would work for Decurion. Only a third of the hands went up. The moderator then asked how many people would absolutely not work for this company and an equal number—another third—declared their intention of not ever wanting to work for Decurion. Chris had to know why they wouldn’t want to work for Decurion, so he asked the students. The replies varied—from not believing that the company was for real to feeling that it would not be challenging place to work to wondering if it would allow a worker to express his or her individuality.

I think this is proof that we all have very different worldviews. A company that I would consider a nearly perfect for our times is one that at least a third of the people would not touch.

Well, I know where I will be a year from now. I will be attending the Systems in Action 2012 conference in Indianapolis.  I hope to see you there taking part in the Pecha Kucha.

Read other posts by Jorge Taborga

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