conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Let’s Get Liminal: How to be a Co–Laborer/Co-Thinker/Co-Contributor

with 6 comments

Show up to explore the space between

My friend helps researchers at his Midwestern university organize their thoughts for publication. He also helps them apply for grants to fund their research—a function many universities are increasingly focused on.

To do this work, my friend has found ways to walk alongside new professors as they form their research interests. By staying beside them over time (years, even), he is able to help identify places where the work can go forward and also begin to locate potential funding sources. That’s when the hard work begins of explaining the research to a funding committee.

Approaches to Minneapolis

Approaches to Minneapolis

This space between—where the research shows particular promise but is still unformed—this is where a conversation can bear fruit. Maybe even the goal itself is starting to take shape, along with possible routes to that desired end. Sometimes it is the conversations surrounding the goal and routes to the goal that open it for exploration.

Michael Banning is an observer and painter of liminal spaces—those spaces and places that we typically don’t even see:

I am interested in the liminal spaces found at the edges of the inner city. Amid the trucks, weeds and railroad tracks of those often post-industrial surroundings, one can find compelling views of the distant skyline as well as a sense of peace and quiet uncommon in the urban experience.

–“Parking Lot near Train Tracks,” by Michael Banning, label from James J. Hill House Gallery

Parking Lot near Train Tracks (Photo courtesy Michael Banning)

Parking Lot near Train Tracks (Photo courtesy Michael Banning)

See Michael Banning’s work here.

When we are lucky enough to find ourselves talking about these liminal spaces with each other, we might be collaborating in a particularly effective way. Typically we don’t have a clue when we’ve entered such a verbal space. Years later we might identify a conversation that was a turning point. Perhaps the best we can do is to remain open to entertaining each other’s unformed thoughts.

Who knows what might result?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

6 Responses

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  1. I really like this. It’s those interstices– spaces in-between– that we tend to turn off our minds and disengage… but those are the spaces we are so often in, and where we should always “pay attention. be astonished. and tell about it” as Mary Oliver put it. great post


    August 25, 2014 at 10:30 am

    • Megan–thanks for reading. Funny how invisible those spaces are, and yet when we stop to look, there is so much to see.


      August 25, 2014 at 10:36 am

  2. […] Yesterday’s post drew a comparison between liminal spaces and the work that happens in a good conversation: how we help each other explore a topic, which often opens a route to a conclusion and even action. […]

  3. […] by and through spaces not dedicated to the work you do: the incidental scenery along the way. Liminal spaces. Preoccupied with your onerous task (the meeting to conduct, the performance review, the […]

  4. […] that collaborative environment requires a light touch, a willingness to explore liminal spaces, record results and allow others access to the longer conversation. Creating collaboration also […]

  5. […] we gain perspective by asking what we see from this liminal space. What does life look like from this uncomfortable, slippery place? What is important […]

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