There is a great discussion about connectivity on our blog in which David Basler asks, “Are you designing connectivity, or just planning a meeting?”
If you follow any of my blog postings (hi Mom!), then you know I’m very interested in the inner workings of group gatherings.
Basler writes, “It will take a combination of art, science and magic to be leaders in our field, but with that recipe we will be creating the best kind of meeting interaction—the kind in which humans truly experience and learn from each other and take away relationships that keep the connection going long after the meeting’s close.”
For now, I’d like to focus on the science part of his statement and give some insight into states of being when people meet.
Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, published a paper in 2006 titled “The Influence of a Sense of Time on Human Development.” In the paper, Carstensen explained that “the subjective sense of a future time plays an essential role in human motivation.”
According to her studies, when time is constrained, a person’s motivation priorities focus on emotional states rather than knowledge gathering.
“When time is perceived as open-ended, goals that become most highly prioritized are most likely to be those that are preparatory, focused on gathering information, on experiencing novelty, and on expanding breadth of knowledge,” Carstensen wrote. “When time is perceived as constrained, the most salient goals will be those that can be realized in the short-term, sometimes in their very pursuit. Under such conditions, goals tend to emphasize feeling states, particularly regulating emotional states to optimize psychological well-being.”
The feeling to connect on an emotional state cuts across all ages.
“Young or old, when people perceive time as finite, they attach greater importance to finding emotional meaning and satisfaction from life and invest fewer resources into gathering information and expanding horizons,” Carstensen wrote.
Most meetings last two-to-three days. Agree? If so, then it makes sense that people will want to meet their emotional needs more than their knowledge needs, because they’re under a time constraint. That’s why we see so many cliques at conferences. That’s why networking events turn into reacquainting clubs. In fact, you see this more so with older attendees than younger.
“Older people were observed to have smaller social networks, to be drawn less than younger people to novelty, and to reduce their spheres of interest; at the same time, however, they were as happy as (if not happier than) younger people,” Carstensen wrote. “This makes sense if motivational changes with age lead people to place priority on deepening existing relationships and developing expertise in already satisfying areas of life.”
Carstensen reaffirms, though, that any differences are not due to age, but to future time perception.
"...endings need not be related to old age or impending death," Carstensen wrote. "They need simply to limit time horizons."
Knowing this—that limited time increases a need for emotional connection—how would you design a meeting? What kind of sessions would you plan? How would you design networking events? How would you control time to your advantage?