Kate Quarfordt On the Seasons of Creative Conversations


Today I talk with Kate Quarfordt,  the Founding Director of Arts Integration & Culture at City School of the Arts. My conversation with Kate was a rich and wonderful surprise! I found her 4-seasons framework someplace in the corners of the internet and was immediately enchanted with it. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter as metaphors for the flow of work... The Framework is so powerful in the types of conversations it allows into the larger conversation about work, especially winter, a time to reflect and consider, to heal and incubate. It's rare to make space for that type of work! (see a link to the model and our first meeting on twitter here)…her original image is really lovely, a watercolor work of art! I’ve made a “cleaned up” black and white version here.

the four seasons-01.jpg

The opening and closing circles Kate hosts in her school to bookend the week...it touched my heart! It's such a beautiful way to work. And so similar to how Daniel Mezick gets organizations to shift how they work through Open Space Agility! Check that episode out here!

This conversation has started to open up the idea of threads and threading in conversation design for me. I first got the sense of threading from my conversation with Nandini Stocker, Google's Head of Conversation Design Advocacy. As I see it now,  the arc of a conversation  is made of stories. And the way Kate describes our stories coming together to make a new one, using the word "Braiding", makes so much sense.  Conversations are the exchange of stories, and placing ourselves and others into the hero role, shifting perspective as empathy and generosity demands is the flow of real dialogue.

Finally, we talked about how creative work requires an audience! An Audience provides a "pull" and "push" for work. At least, that's the way I experience it. Even when I don't feel like it, I push myself to finish work on an episode because I know people are waiting (pulling) for it. And there's a loop of feedback on the work: People write me to tell me what was great and where I missed the mark. That's one of the reasons that I feel the conversation between an organization and its customers is one of the most critical, missing pieces in companies that struggle with a sluggish work cadence. There's not enough urgency.  If you want to dig into that conversation more, check out the episodes from Rei Wang, Director of the Dorm Room Fund and Sarah Mitchell, Lead designer at Faraday Futures. Both helped me see principles at work in sustaining great conversations with customers and community.

 Thank you so much for listening and I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I did making it !


Notes and Links


Meeting Kate on Twitter

New York City Charter School for the Arts (CSA)

Specials On C


Threading in Conversation Design: In Podcast Show notes

What we need is a Montage (montage!)

The X that we were solving for: Feeling out of synch, loss of clear cadence

The Seasons Wheel applied to a Week or a Cultural Transformation:

Open and Closing Circles: Open Space Agility with Daniel Mezick


Mary Oliver: making yourself visible to yourself in a way you never imagined!

From Blue Pastures:

I don’t mean it’s easy or assured; there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag of stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one piles, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe – that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.



The Inner Winter Process: Leaving yourself voicemails! (creates a third point for reflection, just as a drawing or journal does)

Dave Gray on Drawing creating a clearer interface for conversations


Morning Pages


The Inner Conversation


Spring Cleaning Script from Mama Gena: http://www.mamagenas.com/where-women-store-garbage/


Holding Space is incredible power: Who initiates the request? Who Has permission? The Paradox of Flow vs Framework: Absence of Structure vs. Structure vs. balancing who introduces the structure.


What's the Deal with Agile?



How is a school like a conversation? Moving from the School-As-Script model to the School-As-Dialogue model.

Waterfall vs Agile



Kate's Post-call reflections on Winter and Work as a Relay Race:

"As I was transitioning into the rest of my day I realized that there was one last thing that I wanted to share apropos of the winter phase and the importance of rest and rejuvenation--not just in the creative learning space, but also in the context of activism and resistance. As I mentioned, we are doing a lot of work with young folks around using the arts as a vehicle for activism, especially given how passionate they are about making their voices heard in this current political moment. On Monday night I had the chance to perform with the Resistance Revival Chorus, a women/femme-led singing group created by the leaders of the Women's March to keep the momentum of the march moving forward and also--crucially--to frame joy and rejuvenation as acts of resistance in and necessary elements of a sustainable movement. Paola Mendoza, co-artistic director of the March, and one of the producers of Monday night's event, said something that evening that resonated super powerfully with me.



She said, "The resistance is not a sprint, but it's not a marathon either. It's a relay race." I love that image because it evokes the sustainability that becomes possible when hard work and leadership are shouldered by a full community instead of by a single individual. There's a sense of permission implicit in this approach, the understanding that it's ok for each member of the community to pause and refill the tanks every so often, because there's always someone else right there who's ready to take up the baton and run the next leg. In the context of the season wheel, this is the idea that different community members can be in different phases at different times...  it's OK for you to be in winter, because you know I'm in summer and I've got you covered, and then we can switch so I get a chance to rest and reflect while you keep the work moving forward. I'm excited to bring that relay race image back to the kiddos when we gather to kick off year two.