The other day I was settling in for what was to be another long and tedious training meeting. I knew the topic was dry and unexciting, but one that I already had a high level of understanding. So I was in for a long two hours. The facilitator began with an ice breaker. My first thought, well there is 15 minutes that will hold my interest. Then came the topic. Unfortunately, this is an oldie but a goodie with corporate trainers. Name the three people, living or dead, that you would want to have for dinner. Now most people have these three names on the tip of their tongue and they are ready for the discussion within seconds.
You have the true family people who mention Grandma, and Uncle Bob who have been deceased and are dearly missed. They usually round out the table with a favorite teacher, pastor or a sibling. I admire these lists. They are personal and have meaning for the individual. These sound like great conversations that go well past desert and drinks and over to the corner table until the restaurant closes. Good choices.
Then there are the folks who want you to know how PC they are. These list will include Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and eventually someone will name check Mahatma Gandhi. All of these people are incredible choices. Each could spur deep and insightful conversation. Here is my issue with these lists. There is little commonality to keep the conversation moving forward. It would turn into a Q&A with each individual, not a group conversation. You sound like the great altruist for including these people, but where does it go.
We move on to the look how smart I am crowd with Friedrich Nietzsche, Socrates, Immanuel Kant and the like. I have no issue with any of these individuals. But most of the people who drag out this list have a philosophical limit at Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”. Stop trying to impress me with your list and be honest.
Every so often when you do this exercise, and I have done it more times than I can count, you run across this person. The person who is not based in reality. I am not talking about those individuals who would invite Tyrion Lannister, Darth Vader, and Harry Potter. (They come along occasionally also.) No, I am talking about the person who wants to sit down with Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko, and Jimmy Carter to put an end to the crisis in the Crimea. They think one dinner will solve thousands of years of unrest in the Middle East or end an African dictator’s genocidal reign. While I admire the desire, is this in any way a dinner anyone would enjoy?
Then there is me. In icebreakers like these, I usually volunteer to go at the beginning of the exercise so that I can get it out of the way and just listen to everyone else. This question is and always has been very difficult for me. Therefore, I stall and listen to others. I scratch off one name and add another. By the time I present my list, the entire restaurant would be filled with my guests. Why is this so difficult for me? Because I do not fall into one of the above categories. It depends on what mood I am in at the time. I could be motivated by what is happening in the world. I may have recently read an interesting book and am enthralled by the author or the subject of a biography. But no matter what direction I am going in, it will all start with the first invitee.
For me, I want to have a dinner discussion where it is not me interviewing three other people but a group discussion. This is my issue with a few of the lists above. Listening to the interactions of the other guests would be just as valuable and endlessly interesting as my own exchanges with them. For instance, my list from this past week was inspired by the sad loss of The King, Arnold Palmer.
I have been a lifelong golfer and devoted fan of the game. I have been to a number of PGA and LPGA events. I am as interested in the discussion I can pick up as they walk by or stand in the tee box, as I am with the masterful shot making that I have only dreamed of duplicating. So, my list was started with Mr. Palmer. Now, where to go from here. At the risk of boring any non-golfers reading this, here are snippets of my internal dialog. I thought I would add Lee Trevino and Walter Hagen and hope I could stop laughing long enough to contribute. I could go with the big three and add Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and hear some of the greatest competition and personal friendship conversations I could ever hope to hear. I also thought, since Arnold was such a great supporter of the women’s game, I would bring in fellow Pennsylvanian Nancy Lopez and Big Mama JoAnne Carner. There are others, Raymond Floyd, Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam to name but a few. You can understand my process so I will move on.
You can see the self-imposed challenges I have with this question. I can remember wrestling with many such lists. I want to throw out a few of my ideas for your amusement. Each has depended on what was going on in my mind at the time I had the question posed to me. Each changed many times before it was my turn.
Gus Grissom, Dr. Sally Ride, and Ed White.
George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, and Rod Serling.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin.
James Michener, Tom Clancy, and Dan Brown.
Jim McKay, Bryant Gumbel, and Dick Schaap.
These are just a few of the lists I have put together. Some for the formal exercise, many more in my head afterward. I always try to create my list so the conversation will be lively. After the fact, I would learn, some of my guests did not like nor did they get along with other. I would have to rethink those choices. Adams and Jefferson got on famously in later life, so I would cling to that. However, Franklin was not a particular favorite of either. I am not convinced Franklin cared what they thought.
No matter the subject matter I am using to create my list, I always try to “invite” the group that will give me the most enjoyment for the evening. Remember, the dinner is for me, not everyone else’s eavesdropping. So I want the group that will make me think, make me laugh, fascinate me with their stories or motivate me with their own inspirations. Limiting my guests to three people is what causes me to think, this person brings different insight or that person would have better stories. This one was the first or the greatest to do something, they are the one. Every person I consider would, quite literally, bring something unique to the table. How do I choose?
Maybe I just need to invite more people.
I would love to hear your list of dinner invitees. Just like me, your list can be subject to change.