INSPIRED IMPACT™ features purpose-driven leaders and social entrepreneurs who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am Chad Littlefield and I exist on this planet to gently eradicate small talk and create conversations that matter. I travel around the country and the world helping leaders and really cool purpose-driven organizations and educators learn to make communication easier. I often help organizations with internal communication – especially now that we live in a world that is filled with sips of digital connection and digital communication and I think on the whole we’re craving a full gulp of human connection and communication.
More tactically, about half my job is as a speaker and facilitator doing keynotes for giant groups of people or workshops with handfuls of leaders. The other half of my job is creating really awesome tools and writing books that help people make communication and connections easy at scale without requiring me to be there.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE? WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND STORY?
I saw the movie “Patch Adams” when I was eight or nine-years-old and I had my whole life figured out. I was going to go to med school – I was thinking maybe pediatrician – and I was going to be Patch Adams because I was so enamored with the way that he was able to heal people through human connection. Then I took a chemistry class in college and I was like, this isn’t going to work. Oh my gosh. Cue life crisis. I still really wanted to be Patch Adams but wasn’t sure that 10 years of med school to be able to hold a scalpel was going to work out.
So I dedicated all my time and focus into psychology, interpersonal psychology, experiential learning and how groups connect and get together. I did my Masters in experience and learning design and got to work with some really crazy cool groups of people helping them design programs that connected people to each other and connected people to the purpose of why they were doing the work they were doing. I loved it. I taught a team and leadership development class at Penn State for a while with around 30 students where we shoved all the desks to the back of the room in a giant messy pile and moved stuff for three hours. It was really hands-on and interactive.
From there, I went to work for this really fun group called World and Conversation whose mission is to bring people who are really different from each other together. They facilitate 90-minute conversations with groups of eight to 10 strangers about stuff you’d never talk about – especially with strangers – fuzzy topics like race, gender, sexuality, longterm conflict, politics, religion, climate change, etc. I facilitated hundreds and hundreds of these conversations and trained other facilitators. That was like a Ph.D. in humanity.
Between those two experiences, I recognized a spark around this world of experiential learning and experiential education and the power of having focused and facilitated dialogue. I wanted to combine those two things and bring it outside of the educational context that I was in into a larger world. And now that’s what I do.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I started off by saying that I exist on this planet to gently eradicate small talk and create conversations that matter. So often in conversations we default to the lowest common denominator. Let’s talk about what’s safe, let me ask you what you do and where you’re from and how you are or how the kids are. This rut of conversation isn’t necessarily bad but yet oftentimes we stay there because the alternative is riskier. I stand for conversations that matter because there’s so much potential when two human beings get together to have a conversation and 98% of the time we waste it with chitchat and I think that it’s just wrong. I think that there are too many problems in the world that need people talking about them and solving them to just leave that up to chance.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We’ve created a deck of cards called We Connect cards which have 60 questions on them and a bunch of different exercises that teams and groups can do to help them connect. They’re being used in 80 different countries around the world and every single day I get a text, LinkedIn message, email, a note, or a video of a story of how people have used them.
Recently somebody shared a story of a camp that used them in New Hampshire in the winter. It was very snowy and all this snow piled up and as summer came the snow melted and there was a We Connect card popping out of the grass. One of the facilitators had used the cards earlier that year and one and dropped out and he shared this story when one of the camp counselors who, at the end of the year, walked up to him and looked him in the eyes and said, “I hate you. I hate you because at the beginning of this journey you said we were going to form this community and this group that’s going to like no other and it’s going to be really, really hard to leave.” And this was at the very end of the summer and this particular counselor was really, really ticked to be having to leave.
I think that the power in connection is that like there’s not a person on the planet that doesn’t have a desire to belong in some capacity. And sometimes the difference between separation or isolation and belonging is just one question – one question to really allow somebody else to deeply see another person.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
Patch Adams for sure. I would say maybe even more aptly Robin Williams because that’s who was Patch Adams in the movie. It’s based on a true story – there’s actually a Patch Adams and a Gesundheit Institute – and from what I’ve heard, he’s a pretty crazy, eccentric guy.
There are also a handful of people who have helped me get where I am today. One is the founder of World and Conversation. He and I met in a hallway passing between meetings and had a five-minute conversation and he looked at my eyes and he said, “I don’t know you yet, but you need to come work for us.”
Another is my co-founder Will Wise who absolutely inspires me. In our partnership, I’m the accelerator and he’s the brake, I’m the extrovert and he’s the introvert. We have this polarized dynamic going on which is really balancing, grounding and healthy in lots of ways.
Rod Lee taught the team and leadership development class at Penn State. He encouraged me to go to grad school and helped me get an assistantship that actually allowed me to work with organizations and teams doing similar work to what I’m doing now with my company, We and Me. Rod and I wrote a little mini-book together called The Pocket Guide to Facilitating Human Connections.
Jeff Hayes who helped me not miss my wedding. Fifteen minutes before I got married I was standing outside in this arboretum and was nervous as heck because I was about to make a permanent decision. Everybody in my life was coming up and saying some version of like, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you.” Some sort of nicety, which is awesome. However, when Jeff walked up he put his hand on my right shoulder and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Are you present? Because you really don’t want to miss your own wedding.” That is the intense kind of person that he is. And I’m grateful because if he didn’t do that, I would have physically been there but I would have missed my own wedding.
Finally, I’m inspired by one of my mentors Eric Tyler who wrote a couple of books –The Best Advice So Far and Tried and Still True. He’s a trove of amazing knowledge, advice, insight, and inspiration.
Those are a handful of the people that have shaped me to be who I am.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I would love for people to use the framework and ideas, tools, and skills that we unpacked in the book I wrote with Will, Ask Powerful Questions. ln the book there’s this Ask Powerful Questions pyramid which is a tier of skills and mindsets to be able to really create conversations that matter. When I first learned the framework and started practicing those skills, I feel like I re-met my grandmother for the first time. I feel like I saw an entirely new side of who my dad was. I feel like I was less judgmental of the person who cut me off on the highway. Rather than condemning either Republican or Democrat, my tendency toward judgment was replaced with curiosity. So in terms of vision, I would love for the world to have access at scale to some of the tools and ideas in that book to be able to transform their tendency toward judgment into curiosity and turn their quick draw habit to speak or yell into one of listening deeply.
My other vision is a world where teams, people and organizations don’t struggle with having open communication. Where they’ve created an environment that’s psychologically safe enough and normal enough to be able to talk about what matters most to us without feeling like we need to sensor it because for whatever reason which requires a mindset and skillset on both sides of a conversation.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
So as we started building We and Me, Will and I very intentionally chose to build our practice as a practice rather than a huge business meaning that there aren’t 150 other trainers that are out delivering this material. Will and I are the ones who are going around and working with organizations so that obviously creates a major problem in scaling. Right now we’re at a point in our practice where we’re starting to shift into growing and scaling much larger as a business so the logistics of scale is very present and on my mind right now.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
I think that we live in a world of time famine, where we always feel like we have too much to do and too little time and so connection and really clear good communication is one of the first things to get cut. Ironically, spending five minutes connecting before diving into the meat of a meeting can end up saving you 10-20 hours down the line. I want people to know that connection actually saves them at least 10 times the amount of time that they would spend to connect.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
Bill Nye The Science Guy said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
They could pick up a whole bunch of free resources that we’ve created to help them scale and create conversations that matter at our website. That wouldn’t just support us, but it would also immensely support them as well.
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