10 questions to ask at a dinner party (instead of “What do you do?”)

You’ve invited twelve of your closest friends over to your place for dinner — except no one knows anyone else, and they’re all from different parts of your life: work, parenting group, school, bowling club, gym class.

You’ve hired a chef and set the table. Now…how do you get people to talk?

“What do you do?” is an easy question. Overused, expected.

Here are 10 other questions you can ask, straight off the tables of Project Exponential dinners:

  1. Grand Central Station has room for a new restaurant in the basement. What should we recommend?
  2. The Embassy has asked us to suggest a week-long itinerary for a group of influential foreigners who want to visit America. No one speaks the same language. Where should we take them? What should we do?
  3. We’ve been commissioned to orchestrate vending machines that will be placed in high-traffic tourist areas like Times Square, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Sea World. What’s inside?
  4. The U.S. Department of Education wants us to design a course that will become part of all high school curricula. What do we teach?
  5. How do you encourage risk-taking and entrepreneurial thinking among a team that is afraid to break the rules?
  6. We’ve been given access to a 3D printer and can print ONE THING to be distributed worldwide. What is the thing?
  7. If we were to write one book that everyone here [at your dinner party] could contribute to, what would it be?
  8. The mayor wants us to develop a ride-sharing program that encourages interaction among residents and visitors. Ideas?
  9. Apple wants us to throw their next company party. Is there a theme? Who do we invite?
  10. What one problem do you presently wish you could solve?

If you’d like, you can write questions on cards and pass them around the table. If you’re feeling really ambitious, separate your guests into teams beforehand and group individuals with complementary skills. Let me know what happens.