The informal conversations we have with friends and colleagues can have enormous value if we’re willing to recognize it.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave me a gift that has produced an almost incalculable return on my creativity.
Prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 most of my engagements with friends and colleagues were episodic. I’d set something up and we’d agree to meet for coffee or a drink and this would happen every few months or so. More ‘official’ professional events like talks, meet-ups or seminars provided a few additional opportunities. I tried to make sure I was active in my professional community, but that activity was still rather passive.
That all changed when we all called home our office, our classroom, and our coffeehouse.
What started out as a ‘check-in’ with people I cared about has blossomed into a powerful force for active learning, creativity, and insight generation.
It all began with a Zoom.
Prioritizing Learning in a New Way
I’m often suspicious of those who say they love to learn. It’s not that I don’t believe them, I just think that people like a certain type of learning and related outcomes. I’ve written about this before.
A major problem with organizational learning theory is that it’s centred on explicit learning through people, processes, and technologies. What’s often missing from the discussion are the roles that experiences, happenstance, and praxis play.
That all came together once the pandemic hit and I started checking in with those I cared about. Because the pandemic introduced and exposed tremendous variation and time-bound experiences in my network I started checking in more frequently/
What is happening this week? How are you keeping? What’s going on in your work and life?
What used to be occasional meet-ups with colleagues once every 6-8 months or at conferences and events became regular calls; some are weekly.
That produced magic — the kind of learning lessons that’s changed how I approach my work. By prioritizing people and creating regular, sustained connections I opened up an entirely new way to learn consistently.
It’s something that has persisted even as we’ve emerged from lockdowns.
The (Inter) Net Benefit to Regular Engagement
At the time of this writing, we are in the 92nd week of the COVID-19 pandemic as defined as the moment we went first into lockdown in 2020.
During that time, I’ve had close to 80 regular calls with some colleagues using an unstructured approach. One group of colleagues (and friends — we’ve become great friends through this) and I meet every week for about 90 minutes via Zoom. What this has done is allow us to explore big issues in ways that transcend agendas and allow us to knit together thoughts and topics over time. When so much is changing, it’s been a powerful means to engage in sensemaking about our work and our lives.
The value of these interactions is enormous. Regular engagement allows us to stretch and exercise our creative muscles. We keep sharp by being freed from the constraints of deadlines yet supported by the constraints of regularity.
We also are free to create and introduce new and big ideas. Why? We have a chance to come back to them because we are regularly meeting up.
I’ve connected with an amazing group of creative thinkers in regular meet-ups and joined Slack channels that use regular check-ins to keep people engaged.
Regularity is the key.
This can all be done by design. We can build in time(s) to engage with colleagues and teammates.
Creating rituals and habits for engagement without agenda is a simple means to generate learning wealth. Give yourself and your colleagues and chance to engage regularly without agenda and you’ll find it to be among the most productive, creative slot in your calendar.