A few weeks back, I was clearing out my inbox and browsing the folder where I had bookmarked dozens of articles to read (at some point) when it suddenly dawned on me: my routine had become my enemy.
Let me explain.
First off, it will probably come as a surprise to no one that I work exclusively from home right now. This means my day is relatively predictable. I know who I am going to see, what I am going to talk about, and when I am going to do these things. From one perspective, it’s rather fortifying. No surprises (for the most part). On the other hand, though, it’s quite limiting. No surprises.
Everyone understands how being isolated from our co-workers has impacted team morale and productivity and general organizational management. What we’ve addressed less, however, is the loss of creativity and ideation that comes from the absence of chance encounters in the workplace. And with conferences gone virtual, there are even fewer opportunities to connect with our peers about fresh ideas and new horizons.
So I had this epiphany: I need to break my routine.
I picked a day on my calendar and cleared it out. I broke it up into 30-minute chunks and sent out an open call to my colleagues for them to join me in conversation about some article that seemed relevant to both of us. In one sense, it was just a means of chipping away at my long reading list. But, in my gut, I knew it was also a way to start fresh conversations that I hadn’t had in far too long. I filled an entire day with learning and discussion, and I called it self-conferencing.
Self-conferencing is an approach to learning that makes the experience richer and more dynamic without the heavy lift of attending an in-person conference. While I used this as a panacea for the lack of random conversations in a work-from-home environment, this way of engaging with new ideas and teammates isn’t an exclusively virtual exercise. It is simple and flexible.
In just a single day of dialogue with colleagues that I don’t always have the opportunity to engage with, I had more meaningful learning experiences than I’d had in some time. Here are a few of the major takeaways from my self-conferencing experience.
Learning Together Is Everything.
It is too easy to put off learning something new, especially when it’s based on skimming some Medium article you discovered browsing around one morning.
But the kind of learning I did during my self-conference—where me and one other person both engaged with the same material and then came together to talk about it—made it not only exciting to do, but richer as a consequence.
During the course of the day, I was constantly reminded of the many different perspectives, biases, and projections we all bring to our work. Talking through an article with another person drew this into stark relief in an illuminating way. By comparing the different interpretations we both had of the material, we were collectively able to draw more nuanced conclusions that fostered a more enriching learning experience than I would ever have been able to achieve on my own.
We need to break the routine way of looking at the world if we’re going to expand our horizons within it, and self-conferencing proved to be a joyful way of going about this.
Good Things Take (a little) Time
I wish I could have spent all week setting aside time to read something with a colleague and talk about it (but we all know that’s a pipe dream).
That being said, if I could do it over again, I would probably set aside more than 30 minutes with each person. Right at the apex of our conversation, we usually ran out of time. Every good discussion needs a little time to get off the ground. Take-off may only be a small portion of the flight, but it still doesn’t happen instantaneously. A good journey needs space for the middle portion as well.
Moreover, before the day ended, one of my colleagues brought up the idea that we should all come together for a happy hour. When I initially planned the day, it hadn’t even occurred to me that we should do a collective wrap-up, but I’d never do a self-conference without one in the future.
See, because I had been in all the discussions, I had a wealth of takeaways from the day. Everyone else, however, only got to talk with me. The happy hour at the end of the day brought everyone together and put all the ideas on the table again, expanding the range of perspectives and making our conclusions even richer.
This Is Kinetic Learning
Walking away from my day of self-conferencing, I was more energized than I had been in some time. My mind was filled with new ideas and new perspectives and new ways of doing the things I did every day.
If I had just spent a few hours reading these articles by myself, I’d have had some ideas, that goes without saying. But building ideas with another person takes content out of its purely functional form and makes it dynamic, kinetic—pure energy. So often the content we consume is predicated upon its functional value. Trust is key (and it should be), but sometimes what we really need is that jolt of energy that comes from a powerful idea.
As useful and interesting as some of the pieces we read and discussed were, our best takeaways were seldom a point made in the article. The article merely formed a jumping-off point for an even more necessary and electrifying conversation about something my interlocutor and I had been thinking about already but not said out loud. And when we could bring those ideas into the open, we walked away with an unparalleled excitement about turning our learnings into actions.
As the saying goes, there’s a lot of bridges to Manhattan. If you want to learn, there’s no one way to do it. But some roads are better than others, and still, the best journeys stray away from the beaten path entirely.
Self-conferencing gave me an excuse to break my routine and turn my way of learning upside down. The benefit was a more enriching experience on one hand, but, perhaps more importantly, new ground for connecting with my colleagues—in spite of our physical distance—on the other.