On learning from people

I headed out to read a book, and ended up having a conversation.

Last month, I joined a club called ‘Henley’ that brings together ‘interesting and interested’ people. Membership comes with access to a pleasant space in the City. Today, around 4h30, I got out of the house to read a few reports, preparing for a new role I’m about to start. Rather than pay for a cafe, I headed to the club.

Most of the good spots were taken. As I walked towards the bar, a friendly-looking guy sitting in a red armchair commented on my bag. I sat down next to him, and we spent the next two hours talking. His field of work – science communication – is the one I’m heading towards. “There’s so much I could learn from you,” I quipped. And I did.

Often, if we want to learn something, we turn to the written word, or possibly formal events. People around us, simply sitting on an armchair, are a distraction from learning.  Today, I did not only learn about science communication and synthetic biology. It was embodied learning, made emotionally relevant by a sense of personal connection. The process, meanwhile, was thoroughly pleasant, happily lubricated by a glass of wine.

What would it take for us to shit this mindset, and think of every person we pass, on the street, on the tram, at the cafe, as a potential source of knowledge? Maybe no more than replacing greed and self-importance with curiosity. To start with, we could reframe our networking events in that manner.


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