In a world where hybrid work models have reshaped our professional landscape, it’s the subtle, unscripted interactions that we risk leaving behind. Not learnings delivered from on high or micro-managed into our consciousness, but the quiet moments of connection we have in the presence of mentors. In this new normal, it’s too easy to overlook the impact of these interactions and the vitality they bring to our humanity.
Let’s look at a tale of two Garys: one, the innovation consultant that I’ve become, and the other, a version who never absorbed the lessons that unfold organically in the physical workspace. It’s a juxtaposition of growth and stagnation, a reminder of the nuanced education that only face-to-face engagement can provide.
Just as early defining moments set the trajectory of our work lives (see my earlier post: here) these moments of connection pop in memory — the doorway conversation at AT&T Labs, the hushed insights exchanged during a panel discussion, the elevator chats, and instances of peering over the shoulder of an artist or writer. They have wielded a profound influence on my mindset and career, and I credit these unsuspecting mentors for shaping my professional identity:
Pam Vassil’s insight that an appreciative nod helped her recognize that her ideas were hitting home, and that non-verbal engagement could actually affect where a teacher might stand while lecturing.
Seymour Chwast’s candid confession that “I feel like every idea I have is my last” opened a window into prolific creativity and eased my own creative anxieties.
Henry Beard exemplified the freedom to let ideas flow freely, only later converging into something witty and meaningful.
R.O Blechman’s attention to minuscule details, even in how he cut and pasted individual letters of his signature, reflected the care he gave to client work.
John Buskin taught me that humor writing could be a spectator sport and sitting quietly behind someone, a front row seat.
Vijay Saraswat’s shared understanding that the envelope in my hand (a set of drawings) had data in it that would expand his universe.
Edwin Schlossberg’s modeling that intensity of purpose and silliness could live side-by-side.
Dennis Shasha’s gift to my teaching through his childlike enthusiasm for innovative play and acceptance of my uncertainty.
These lessons, rich with accidental wisdom, were moments that could not be captured through remote screens, digital communication, or virtual interactions alone. And they served as the soul of my professional development.
As we embrace new ways of working, we might revisit the timeworn, “If a tree falls…” motto: if a lesson drops in an empty office, and there’s no one there to hear it, its profound impact might be lost.
In the tale of two Garys — the one who was “there” embodies growth, creativity, and ownership of experiences, while remote Gary faces detachment, diminished productivity, and creative uncertainty.
Let us not underestimate the influence of these fleeting moments that forge our professional character and enrich our humanity. It is in these interactions that our true potential is unlocked, and our shared human experience is deepened.
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